2011 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero

2 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero

Photography by Adam Campbell and Kinney Jones

Everything about this ride seemed fitting. The motorcycle I’m riding—the 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero—is large and in charge, the roads I’m on are seemingly never ending, and there’s nothing but country fields on either side, broken up by the occasional ghost towns that have somehow weathered the test of time. The miles are rolling by effortlessly, thanks to my steed’s comfortable saddle and remarkably smooth ride.

No matter how you slice it, the roads outside Montgomery, Texas were made for motorcycles like this. I should have known that Kawasaki would introduce its latest cruiser here. After all, Vaquero is Spanish for cowboy, and that’s something this state does not lack.

But all that aside, what’s the point of this new machine?

With comfortable ergonomics and significant wind protection, the Vulcan Vaquero is great for long-distance travel.

In an ever-evolving cruiser market manufacturers are always looking for ways to expand their lineup without investing too heavily in re-tooling. Team Green found a hole in its cruiser lineup. Until now, the cruiser rider who enjoyed big displacement muscle and styling had the Vulcan 1700 Classic to ride, while the more touring oriented set were served by the Vulcan 1700 Voyager.

But what about those who wanted both? Well that’s where the Vulcan 1700 Vaquero comes in, designed as the “Ultimate solo cruiser” for “People without a destination.”

With this powerful design objective, who better to style and create a purely American motorcycle than…the Japanese? Yep. But KHI (Kawasaki Heavy Industries) had help from its KMC (Kawasaki Motor Corporation) brethren right here in the states. The design objective was pretty clear: it was to be an aggressive and sporty bagger with a low stance and plenty of curves.

And because no cruiser stays stock for long, the Vaquero’s accessories were designed alongside the actual machine. Many of these accessories will be available by the time bikes hit the dealership floor and can be purchased—and installed—on the spot.

With a 30-degree rake angle, the Vaquero prefers gentle sweepers over tight turns.

All it takes is one glance at these pictures to realize that the Vaquero is a large machine.  With a 65.6-inch wheelbase it’s a long motorcycle, but all this real estate is used to cradle the rider in luxury for the long haul. Style-wise, the designers focused on smooth, flowing lines that naturally draw your eyes from the top of the windscreen to the bottom of the saddlebags.

The rear fender molding is even designed to smoothly integrate to the saddlebags, which are essentially the same bags as those found on the Vulcan 1600, but with revised lids.

Despite the flowing look, the Vaquero still manages to retain a bold, cruiser look, made more dramatic with the “Volcanic magma matte black” engine finish. Don’t worry, if you like chrome all over your engine there are a host of accessory pieces to take care of that as well.

Despite the 108 ft. lbs. of torque the 1700cc engine churns out, it lacked neck-snapping power. It also ran warm while sitting idle, despite being liquid-cooled with finned cylinders.

Propulsion for the Vaquero comes from the same 1700cc V-twin seen on the rest of the Vulcan 1700 platforms, but with a few minor improvements, some–like revised piston rings–simply to improve engine durability. A redesigned intake manifold increases volume and is claimed to provide more linear throttle response, though improvements in this department are hard to detect thanks to Kawasaki’s already buttery-smooth Electronic Throttle Valve

This equates to a powerplant that delivers a claimed 108 ft. lbs. of torque at a low 2750rpm. Power reaches the ground through a six-speed transmission found on the other Vulcans, except the Vaquero’s does away with the lower primary chain guide to save weight. A non-damper type clutch is said to improve engine feel, though in all honesty it was near impossible to tell a difference without another of the Vulcans to compare it to.

The Vaquero’s gearbox also receives a shorter first gear ratio (44/15 from 40/13) which is said to reduce “shifting sound,” or that clunking noise when shifting into first gear from neutral. And sure enough, our first ride experience proved this to be true. Third and fourth gears also have taller tooth profiles to increase the surface area in contact with each gear.

This too is claimed to reduce shifting sound and provide smoother torque transfer. While I couldn’t hear a difference between shifts, I couldn’t help but notice how smooth the transmission is overall.

The Vaquero rides on a wide 130-series front tire. Bumps are quelled with a 45mm fork, while 300mm discs and twin-piston calipers bring the bike to a stop. Ride quality is plush and all three brakes are needed to slow down quickly.

In the handling department, the Vaquero gets 45mm forks, larger than the other models in the Vulcan family, with spring rates slightly different to account for the variation in weight. Rear shocks are air adjustable, a process that’s easily done with an accessory pump sold separately. And though the frame-mounted front fairing is largely a trim piece, it also has a use: it deflects air towards the chassis instead of to the rider—something I noticed first hand while riding on the highway.

Riders over the six-foot mark will probably want to opt for one of the taller windscreen options as oncoming air is likely to be directed straight at their heads. Kawasaki claims the rider triangle is also more expanded than other Vulcan models, to provide “more room for bigger American riders.”

