In 2009, when it came to burning away mile after mile in long-distance, big displacement touring comfort, certain motorcycles came to mind. Motorcycles like the Honda Gold Wing and Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic were obvious choices, but another motorcycle deserving inclusion in the conversation was the 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager/Nomad, the topic of this week’s Church of MO feature. Here, MO’s Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke takes one for a spin, wherein he discovers you really can take this Kawasaki from coast to coast in absolute comfort. The fact it is still in Kawasaki’s product lineup, seven years on, speaks to its capabilities. Read on to get Kevin’s complete thoughts on the bike, and to see more pictures of the Vulcan 1700 Voyager, be sure to check out the photo gallery.


2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager/Nomad Review

Get outta town!

If the slumping economy’s got you down, maybe it’s time to pack up a motorcycle and head out for a soul-satisfying road trip. You wouldn’t be alone. Despite a general downturn in motorcycle sales, the touring segment still continues to grow.

You’re not the only one ready for a bit of horizon chasing, as Kawasaki has its new Voyager ready for your long-haul adventures. Team K describes its new luxury-touring steed as “nostalgic, muscular and modern.” The nostalgic aspect refers to styling elements from 1960s-era vehicles, such as the driving lights (Chevy pickup) and retro-tinged gauges.

The Voyager is based upon the Vulcan 1700 cruiser we recently reviewed. New from the wheels up, we were favorably impressed with the powerful and relatively nimble platform. I refer to this test because it contains a whack of info that applies to the Voyager I won’t bother rehashing here, so make sure you give it a read to get the whole picture.

With more than 100 ft-lbs of torque in the 2000-rpm range, the Voyager's 1700cc V-Twin offers enough grunt to hoist the front tire.

With more than 100 ft-lbs of torque in the 2000-rpm range, the Voyager’s 1700cc V-Twin offers enough grunt to hoist the front tire.

The Vulcan’s punchy 103.7 cubic-inch, 50-degree V-Twin gets a mild retuning for use in the Voyager. Revised ECU mapping and the use of dual exhausts (one muffler per side to minimize saddlebag intrusion) results in an identical torque peak of 108 ft-lbs but arrives 500 rpm later than the Classic’s 2250 rpm. Max horsepower also arrives 500 revs later than the Classic, at 5000 rpm. The rev limiter kicks in at 6000 revs.

Response from the slightly livelier motor is very fluid, aided as it is by an electronic throttle valve in the fuel-injection system that examines throttle position, load, temperature and air pressure inputs to provide optimum delivery. It has enough low-rpm twist to take off from a stop in second gear. Twin counterbalancers and overdriven fifth and sixth gears keeps vibes from the single-pin crankshaft to a relaxed level.

They Voyager's cockpit blends 1950s style with 21st-century information.

They Voyager’s cockpit blends 1950s style with 21st-century information.

The Voyager differs most significantly from the Vulcan by its bounty of touring accoutrements. Chief among them is the large frame-mounted fairing that not only provides major-league wind protection but also a receptacle for a cornucopia of infotainment features. Center stage is an LCD panel that hosts readouts for average fuel economy, range to empty, a gear-position indicator, a clock and twin tripmeters that can be toggled through via a switch on the left handlebar. A fuel gauge and speedometer reside to the left, and a tachometer and engine temperature gauge are on the right.

Below the main gauges is the audio panel for AM, FM and weather bands, plus the ability to handle optional XM radio, CB and iPod inputs. Switches on the left handlebar control the system. An iPod jack in the left-side lockable glove box is optional. Sound quality through the two speakers is decent if not excellent.

Looking sharp in its Metallic Titanium color scheme, the Voyager is also available in a retina-searing Candy Plasma Blue.

Looking sharp in its Metallic Titanium color scheme, the Voyager is also available in a retina-searing Candy Plasma Blue.

Another touring feature of the Voyager is electronic cruise control that functions in gears 3 to 6 between 30 and 85 mph. Speeds can be bumped up or down incrementally (1 mph, claimed) with the handlebar-mount controls, and cruise can be canceled with brake and clutch input, or by closing the throttle manually. Self-canceling turnsignals are standard on all V17 models. The Voyager is also equipped with a 12-volt accessory socket.

More than 33 gallons of lockable storage are at your disposal.

More than 33 gallons of lockable storage are at your disposal.

When it’s time to hit the road for a week or a month, you’ll need places to stow clothes, cameras, refreshments and perhaps a copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” To that end, the Voyager has a pair of lockable saddlebags that hold 38 liters each and are sealed from the elements. The top-opening design uses a simple squeeze handle for effortless opening and closing, and they can be left unlocked for quick retrieval of stored items. Dual latches are used for extra security.

