The 2009 Ultra Classic Electra Glide’s handling benefits greatly from its new cast single-spar, rigid-backbone frame, and wider, longer, stiffer swingarm.
Though these behemoths aren’t built to drag, a torque-filled engine and the power to propel 1200 lbs of rider, passenger, and bike with full saddlebags is a necessity. To fuel its fire, the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide sources the air-cooled, 1584cc Twin Cam 96 engine, pushrod operated with an overhead valve arrangement. Instead of pushrods, the liquid-cooled Voyager Twin uses a single overhead cam in each cylinder, with four-valve heads (as opposed to the TC 96’s two valves per), and the Voyager’s 0.27-inch bigger bore yields a 0.3-higher compression ratio.
Despite the Voyager’s 116cc displacement advantage (1700cc to 1584cc), the engines are fairly close coming off the line. The Electra Glide’s torque curve doesn’t fluctuate much, which means it’s got as much torque down low as it does at higher rpm, and holds its own against the Kawasaki up until about 2400 rpm. At that point, the Voyager power spikes hard and continues to climb, and it’s in the mid-to-high rpm range that the extra power of the Kawasaki helps it pull away. While the Electra Glide is still building up to reach its 73.11 lb-ft peak torque at 3500 rpm, the Voyager has already hit its 88.08 lb-ft max at 3000 rpm and is still in that range by the time the Harley peaks out.
“Its low rpm engine performance feels better than the Kawi, but once you rev it up it falls on its face. The Kawi definitely feels like it delivers more acceleration in the mid-to-high rpm range,” says Motorcycle USA’s Road Editor, Adam Waheed.
The Electra Glide’s TC 96 actually has more horsepower at 2000 rpm, which corroborates Waheed’s assertion that the Harley has responsive power off the line. But again in the 2400 rpm range, the horsepower curve of the Voyager begins to distance itself from the Electra Glide, eventually peeking at 68.51 hp at 5300 rpm, according to our Mickey Cohen Motorsports dyno charts.
2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide vs.
2009 Kawasaki Voyager dyno results, courtesy of Mickey Cohen Motorsports.
The Voyager’s engine gets the nod in overall performance, but not without a few demerits. Despite it being liquid-cooled, the heat coming off the Kawasaki’s 52-degree V-Twin on a 100-plus degree day in stop-and-go traffic roasted my right calf. The mill emits serious heat. The Electra Glide was much more tolerable. Last year, H-D rerouted the exhaust under the frame away from the rider instead of its prior arrangement under the seat. It also has a rider-activated cylinder deactivation system that curtails heat when you’re stuck at idle. Roll the throttle grip forward for five seconds to engage the Engine Idle Temperature Management System, which in turn will stop fueling the rear cylinder. The cruise control indicator light will flash green to let you know it’s on. Give the bike a little throttle, and the cylinder will begin to fire normally. Sitting in traffic wearing a leather jacket and helmet on a warm day with a notoriously hot-running V-Twin engine between your legs already sucks enough, so we applaud Harley’s attempt at keeping rider’s comfortable.
We also experienced more vibrations in the saddle from the Voyager’s engine. Kawasaki went with twin counterbalancers to curb some of the vibes while maintaining the pulse of a V-Twin engine, but there’s noticeably more vibes in the seat and bars when in motion. The Electra Glide has its own vibrations at idle but they quickly become almost unnoticeable after you’re in motion. Harley’s four-point engine isolation system provides for a smoother ride. The vibrations on the Voyager also cause the front fairing to rattle, apparently around the housings for the gauges. This is the second Voyager I’ve ridden, and both had the same rattle.
Finally, there’s the issue of engine noise, which I believe this statement from our man Waheed sums up best.
An air-cooled, pushrod-operated engine with overhead valves provides 1584cc of power to the Electra Glide (top),
while the Voyager’s liquid-cooled, single overhead cam engine with four-valve heads really brought on the torque around 2400 rpm.
