- - Thursday, September 8, 2011

It’s a formula that simply can’t be beat: Take the very latest in two-wheeled chassis and engine technology, package it with Kawasaki’s legendary engineering prowess, and then bless it with absolutely gorgeous, drop-dead custom styling. Do it right and cruiser buyers will wear a path to your dealerships.

But it’s not simple, as motorcycle history is littered with bikes that failed to wow cruiser fans.

Kawasaki’s 2011 Vulcan 1700 Classic cruiser has no such problem. First, it’s stunningly beautiful, from its raked-‘n’-retro front end to its mammoth V-twin to its fat-fendered, fat-tired backside. The deep paintwork, thick chrome and detail touches will rock your world the first time you lay eyeballs upon it. But what seals the deal is the Classic’s advanced technology and staggering functionality. Here’s a big-inch cruiser with the type of top-shelf performance and reliability that totally backs up its bad-ass boulevard look.

Like its Vulcan 1700 brethren, the Classic’s primary element is its liquid-cooled, 103.7-inch V, an engine that dominates the proceedings with a thoroughly retro look as well as asphalt-wrinkling output. The heart of the matter is a pair of massive pistons moving within a pair of liquid-cooled but beautifully finned cylinder blocks arrayed at 52 degrees for optimum balance and a distinct V-twin thump. The correct air/fuel ratio reaches the cylinders through a revised intake manifold designed for improved throttle response. Internal dimensions are thoroughly long-stroke - 102 x 104mm - for mammoth low- and mid-range power, exactly the sort of big-inch thrust and V-twin feel cruiser riders crave.

Working with a powerful ECU and a fuel injection system with slightly revised settings for improved throttle response, the electronic throttle valve enhances response without detracting from the engine’s distinctive V-twin feel, delivering ultra-precise intake flow to the engine under nearly any conditions.

The system utilizes an Accelerator Position Sensor (APS) and a Throttle Position Sensor (TPS), which feed data to the ECU that adjusts the throttle plates to tailor intake airflow accordingly. The system offers a natural throttle feel because the APS is activated by a throttle body pulley connected by cables to the throttle grip. The 1700 Classic’s fuel injection uses one sensor in place of the usual three for simplicity and weight savings. Besides the obvious advantages of fuel injection, such as improved fuel economy and automatic altitude mixture adjustment, the system also permits easy hands-off warm-up and idle speed control. This cruising-oriented machine features FI and exhaust tuning optimized to deliver peak torque at a lower rpm - ideal for urban or backroad environments.

A six-speed transmission with quieter and smoother operation for 2011 features overdriven fifth and sixth gears that contribute to more relaxed riding and better fuel economy at highway speeds. The Vulcan 1700 Classic transfers power from the transmission to the rear wheel through a narrow carbon fiber final drive belt with 40-percent higher tensile strength than a Kevlar unit of the same width.

Designed to be as light and slim as possible, the Classic’s single backbone double cradle frame offers a short seat-to-steering head distance, with a correspondingly short wheelbase. That easy-reach handlebar facilitates slow-speed maneuvering and helps maximize rider confidence. Adding to the light and easy handling are suspension components matched to the Vulcan 1700 Classic’s intended mission. An elegantly simple rear swingarm with twin air-assisted shocks provides 3.1 inches of rear suspension travel, and features air spring preload and four-way rebound adjustment. Up front, a large 43mm fork offers precise steering feedback, a supple ride and 5.5 inches of travel.

The Vulcan 1700 Classic rolls on nine-spoke cast wheels that run fat, tubeless tires - 130/90 front and 170/70 rear - that complement its muscular styling. Dual 300mm front disc brakes featuring twin-piston calipers and a single 300mm rear disc brake with a two-piston caliper help bring this stylish machine to steady, powerful stops.

Packed with technology and blessed with the sort of jaw-dropping looks that’ll keep you the envy of your riding buddies, the Vulcan 1700 Classic is the perfect cruising package. Just try not to drool on it.

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