Even more commodious is a 50-liter top box that is big enough to hold two full-face helmets. Like the saddlebags, its locks are keyed to the ignition. Dual lockable glove boxes offer cockpit-accessible storage space.

With all these amenities and a big-cube motor, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see it all add up to a considerable 886-lb ready-to-ride curb weight, which is less than some other large touring bikes. What is a surprise is how non-cumbersome the big rig is. Even low-speed maneuvers where some other luxo-barges struggle aren’t problematic for the Voyager, thanks in part to a reasonable wheelbase of 65.6 inches and modestly sized 130/90 and 170/70 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels.

Vulcan Nomad

The Nomad is basically a Voyager stripped of its large frame-mounted fairing.

The Nomad is basically a Voyager stripped of its large frame-mounted fairing.

If you’re looking to hit the road and don’t need the full-boat touring treatment provided by the Voyager, Kawasaki also offers its new Nomad. It’s basically a cross between the big Voyager and the Vulcan 1700 Classic LT.

Up front is the same same height-adjustable windshield as the LT, plus standard windshield lowers. Instead of the LT’s leather saddlebags, the Nomad is equipped with the swoopy hardshell bags from the Voyager. Also borrowed from the Voyager are its electronic cruise control, front and rear engine guards and an identical riding position. It also gets the Voyager’s comfier seat, and a passenger is treated to contoured grab rails plus a thicker-padded backrest than the LT’s.

The Nomad rides similarly to the Voyager but is slightly more agile thanks to a curb weight lighter by about 50 pounds. Pricing starts at $14,399 for the black version with a gold pinstripe. Three extra Benjamins will purchase the Candy Diamond Red and Pearl Luster Beige 2-tone combo. Like the LT, it comes with a 2-year warranty, one short of the Voyager’s.

The Voyager’s ergonomic package is excellent and suits riders of various sizes. Compared to the Vulcan 1700, the bars have less pullback and the floorboards are further back by more than an inch, the latter allowing a rider to lift some weight off over bumps or while stretching. A 28.7-inch seat height is low enough to provide stable footing yet tall enough not to cramp legs over long distances. The seat itself is very supportive, even plusher and wider for both pilot and pillion than the V17 Classic/LT.

They Voyager is ready to reel in horizons in comfort.

They Voyager is ready to reel in horizons in comfort.

The Voyager’s suspension is similar to the cruiser V17s but has a beefier 45mm fork rather than 43mm stanchions. It uses the same air-adjustable shocks with 4-position rebound damping but with heavier spring and damping rates to accommodate the Voyager’s more substantial weight. With the air-adjustable shocks set to 10 psi (from a maximum of 43 psi) and rebound damping on #3 of four levels, the rear suspension was about spot-on for my light weight and aggressive riding style, providing good control and acceptable ground clearance.

The Voyager ensconces its rider in wind-deflected comfort.

The Voyager ensconces its rider in wind-deflected comfort.

Kawi’s cruiser-touring rig performs quite well in in the corners, aided by a chassis purported to be 40% stiffer than than old Vulcan 1600’s. Steering precision is better than expected, and the Voyager can be hustled around smartly up to the limits imposed upon by the lean angles available by its floorboards. Smooth throttle transitions and zero drivetrain lash via a carbon-reinforced belt drive shuttle power to the wheel decisively.

But it’s cruising down the open highways where the Voyager is most in its element. A pleasantly neutral riding position and comfy seat lets the scenery pass by effortlessly. The big, retro-inspired fairing provides encompassing shelter from the elements, aided by lower panels that keep wind from a rider’s legs. Depending on the amount of ambient heat, foot-level vents in the fairing lowers can be set to one of three open positions or shut off completely. A sub-six-foot rider is forced to look through the non-adjustable windscreen that provides good coverage without much buffeting.

Triple-disc brakes offer good power and feel, and they can be upgraded with an antilock brake system. The $1100 option includes 4-piston calipers up front rather than the 2-piston clampers on the other V17s, and it includes a form of linked braking called K-ACT. It works like a typical brake system, but pressure sensors at each master cylinder detect the level of braking based on the bike’s speed. A motor-driven actuator then alters the amount of pressure in the system and increases the amount of squeeze to the front right caliper and/or rear caliper as necessary. K-ACT sounds more complicated than it feels, as the system operates seamlessly. We’re happy to report that K-ACT doesn’t engage at speeds below 12 mph, and the ABS function is disengaged below 4 mph.

The Voyager can transport you comfortably to ocean vistas, even if you live in North Dakota.

The Voyager can transport you comfortably to ocean vistas, even if you live in North Dakota.

