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

Pairing Up This Year's Two Hottest Traveling Companions

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.

Windshields on both bikes are high, but those who prefer being fully shrouded from the elements will prefer the Kawasaki's. Both feature a host of electronic gadgets: speedometer, odometer, tripmeters, clock, low-fuel light and mileage-countdown, plus all the obligatory indicators and running lights. The Kawasaki's low-fuel light, which overrides the "miles remaining" icon, wakes up about 100 miles before it needs to, which can be a little nerve-wracking in the middle of nowhere.

The Harley's air-cooled, 1584cc, pushrod twin is noticeably underpowered, and the Vulcan isn't a hot rod either, especially when fully loaded and climbing hills or making passes. What do you do in such circumstances? Relax. They're cruisers. So cruise. The Kawasaki uses a fly-by-wire electronic throttle valve instead of Harley's more traditional sequential-port setup. While we don't have any harsh words for the new digital injection system, you'll notice a difference-usually as a subtle delay when closing the throttle or engaging the otherwise excellent cruise control. No need for drastic last-minute speed corrections to compensate for terrain. The Kawasaki's is constantly, almost manically, dialing itself in. Cruise control on the Harley is likewise easy to engage and does an adequate job of smoothly propelling the bike.

Meanwhile, we're three people on two touring bikes. And two of us are women, so luggage capacity is a factor. As it turns out, the Kawasaki's saddlebags are much roomier, wider and easier to access. On the other hand, the Harley's trunk is downright cavernous-the envy of the hot-roller set. Both saddlebag systems use similar pullover-lid latch mechanisms that allow top-loading usefulness, and since said lids don't actually detach, you won't lose them on the road. The flip side to top-loaders is you have to pack popular items last to minimize digging.

The latch/lock on the Harley's saddlebags is a minor puzzle to the uninitiated, but once mastered, it's the system of choice. The Kawasaki's closures are simple and adequate. All are lockable. Both trunks open smartly from the side so you can load and offload sundries, maps and cameras without disturbing your passenger or whatever gear you've left sitting on the pillion. Harley's trunk locks are tough and durable. Our 'Glide had over 10,000 miles on the odometer and everything still worked flawlessly. Kawasaki might want to take another look at the locking apparatus on the Voyager's trunk, since they're a little finicky and felt ready to break.

Comfort? It's the Harley, buns down. The firmer seat fit us better, and it's a better match to the bike's ergonomics. Hannah especially liked the Harley pillion because it wasn't so high above the rider's seat. The Kawasaki's taller pillion effectively negates its nicely padded trunk cushion. But we loved the massive candlepower from the Kawasaki's dual headlights on night rides. Too many bikes won't allow you to use the high beam and the driving lights simultaneously, but the Voyager lets them all shine at once-a serious advantage on dark country roads.

And we did plenty of country-road night riding on this tour, because we always seemed to be running late. Showing Hannah our old stomping grounds meant lots of peering into windows of boarded-up cafes and kickin' tires at dusty gas stations, which took time.

The highlight, of course, was revisiting the beach town where we'd gotten married. We even stayed in the same ol' Seacrest motel, which has become unrecognizably hip. As for F. McLintocks, where 20 years ago we fed 150 of our closest friends and relatives deep-fried turkey nuts and then spit out some time-limited wedding vows, everything is exactly the same. Right down to our wedding picture, which still hangs by the huge stuffed buffalo in the bar.

And right about then, some bar slut slinked right up into Perry's face, dripping Long Island Iced Tea all over Hannah and me, and slobbered, "Hey, aren't you that guy? That guy from that show?"

I love being divorced from a celebrity.

2009 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide | Price: $19,919 (As Tested: $20,984)

Tech Spec |
Engine type: a-c 45-deg. V-twin Rear brake: Single Brembo four-piston caliper, 300mm disc **Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): ** 47/35/41 mpg
Valve train: OHV, 4v Front tire: 130/80-B17 Dunlop D407 Availability: Now
**Displacement: **1584cc Rear tire: 180/65-B16 Dunlop D407 Warranty: 24 mo./unlimited mi.
**Bore x stroke: **92.25 x 111.25mm Rake/trail: 26.0 deg./6.7 in. Contact: Harley-Davidson Motor Co. 3700 W. Juneau Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53208 414.343.4056 www.harley-davidson.com
Compression: 9.2:1 Seat height: 27.3 in.
Fuel system: EFI Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
**Clutch: **Wet, multi-plate Fuel capacity: 6.0 gal.
**Transmission: **6-speed Weight (tank full/empty): 877/841 lbs.
Frame: Steel double cradle Measured horsepower: 64.0 bhp @ 5250 rpm
Front suspension: 41.3mm Showa fork Measured torque: 78.3 lb.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
**Rear suspension: ** Twin Showa shocks with air-adjustable preload Corrected 1/4-mile: 14.57 sec. @ 87.97 mph
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 300mm discs Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 13.95 sec.

