2019 Kawasaki Vaquero 

Ride Review 

I’ll begin with disclosure. The fact is this is not a “new bike”. It is previously owned. This bike had 96 miles on it when I picked it up. The owner added some accessories to it. Handlebars and grips. Custom mirrors. A header system by Freedom Performance. Passenger floorboards. That’s all I noticed, but definitely enough to improve the appearance and possibly the ergonomics and performance. So for our purpose it is a nearly new but technically used dealer modified bike.  

I’ve admired the Vaquero for a while now and jumped at the chance to throw my leg over one. It was 97 degrees with a Real Feel of 101 degrees when the chance finally came. At least they parked it in the shade while it waited for me. 

FIT AND FINISH

The first thing I noticed was the fit and finish. When Victory came out with their factory custom bikes the ante was upped and every manufacturer took notice. Kawasaki was no exception. The fit and finish on this motorcycle is – I dare say – second to none. There are no uneven gaps or flimsy parts to be found. Everything you can readily lay eyes upon is finished in complimentary colors and coatings from the hand controls to the 60’s era muscle car inspired gauges and color matched dash panel to the custom LED tail light.

Even the lower triple tree is finished nicely. The saddlebags appear to have grown in place and the filler panels have that 60’s molded in look that is actually quite timeless. 

There are small locking storage bins on both sides of the fairing just beneath the speakers. You could keep an I pod in there or perhaps other small electronics. If it weren’t for the lock knobs you might not even notice them.

The integrated stereo has AM, FM and Weather-band and is upgrade-able to iPod, CD and Intercom with wired headsets. Sadly, there is no factory Bluetooth option although the aftermarket does offer some.



A BIG BIKE

For a big bike it’s very integrated and has a nice flow that is enhanced on this model by the colors and striping. The bike has that custom one piece look with no obvious add on parts to interrupt the flow as you view it. 

I say it is a big bike and part of that is the nearly 855 pound curb weight. Fortunately that does include all fluids even the 5.3 gallons of gas which is about 34 pounds of go juice. As I pulled the bike up off the side stand that heft was somewhat evident. The side stand probably could be a bit longer and that would reduce the sensation.


MANEUVERABILITY

I wondered about low speed maneuverability. Well, I shouldn’t have bothered. The very instant this bike starts to roll the physics take over and it feels like it has shed half that weight. Later I pulled into an empty parking lot and rode around doing figure eights and full circles at as low a speed as the bike could manage without chugging and continually having to clutch it. It was rock steady even at full lock. Also pleasing was being able to just straighten the bike up and pull out of it while mildly throttling away with no fuss or wobbling. If you at least act like you know what you’re doing this bike will cooperate and make you look good. 

I had some opportunities to ride in a spirited fashion and although I am capable of dragging pegs on many bikes – or in this case boards – I sincerely had no intentions of doing so. It was hot, really hot and I could just imagine my carcass sizzling on the road like bacon in a pan while onlookers snapped photos and videos. Besides I consider it bad karma to wreck someone else’s bike. So I rode in a spirited fashion and that was enough to discover the bike doesn’t mind that either. There is a set of “S” curves with a mild bank and a nice wide radius I like to make use of at various speeds, perhaps even including the 50 mph limit that is posted. The Vaquero tracked true and absolutely did not wallow. I attribute part of that to the frame mounted fairing which has far less steering input than one mounted directly to the forks. An added benefit is the weight and wind resistance load directly to the frame instead of the steering and front suspension. 

BRAKING 

I purposely and suddenly applied the foot brake at the very apex of one of the turns as if a car had pulled out in front of me. Not at all a panicky application, just purposefully hard. I was ready and expecting to feel that moment the rear tire might begin to slide out of line but the K-Act was indistinguishable and unobtrusive in it’s work and the bike retained its line and attitude while stopping forcefully. At no moment did I feel anything other than impressive braking. I did not wish to discover the limits of cornering braking traction for this bike at this moment on this road because I felt it had already exceeded expectations for every sort of defensive driving a rider should employ anyway. However I did repeat the test with just the front brake lever and then with both the lever and pedal. The results were the same every time. The linked braking works very well indeed. I did not engage the ABS to my knowledge. I imagine that would take an actual panic stop or a slippery surface.

