2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero
Brrrr! This is south Texas, right? Then, why am I so cold? I was asking myself this as I
stood outside the La Toretta resort hotel on Lake Conroe, north of Houston, looking at all
the Vaqueros lined up under Kawasaki’s awning. It’s supposed to be warm here in midDecember, but somebody forgot to turn on the heat. Never mind the cold, let’s just hope
for some sunshine. At least it’s not raining!
Kawasaki invited so many motorcycle journalists
and Internet motorcycle forum representatives to
Houston that they had to divide us into three shifts
for the week. I, in the middle shift with fellow
Internet forum reps, got to spend quite a bit of time
with the new Vulcan 1700 Vaquero. We started out
under the awning, looking and touching. Kawasaki’s
Croft Long – Product Manager, along with Greg
Lasiewski – Public Relations, Paul Golde, Sean
Alexander, Brian Gibson, Jan Plessner, Tom
Matsuda, and quite a few other Kawasaki staffers,
were there to answer questions and offer
Appearance, Comfort, Fit & Finish
According to Croft, Kawasaki’s market research
shows there’s a market niche for a solo cruiser that
blends parts of a traditional cruiser, a full tourer and
a bagger. The design targets were to develop a bike
that’s aggressive and sporty, combining cruiser
© 2010 by Mark Moore, KVRF
appeal with bagger and tourer
features – all in a bike that sits low
and has flowing design lines. So,
using the Vulcan 1700 platform
introduced in 2009, Kawasaki
modified and tweaked it to develop
the Vaquero. Did Kawasaki meet
the design targets? I think they did.
Look at the pictures and make your
own decision.
Visually, the Vaquero projects a
“tough” image. The blacked-out
engine, forks, tank nacelle,
brake/clutch reservoir covers, and
wheels reinforce the visual cues.
This is especially true for the
glossy black-painted Vaquero.
Don’t like black? There’s a fireengine red Vaquero, too. A stylish
aggressive look.
Those of you familiar with the
1500/1600 Nomad will instantly
recognize the familiar shape of the
Nomad side-opening saddlebags,
which are perhaps the most
distinctive and identifiable bags ever made. While the Vaquero’s bags pay homage to the older
Nomad, they aren’t exact copies. The grooves and chrome strips are gone. The resulting
smoothness and visual continuity add to
the all-of-a-piece look of the Vaquero.
Moreover, the bags aren’t square to the
bike frame. They toe in at the rear,
streamlining the view from behind. Samecolor bag filler plates complete the
smooth and sleek look.
A frame-mounted fairing first used on the
Vulcan 1700 Voyager adorns the front
end. Like the Nomad-style bags that aren’t
exact copies, the fairing came over with a
change. Gone are the auxiliary driving
lights. In their place, louvered grills add
visual interest and mono-color appeal.
© 2010 by Mark Moore, KVRF
Want more light up front? You can
replace the louvered grills with
optional driving lights. With a
Voyager-like fairing up front,
Kawasaki chose to give the
Vaquero the Voyager’s hefty
45mm fork tubes to match –
blacked out, of course. On the red
Vaquero, the headlight trim
housing and dash panel are colormatched. They’re chrome and
black, respectively, on the black
Vaquero. The fairing holds the
same excellent audio system and
full instrumentation as are found on
the Voyager. For the Vaquero, the
tach and speedo get red dial face rings and amber lighting for all instruments.
I’ve always said that motorcycle seats are like mattresses because each rider has a very personal
preference. I found the Vaquero’s stock seat to be the best stock seat on which I’ve ever had the
pleasure of parking my butt. After an all-day test ride, I felt no seat fatigue or discomfort
whatsoever. The seat is probably only partially responsible for the comfort because the
Vaquero’s ergonomics are very similar to the Vulcan 1700 Classic: seat back a bit and
floorboards forward a bit as compared to
some other Vulcan 1700 models. The
pillion portion of the stock seat is best
suited to short rides, though. If you expect
to do much two-up riding, you can change
the passenger accommodations to
something more comfortable for longer
trips (more later).
The stock windshield/deflector looks
good. It does let the wind blast hit you
right in the chest, though. Kawasaki has
two opaque deflectors and four
windshields available in various heights so you can adjust the wind flow to your liking. If I had a
Vaquero, I’d probably pick the 14” windshield for myself because it’s short enough to look over,
but tall enough to steer the wind over my head.
Overall fit and finish and attention to detail are very good. The paint is thick and glossy.
Blacked-out parts have a nice matte finish. Chassis wiring is well-hidden and hoses and tubes are
barely visible. One area that could use a bit of improvement is handlebar wiring and tubing,
which looks a little messy, but not terribly so.
© 2010 by Mark Moore, KVRF
Engine, Transmission, Driveline
For 2011, there have been some changes
and improvements to the engine,
transmission and driveline over previous
1700 models.
Kawasaki’s 1700 V-twin engine powers
the Vaquero. Kawasaki has added a
second piston ring, unique to the Vaquero,
for improved durability. While there was
no problem with the existing ring design,
Kawasaki engineers determined that
adding a second ring would allow ring-tocylinder pressure to be reduced. With the sporty character of the Vaquero making it more likely
to be ridden aggressively, this change should give better long-term durability.
A redesigned intake manifold is on all
2011 1700 models. The manifold has been
reshaped for increased volume and more
linear throttle response. Idle smoothness
and off-idle throttle response benefit, too.
