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