The 2014 Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager 1700 ABS enters our V-Twin Tourer fracas with the most attractive price point at $19,399. The Voyager in its current 1700cc V-Twin form debuted in 2009, but the model name has been around a long time as the Inline-Six, KZ1300 Voyager launched in 1983.
The modern version comes with an attractive list of rider aids and electronics including Kawasaki’s K-ACT II integrated braking system with ABS, Kawasaki’s Air Management System, cruise control, and a 52-degree V-Twin with a long 104mm stroke. It’s hot rod inspired, frame-mounted front fairing gives it a signature look while a single-pin crankshaft and a bass-filled rumble spilling from its exhaust give it a bit of hot rod character to match.
Hopping onto the Voyager, its tank feels wide but is actually the smallest of the bunch at 5.3 gallons. Of the three bikes, the Voyager was the first bike in need of a pit stop because of that fuel cell which is relatively small for a touring machine. The urgency by which the motorcycle needs gas is only exacerbated by an obnoxious green light in the range readout that begins flashing “Fuel, Fuel, Fuel” when the bike approaches approximately 30 miles-till-empty.
The rider’s triangle is fairly compact compared to the Harley and Victory and riders sit higher in its saddle. The Voyager’s floorboards are the smallest of the bunch, fixing riders into one position because there’s less room to shift their weight around when riding. The seat is well-padded at first, but the fixed riding position and a lack of lumbar support eventually wears on you during long hauls. At 28.7-inches, the seat height feels comparatively tall, with test rider Jason Abbott saying it gave him the sense of riding on top of the bike instead of in. The stock gear shifter is up high, and it’s a long stretch of the toes to shift gears at times.
At the heart of Kawasaki’s big touring machine is a 1700cc liquid-cooled V-Twin. The undersquare powerplant utilizes an eight-valve system and a single overhead cam to provide its revvy nature. The bulk of its torque comes on below 3000 rpm and initial acceleration is pleasingly aggressive. At idle, it’s got the proper proportion of single-pin crankshaft vibrations, enough to let you know you’re definitely on a V-Twin. Get it into the meat of its powerband and the deep-seated rumble fills your chest cavity. But most gears top out around 4300 rpm as its powerband isn’t overly wide so you can’t squeeze as much out of it as you can the mills of the Harley and Victory. Power has a tendency to fall off on the top end as useful output drops and engine noise increases.
“I have mixed feelings on the motor. Down low and into the mid it has the power, torque and exhaust note you want but once you get into the top it falls off. I know these bikes aren’t made for top end but the bike feels a little on the de-tuned side up top,” agreed test rider Jason Abbott.
Handling on the 2014 Voyager 1700 ABS is a mixed bag as well. In sweepers and tight turns, the motorcycle stays planted but turns-in a bit heavy. Steering requires a little push at the bar, the Voyager’s bulky front tire with the tallest sidewall in the test is a bit more to handle than the others. At 30-degrees, it’s also got the laziest rake. For a bike with a
The 2014 Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager 1700 ABS has its own distinct look thanks to a front fairing with hot rod-inspired styling.
The 2014 Voyager 1700 ABS has a liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-Twin with a 102 X 104mm bore/stroke.
Big numbers and easy-to-read gauges highlight the cockpit of the Voyager 1700 ABS. The instrument panel lights up great at night and generally looks cool.
curb weight just under 900 pounds though, it’s manageable at low speeds. However, the parallel grooves of LA’s 405 freeway exposed a vagueness to the front end at speed. The way the Voyager rides reminds us of the Ultra Classic before Harley updated the chassis in 2009 in the sense that it translates everything the front tire rolls over to the rider through the bars. The sensation of a front end that’s floating around prevents riders from putting full confidence in it on uneven surfaces. We believe stiffening up the fork might give the front end better overall control.
Contrarily, the Voyager’s braking system instills plenty of confidence. Braking power is smooth and even thanks to Kawasaki’s K-ACT II integrated braking system. Grab a handful of the front brake and the four-piston calipers put a strong bite on dual 300mm discs. Squeeze it hard and the integrated system activates the right front caliper on the rear brake as well. The Voyager has pressure sensors at each master cylinder detecting braking force while the ECU is busy measuring speed. The ECU calculates the optimal braking force needed and pumps brake fluid to the front right caliper and rear caliper accordingly. This helps when only a handful of front brake is needed because riders automatically get an assist from the right front caliper on the rear brake as well. The ABS and K-ACT II is dialed so it’s not overly intrusive. The K-ACT doesn’t engage at speeds below 12 mph while the ABS shuts off at speeds below 4 mph. There’s a noticeable pulse in the ball of your foot when the ABS activates but it isn’t overbearing. However, we did notice quite a bit of fork dive on the front end under moderate to heavy braking.
