Helmet: Icon Alliance
Jacket: Icon Accelerant
Gloves: Alpinestars Munich Drystar
Pants: LL Bean Fleece-Lined Jean
Boots: Sidi Canyon
To hear it from the folks at Kawasaki, it’s like they’d never built a bagger before. Take a look around these pages and there are Road Kings aplenty, so Kawasaki’s Nomad with a Lexan windshield and hard bags has qualified for years, but to get to the true heart of the matter with a chopped-up full-touring rig…that had never been done in Vulcanland before. Until the Vaquero.
Randy: “Feliz Navibla!”
Catalina: “That doesn’t mean anything!”
Randy: “Well maybe not to you, but to millions of Americans, it means Merry Christmas in Mexican.”—My Name is Earl
Vaquero means cowboy and is also slang for “jeans” south of the border. Kawi looks to make a grand entrée into baggerville with this bike, praising the long, low lines and inherent usefulness of the breed. Unlike many Japanese manufacturers these days, they’re actually looking to get in enough to come with a significant price savings over other baggers, especially ones with a frame-mounted fairing.
Much of the cost saving can be attributed to something that H-D has done for years. Instead of building a ton of models with independent engines and transmissions, Kawi has made a family of 1700cc cruisers. They include everything from a stripped-down bare-bones cruiser to various levels of touring amenities, all the way up to the full-boat Voyager tourer at the top of the range. Unlike so many other metric tourers that are built-up cruisers, never intended for touring duty, Kawasaki’s 1700 family is a true hybrid machine. The base 1700 Classic has the same adjustable shocks and wealth of dashboard information (albeit on a smaller screen) as the top-of-the-line Voyager. The new Vaquero slots just below the Voyager in the lineup, with nearly as many touring amenities, but stripped down for style.
"I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride"
Jon Bon Jovi
While the Kawasaki folks could have dropped on a short shield, blacked out some stuff, lost the top box, and called it a day, they went quite a bit further thinking of the project in terms of designing a new motorcycle. All baggers as we know them owe a debt to the Street Glide, and while that’s where most makers start their quest for baggerness, this Vulcan took a different path. Since the top-of-the-line Voyager is a frame-mounted fairing design (like the Road Glide), so is the Vaquero.
"My heroes have always been cowboys"
In the stripping-down process, Kawasaki wasn’t happy with the line the full-coverage fairing lowers of the Voyager cut on the less hefty Vaquero, so they were re-designed to follow the same line as the front of the upper fairing. They’re also quite a bit narrower, allowing more breeze past, while still giving some added protection. I’ve ridden the Voyager in the summertime and it’s quite the shin heater, so for me this was a welcome change. The seat was redesigned as well, with a low-profile unit that tapers to a very small p-pad. The hard bags that reside on the other Vulcan 1700s are large and useful, but pretty bulbous and ugly. Kawasaki designers apparently recognized this and used outward-opening bags similar to the ones that used to come on their Nomad.
What got left behind, besides the obvious, is a trio of acronyms: CB, XM, and ABS. You can buy the first two as add-ons to the sound system, but the third is strictly on the Voyager. Thankfully it keeps the large-diameter 45mm forks of the Voyager for more front-end rigidity.
The end result is a bike that weighs 60 pounds less than the Voyager and looks remarkably familiar, despite cutting a unique profile of its own. Familiar to Harley aficionados will be the side profile of the engine compartment, except the primary drive is on the right side, while the “cone” cover (not the cams) is on the left. Fender fillers are taken right off the bagger menu, while it eliminates the added spotlights of its more hardcore big brother, much like the Street Glide, on the Vaquero the lights are replaced with some snazzy louvers.
"The vaqueros seemed to treat them with a certain deference but whether it was the deference accorded the accomplished or that accorded to mental defectives they were unsure"
All the Pretty Horses
Riding it is what really counts though, and the Vaq doesn’t disappoint. Dropping 60 pounds off of a bike is like getting free horsepower, and while the Vulcan isn’t crazy fast, it’s got a nice fat slice of midrange torque that comes on past 2,500 rpm. Power is delivered in a smooth but soulful manner; you can feel the counterbalanced engine throb under load, in a good way. The gearbox is similarly designed with a good, chunky feel that is absolutely positive as it clicks through the gears. Not that you’ll be doing much of that. The six-speed box is geared way tall, with both Fifth and Sixth gears overdriven. Paired with a motor that likes to stay in the midrange, we have yet to find a purpose for Sixth; you can use it, but it just feels weird.
If you see someone riding a horse, and don’t have the money to buy one, don’t get a donkey for yourself
Handling is on the light side, especially for such a big rig. It turns in readily and holds its line through corners, easily using up its ground clearance, but having plenty for most people. Though you sit low in the machine, it feels like a tall bike when carving corner after corner, falling in a bit, and liking the rider to feed in some throttle and motor out. At 6-foot, I had some buffeting from the short shield, but nothing more than the norm. Thankfully there is a range of windshields in various heights, all taller than the blacked-out shorty that comes stock. The seating accommodations are quite nice, with a relaxed position and a nice reach to the boards that should fit most. The bars are a bit close for a chimp like me, but bars are always the easiest thing to fix. Deciphering what all the bar controls did was a challenge. The display controls on the right are directly above the cruise control, while on the left, the radio controls were stacked near the horn and the turn signals. I got it before the end of my ride, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few beeps and accidental station changes when changing lanes. The problem is that all the switchgear feels roughly the same, especially through gloves.
Out on the open road, there was plenty of time to fiddle with all the buttons, flick through the songs on my iPod (connected via optional accessory), check to see how good the gas mileage was…which was tough, since the range-to-empty gauge goes off of instant fuel economy not history, so the estimate can swing wildly on a road with some character. The sensitive steering isn’t all that apparent out on the open road with wind gusts doing little to upset the apple cart. With standard cruise, good speakers, and a nice muted rumble, it’s a fine ride for whiling away the miles.
So what is all this cowboy crap, you ask? We don’t know ourselves, but riding through the hills of south Texas, I might have heard a little whinny from beneath me…but that might have been from the BBQ we had for lunch. B
|Model||2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero|
|Type||Liquid-cooled 52 deg. V-twin|
|Valves||Single Overhead Cam, four-valves/cyl.|
|Bore x Stroke||102x104mm|
|Wet Weight||836 pounds|
|Seat Height||28.7 inches|
|Rake/trail||30 degrees/7 inches|
|Front Brake||Dual two-piston calipers with 300mm discs|
|Rear Brake||Two-piston caliper with 300mm disc|
|Front Suspension||45mm conventional fork with 5.5 inches travel|
|Rear Suspension||Twin air-assisted shocks with adjustable rebound damping and 3.1 inches travel|
|Fuel Capacity||5.3 gallons|
|Instruments||Speedometer, tachometer, coolant temp, digital display with gear indicator, fuel gauge, clock, odometer, dual tripmeters, range to empty, and average mileage. Radio display includes song title dis play in radio or iPod modes. |