Kawasaki Voyager 1700, Road Comfort 101

Photos by Adam Campbell
Story By Neale Bayly
Riveted in the moment, breathing slowly, trying to absorb the intensity of Mother Nature while buzzing on my man made mechanical steed, I have attained my own motorcycle nirvana. Rolling out of Lone Pine, California, as the sun lights the gleaming white snow on Mount Whitney two miles above us, I’ve found it. I’ve found the perfect speed and mental attitude to fully appreciate the new 2010 Kawasaki Voyager as we head south through the majestic Owens Valley. Riding for the past couple of days from Irvine, California, to the Alabama hills, and then into Death Valley with photos and video in mind, in this moment I find the big Kawasaki touring rig’s sweet spot. The work all done, this is a pure pleasure cruise, and rumbling down the picturesque highway I don’t want it to end.

With the tachometer reading right around twenty five hundred rpm, and the speedometer needle somewhere between 67-71mph, the throttle is barely cracked. Sat comfortably in the broad, sculptured saddle, the engine simply purrs, and the full touring fairing is deflecting the cool air as we effortlessly roll down the two-lane highway. It’s like being on a giant conveyor belt with some gentle vibration and a light breeze programmed in for physical stimulation, while the sensory department gets stunning, postcard perfect mountain backdrops to enjoy. To my right, the Alabama hills provide a golden base for the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Crest, as vivid blue dry salt lakes shine brightly to my left. Low flat land rolls up to a softer mountain range that pushes up into the cloudless sky, and the air at this altitude is refreshing and energizing. Turning on the sound system, I decide to over-stimulate my highly engaged grey matter with a little music from my IPod.

I missed the press intro for the Kawasaki Voyager 1700 when it was released in 2009, so while the new 2010 is essentially the same machine with some minor revisions, it’s new to me. Replacing the venerable Vulcan 1600 with an improved 1700cc power plant, the new 52-degree V-twin now kicks out 108 ft-lbs of torque at 2750 rpm, which is about a 15% increase. It’s also making 20% more horsepower and this peaks at 5,000rpm, with the rev limiter kicking in a thousand rpm beyond this point. Compression ratio for the large 102mm pistons is 9.5:1 and they run in a 104mm stroke. These figures are a little different to the other models on this platform, with the Voyager being the mildest of the bunch.

A single overhead camshaft opens and closes four valves per cylinder, wile two 42mm throttle bodies feed fuel and air into the big cylinders thanks to the digital fuel injection. An electronic valve provides the perfect cocktail by reading the throttle position, its load, and the air pressure and temperature. Making for near perfect fueling any where from idle to red line, there were a couple of times when the system felt like it was not performing just as it should. Coming off a long straight road where I had been running on a constant throttle, the bike did some minor coughs after the stop sign when I came back on the throttle. The only problem was it happened after filling the gas tank in Death Valley, and I can’t say it wasn’t a case of some bad fuel as it only happened that significantly on the one occasion. At other times it felt like we experienced a brief lean condition, which could have been the wind pushing the big rig around. For the rest of the time it performed flawlessly, and when in it’s sweet spot the bike’s is as good as it gets on two wheels.

Power is taken to the rear wheel via a six-speed transmission and belt drive. Cleaner and more efficient than the old shaft drive system Kawasaki has seemed fond off, it uses the top two gears as overdrives. This makes for a very relaxed ride at highway speeds. Realizing this corresponds to the bike’s peak torque output explains why rolling down the road around 70mph is so effortless. The engine uses twin counter balancers, so the vibration from the single pin crankshaft is minimal until the engine starts approaching the red line where it starts to let you know it’s there. Acceleration on the big Kawasaki is measured and predictable, and the bike responds better to planned inputs when overtaking. Visually, the big V-twin engine is a real looker. Masquerading as an air-cooled lump, it is liquid cooled with finned cylinders and nice chrome accents on the cam covers and lower end of the engine. These are further accentuated as the rest of the engine parts have a matte black finish, which really helps make the chrome parts stand out.