While the Voyager’s front end may have its shortcomings, dual rear shocks provide a firm foundation for the rear. The rear suspension is firm with only 3.1-inches of travel but ride quality is comfortable. The system has four settings for rebound damping and spring preload is air adjustable. Banging through gears, the six-speed transmission is rougher and louder than the Harley and about on par with the Victory. The transmission did slip out of gear a couple of times when we thought we had a solid shift. The play at the shift lever because of its height didn’t help the situation.
The Voyager received the Kawasaki Air Management System (KAMS) in 2012. The Voyager’s big powerplant has a reputation for running hot, so improving rider and passenger comfort was high on the priority list. The system sources an auxiliary fan and ducts to route heat from the radiator, rear cylinder and exhaust pipe down and away from the rider. Big airboxes are located on both sides of the engine while the lower leg fairings have vents riders can crack that helps put cool air on the cylinder heads, too. Temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s during our testing meant engine heat wasn’t a factor as we can’t recall one instance where the radiator fan on the liquid-cooled engine came on during our test.
In the looks department, the styling established by the front fairing carries over to the dash with its “American Graffitti” vibe. A multi-function LCD is squeezed in between an analog speedo and tach, the layout attractive, functional and less complicated than its competitors. Numbers in the gauges are big and easy to read while the gear indicator running up the left side of the digital display is a helpful feature. The display lights up great at night as a clear light illuminates the gauges. The Voyager is equipped with AM/FM/WB audio system and has an iPod connector in the left glove box and XM radio compatibility. Audio controls reside on the left handlebar but they’re stacked four deep, turn signals at the top followed by volume, tuner, and SQ all on one housing. That’s a lot of range for one thumb with so many decisions controlled by a rider’s left hand. The LCD in the center of the instrument console is controlled by switches on right handlebar and includes a gear indicator, clock, odometer, dual trip meters, remaining range and average fuel consumption. Cruise control is also housed on the right handlebar, the system capable of being activated in third gear and above at speeds between 30 and 85 mph.
“Bar controls worked well, felt solid and looked good but didn’t seem to have as many control options. Not having heated grips or seat was big negative when the temps were low, seems like you would want those things on a long haul bike,” said Abbott about the Voyager’s instrumentation.
The Voyager does have Navigation Audio Prompt Capability, which plays voice prompts from a Garmin zumo 660/665 GPS device through the Voyager’s audio system or accessory Kawasaki headsets, but both the Garmin and headsets have to be purchased separately. Kawasaki’s tourer does have two-speakers nestled into the front fairing, but get its big V-Twin barking at speed and it’s hard for the system to compete with the exhaust note. Compared to the four-speaker arrangement on the other two bikes, its audio system comes up short. The tourer’s storage capacity is comparable thanks to top-opening hard saddlebags with 10 gallons of storage each and a 13.2 gallon lockable topcase, but latches and hinges on the topcase are flimsy in comparison and its saddlebags aren’t as wide as its competitors.
The Voyager 1700 ABS has the tallest windscreen of the bunch and it provides a solid buffer against wind. As Abbott mentioned, it doesn’t come with the luxury of heated grips, standard fare on the other two V-Twin tourers. For passengers, the Voyager comes with flip-down floorboards and its seat has armrests that wrap around nicely like the Harley’s, but the padding doesn’t come down as far so there’s no lumbar support. The Victory goes even further when it comes to spoiling passengers, with adjustable floorboards and their own controls for the heated seat.
The Kawasaki 1700 Voyager 1700 ABS has plenty of admirable features including strong brakes, unique muscle car appeal and a punchy engine. As Abbott states, “Overall the Kawasaki has a really classy look, it has a good combo of style, chrome and paint.” But the way the front end transfers grooves in the road to the rider, it’s shorter powerband, louder-shifting transmission and fit and finish that isn’t on par with the other two relegates it to third place in our 2014 V-Twin Tourer comparison.
2014 V-Twin Touring Motorcycle Comparison
2014 Kawasaki Voyager 1700 ABS Comparison
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