Kawasaki brought back the Voyager after a six-year absence. Big Green’s new touring motorcycle features a 52-degree V-Twin engine, an electronic throttle valve system, and Kawasaki’s Advanced Coactive Braking Technology.
Once in motion, the importance of bringing the big bikes to a halt is paramount. Harley improved its braking performance by leaps and bounds when it switched to four-piston fixed Brembo calipers and developed ABS for its tourers. The 2009 Electra Glide features dual 11.81-inch discs up front and a single fixed rotor on the back. The dual front discs provide a solid bite, and the independent system provides ample stopping power. The version we tested was equipped with ABS, a $795 optional upgrade, which helps keep the motorcycle upright under heavy braking situations but still pulses hard underfoot when engaged.
The 2009 Voyager has a linked braking system called Kawasaki’s Advanced Coactive Braking Technology that works in conjunction with its ABS. The front is anchored by dual 300mm discs with dual Tokico twin-piston calipers, while a single 300mm disc operates out back with twin-piston pinchers. Pressure sensors at each master cylinder detect braking force while the ECU is measuring speed. The ECU figures out the optimal amount of braking force needed for the situation and pumps the perfect balance of brake fluid to the front right caliper and rear caliper. Grab a handful of front brake, and the system will activate the right hand front caliper on the rear brake as well. The Voyager’s ABS kicks in only under hard braking, and its pulse is much less noticeable than the Harley’s. There’s also less front-end dive under heavy braking situations. To get a Voyager with anti-lock brakes, add $1100 to the $16,799 sticker price.
The Voyager has Kawasaki’s Advanced Coactive-Braking Technology and ABS that intrudes with quicker brake modulation (top). The front end on the Electra Glide features a 17 in. front tire wrapped around a new, black 28-spoke cast aluminum wheel. It also has Brembo brakes and ABS.
“Both brakes on the Voyager are more powerful and deliver better feel than the H-D’s. The ABS system was also better with it intruding with a quicker brake modulation, resulting in shorter stopping distance,” said Waheed.
Now that we’ve discussed engines, handling, and brakes on the two V-Twin-powered touring motorcycles, it’s time to analyze ergos and amenities. The Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, despite having a 2.1-inch shorter wheelbase, features a roomier, more comfortable rider’s triangle. The thickly padded leather one-piece, two-up classic leather is one of the cushiest seats you’ll find on a stock motorcycle. If you’re trying to go ‘Iron Butt,’ then the Electra Glide’s saddle would be my saddle of choice. It sits 27.3 inches high and the forward-mounted, full-length rider floorboards allow for a comfortable leg stretch. The upright riding position situated my six-foot-tall frame so that the front windscreen sits right at eye level, and I often found myself ducking slightly on turns to get a clear field of view. The windscreen, vented lower fairings, and adjustable fairing wind deflectors adequately shelter a rider from windblast. Long highway stretches gave me plenty of opportunities to crank up the 80-watt, 4-speaker advanced audio system by Harman/Kardon. The fork-mounted front fairing features an electronic speedometer with odometer, clock on the CD player/stereo, dual tripmeters and a slew of indicator lights. I didn’t use the CB and intercom system that comes standard, but I did utilize the cruise control. Its housing on the right handlebar is easy to manipulate with gloved fingers, and the system kept speed constant and steady.
The rider’s triangle on the Kawasaki Voyager has the distinction of being the most compact ergos I’ve experienced on a touring motorcycle. The seat sits higher than the Electra Glides at 28.7 inches and the upright riding position is about the same, but it’s a short reach to the bars and the 5.3 gallon tank isn’t nearly as wide. The rider floorboards are in tight, leaving you in an attentive, almost studious-feeling riding position. It’s comfortable for short runs, but at six-feet tall, it became cramped over long hauls. Waheed, who is about the same height, conveyed the similar sentiments.
“Ergonomics were mixed,” he says. “I actually felt a bit cramped on the Voyager as compared to the H-D. The seat also wasn’t as comfortable.”
The Voyager has its own soft, sculpted leather seat, but it doesn’t have the same amount of backside cushion as the Harley. Its large front windscreen, muscle-car styled front fairing, and leg shields with adjustable vents provided just as good a buffer from the wind as the Glide. The windscreen also sits at a better height for me and didn’t obstruct my field
The cockpit of the 2009 Voyager is a combination of dial speedo and tach gauges with a digital display for the odometer,mpg, gear indicator, and standard clock.
of view. Cranking up the tunes on the 40-watt system didn’t quite compare to the kickin’ audio system of the H-D, which is understandable considering it is a two-speaker system instead of four. The cockpit is a mix of analog and digital displays, with a dial speedo, tach, fuel and coolant temperature gauges combined with a centrally-located LCD display. The digital readout has a gear position indicator, clock, a display that tells you remaining range and tallies average fuel consumption and dual trip meters. Controls for the array of electronics are regulated by housings on both handlebars, and while they are more intuitively arranged than the Electra Glide’s, accessing the lower two buttons on the three-button tall housing requires long fingers. The cruise control is simple enough to manipulate and can be activated in third gear or above at speeds between 30 and 85mph, but the cruise control had a habit of surging on me.
I give Kawasaki’s styling department props for the hot rod-inspired design of the Voyager. The uniquely-shaped frame-mounted front fairing was the topic of many conversations during gas station stops. The rounded saddlebags add to the aerodynamics of the bike, and the top-loading bags are wider and easier to access than the Harley’s. The lockable, color-matched bags have a healthy 38 liters of storage each, but the latches are a little touchy and require a firm push to get them snapped into place. The trunk doesn’t quite have the capacity of the Electra Glide’s Tour Pak, but there’s still room for plenty of travel necessities with 50 liters of storage space. But the Voyager’s overall fit and finish isn’t as r
The Kawasaki Voyager has the most compact riding triangle of any luxury touring motorcycle I’ve ridden.
efined as the Harley’s, as plastic bits and pieces don’t have the same luster as finished metal.
The Harley-Davidson Electra Glide’s fit and finish is top-notch. As Waheed notes, “Everything fits together perfectly and all of the individual components have a very solid, weighty feel.” From its ‘batwing’ fairing to its sweeping front fender down to details like the chrome crash guards on the saddlebags, the Electra Glide is classic and classy. Its seat and wrap-around passenger backrest are an unbeatable combination, and the GTX saddlebags, with 64 liter of total storage and the capacious, 70.79 liter Tour Pak topcase, provide plenty of long haul storage capacity. Its six-gallon fuel tank and better gas mileage equate to a few more miles in between stops.
The 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager is a strong new contestant in
The 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide remains the king of the mountain in V-Twin touring motorcycles.
the classic-styled V-Twin touring sector. Its torque-filled engine, solid brakes, cool retro front fairing, and $16,799 price tag make it a great buy. The chassis is close to being dialed in but still needs a few tweaks, and the extra horsepower it produces comes at the expense of engine noise and vibrations. The 2009 Ultra Classic Electra Glide is down on power, but runs with fewer vibrations, gets better gas mileage, and its larger tank gives it better range. The Glide’s stability at both high and low speeds is impressive, and cornering can actually be fun. Its brakes aren’t quite as good as the Voyager’s, but the disparity is marginal. The differences in fit and finish aren’t so close, though, as the Electra Glide’s classic lines are time-honored and tempered with steel. And while the Voyager makes a valiant return, it lacks the refinement of the Ultra Classic Electra Glide, the V-Twin tourer that continues to be the industry standard.