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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.