Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero — Bagger that Cowboys Up

A couple of years ago, Kawasaki introduced the monstrous Vulcan 2000 as a heavy cruiser — emphasis on heavy. The Vulcan 2000 line has been put on hold in favor of the Vulcan 1700 stable, which boasts Kawasaki’s first traditionally styled production bagger.

Filling the cruising bill for old school enthusiasts with modern twists and conveniences galore is the new 2011 Vulcan 1700 Vaquero.

The name Vaquero refers to an ages old Latino version of the American cowboy of the old West. Vaqueros were noted for their skilled horsemanship and expert craftsmanship of riding gear; hence Kawasaki’s appropriate moniker for its new touring cruiser.

Power for the Vaquero comes from a 1700cc (103.7 ci) four-stroke, liquid-cooled SOHC, 8-valve, 52-degree V-Twin with cooling fins that puts out 108 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,750 rpm. Exhaust exits through dual pipes – one per side, emitting a pleasant V-Twin rumble. The power reaches the rear wheel via a final drive belt through a six-speed manual gearbox with overdrive and a positive neutral finder. Though smooth through all gears and a broad torque range, the 1700 V-Twin seems happiest when revving above 2,500 rpm.

The Vaquero rolls on 9-spoke cast alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone rubber — 130/90×16 up front and 170/70×16 aft. Suspension consists of 45mm hydraulic front forks with 5.5inches of travel and a rear swingarm setup with twin air-assisted, adjustable shocks and 4-way rebound damping with 3.1 inches of wheel travel. Braking duties are handled by front dual 300mm discs with twin-piston calipers and a single 300mm rear disc also with a twin-piston caliper.

In terms of its eye appeal, the Vulcan 1700 Vaquero displays a streetwise, low-slung styling that features a frame-mounted, muscularly shaped front cowling and lower chin fairing.

Functionality and convenience are paramount in the Vaquero bagger, with the front cowling containing a full feature, high fidelity audio system with AM/FM and Weather radio, which may be accessorized with iPod players, XM radio and CB radios. There are locking storage compartments on each side. The dashboard, which Kawasaki refers to as being “Musclecar” inspired displays LCD instrumentation that provides all essential operating information for the rider. My test 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero came finished in Candy Fire Red metallic. The base price was set at $16,499.

Kawasaki’s first production bagger should prove to be a winner — it looks great with a traditional design flair that doesn’t come across as a Harley clone. It showcases popular bagger cues, but with modern, up-to-date touches, and even though it is appealing in its showroom stock form, it can still lend itself to personalizing or customizing with a host of available accessories.

The one-piece seat will prove to be a tad on the tall side for shorter riders, but once aboard and underway the boards, foot controls and handlebars are well placed for optimum riding comfort, and hand controls and switches are easily operated with gloves on.
Acceleration is both smooth and instantaneous with a quick off-the-line response, while gear changes are exceptionally smooth. The torque range is broad and the gearing relatively tall, affording comfortable shift points. The ride quality is on the firm side, but compliant enough to avoid fatigue on longer jaunts.

The bike weighs in at 835 pounds, so it’s certainly no lightweight. It is highly maneuverable at road speed, but more of a chore at a parking lot pace. It’s possible to touch down the boards with some effort, but not advisable to push the envelope, because going beyond the law of physics will likely result in going horizontal.

Riding with company is recommended if you plan to play sport bike with this hefty bagger, because if you do lay it down, you’re probably going to need help to upright it. Restarting requires physically shutting off the ignition first.

The seat’s foam density is ideal for long-range comfort and the upright riding position is equally ideal with the foot controls within easy reach. I managed to average nearly 35.5 mpg on a short 120 mile ride that included both city and highway miles over hill and dale. Considerably more is possible with less exuberant throttle roll.

The 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero is a delight to ride and a welcome addition to the Vulcan 1700 stable, which will definitely allow the rider to “cowboy up” (make that Vaquero up). — Arv Voss, Motor Matters

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