Holding the big motor in place, the Voyager uses a double cradle steel frame with a box section single tube backbone. A beefy looking conventional 45mm hydraulic fork lives up front and has 5.5 inches of travel. It holds a sixteen-inch front wheel with a 130/90 series tire. Braking duties are taken care of by a pair of 300mm rotors that get squeezed by four piston calipers. The version of the Voyager here in the pictures comes with ABS, which is an $1100 option at time of purchase. Using what Kawasaki calls “K-ACT”, the linked braking system is also used on the Concours 1400, and applying the rear brake activates one of the front discs. Pulling the front brake lever works both the front discs in a conventional manner. Pressure sensors on the master cylinders read the bikes’ speed, and make necessary adjustments to the front/rear brake bias accordingly. The system is also disabled at speeds under 12 mph, and the ABS at 4mph. This makes U turns a lot easier when you have to rely solely on the rear brake to make the maneuver. Having used the system on a skid pad, while testing the Concourse, it really is a fabulous safety feature and hopefully one you’ll never need.

Air assisted shocks are used in the rear, and a 170/70 series tire wraps around another sixteen-inch rim. The shocks are adjustable for rebound damping and provide a very compliant ride. The front fork is typically cruiser soft, so it’s a good job the brakes don’t work it any harder, but during my time on the big cruiser we got to experience a wide variety road surfaces and I have no complaints about the way the suspension dealt with them. Start pushing the Voyager on a twisty road and its 886-pound weight makes itself known, but handling is super light and responsive thanks to the comfortable wide bars at sensible speeds. Besides, hustling along canyon roads is not what this motorcycle is about. Coming with a 5.3 gallon tank, you have close to a 200 mile range before looking for fuel, and the sophisticated on-board computer tells you how many miles you have left before fill up time.

Sitting comfortably in the pilots seat, the initial view inside the fairing is pure old school. Good sized round analogue dials rimmed with chrome read engine and road speed, while a slightly larger multi-function LCD display in the middle gives a plethora of information to keep the savvy traveler on course. Featuring a gear position indicator, remaining fuel range and average fuel consumption indicators (over 40mpg for my bike during the trip) and dual trip meters, odometer, and additional fuel gauge you are not going to be in need ofin flight information on the Voyager. There is also a traditional fuel gauge to the left of the speedometer and a temperature gauge to the right of the tachometer. Over on the right handlebar is the switch for the cruise control. There are no surprises with the way this works, and touching either brake puts you instantly back in control of the throttle.

The old fashioned looking radio not only does FM/AM duties, but handles Satellite radio, your MP3 and the on-board CB radio, a neat feature that is apparently making a return.  And simply installing a head set system provided by Kawasaki before we left Irvine, we were easily able to communicate with each other via CB as we rode. A simple system that cuts out the music when someone starts speaking, it will be a great asset to those traveling with their fellow Voyager riders, or those wanting to communicate with truckers and other Citizen’s Band users. We had a lot of fun with the system and the headphones gave great in-helmet sound when listening to the radio or my MP3. The sound system also allows you to listen to music through the bike’s speakers located in the fairing, and this didn’t quite offer the same quality of sound. Not that it was bad, but the headphones just do a better job. The sound system can be operated with buttons on the radio, or by a series of switches on the left handlebar. These are a tad complicated to get right, and some familiarization before hitting the road will make them a lot easier to use, as there are a lot of different choices you can perform. You don’t want to be learning them on the move. You can even listen to music when you are off the bike by putting the ignition switch collar to the ACC position, and also still use the accessories. This is a nice feature when you are pulled over admiring the view and want a little music to compliment your experience.

For the distance rider the full fairing has a large windshield that offers plenty of protection. Frame mounted, the bike is more stable in high winds than if it were mounted to the handlebars. This also helps contribute to the light steering. The leg shields have adjustable vents to allow you to control airflow and the bike has better heat protection for the rider than the ’09, according to Kawasaki’s PR man. Luggage capacity is ample, and the large trunk can take two full-face helmets, or 13.2 gallons of whatever you take with you on trips. There is an additional 20 gallons of storage space available between the two side cases, and these have a refreshingly easy top opening system and, like the trunk, are fully lockable.

The Kawasaki Voyager is traditionally styled, and the bike exudes quality with deep luster paint and liquid smooth chrome. It’s available in a choice of Metallic Diablo Black and Metallic Imperial Red, or Metallic Midnight Sapphire Blue and Metallic Moondust Gray. The price for the non-ABS version is $17,299, and with ABS it’ll run you $18,399. It comes with Kawasaki’s traditional 36-month warranty and is available at dealers. Priced competitively, with a number of sensible upgrades from last year’s model based on customer feedback, Kawasaki has done a great job with the Voyager if you are looking for a bike in the heavy duty touring category. Sophisticated, with it’s modern conveniences and safety features, it is still capable of giving the raw, visceral experience long distance touring riders are looking for, and it has a truck load of looks and personality to go with it.