First Ride Review: Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS

Cowboy From The East

They say: Show-stopping style with performance and dependability. We say: Dependability is a talking point?

Although it had as many as four models once, these days Kawasaki's Vulcan 1700 series consists of just two V-twin touring cruisers with the same basic chassis and engine. Various combos of wheels, paint, and bodywork differentiate each model, and when the Vaquero came along in 2011, it was basically a stripped-down version of its immediate sibling and the only other Kawasaki big twin cruiser, the full-dress, dad-friendly Voyager. Well, if Harley-Davidson can play mix and match, why can't Kawasaki?

Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist

And while many product lines have seen new models in recent years, the Japanese manufacturers have largely been playing it safe with cruisers. Although it's been actively launching products in other segments, Kawasaki is no exception. The addition of the peppy, low-slung Vulcan S earlier this year was a welcome breath of fresh air to Team Green's cruiser lineup, but the meat of the series has remained basically the same since 2011—the year the Vaquero bagger was released. Sales have been good, which is why the Vaquero returns in Pearl Crystal White and new black trim. We tested the 2015 model, which is mechanically identical.

Don’t get hung up on the fact that they share underpinnings; the Vaquero's attitude is worlds apart from the Voyager’s. You can thank this cruiser's aesthetic flair for that, a look that combines old-school bagger and modern custom and splashes a black finish over the engine cases, cylinders, air-cleaner cover, wheels, and fork assembly. The contrast comes from chrome engine guards, exhaust and mirrors, and polished fins on the motor. A version of the Voyager's frame-mounted fairing carries the same robust audio system compatible with iPod, XM tuner, or CB radio units, but without the outboard spotlights, while analog-looking dash gauges and beefy air scoops channel a muscle-car vibe. Think of it as a more rounded Road Glide and you’ll be close.

Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS engine
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist

The 1,700cc long-stroke motor produces grunt almost instantly, shooting to nearly 80 pound-feet of torque at 1,100 rpm before hitting the 86.3 pound-feet peak at 1,820 rpm. Torque declines sharply after 3,000 rpm, though, so you find that down low and into the midrange, this bagger has the power and torque that you're expecting, but it’s wheezy up top.

Because of this trait, after you work past the very tall first gear, you'll be stirring the cogs more often to keep the Vaquero’s motor in its happy place. At least there’s a decent exhaust note down there, and the single-pin crank provides your requisite dose of cruiser shudder despite the fact that the Vulcan’s 52-degree vee spread isn’t something you’ll find out of Milwaukee.

Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS
©Motorcyclist

The Vaquero feels a bit taller than Harley's bagger, however, though a fairly compact rider's triangle means shorter motorcyclists will feel fine at the controls. Saddle comfort is great, with a well-shaped pocket to cradle your glutes, but that also means you're locked into position on the ride. As for wind protection, we'd recommend you swap in a taller shield if you're going to do any serious touring. If the saddlebags look familiar, that's because you've probably seen them in the Vulcan line for years. The keyed, side-opening arrangement means you have to open the lid carefully lest all your hastily packed crap pops out, but they are fairly roomy.

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Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS
©Motorcyclist

Frame-mounted fairing notwithstanding, this Vulcan feels like it carries its weight a bit higher than most baggers, and initial turn-ins can require a firm nudge at the grips. Still, the Vulcan responds decently commands, transitions smartly, and has good enough lean angles to keep you entertained. A chunky 130mm front tire helps keep things planted in the turns. When it comes time to slow the beast, the Vaquero’s binders offer meek initial bite but provide decent whoa power eventually. This system has both ABS as a backstop and K-ACT II proportional linking to get the most out of the trio of 300mm discs, the fronts snagged by twin four-piston calipers.

At $16,699, you're not paying Road Glide coin, but you’re also not getting the Harley’s heritage, chrome, and character. If you're cool with a nicely appointed big V-twin cruiser with ABS and cruise control as standard equipment, you won't be disappointed.

2015 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS review
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION  
Based on Kawasaki's seven-year-old Vulcan 1700 platform, the Vaquero adds saddlebags and a custom-styled fairing to the same engine and chassis as the Voyager.
RIVALS  
[H-D Road Glide][], [Victory][] Cross Country
TECH  
PRICE $16,699
ENGINE 1,700cc liquid-cooled 52° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER na
CLAIMED TORQUE 107.6 lb.-ft. @ 2750 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 45mm fork; 5.5-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shocks adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 3.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Tokico four-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Tokico two-piston caliper, 300mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 30.0°/7.0 in.
WHEELBASE 65.6 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 28.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.3 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 845 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT [kawasaki.com][]
VERDICT
Capable, comfortable, and full of features, the Vaquero isn’t exactly a Road Glide. But it doesn’t cost like one either.
2015 kawasaki vulcan vaquero 1700 abs review
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS engine
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS
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Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS
©Motorcyclist
2015 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS review
Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero 1700 ABS©Motorcyclist