Hearing those words had me a little worried since, at 5-foot 8-inches, with a 30-inch inseam, I have a hard enough time reaching the controls on some big-displacement cruisers anyway. Thankfully this wasn’t the case with the Vaquero. The wide saddle is close enough to the bars to almost give the impression I was sitting on a standard, not a cruiser.

Floorboards instead of footpegs also helps to alleviate the reach problem.

It’s a theme mentioned before, but once moving I couldn’t help but notice just how smooth the Vaquero is to ride. There’s very little vibration coming through the handlebars and the entire chassis feels solid. Twisting the throttle really just activates a computer controlling the throttle bodies, but its action is so seamless that I really don’t miss throttle cables anymore.

But, despite its 1700cc and a claimed 108 pound-feet of torque, the engine left me wanting more.

Turning up the wick after leaving a stop sign just doesn’t send my head snapping back the way I was hoping. Still, the heel/toe shifter is a nice touch and rowing through the gears is simply effortless (made even easier thanks to the digital gear indicator located on the dash). Speaking of which, the layout of the Vaquero’s dash is simple and elegant; large, bright analog gauges monitor fuel level, speedometer, tachometer, and engine temperature.

Strong contrast in the backlit gauges makes them easy to read both day and night.

The instruments are reminiscent of muscle car dashboards. Analog guages meter fuel, road speed, engine speed and engine temperature. The digital display in the center displays tripmeters and has a welcome gear indicator. Below the dash, the Vaquero’s audio system delivers crisp sounds and can toggle through different bands, including XM and auxiliary bands for iPods.

These functions can all be toggled with the left handlebar.

Out on the open road, the Vaquero is in its element. Cruise control is simple to operate and comes in handy when you can see the road ahead for miles. Gentle sweepers are preferable to sharp curves, because the high-profile 130-series front tire and 30-degree rake angle combine for a machine that doesn’t like any sudden movements side to side.

  Heavier riders will want to opt for the pump to increase rear shock air pressure.

As stock, each shock is set to zero psi, but our test mules were pumped to 20psi, which was just slightly firm for my 150lb frame. Stopping duties are handled by 300mm discs—two up front, one in the rear—and each are paired with a dual-piston caliper. Believe me, you’ll need all six to slow you down.

Adjustable brake and clutch levers are a nice touch as well.

Being a long-distance cruiser, the last thing the Vaquero needs is to refuel in every town. Thankfully, a 5.1 gallon fuel tank means that won’t be necessary.

Designed as an integrated piece of the bike, each saddlebag flows seamlessly with the bodywork. Though each bag is spacious, neither has room for a full-face helmet.

Overall, I think the Vaquero hit its mark. It’s an attention-grabbing long-distance touring cruiser that doesn’t tax the body and makes the rider look good everywhere he goes. With a whole host of accessory options available, there’s almost nothing you can’t alter or enhance.

A little more power would have satisfied my cravings in the engine department, but by no means is it a slouch. And with almost 836 pounds to lug around, the bike is easily forgiven this minor shortcoming.

At $16,499, the Vaquero also comes with a best-in-class 36-month base warranty. In addition, up to 36 additional months are on affer. With that, we turn to the Smart Cycle Shopper rider rankings, where we profile what to expect from this bike if you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert rider.

New riders should stay far away from the Vaquero, if for no other reason than it’s sheer weight. It’s a heavy machine that will easily bite the uninitiated, especially during tight maneuvers.


Intermediate riders may be able to handle the Vaquero if they’re quick learners. Again, the weight issue is the main point of concern. If you feel you can adapt quickly, and you’re yearning for a big-inch muscle cruiser, this might be a good first choice.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero


Engine: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, SOHC, four-valve per cylinder, 52-degree V-twin

Displacement: 1,700cc / 103.7ci

Bore x Stroke: 102 x 104mm

Compression ratio: 9.5:1

Maximum Torque: 108 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm

Cooling System: Liquid, plus cooling fins

Ignition: TCBI with Digital Advance

Induction: Digital fuel injection, dual 42mm throttle bodies

Transmission: 6-speed with overdrive and positive neutral finder

Frame Type: Steel, double-cradle with box-section single-tube backbone

Rake/Trail: 30deg./ 7.0 in.

Front Suspension / wheel travel: 45mm hydraulic fork / 5.5 in.

Rear Suspension / wheel travel: Swingarm with twin air-assisted shocks, with 4-way rebound damping / 3.1 in.

Front Tire Size: 130/90-16

Rear Tire Size: 170/70-16

Brakes, front / rear: Dual 300mm discs, dual twin-piston calipers / Single 300mm disc, twin-piston caliper

Overall length: 98.8 in.

Overall width: 38.2 in.

Overall height: 50.8 in.

Seat height: 28.7 in.

Curb weight: 835.7 lbs.**

Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero

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