The dictionary defines vaquero as a Spanish-origin word meaning “cowboy” or “herdsman.” Well, if that cowboy happened to be independent, adventurous, undeniably-cool and sported handmade boots and a custom hat, he’d probably ride a 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan® 1700 Vaquero™.
Baggers are arguably the coolest cruisers these days, and it’s not a stretch to see why. The really good ones are low, long, ultra stylish and, with their chopped fairings and hard-case side bags, plenty functional.
The new Vaquero bagger is all that – and much more. Kawasaki engineers and designers didn’t just throw custom paint and a blacked-out motif on a Vulcan 1700 and call it done. They digested valuable owner and market research, and scrutinized every system – engine, chassis, features, bodywork and appearance – to ensure that the bike being developed squared nicely with what cruiser buyers wanted.
Custom, blacked-out details are your first clue to the new Vaquero’s mission, and there’s plenty to see. It all starts with the beautiful Ebony or Candy Fire Red paint on the abbreviated fairing, sculpted tank and curvaceous bodywork that looks as if it could be a half-inch deep. Luxurious chrome accents (engine guards, exhaust, mirrors, etc.) provide a beautiful counterpoint to the glossy paintwork, but it’s perhaps the multi-textured blacked-out engine and chassis treatment that best highlights the Vaquero’s radical aesthetic look. The engine, air-cleaner cover, wheels, fork assembly and tank cover all get the blackout treatment, which gives the bike a true custom look that’s beautiful and menacing at once. It’s definitely not a motorcycle you’ll easily forget.
Beneath all that beautiful bodywork, paint and chrome is a superbly engineered motorcycle, one that blends power, handling, durability and confidence-inspiring character in a massively functional package. It all starts with the Vaquero’s 1700cc liquid-cooled V-twin, which powers all four Vulcan 1700 models for 2011 – Voyager®, Classic, Nomad™ and Vaquero. A thoroughly proven design, this 52-degree Vee boasts the very latest in engine technology yet looks like a throwback to the past, a time when the V-twin was the engine to have powering your motorcycle. Features include an overhead cam design, high compression and a long-stroke dimensional design that results in the sort of effortless low- and mid-range thrust that’s so desirable and useful in a big-inch cruiser.
Vaquero’s throttle valve system works with the advanced electronic fuel injection to optimize engine response without detracting from its distinctive V-twin throb. The system utilizes an Accelerator Position Sensor (APS) and a Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) that feed data to the ECU, which adjusts the throttle plates to tailor intake airflow accordingly. The system offers a natural throttle feel, because the APS is activated by a throttle body pulley connected by cables to the throttle grip. Besides the obvious FI advantages such as improved fuel economy and automatic adjustment for altitude changes, the system also permits easy hands-off warm-up and idle speed control. Vaquero also features a water-cooled alternator that produces a staggering 46.8 amps of electrical output – plenty to power a selection of electronic accessories to enrich motorcycle travel.
The result of all this new-think engine tech is a massive quantity of usable torque spread out over a shockingly wide rpm range. With 108 foot-pounds of torque, a mere twist of the Vaquero’s throttle delivers arm-stretching acceleration for freeway passing or spirited riding, and the smooth wave of low-rpm grunt is always ready to please when you’re just boppin’ down the boulevard, checking out the scene and chillin’.
Speaking of just cruisin’ along; the Vaquero offers true touring-bike convenience in the form of its electronic cruise control system, conveniently operated from the right handlebar and usable at any speed between 30 and 85 mph in any of the top four gears. The cruise system can be disengaged in any of the following ways: usage of the brake lever, clutch lever, rear brake pedal, or manually turning the throttle grip past the “closed” position.
Additional touring acumen shines through the engine’s six-speed transmission with overdriven 5th and 6th gears, which contributes to a relaxed ride and excellent fuel economy at highway speeds. Power is routed to the rear wheel via a narrow carbon fiber-reinforced drive belt that has a 40 percent higher tensile strength than current Kevlar belts. And that chopped, custom-look fairing? Although lower than a traditional windshield or full fairing, it still cuts a decent-sized hole in oncoming atmosphere, giving the rider a useful still-air cocoon in which to enjoy the ride.
Lockable side-loading hard bags set the Vaquero apart from its Vulcan 1700 brethren. They’re beautifully integrated and spacious, and styled to highlight the bike’s long, low look. A scooped saddle offers a comfortable rider perch, while a minimalist passenger pad sits atop a wildly shaped rear fender that integrates equally stylish taillight and turn signal assemblies.
The frame holding all this hardware together is a single backbone, double cradle unit designed to be a slim and light as possible for an easy reach to the ground and optimal handling. Bolted to the steering head is a mammoth fork assembly offering 5.5 inches of wheel travel and a thoroughly compliant ride. Suspension in back consists of twin air-assisted shocks with spring preload and rebound damping adjustability working through a beefy steel swingarm. Nine-spoke cast aluminum flat-black wheels hold fat, 130/90 front and 170/70 radial tires that offer light handling characteristics, superb traction and long life. Braking hardware consists of dual 300mm front discs with twin-piston calipers and a 300mm rear disc with a two-piston caliper.
It all adds up to a truly top-of-the-line bagger that encompasses a perfect combination of traits: It’s functional in a wide range of environments, from inner-city cruisin’ to running down the open road. It’s got highly advanced technology. And it’s knee-shakingly beautiful, a bike that’ll put goosebumps on your arms and neck every time you open the garage door to take a peek. We’re sure any hombre would appreciate this one. Custom hat and all…
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