Look out, coming through! The 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide and the 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager duke it out for bragging rights as king of the V-Twin-powered touring motorcycles.
Harley-Davidson’s Ultra Classic Electra Glide is the gold standard in classic luxury-touring motorcycles. Since its introduction in 1988, the Electra Glide has become an iconic image on American roadways. Easily identified by its big ‘batwing’ front fairing, with one of the cushiest perches around in the form of its wide leather seat, passenger accommodations that rival a La-Z-Boy recliner and storage galore courtesy of its Tour Pak system, Harley-Davidson’s top-shelf touring motorcycle has been a best seller for two decades. A recent trip to Sturgis validated these claims, as Electra Glide owners gathered by the thousands.
The Kawasaki Voyager is no stranger to the luxury-touring game either. Its inception stemmed from the development of Kawasaki’s KZ1300 in 1979, a liquid-cooled, six-cylinder, DOHC power cruiser that was eventually outfitted with touring accoutrements and marketed as Kawasaki’s first full dress touring bike, the ‘Voyager,’ in 1983. In 1986, Kawasaki trimmed the six-cylinder engine down to four. The new 1200cc Inline-Four Voyager enjoyed a lengthy production run up until 2003, when it was discontinued due in part to sagging sales numbers.
This year, Kawasaki reintroduced the Voyager, only this time with a V-Twin engine clearly chosen to appeal to the American V-Twin touring segment. Based on the preexisting powerplant developed in its Vulcan line of cruisers, the
Even with a retro-influenced front fairing, the 2009 Voyager sports a more modern, streamlined look than the classic countenance of the 2009 Ultra Classic Electra Glide.
new 52-degree V-Twin boasts 1700cc of highway-cruising power. The new Voyager also has been technologically updated with a fully electronic throttle valve system and Kawasaki’s Advanced Coactive Braking Technology (K-ACT). It sources muscle car-inspired styling to further appeal to its intended demographic and sports a lower selling point than its American counterpart.
Harley’s Electra Glide hasn’t been resting on its laurels, though. Last year, H-D took huge steps toward making its luxury-touring motorcycle even better. The time-honored, stamped and welded single-piece frame was replaced by a cast single-spar, rigid-backbone frame that gave the big tourer a 70-lb greater load capacity. The upgraded chassis has a wider, longer, stiffer swingarm to go along with a bolt-on tail frame. Modern conveniences like ABS and an electronic throttle control system also enhanced the motorcycle’s marketability. New mounts gave the vaunted Tour Pak system even greater load capacity, and a fourth rubber engine mount helped smooth out the ride. Evolution is necessary if you aim to stay on top of the game.
The motorcycle touring segment has always catered to the more affluent demographic of motorcyclists. Its average rider is older, has a bigger bank account and generally more leisure time to hit the open road. So reinvesting resources to tap into some of that market is a smart move by Kawasaki. But how does the first metric V-Twin-powered full dress touring motorcycle stack up to the ‘gold standard,’ Harley-Davidson’s Electra Glide? Motorcycle USA would spend five days finding out, cruising California’s Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to San Diego, rolling through the hills of Ortega Highway, then finally scaling the mountain on the wondrous patch of pavement that runs up to Big Bear, known as the Rim of the World Highway. We stuffed the saddlebags and spent many of those miles two-up, because that’s how these motorcycles were intended to roll, right? In the end, the two match-up favorably, but only one gets the nod in this V-Twin touring motorcycle comparo.