“Where the Harley’s engine is quiet but its pipes are louder, albeit with a perfect sound, the Voyager’s engine is way too loud and it completely overshadows the sound of the exhaust. When you decelerate, you can hear the drivetrain whine.”
The synchronicity between engine and pipes results in an exhaust note so recognizable it has been trademarked by Harley-Davidson. The Harley’s TC 96 engine does its job efficiently and lets its pipes do the talking. The high-powered Voyager engine works hard and lets riders know it’s working hard by the amount of mechanical noise it emits. Its stock pipes are mellower, and the amount of engine noise detracts some from the pleasant rumble of its dual mufflers. The Harley mill’s efficiency also came into play in our mileage logs, as the TC 96-powered Electra Glide was good for 37.48 mpg, while the Voyager’s 1700cc mill averaged 34.57 mpg.
The advantage in launching the big tourers off the line goes to the Voyager, but which one tracks better after they’re in motion? The 2009 Electra Glide benefits from the chassis makeover that highlighted Harley’s entire touring line last year. Besides the new frame and swingarm, the Electra Glide’s suspension has been retuned in accordance with new tires and wheels. The 28-spoke cast aluminum wheels are wrapped in fresh Dunlops with a Multi-Tread design that places more long-wearing compound in the tire’s center and improved lateral grip compounds on the sides for cornering. The front tire’s size is bumped up an inch in comparison to last year to 17 inches, and the 180mm rear provides plenty of contact without sacrificing handling. The telescopic front fork is set at a rake angle of 26 degrees and provides solid steering feedback. The wheelbase is a compact 63.5 inches and keeps the 852-lb (claimed dry weight) motorcycle very maneuverable at slow speeds.
The muscle-car inspired styling of the 2009 Kawasaki Voyager drew plenty of attention from curious onlookers wherever we rode.
The 2009 Kawasaki Voyager also has a revamped frame. The steel, double-cradle frame is based on the units already used in the Vulcan family, but the Voyager’s version is a claimed 4.4 lbs lighter than before, has a shorter wheelbase and a smaller distance between the seat and steering head. Its 45mm telescopic fork has a heavier rake angle of 30 degrees, with the nine-spoke cast wheels set at a wider 65.6 inches apart. Its wheel combo is a tad smaller, with a 16-inch radial running up front and a 170mm rear rolling out back. The Voyager’s claimed 886.4-lb curb weight puts it almost pound-for-pound even with the Electra Glide, considering the Glide will gain 36 pounds alone when its six-gallon tank is filled. And though its measurements are comparable to the Electra Glide’s, the chassis isn’t sorted as well as the Harley. The Voyager’s handling is a tad darty with a tendency to waver more in turns in comparison to the Glide. The Electra Glide holds its line cleanly when leaned over and flows much smoother than the Kawasaki. The Voyager’s front end translates more road imperfections through the bars and rides like the Harley tourers did before H-D upgraded the chassis.
The Electra Glide’s suspension also did a better job of soaking up the bumps. The 41.30mm telescopic fork with cartridge-style damping and air-adjustable rear shocks outshine the dual air-assisted shocks and 45mm hydraulic fork of the Voyager. The Kawasaki’s back end is a little looser without much rebound in comparison to the Electra Glide that absorbs bumps like they’re not even there. The Harley also allows for greater lean angles in turns, as the rider’s floorboards on the
A view of the tidy instrument cluster that’s tucked into the ‘batwing’ fairing of the 2009 Ultra Classic Electra Glide.
Voyager scrape much easier.
When it’s time to roll out, the pull on the Electra Glide’s clutch lever requires a medium tug, while the Voyager is a stiffer. It’s curious that both Harley and Kawasaki have abandoned the cable-actuated throttles for electronically-controlled systems that both emulate the feel of a cable. Throttle response is about even, with the Harley featuring an Electronic Throttle Control system based on a throttle grip sensor. The 2009 Voyager runs its own system of sensors and pulleys that are run by an ECU monitoring air intake, fuel delivery and spark. The system is the ‘first fully electronic throttle valve system’ used in the Vulcan line and both electronic systems responded promptly with each roll of the right wrist.