Nice but dangerous: Kawasaki?s new 1700 Voyager- an owners 1500 mile r…

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Kawasaki VN 1700 Voyager

Nice but dangerous: Kawasaki?s new 1700 Voyager- an owners 1500 mile r

Posted: 08/21/09

03:40 PM

There are few things in life that compare with the feeling of riding a motorcycle through lots of open road, winding river gorges, and magnificent redwood trees. In late July 2009, I did exactly that ride from Seattle, WA to Eureka, CA and back.

The background:

Motorcycle: 2009 Kawasaki 1700 Voyager. 2500 miles on vehicle at start of trip and over 4000 at end of trip. Approximately 1530 miles total in evaluation ride. (Bought the bike with 0 miles on it)

Route: I-5 South from approximately Tacoma, WA, to Grants Pass, OR—US199 to Crescent City, CA—US101 to Eureka, CA.

Terrain: I-5 (

400 miles) is mostly straight and open road great for checking mileage and acceleration through several approximately 2000 foot mountain passes. US199 (

90 miles) is 2 lane and lots of variety from twisting S curves through gorgeous green water river canyons to small clusters of houses forming a community. US101 between Crescent City and Eureka (

80 miles) fluctuates from 2 lane to 4 lane divided highway traveling through forests and coastal settings, up and down mountain passes and through the national redwood forests.

Distance: Since I traveled between Eureka and Crescent City several times and back and forth between home and Eureka the total distance was

1500 miles, enough to really test the motorcycle in all types of climates and terrains.

So how did the bike do through this varied terrain, temperature, and climate.

Appearance is great. People would walk over to talk to us when we were stopped either for pictures, gas, or food. Even people in cars would gesture (positively) about the bike. It really turns heads and people want to talk about the bike, even if they were not riders. Good job on the appearance Kawasaki.

By the way many people thought it was a Harley, based on styling and sound. Even some cycle riders that did not know about what Kawasaki was up to were surprised that it was a Kawasaki and not a new model Harley.

Handling was great. Having one or two people on the bike did not seem to impact the ability of the bike to manage tight twists, turns, or climbing while turning. There were enough gear options that the handling could be managed for all types of situations.

The one draw back was the chassis is about 4 inches too short for comfortable passenger cruising for any distance.

Cruising the freeway was also great. One exception was 6th gear climbing up steep pass grades with a passenger. Once you get trapped by a slower moving vehicle it was difficult to accelerate. A couple of times, I found it necessary to drop into fifth, but not frequently and only for long enough to get back to passing speed and back into 6th.

Also I wanted to note that the seats were very comfortable for long term driving. Even with a nearly completely fused neck, the hours did not bother me. Probably the best seat I have ever experienced on a motorcycle and more comfortable than most car seats.

Unfortunately when they shortened the wheel base, they moved the passenger seat forward and in our case that cramped us.

Gas mileage was not unexpected for cruising with traffic on the Oregon plateau. Normal traffic flows well above 70 mph and as such the Voyager drank freely of the high octane gas. Surprisingly, this model got approximately the same mileage as my 1600 Nomad did when cruising around town and commuting (40+ miles one-way to work).

Unfortunately, the bike did not seem to do much better, even with 6th gear than the Nomad did on longer rides.

Electronics had some good and some not so good outcomes. The radio was nice to have but would occasionally sound tinny or like one of the speakers was warped or cracked and that continues to this day. The system that controls the gas per mile read out for the bike finally settled down and became reliable after passing the 3000 miles mark. Until then I could not trust the system to inform me about remaining capabilities or about gas level in the tank.

Ignition and throttle system remained a major problem, and still are post ride. A few times the throttle would over run or not release even after running for several minutes. The redone factory procedure did not seem to matter. Thus stopping for traffic presented a unique set of issues as well as heads up attention requirements.

I think the longest it had been running and still having the throttle control issue is about 15 to 20 minutes. Finally infrequent backfiring did occur.

Mechanical issues were an annoyance and a danger. For instance the movement to a Kevlar belt instead of a drive shaft does not seem to have worked. The belt is a constant annoyance. It never seems to stop squeaking.

According to the dealership the factory rep maintains that “belts squeal” that’s what they do. So am assuming from this that Kawasaki can not fix the problem, even when it is adjusted per the factory guidelines. If my car fan belt sounded like this the dealership would fix it or have the car back and the state consumer people would hear about it.

The sad part about the belt squealing is that it sounds so much like a brake pad squealing that it could create a potentially unsafe condition for the rider who is not particularly attentive or new to motorcycling. The dangerous part however, is the vast amount of heat that the engine puts out and which the factory is and has been aware of. I received a second degree burn on my right leg through heavy trousers while riding home from Grants Pass.

The next day went to a medical clinic for treatment it hurt so badly. Additionally, I received first degree burns on both calves from the excess heat. I have owned other Kawasaki Vulcans: 900 and 1600 Nomad and found them to be excellent with no problems.

At the time of purchase buying the new 1700 Voyager seemed a solid thing to do, even with the delays of getting the bikes to the dealers.

Conclusion Overall: There are too many annoying and dangerous problems related to the bike to recommend it to anyone. With at least some of the factory personnel not particularly concerned about fixing the problems at the consumer level, Kawasaki should be ashamed.

The bike I purchased, which I can only suppose is representative of the other motorcycles, is unsafe and down right dangerous: leg burns, throttle over revings, belt squeals, and unconcerned factory and national people all say don’t buy this machine. Who knows maybe some of the problems are also common across the 1700 series. Since the factory is very tight lipped about what is going on, even to the dealerships, I would imagine that there are broad based problems.

Do not purchase.

Updates. (8-21-09)

Less than 2 weeks after I finished the above evaluation the fuel reporting system failed again. This time leaving me stranded on a major freeway in the rain. The fuel gauge showed over a gallon of gas remaining and the fuel monitoring system showed 60-80 mile range remining.

Do not trust the electronics in the 1700 Voyager.

Had a call from Kawasaki product specialist about a week and a half after I submitted an incident response form which was about a week and a half after I reported it to their customer support center. The product specialist works with the legal department and we talked but could not discuss when I would talk to someone about getting out of this bike.

Having owned 3 other Kawasakis over my riding years I am very disappointed about the slow pace of solving a customer issue, particularly one that involves injuries. Seems like their first response should be lets get him into a bike that is not dangerous then we’ll let the lawyers do their thing. But alas it is not to be.

I am doomed to ride a dangerous bike with faulty electronics because customer service and concern is a VERY low priority at Kawasaki.

I have been working with Bob Lamphere Renton Motorcycle in Renton, Wa where I bought the cycle. With motorcycle sales down for the year and it being closeout time, they are reluctant to bit the bullet and just do the right thing. I understand it, but there is more to selling cycles, this is the second one I bought there in 2 years, than unloading iron and then doing maintenance. Patrick in service is a really great and knowledgeable guy, but store management shows the same attitude as Kawasaki.

This is unfortunate because Lamphere has 3 motorcycle dealerships and 10 car dealerships. You’d think that customer concern would be number one. Although they did offer to sell me a new bike while I made payments on my old bike which Kawasaki needed to investigate.

Incidentally, I must be a helluvan optimist because I still have not been to a lawyer. What do you think, should I visit a lawyer before I do anything else?

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