Stylistically, the Voyager excels with several design elements such as the machined and contoured cylinder fins for air cooling and the liquid-cooled upper cylinders. We also liked the nice back end with horizontal LED lamp integrated into the top box, and the attractive dual 35-watt driving lights can be adjusted vertically and have a dedicated on/off switch. Front and rear guards help protect bodywork in the event of a tip-over. Chrome instrument bezels are another charming touch, even if they reflect in the windshield when backlit by the sun.

2009_Kawasaki_Voyager_Nomad__M5H8491Overall, the Voyager is a well-polished machine with very little to gripe about. A slightly longer sidestand would lessen the amount of heave it takes to pull the bike upright, and it was a bit surprising to note the lack of an ambient temperature gauge on the otherwise complete instrumentation. There is also no reverse gear available, so you’ll want to avoid pulling in to a downhill parking space nose-first. Like all V17s, the Voyager has a nicely sculpted fuel tank, but its 5.3-gallon capacity is a bit smaller than some of its competitors. Finally, heated grips and seats aren’t part of the package.

And speaking of competition, there aren’t a whole lot of them – Kawasaki touts the top-of-the-line V17 as the market’s only metric V-Twin luxury-touring machine. However, there are four or five similarly themed bikes to cross-shop: Harley’s Electra Glide Classic ($18,999) and Road Glide ($18,599); the Victory Vision Tour ($19,999); Honda Gold Wing ($22,099); and the Yamaha/Star Royal Star ($18,690).

The Voyager makes a very strong case for itself by having an MSRP that drastically undercuts its rivals. Prices start at $16.799, bolstered by a 3-year warranty, and the ABS version rings in at $17,899.

With its overall competence and class-leading price, Kawasaki’s new Voyager is the best value in the luxury-touring segment.

Duke’s Duds

  • Lid: HJC Sy-Max
  • Jacket: Shift Vendetta
  • Pants: Shift Havoc
  • Boots: Icon Motorhead
  • Gloves: Shift Bullet
  • Craig Hoffman

    This bike is probably the best bang for the buck in the heavy touring rig arena. It has power too. Would love it if it could somehow be 150 pounds lighter.

    • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

      Want 150lbs lighter, get a K1600. Your wallet will be a lot lighter too, but it’s a better performing bike.

      • Craig Hoffman

        The K1600s are way cool, but they are simply out of my price range. Also like the presence of a big twin.

        Leaning toward the Victory Cross Roads as my long range geezer bike, but then the Moto Guzzi Norge, which has a number of shortcomings I suppose, appeals on an emotional level – love those 90 degree twins. Still have at least 5 years to figure this all out :)

        • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

          The K1600 seems to lose value quickly in the first few years. I have seen some in the 16-18K range with less than 25K miles on them. The Norge is cool, but I can’t imagine those jugs would be fun on 100+ degree days. I’ll stick with my 2009 RT for now.

  • John

    I went to a Kawasaki dealer in OCT and he had 2 – 2015’s sitting in his inventory, i was actually sitting on one of them, and the owner just goes “I’ll knock 3 grand off the price if you ride it out of here today” I think that these bikes are the unsung heroes of cruiser touring. Cheapest full touring (4k cheaper than the next competitor Victory with the cross country tour), liquid cooled, better than decent capacity, stylish as hell. I think when it comes down to it this would be the bike I would go the distance on. Especially since there are dealers EVERYWHERE

    • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

      I’ve seen them for around 14K new leftover. That’s pretty cheap.

  • Speedwayrn@yahoo.com

    If it still has a 300w stator, this has always been a weak link in any of Kawasakis touring bikes. Not enough output for a touring rig.

  • dinoSnake

    I’ll agree with Craig Hoffman’s statement: nice bikes if they were lighter.

    As an owner of a Kawasaki 1600, when the 1700’s came out I went to see them. Kawasaki took everything that was reasonable about the 1600’s, that being decently balanced weight, and threw it out the window in their chase of displacement. The 1700’s are top-heavy in an unpleasant way…and I walked away.

    As usual in today’s market, the manufacturers are self-concinced that they know what we, the buying public, wants and refuses to give us anything but. Americans all want more power and more size, everything else be damned, so that is constantly want they design and give us. The Kawi 1700’s are [showroom] proof that….that is not exclusively what we’re looking for.

  • Harold O’Brien

    As the owner of a Voyager 1200 I can’t tell you how excited I was when I heard that Kawasaki was bring back the Voyager. Then only to find out that it was coming back as a V-twin, I was disappointed to be sure. When will the metric guys figure out that they aren’t going to out Harley, Harley. Instead of bringing the Voyager back with the 1.4 liter Ninja motor tuned for touring they came up with a imitation of their competitors. It’s like aspiring to be second or third best. As a died in the will Kawasaki man for 35 years I give up. If I wanted a V-Twin touring bike I’d buy a Harley.