It’s been around the block a few times, but there’s nothing long in the tooth about this big bagger
Story by Marcus Martellacci
Photos by: Roman Nosekis and Marcus Martellacci
Late in the riding season of 2016, a great weight was lifted off me. Its enormity was almost unbearable and it even threatened to cripple my career. Thankfully, a close friend, to whom I owe many thanks, was able to help me right the ship, as it were, and just in the nick of time, at that. Had he not been there, I’m certain all 382 kg of Vaquero would have crushed my pride, and possibly some bones, and most certainly could have left me pinned to the ground, helpless and ripe for social media mockery.
I learned a lesson that day, and that is, there’s lots of steering lock available on the Vulcan 1700 Vaquero ABS SE it turns out to be 35 degrees in either direction in fact: plenty enough for manoeuvring in tight quarters, and when combined with a full tank of gas and a moment of inattention, just enough for me to make a fool of myself.
But my near mishap was not the fault of this long-standing member of the big-bagger segment. The Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero ABS SE is now entering its seventh year of production, and has done so without major updates or much change of any kind, for that matter. Aside from the bold new graphics treatment, there hasn’t been a lot to report on since its introduction in 2011, and that’s quite a feat these days. It means the big Kawi must be doing something right . . . right?
Kawasaki designed this bike to capture a piece of North America’s bagger market, and if I were to venture a guess at which model the company’s crosshairs were trained on, it would be the Harley-Davidson Road Glide – a good choice, to be sure, and one of my personal favourites. The similarities between the two are obvious: the large frame-mounted fairing with an unmistakable profile, chopped windscreen, integrated audio system, large V-twin engine, hard-shell saddlebags, a solo seat and a classic design theme. Performance specs are close between the two, and customization is prevalent among owners of both, indicating Kawasaki has successfully tapped into the custom-bike culture with the Vaquero. And that’s no small feat, given the number of Japanese cruisers that have missed the mark in the cruiser segment over the last few decades. Don’t get me wrong, most of them ran and performed beautifully; they just didn’t always evoke that feeling some look for, especially in this segment. After all, we’re talking about big bikes and bigger price tags in many cases, and the people spending that cash have certain expectations. So what does dropping $18,999 at your local Kawasaki dealer for a 2016 Vaquero SE get you? Well, to start with, one big
The fact is, a full-size touring motorcycle with a 1,700 cc liquid-cooled V-twin is going to be a hefty piece of machinery. This one’s no exception, though it carries the majority of its weight fairly low. With a seat height of only 730 mm, the rider’s rear feels as if it’s resting on the centre of gravity – while the bike is moving, that is. At a standstill, the frame-mounted fairing can be felt when lifting the bike off its side stand and the centre of gravity feels much higher. Thankfully, that 1950s Chevy-styled headlight and fairing looks as distinctive as ever, and more importantly, it works. Even the chopped windshield (really just a wind deflector) is acceptable, which says a lot coming from me, because I normally can’t stand them or the buffeting they induce. But in this case, it gets a passing grade. If you’re six feet or taller, you might think about buying a higher one that actually qualifies as a windshield.
Rolling out of Kawasaki Canada on the Vaquero and into claustrophobic afternoon traffic didn’t leave a lot of time for familiarization; but no matter, the layout is dead simple and pure muscle car-like. A row of four round, black-faced gauges with classic white font and needles chasing red lines greets the eyes. The centre LCD provides vehicle and trip information, as well as a home for all the warning lights.
Below is the stereo with a billet faceplate that looks as though it was ordered right out of a hot rod catalogue, and it’s flanked by two speakers that deliver decent sound quality. The audio system includes an AM/FM radio, is satellite radio ready, has iPod and mp3 connectivity and can be plugged into communication systems and CB radios, though the cables required for patching in need to be purchased separately through Kawasaki’s accessories catalogue.
All the controls fall to hand naturally, and there are few surprises to worry about. The left-hand-mounted audio controls are easy to use, but are a bit of an eyesore in an age where scroll wheels and integrated touchscreens are all the rage. The right-hand-mounted cruise control switches are equally functional, but with the same “bolted on” aesthetic.
Fat grips with big, chunky levers suit the bike well, as do the large cushioned floorboards and heel-toe shifter. Despite utilizing a ride-by-wire system to activate the dual 42 mm throttle bodies, the right hand grip is still attached to a good old-fashioned cable for the sole purpose of producing just the right feel.
Marketed as a stripped-down tourer, the Vaquero comes with…