MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2011/2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero

A bagger for those who love luxury touring

Story and photos by Tricia Szulewski
Fully dressed tourers offer comfort features no other kind of motorcycle can match. But they’re also big and heavy and can be intimidating for many women riders. And while a tour trunk adds a convenient place to store lots of stuff that’s easy to get to, it also creates a load in the worst place possible—up high and to the rear. However, there are several large touring models available today that keep all the great features of typical faired touring bikes but eliminate that awkward tour trunk. One such model, introduced in 2011, is Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1700 Vaquero.
Tricia rides a 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700. The updates to the 2012 model include a price increase, color options, and voice prompt capability for Garmin GPS systems sold separately.
The Vaquero is Kawasaki’s answer for those looking for a long, low, powerful cruiser on which they can tour comfortably.

With a full-featured, frame-mounted fairing and short windscreen that you look over, the long, low Vaquero can be compared to Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide Custom. But with a look all its own (and a $2,700-lower price tag), it certainly can’t be called a Harley clone.

The 2012 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom. Notice the similarities with the new Vaquero, pictured to the right.
From the profile view, you can definitely see similarities between these V-twin tourers—the short windshields on frame-mounted front fairings, a one-piece seat with a tapered rear section, large saddlebags, floorboards, and the lack of a top case.
I had the opportunity to put six days and 750 miles on a 2011 candy-fire-red Vaquero (a 2011 color) while exploring northern New Mexico. Using accessory saddlebag liners (these cost $105) to pack as minimally as possible, I stuffed the Vaquero’s side-loading, lockable saddlebags beyond their 10-gallon capacity.
Closing the saddlebags requires two hands—you have to push the lid closed with one hand while lifting the handle up with the other to secure the latch.

I also added a small tail bag to the pillion. Adding a bag to the rear of the seat is difficult not only because the tapered pad design offers little space for a bag to sit on, but also because finding bungee points can be especially tough. A color-matched filler panel between the fender and the saddlebags looks great, but it prevents any bungees from finding points there. Luckily, my bag had a strap that wraps around the seat, which is easily removed with the ignition key in a side panel. Once my bag was attached to the seat, I had to get creative with bungees. The bag definitely detracted from the clean, low-slung look of the bike, but I needed the extra storage space.

Securing a tail bag requires running bungees to the rear peg mounts and/or around the taillight section.
From the front, the fairing has a unique look. The two “air scoops” beside the headlight lead to nowhere but can be replaced with auxiliary driving lights (at a cost of $261.95) for added visibility. The bike has rubber “blanks” in the fairing lowers marking where the switch would go.

The Vaquero’s frame-mounted fairing incorporates the weight into the bike’s chassis, rather than putting the load completely on the front forks. The biggest challenge for riders new to this setup is getting used to the fairing remaining in line with the frame instead of turning with the bars. But while this wasn’t an issue for me, what could be a larger issue is the overall weight and feeling of top-heaviness that the fairing contributes to.

With a wet weight of 836 pounds, the Vaquero is no featherweight. Lifting the bike off the short sidestand was difficult for me on level surfaces. Park somewhere on a slope where the bike leans even farther to the left and you run the risk of being stuck (unless you have help to lift it). However, the 28.7-inch seat height was plenty low enough for my 30-inch inseam.
The reach to the bars is in a naturally comfortable position, and the floorboards are placed well forward and out of the way when you put your feet down.

The fairing dash is impressive and includes a host of information. Styled with smooth bodywork that carries over the bike’s color, displays are enveloped with chrome ring accents and are backlit with an easy-to-read orange glow.

An LCD readout sits upfront and center, displaying two tripmeters, an odometer, the fuel range, the average mpg, a clock, and a gear indicator.

You toggle through some of this information with a mode button located on the right handgrip control, but I found the setup nonintuitive and needed to pull out the owner’s manual to find my way through the displays and settings. Also included on this center display are the usual warning lights and a cruise control indicator.

Beside the LCD display, there are classically styled round control displays, including an analog speedometer and RPM indicator, as well as a fuel gauge and engine temperature gauge. The bike’s two speakers take up the far left and right sides of the fairing.Below the console is another LCD readout that displays the audio information when turned on. When it’s off, the word “Kawasaki” is displayed in the window. There are several ways to control the radio.

Power, mode, volume, tune, preset and communication buttons require a reach up to the dash.
However, the left handgrip controls include volume and tuning buttons, so you don’t have to keep reaching up every time you want to scan stations or adjust the volume.
An MP3 player, satellite radio or CB can be connected with optional converters in the left fairing storage compartment. Admittedly, I didn’t use the radio much, since my attention was fully on being in the moment in such a gorgeous place as New Mexico.
Two small, V-shaped, lockable compartments in the fairing hold small items. The left one contains a connector for an iPod or other MP3 player, though these require an additional adapter.

