Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classica vs. Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - Tour De Divorce

Pairing Up This Year's Two Hottest Traveling Companions

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Kevin Wing, Jamie Elvidge

I always hated being married to a celebrity. Especially in the early '90s when he was really hot. When I met Perry King, he played Cody Allen on ABC's Riptide. He was all mustache and muscles. I couldn't take him anywhere without a full-faced helmet.

Fast-forward through 10 years of marriage and 10 more of being divorced, 17 of which we've spent co-parenting our amazing daughter, Hannah. I realize it seems crazy to chum around with your ex, but we make way better friends than we did lovers. And our teenage kid loves hanging out with us because we don't bicker and moan the way most married couples do.

For years we've had this silly idea to recreate the beloved weekend ride of our romance years, apexing at the famous Shell Beach steakhouse, F. McLintocks, where we got married. We'd drag Hannah along to store away a complete eye-rolling remembrance of her family's existence.

As it turned out, Kawasaki released the Vulcan 1700 Voyager right on the heels of Harley-Davidson's remodeled Electra Glide Classic, with its new frame and drive system, giving us the perfect excuse for an imperfect "family" vacation.

Built on the all-new Vulcan 1700 platform, which uses a liquid-cooled, SOHC, 52-degree V-twin, the Voyager is the flagship of Kawasaki's new heavyweight-cruiser line. The big daddy Vulcan Classic 2000 prowls on, and we can only speculate that the company decided against using that platform because of its sheer enormity. Though the new Voyager chassis (which also carries Classic, Classic LT and Nomad kits) is lighter and shorter than the existing 1600cc frame, it makes for a hefty arrangement when you add standard touring amenities such as matching hard bags and trunk and a fork-mounted fairing.

Harley-Davidson's newly refined steel skeleton, with 50 percent fewer parts and 60 percent fewer welds, completely transforms America's favorite old-school land yacht. Those sometimes cantankerous chassis antics are gone for good, replaced by rock-steady response and well-tuned compliance. Except for being underpowered, the Classic is a kick in the chaps to ride, with enough cornering clearance to please seriously burly hooligans. Harley upgraded the suspension to accommodate the chassis' newfound road-worthiness, and we found the bike, when fully loaded and toting our 130-pound spawn, rode best with the air-adjustable shocks set at 15 psi.

The Voyager rides on a new frame as well, though it doesn't feel as refined as the Harley's. For a hefty cruiser it's easy enough to ride, but it loses points for vague front-end feel at parking-lots speeds and a pogo-pony rear suspension over road irregularities, especially in fast corners. It's more nuisance than menace, despite the fact that you can't calm things down by pumping up the air shocks or adding rebound damping. Unhappily, the Voyager doesn't offer the stellar cornering clearance of the Harley either, scraping floorboards so regularly it becomes part of the riding experience.

Brakes on both bikes are adequate, though we preferred the more precise, traditional feel of the Harley's independent system to the Kawasaki's new K-ACT linked setup. The K-ACT disengages at parking-lot speeds, making U-turns and other low-speed maneuvers easier. Both top-end tourers offer ABS: an $1100 option on the Kawasaki and $800 on the Harley. We had no problems with the ABS in practice situations, though the Kawasaki system kicks in too easily in the rear, and the pulsing through the pedal is annoying.

But form trumps function for retro-tourer fans, most of whom love the Harley's look simply because it hasn't changed in 20 years. How do you beat that batwing fairing? Kawasaki tried, and the Voyager fairing is nice, complete with '60s musclecar gauges in the cockpit. Still, the nouveau-retro vibe doesn't blend seamlessly with that high-tech data-display screen in the center of the dash. There's a whiff of cheesiness in those shiny plastic speaker housings as well. Audiophile-quality stereo will require helmet speakers on both bikes, but an in-the-wind comparison goes to the Kawasaki. The Harley's controls are more intuitive, probably because they haven't changed in decades, and Kawasaki's more complicated system comes with a steep learning curve.

The Electra Glide Classic we tested didn't have the lowers you'll find on the $23,000 Ultra Classic. We missed their protection and nifty storage pockets. In addition to lockable pockets, the Voyager's lowers feature huge air vents that open and close mechanically, and make quite a difference on a hot day or cool night, though opening or closing them while moving is inadvisable.

By Jamie Elvidge
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