Output is woefully insufficient for an 877-pound motorcycle, but the 64 horsepower the 96-cubic-inch Electra Glide produces is certainly an improvement over the older 88-c.i. mill. The torque curve is admirable, however, with over 70 lb.-ft. available from idle on up to 4500 rpm.

The Harley is the king of comfort. Firm, well-contoured saddle and perfectly placed floorboards aside, the new frame and suspension make the ride noticeably smoother. The smaller windscreen and lack of leg protection are the only places the Harley falls short of the Kawasaki.

2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager | Price: $16,799 (As Tested: $17,899)

Tech Spec |
Engine type: l-c 50-deg. V-twin Rear brake: Single Tokico two-piston caliper, 300mm disc **Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): ** 42/32/35 mpg
Valve train: SOHC, 8v Front tire: 130/90-B16 Bridgestone Exedra Availability: Now
**Displacement: **1700cc Rear tire: 170/70-B16 Bridgestone Exedra Warranty: 36 mo./unlimited mi.
**Bore x stroke: **102.0 x 104.0mm Rake/trail: 30.0 deg./7.0 in. Contact: Kawasaki Motor Corp. 9950 Jeronimo Rd. Irvine, CA 92618 949.770.0400 www.kawasaki.com
Compression: 9.5:1 Seat height: 28.7 in.
Fuel system: EFI Wheelbase: 65.6 in.
**Clutch: **Wet, multi-plate Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal.
**Transmission: **6-speed Weight (tank full/empty): 899/867 lbs.
Frame: Steel double-cradle Measured horsepower: 65.9 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Front suspension: 45mm Showa fork Measured torque: 84.3 lb.-ft. @ 2750 rpm
**Rear suspension: ** Twin Showa shocks with air-adjustable preload and rebound damping Corrected 1/4-mile: 14.71 sec. @ 86.32 sec.
Front brake: Dual Tokico two-piston calipers, 300mm discs Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 10.62 sec.

More displacement, twice the valve count and a jacket of cooling liquid around each cylinder help the Kawasaki churn out 2 more horses than the Harley. Though the Vulcan weighs 22 pounds more, twisting its throttle yields greater forward progress thanks to 6 lb.-ft. more torque.

The Vulcan benefits from a larger windscreen and vented lower fairings that make all the difference on chilly evenings. Both these landboats feel like Lay-Z-Boys, but the Vulcan has a slightly larger cockpit. An extra inch of legroom and higher bars make the Kawasaki more welcoming to taller riders.

Harley gave the Electra Glide a new steel superstructure, laying the foundation for reassuring stability in corners. The stronger skeleton lets the '09 version carry another 70 lbs. of passenger or cargo.
A new 28-spoke, 17-inch front wheel wears 130/80 Dunlop D407 rubber for more solid steering feedback.
Witness the face that launched a thousand trips. Imagine a '58 Cadillac with modern road manners and you've got the idea. There's no need to be fast when you look this good.
The antiquarian batwing fairing provides decent protection from the elements, as well as a home for all the customary touring accoutrements. Bring your own GPS-we did.
New injection-molded GTX saddlebags and King Tour-Pak carry 5 lbs. more gear than before.
The good ship Voyager inspires more trepidation than confidence when this cornucopia of chrome touches down in the twisty bits. The 1700 is much happier following those straight lines on the map.
Kawasaki's take on the grand American land yacht is familiar without being blatantly derivative. If it had another 20 horsepower in a stiffer chassis, the 'Glide would be in big trouble.
There's a lot going on behind the Voyager's more protective fairing. Everything works nicely, though it takes a few hundred miles to remember which switch does what without looking down.
Passengers sit well above the rider, which makes settling into that comfy-looking backrest difficult.
Kawasaki wins on the technological front with its K-ACT linked-brake system with optional ABS.