2009 Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager First Ride

“The new 1700 models are Kawasaki’s future in cruisers.” So said Kawasaki Product Manager Croft Long to a group of moto scribes at the 2009 Vulcan 1700 Cruisers intro in Mill Valley, California. We were here to experience Kawasaki’s 1700cc fuel injected future in the form of four new cruiser and touring V-Twins, including what is claimed to be the first metric V-Twin-powered full dress touring motorcycle, the 2009 Kawasaki Voyager. The next two days would be spent logging hundreds of miles along Hwy. 1 and over the Marin County hills including an unforgettable ascent up the Bay Area’s highest scenic overlook, Mt. Tamalpias.

Joining Kawasaki’s new luxury touring motorcycle are three models already imbedded in Vulcan lore, the Nomad, Classic, and Classic LT. Besides the obvious 100cc bump in displacement from 2008’s 1600cc Vulcan class, the new 1700 models now have a six-speed transmission, belt instead of shaft drive, and a new chassis. There’s enough variation in styling cues and touring amenities between the models to sate discriminatory riders, and touches of new bodywork and lots more chrome are included in the 2009 upgrades.

The new engine is based on the powerplant used in the Vulcan 2000, except the 1700 uses a single overhead cam in each cylinder head instead of the 2000’s push-rod actuated overhead valve arrangement. The 102mm X 104mm bore/stroke of the 103.7 cubic-inch engine is claimed to produce 108 ft-lb of torque. Compression is now 9.5:1, up 0.5 from the 1600. Kawasaki has worked hard to make sure

The 2009 Vulcan Cruisers have a 1700cc 52-degree V-Twin engine that is based on the big lump in the Vulcan 2000.

the engine is full of V-Twin character and twin counter-balancers help maintain the happy medium between too much vibes and too little.

The 52-degree V-Twin is mounted in a single backbone double cradle frame. The new chassis is more compact, shaving 13mm off the wheelbase. There are less castings, helping to knock off 4.4 lbs over the 2008 Vulcans, and Kawasaki claims the new arrangement is 40% more rigid than the old chassis. The seat to steering head distance is now shorter, and the rake has been brought in two degrees, with its new settings at 30-degrees with 6.7-in. travel. The rider’s triangle has also been compacted by bringing in the handlebars 30mm and the floorboards by 50mm.

The 2009 Vulcan 1700 Cruisers also benefit from what Kawasaki calls its ‘first fully electronic throttle valve system.’ It feels like a cable-actuated throttle, but is really a system of sensors and an ECU that are controlling the precious fuel flow. But there are cables. The throttle cable is connected to a throttle pulley, whose position is monitored by an accelerator position sensor. A separate cable runs to the throttle position sensor, with the information from both sensors being sent to the ECU. The ECU then translates the info and adjusts the throttle plates to control air intake, fuel and spark. The system adjusts for load, temperature, pressure, and throttle opening.

With 15 mph switchbacks, elevation changes, and some of the greenest hills around, Marin County was a perfect choice for testing the road-readiness of the 2009 line of Vulcan 1700 Cruisers.

Bigger engine, smaller frame, new throttle system – with a list of attributes like this, I was eager to ride the new Vulcans. Though I had never ridden the old Inline-Four Voyager, its reputation as a manageable motorcycle precedes it. But like many, I wondered why Kawasaki was bringing the model back after a six-year absence. In response to this question, Kawasaki said that first the Voyager’s return was due in large part to customer response. Second, Kawasaki sees it as an opportunity to capitalize on a lack of alternatives. There are no other metric V-Twin full dress tourers with traditional styling. The final reason is the positive trend shown in the touring segment. The niche appeals to riders with higher disposable incomes, so why not try to tap into it?

The first thing I notice when throwing a leg over the 28.7-inch high seat is how compact the ergos are. It’s a short reach to the bars. The tank isn’t overly wide at 5.3 gallons, allowing me to snug in to the bike. The floorboards are in tight, too, and the seating position leaves me straight-backed, arms comfortably forward with a solid center of balance. It’s the most compact riding triangle of any luxury-touring bike around. Combine the rider-friendly ergos with a 65.6-inch wheelbase and you’ve got a big motorcycle that is easily manageable at low speeds from the get-go.

The 2009 Vulcan Cruisers have a narrow carbon fiber belt, switching over from shaft drive used in the 2008 models.