I did, however, get good use of the cruise control while I took pictures of my riding buddy in motion.

Easy to set with your right thumb, the cruise control gives your throttle hand a rest when needed. Hazard lights also come standard, adding an important safety feature. The mode switch controls what information is on the LCD display.

The Vaquero’s 1700cc engine is an updated version of the same engine that powers Kawasaki’s other Vulcan 1700 models. A second piston ring improves durability, and a redesigned intake manifold offers better throttle response. The clutch and transmission have been modified for better engine feel, smoother torque transfer and quieter shifts. Twist the throttle and the readily available 108-ft-lbs of torque make all the difference between just going for a ride and creating some two-wheeled excitement.

The seating position fit my 5-foot 7-inch frame well, with an easy reach to the bars and comfortable scooped seat. Adjustable-reach shift and brake levers are standard, and you can easily change foot position since the Vaquero comes with good-sized floorboards and a heel-toe shifter.
Tricia prefers riding without a windshield, so the stock shield suited her perfectly. However, lots of accessory options are available if you prefer more wind protection.
A wide, plush seat sinks you deep into the bike.

The ride was plush and quiet, just how I like it. The 52-degree, liquid-cooled, SOHC V-twin engine has just enough V-twin character without all the ruckus. Digital fuel injection ensures the right fuel-air mixture, and the 6-speed transmission includes overdrive for a relaxed highway ride. I didn’t even play with the twin air-assisted shocks, which offer four-way rebound damping, but I found the ride extremely comfortable both for cruising and for ripping it up. The 130/90-16 inch front tire matched with the rear’s 170/70-16 inch offers solid planting without compromising quick, easy steering. Hitting some extreme lean angles, I managed to scrape the floorboards a little but was still impressed with the cornering clearance.

The Vaquero has a nice low center of gravity, making it relatively easy to maneuver around.

The Vaquero is a great bike for someone like me, who can handle the power and size of a heavier bike and who wants all the gizmos and luxuries a V-twin tourer comes with but prefers the look of a chopped bagger.

Specs at a Glance: 2011/2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero
Displacement: 1700cc
Seat Height: 28.7 inches
Wet Weight: 836 pounds
2012 Price: $16,799-$17,199
2012 Colors: Candy Plasma Blue; Candy Lime Green/Ebony
WRN Recommendation
Riders who are in the market for a luxury tourer will want to look at the Kawasaki Vaquero. The price is less than that of comparable luxury tourers, especially considering all you get with this motorcycle. But note that this is a big bike, so only experienced riders should consider this motorcycle.

About the Author
Tricia Szulewski has maintained the woman rider’s perspective in RoadBike magazine since 1999. As the magazine’s art director and staff writer, Tricia feels incredibly fortunate to have a career combining both her passions—art and motorcycles. She is an MSF instructor and logs thousands of miles each year on anythinear on anything that shows up in the company stable. You can find some of Tricia’s bike reviews, adventures, product evaluations and more at     

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4 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2011/2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero

  1. I have always loved motorcycles, especially cruisers. I promised my wife I would not purchase a bike until our kids were older. I had some serious health issues and decided it was time or I may never get a chance. I took the MSF course in October 2015, but hurt my right wrist a couple weeks after successfully completing the course. Looked for a bike for almost a month after sitting on the Vulcan Vaquero 1700. I researched the bike, watched more than 100 hours of videos, and talked to every person I could about the bike. I bought the bike in November 2015, started riding in December 2015. I have more than 5,600 miles on it. People told me not to buy a big bike, however, after 20 years as a combat soldier I knew with patience and training I would be OK. The Army did not issue me a small anything. Training made it possible. I love this bike and ride it every day possible. This was not the ideal way to decide on a bike but it worked for me. I was a drill sargent for three years, an infantry for 20 years, and a patriot forever. Hoooah!

  2. I purchased the Vaquero in October 2011, my first bike. Rode it home the day I purchased. I have put more than 16,000 miles on it in the first year. I love the Vaquero. This was the right bike for me.

  3. My wife now rides a 2003 Vulcan Nomad with the Mustang seat/backrest and loves it. She cam plant both feet flat on the ground. I am really trying to get her interested in the Vaquero, but the stock seat is a bit high for her, and the Mustang seat doesn’t lower it any, as she sat on a friend’s Vaqureo that had that seat setup. No demo-ride yet, but many “test-sits” at dealers.

  4. I bought my Vaquero on January 27, 2012. It was the BEST decision I made! I love this bike and all that it offers me. I’ve been riding for 32 years and have owned and ridden many motorcycles including Gold Wings and Harleys. This bike has not disappointed me in the least. I ride it every day and am totally blessed that living in the state of Florida affords me this ability. I love my Vaquero!

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