2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 LT

Humble, Not Huge

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Kawasaki

Too much of a good thing can mean big trouble, but a little more of a good thing-how bad can that be? Take into account Kawasaki replacing its 1600cc Vulcans with stronger, faster, more useful 1700cc versions in Classic, Nomad and LT guises.

The difference is subtle yet profound. Key is the all-new single-backbone, double-cradle frame, said to be 4.4 pounds lighter than the previous Vulcan 1600's yet 40 percent more rigid to encourage stability and support the new full-dress Voyager's fairing and luggage. The latest chassis is also shorter between seat and steering head to provide a more universally agreeable riding position, and better control at low speeds. As promised, the shorter wheelbase does improve the Vulcan's handling. Even the near-800-pound LT bagger feels nimble underway, whether at walking speeds or whipping past 18-wheelers. A new 43mm Showa fork replaces the 1600's wimpier 41mm setup, and the twin shocks are easily adjustable for rebound damping and air pressure-though the exposed valves aren't the most aesthetically pleasing details.

The new 1700cc engine is said to produce 15 percent more torque and 20 percent more horsepower than the retiring 1600, and you feel that additional punch right away. Fuel delivery to the liquid-cooled V-twin is managed by a sophisticated Electronic Throttle Valve (ETV) system, monitored by an automatic on-board diagnostic system. The ETV is said to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, but what riders will appreciate are the instant starts and extremely precise throttle response. Wicking that big-twin power produces a meatier exhaust note as well. On the LT it's almost too loud for long days on the road, because it's contained by the bike's enormous windshield. Around town, however, it sounds undeniably cool, and just shy of offensive. Perhaps the hearty exhaust will steer some buyer's away from straight-pipes. One can hope

The 1700 uses a carbon-fiber-reinforced belt instead of the 1600's heavier, less efficient shaft drive, and spreads power over six gears instead of five. The ratios are so spacious on top you'll hardly use overdrive unless you're floating up a freeway. And while top gear does report an immediate gain in fuel economy on the handy electronic display, it brings some serious vibes through the floorboards and handlebar.

We put 1000 miles on an LT and found it quite comfortable, with ergonomics that don't stretch out the rider as much as on the bigger Vulcan 2000. The levers are adjustable and the seat height is a relatively low 28.3 inches, but the adjustable windshield proved to be a love/hate look-through proposition in all positions, even for taller riders.

The $13,799 LT we tested is a true leather bagger with studded seats, passenger backrest and two-tone paint. The no-frills Classic model undercuts that by $1500, while the hard bag and windshield-equipped Nomad goes for $14,399. The full-dress Voyager is based on the same platform, and adds amenities such as a frame-mounted fairing, stereo and color-matched saddlebags and top trunk for $16,799. ABS is an $1100 option on the Voyager only.

The engine in the Nomad and Voyager is tuned differently than that in the other Vulcan models to emphasize high-rpm passing power over stoplight-to-stoplight acceleration. The exhaust is split instead of stacked to make room for the saddlebags, and the exhaust note is quieter as well. The ergonomics are made less cruiseresque by floorboards positioned more than an inch rearward. Both come with touring seats, an increase in spring and damping rates, and cruise control.

With the 500, 1500 and 1600cc versions still available from 2008, plus the best-selling 900, the new 1700 and the mammoth 2000, Kawasaki's Vulcan cruiser line is currently burgeoning with 15 models. The rumor mill has the 2000 going away in 2010, and with so much focus on this impressive new 1700, you have to wonder if the 2-liter will one day follow the path of Hummers and huge fake ta-tas.

Big is no longer the new black, even when it comes to the cruiser market.

By Jamie Elvidge
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