Rolling through the gears of the six-speed transmission, shifts are smooth and gears engage reliably. It is a lot less clunky than American V-Twins. I tap out first gear until it redlines at 42 mph, push second to its limit until it bogs at 68 mph. Third and fourth gears are the best, set wide with ample power through the rev range. Fifth and sixth are overdrive gears, and unless you’re revving high, it’s not going to give you much roll-on acceleration, so it’s good to wind fourth out before shifting up. When it’s time for logging long miles on cruise control though, you’ll be grateful for the efficiency of the overdrives and the wear and tear they’ll save in the long run.

As the turns along the Bohemian Hwy. leading into Occidental increased, so did opportunities for the Voyager’s brakes to shine. Equipped with Kawasaki’s Advanced Coactive Braking Technology (K-ACT), powerful brakes are mandatory when it comes time to stop an 886-lb motorcycle. The system works in conjunction with the ABS that is available as an option on the Voyager. It uses pressure and speed sensors that send info to the brake ECU which controls the motor-driven hydraulic pumps so they deliver the proper amount of pressure to the brake calipers. So when you give the front brake lever a good squeeze, the system will concurrently activate the right hand front caliper on the rear brake. Depressing the back brake likewise engages calipers on the twin 4-piston set-up up front. The system does not engage when braking below 12 mph, and ABS disengages at 4 mph. It took hard braking to get the ABS system to engage, recognizable by a small pulse at the

I love spring. Not only are the flowers bloom, but it’s also when I get to sample the newest motorcycles, like Kawasaki’s 2009 line of Vulcan 1700 Cruisers.

brake lever and pedal. The system facilitates keeping the bike upright and front end dive is less noticeable than on other big motorcycles.

The suspension is well-sorted for touring. It starts with a 45mm Showa hydraulic fork, 2mm larger than the other Vulcan models in order to support the fairing. Dual adjustable rear shocks with air-assisted (0-43 psi) 4-way rebound damping do the road-smoothing duties on the back. The default settings are at the second position and are for a rider in the 150 lb range, so unless you’re a flyweight, a click or two of rebound is in order.

Kawasaki did an excellent job of injecting the bike with plenty of V-Twin vibes felt in the saddle. I like the feel and the sound of the ride. But the front fairing on the Voyager I rode had a noticeable rattle at 2200-2300 rpm. At first I thought it was the windscreen, but I grabbed it firmly while riding and the rattle continued. It sounded like the housing for the gauges that fit inside the fairing needed to be bolted down tighter.

Cruise control comes standard on the 2009 Vulcan Voyager. The housing is well-located and it is easy to operate.

The design of the frame-mounted front fairing is one of my favorite parts of the motorcycle, though. Which isn’t a surprise since the styling shapes of the headlights and the lines of the fairing itself borrow from American muscle cars of the 1960s. Classy, but edgy. The muscle car influence carries over to the intuitively designed cockpit. The dial gauges, speedo, tach, and digital display sit in an automotive-style dash board and are easy to see. The LCD is controlled by switches on the right handlebar and includes a gear position indicator, clock, odometer, dual trip meters, remaining range and average fuel consumption. And while the analog gauges are easily visible, the small gear indicator is challenging to locate at times. The front fairing and wind screen did provide plenty of protection though.

Auxiliary controls are housed on the left handlebar while cruise control is on the right. The top volume button is easy to reach with the throttle hand, but it’s a stretch to the next two buttons. I had no problems operating the cruise control with my right hand, though. The Voyager has an integrated audio system that can be upgraded with dual rear speakers. It has plug-ins to the main wiring harness for an iPod, rider-passenger intercom, dual rear speakers, XM radio and a CB, but they are all offered as upgrades.

The top case of the 2009 Voyager holds a claimed 13.2-gallons and passed the two helmet test.

Touring amenities include hard saddlebags and a top case. The lockable, color-matched, top-opening saddlebags have a 10-gallon storage capacity while the top case has 13.2 gallons of storage space and easily holds two full-face helmets. The bags and cases can be left unlocked and accessed without the key, a big improvement over Kawi’s last system that mandated the removal of the key every time a rider needed to get into the bags. The latches on the saddlebags are a little touchy and require a firm push to snap into place. Lower fairing leg shields add more touring comfort and have fresh air vents that are individually adjustable. Rider floorboards suit the motorcycle’s luxury touring styling but drag easily when you’ve got a chassis that is as rider-friendly as the Voyager’s.

One factor sure to garner attention to the 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager is its $16,799 MSRP. Two color choices, Candy Plasma Blue/Metallic Diablo Black or Metallic Titanium/Metallic Diablo Black, are your current options. The Vulcan 1700 Voyager with ABS stickers for $17,899, and after experiencing the ride with and without the system, spending the extra dough is worth the sense of security.