In the primary drive, the lower primary
chain guide has been removed for weight
reduction. The Vaquero gets a non-damper
clutch, which is intended to give the rider
more feel from the engine. During my test
ride, I noted a slight amount of power
pulse feel coming through upon
acceleration. During steady cruising, I
couldn’t tell any difference from other
Vulcan 1700 models. By the way, the nondamper clutch has no effect on the workings of the “slipper” clutch function.
The 6-speed transmission has a Vaquero-only revised 1st gear ratio. It’s now 40/13 (3.077)
instead of 44/15 (2.933). The change is slight, but noticeable when compared to other Vulcan
1700 models. In my opinion, 1st gear was a little too low on the other models, so this is a
welcome change. Along with the 1st gear ratio revision, 3rd and 4th gears now use a taller tooth
profile to increase the number of teeth in contact. These changes have greatly reduced the
“clunky” shifting sound from the transmission and reduce gear whine in 3rd and 4th gears, too.
The final drive is a new 26mm belt, down from 28mm. The carbon fiber belt has proven to be
strong enough to allow the extra 2mm to go away. A Kawasaki engineer explained that proper
belt tension is extremely important for keeping belt noise to a minimum. Improper belt tension
changes the tooth-to-tooth gullet distance, which causes noise and belt wear.
© 2010 by Mark Moore, KVRF
Also new for 2011 is a tapered exhaust muffler. This muffler is quieter (almost inaudible) at
cruise than the previous muffler. There’s still a bit of sound available at low speeds, though.
Kawasaki believes that those who like a quiet bike will like the new mufflers and those who
want more sound can install an aftermarket muffler, which is almost always louder than stock,
anyway. Header pipes remain unchanged, so any aftermarket exhaust that fits 2009/2010 1700
Nomad/Voyager models should fit the Vaquero.
Brakes, Suspension, Handling
I asked Croft Long why there is no
ABS option for the Vaquero. He
said Kawasaki is trying to meet a
price point and ABS was simply too
costly to meet the point. I guess I
understand that, but I’d still like to
see an ABS option for the Vaquero.
I know from personal experience
that ABS is a must-have feature for
many riders. Those who don’t trust
ABS simply, in my opinion, have
not had a chance to experience the
benefits. Okay, I’ll get off my ABS
soapbox. My test ride showed the
non-ABS brakes on the Vaquero work very well, with good feel and stopping power and little
front-end dive. ‘Nuff said.
The suspension is robust, with 45mm forks up front and air-adjustable shocks out back. My test
bike came to me with rebound set to 2 (out of 4) and 15 psi in the air shocks. Given the 836pound weight of the bike, combined with my 215 pounds, this proved to be a good setup. The
ride was smooth and controlled. I didn’t experience any suspension bottoming or vagueness over
some pretty good bumps. Bumpy corners
were no problem, either. The filler valves
for the air shocks have been moved to a
convenient spot under the seat. Because
the seat pops off in seconds using the bike
key, it’s easy to check and fill the shocks.
The Vaquero is surprisingly nimble for a
bike of this size. With its low center of
gravity, it’s easy to handle at parking lot
speed. During the photo shoots, we made
many low-speed U-turns. The turns were
easy and there was no unsteadiness or
drama. At higher speeds, turn-in was quick
and sure and there was no wobble in fast
sweepers or slower sharp curves. I was
pleasantly surprised at the ease of taking
© 2010 by Mark Moore, KVRF
the Vaquero to its floorboardscraping limits. Speaking of
floorboard scraping, lean angle is
more than adequate for a cruisertype bike. Those pesky magazine
writers are the only people who
complain about cruiser lean angles,
anyway. An interesting aside:
floorboard scraping by staff
members riding with press
representatives. Sean Alexander,
our ride leader, was hanging off in
the turns, just so he wouldn’t be
guilty of scraping a floorboard. Sean’s a very good rider, so I suspect he was enjoying treating
his Vaquero like a sport bike.
Accessories, Value, Bottom Line
Kawasaki has heard us. There are a host of
accessories available for the Vaquero now,
and more are in the pipeline. There’s a slot
in the seat, hidden under the passenger
grab strap, for a rider backrest that will be
out this spring. For those who expect to do
some two-up touring, Kawasaki has a gelpadded touring seat available. It’s made
for the Vaquero by Saddlemen and it’s a
steal at $299 list. There are passenger
floorboards available to replace the stock
pegs. There’s a very nice KQR (Kawasaki
Quick Release) passenger backrest and
luggage rack, too. The KQR is key-lockable to prevent a parking lot thief from walking away
with your seat and luggage rack. With the
ease of changing the seat and with KQR,
you can go from solo bad boy to two-up
gentleman in about a minute. Very nice.
There are also various chrome and blackedout farkles, bag liners (now made to fit
Vaquero or Nomad/Voyager), and a host of
goodies on the way. There’s a slick GPS
mount that attaches in place of the
handlebar top clamp, too.
At $16,499 list, with a 36-month warranty,
I think the Vaquero is a good deal. It’s the
ticket for those who want a solo bagger that
© 2010 by Mark Moore, KVRF
can easily go two-up when you’re ready. If you’re riding a 1500/1600 Nomad that’s getting on in
years and miles, the Vaquero should be on your short list of candidate bikes. If you’ve been
considering adding an aftermarket fairing to your bike, the Vaquero already has one.
Bottom line: This is a great bike! It does a lot of things well and it looks sharp. I think it deserves
a serious look from anybody thinking about a first or replacement bagger.
© 2010 by Mark Moore, KVRF
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