When conversation drifts towards sinister v-twin power cruisers, it’s fairly uncommon to look to the East for prime examples. Kawasaki is well regarded in the superbike and motocross arenas — a fact that doesn’t bear repeating — but the Japanese manufacturer has largely not been too popular with producing touring motorcycles for all markets.
Originally launched in 1985 as a 700cc, the Vulcan of today comes in two offerings — a 900cc version in it’s own assortment of some six different trims and colours, and it’s bigger brother, a 1,700cc in two flavours. We take a closer look at the Vulcan 1700 Vaquero, the (relatively) more stripped down version of the two.
First impressions, well it certainly has stature. From the front, that massive, black batwing-style fairing with a single oversized halogen headlight stirs up memories of an old steam locomotive hurtling ahead. Bodywork then tapers in to an elegant waist, before the side panniers swoops out again to a fairly wide but smooth back end — from which side this bike looks even better. The flush-mounted tail light and short indicator bar are nice touches, the radio antenna being the only protrusion here. Chrome exhaust pipes are tucked neatly out of the way, and these — along with the shiny rocker covers on the engine — are pretty much the only items that aren’t the colour of pure midnight. Analogue gauges help things looking suitably old school from the riders perspective as well.
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Equipment-wise, Kawasaki still furnishes it quite sparsely and there really aren’t too many distractions. You get cruise control, and a stereo radio mounted in the fairing. That’s it. And this is where one would start expecting a few more items as standard. For starters, it would be nice to have somewhere to charge a phone, even just a cigarette outlet would have worked (don’t worry though, the after sales team is expecting you, as there are two blank off plugs in the fairing to have these fitted as option). Also, the radio is only a radio... no USB, no CD no iPod not even an AUX inlet. Put this on your accessory list as well… In 2018, really this should be a non-issue. Also available as extra is a radio CB communication module, for those still familiar with their Yankee Foxtrots.
Speaking of the fairing, there are a few remarks worth mentioning. Setting off, immediately there is a problem on board the Vaquero. Anything over 60kph and it soon becomes pretty clear that the (unadjustable) windscreen part of it is completely ineffective. By 100kph it’s downright unbearable. It’s in fact the opposite of a windscreen if ever there was such a thing, because you get blasted with a face full of additional air that would normally have bypassed you. Yes, I wear an open face helmet and no, at 6 foot I’m not abnormally tall. An extra 10cm’s higher on the design would have still looked good and made all the difference so if I was buying, this is the first thing I’d have to change. The stock screen really spoils what could be a great riding experience. Another significant effect on comfort is the trapped heat in the fairing cavity that radiates up from, well, the radiator. This v-twin is liquid cooled and for some reason, it runs hotter than you’d expect — I found the temp needle hovers upwards around three quarter at any given time.
Ah, the needles on these analog gauges we talked about earlier. The inner ring on the speedo displays kilometers, but your eyesight would need to be much better than mine to read any of it from the riding position. However, maths could save you here, as miles are printed nice and big, making it clear which market this motorcycle takes aim at. Rearview mirrors offered some of the best visibility we had seen for ages and the seat panniers will swallow quite a bit of luggage.
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Enough about aesthetics and wind, what’s it like, as a machine?
Bags of low down torque as the power from the 1,700cc engine come in early, but also leaves early. Almost too early. Useful range is very short — anything above 1,200rpm but below 3,000rpm, as after that it runs out of breath. Power to the wheel is fed via a drivebelt and transmission consists of six gears, although sixth is labelled as an ‘overdrive’ with no real passing or hill climb power. At 390kg’s dry weight you are not going to be doing any drag racing anyway, but highway speeds are pleasant enough. When it’s time to slow down, the brakes perform excellent, utilising a system called K-ACT 11 (Kawasaki Advanced Coactive-braking Technology). It basically means the ABS helps ensure ideal brake force distribution for confident braking.
Suspension is served up by telescopic air units up front and twin progressive air charged coil-overs at the rear. Best described as plush with only the rider on board, but with a passenger it gets fairly harsh, to be sure. Rears are adjustable to a degree but it’s not an on-the-fly thing, and becomes a manual, experimental procedure that involves some disassembly of the seat, a few clicks on an adjustable collar and an (optional) hand air-pump with a pressure gauge. I didn’t have the tools to my disposal but with practice I’m sure you could get the hang of it.
If you’re looking for a stylish and good looking two wheeler for shorter day trips, with an American feel that you don’t need to remortgage the house for, and don’t mind spending extra on final touches to make it your own — this could be all the bike you need.