ENGINE

The Vaquero has a 1,700 cc  engine, which equates to 103.7 cubes. The design is a 52-degree V-Twin with dual electronically controlled 42mm throttle bodies with water cooled heads making 107.6 lb-ft of torque @ only 2750 rpm. Kawasaki bills the Vaquero as water cooled yet the water jackets only apply to the heads. The engine has a mild 9.5-to-1 compression ratio so it will do just fine on current regular gas and still make the torque. Dual primary engine balancers and tuned rubber engine mounts help eliminate and isolate harsh vibration while retaining that necessary single-pin crankshaft V-twin rumble and thumping. At no time did I feel any sort of objectionable or intrusive vibration.

TRANSMISSION
Kawasaki designed this beast with a six-speed overdrive transmission connected to a typical carbon reinforced belt. The result of all this is spectacular. I was trolling through a town at 20 to 25 mph and came upon a stop sign. As I down shifted to what I thought was first I discovered second gear instead. I had been trolling in third gear. No, I was not paying attention to the instrument panel gear indicator, but yes I should have been.
One quick comment here, the bike jumps past neutral to first when downshifting but never failed to then find neutral from first after I had stopped. Also if I only downshifted to second gear and came to a stop it never failed to find neutral then either. So is this just me or is this a bit weird to have the positive neutral finder working only after you’ve stopped? I found this kind of odd since other Kawasaki’s I’ve ridden with the Positive Neutral Finder can easily find neutral from second gear as you’re stopping. Otherwise they do work the same as the Vaquero does. So let’s file this under Things That Make You Go Hmm. I mean it never failed to find neutral.

The transmission does exhibit the typical big heavy parts are being moved into place shifting clunk, but it’s actually not that bad. Kawasaki could have made it shift like butter and just click into gear but they surely knew it had to clunk. And so it does.

The heel and toe shifter worked quite well and was not sloppy. The floor board was comfortable during shifting and vibration free      

Sixth gear is a true overdrive ratio and aims to have the engine spinning right in the fat part of the torque curve at highway speeds and above. Just roll on the throttle to pull a clean and effortless pass. An intended side effect is a bump in fuel mileage too. there are reports of low 40’s mpg with this set up in the real world and the bike is known to be capable of covering 200 miles between fuel stops. As I said, my riding was in a spirited fashion and the on board computer determined that I was averaging just under 35 mpg. Here again, this is as I expected for just about any big bore ridden this way. It is easy to imagine being right around 40 mpg utilizing the electronic cruise control on an extended interstate cruise.

SEATING
As an added bonus, the seat does not detract from this goal at all and in fact I found it to be very comfortable. The seat to floorboards relationship is well thought out with just a slight angle at the ankle and room to move your feet fore and aft a bit.   

BRAKING PART TWO
Kawasaki’s proprietary Kawasaki Advanced Co-active braking Technology or K-ACT is a linked brake system which ensures ideal brake force distribution between front and rear brakes. Kawasaki’s linked braking utilizes an electronic system to control brake distribution between the front and rear brakes for the best overall braking performance regardless how hard either front and or rear brakes are applied. The Anti-lock Braking System or ABS, is incorporated with the K-ACT system to distribute braking force and help prevent the wheels from locking during hard, straight-up braking for the best braking force and enhanced rider control. K-ACT does not engage when braking at speeds below 12 mph, making slow speed u turns or sharp cornering. Triple Disc Brakes with ABS utilize dual 300mm front brake discs, plus a 300mm rear disc. The bike stops very well indeed.

SUSPENSION

The Vaquero rides very smooth. I purposely covered some back roads with rough patches and ripples, a 65 mph concrete bridge that normally sets up the rocking horse motion on a bike and then some interstate lanes. The Vaquero handled them all with virtually no notice to to me about what was happening down there on the road. This is not to say anything bad about road feel, it  was good at all speeds. Kawasaki gave the Vaquero it’s Unitrack suspension of course and the shock has seven way spring preload adjustment. Of course it has special spring rates covering the additional weight of the saddlebags and cargo. A fully dressed and detailed set of 41mm forks handles the smoothing duties up front.

I selected a certain road on one of my test routes that is frequented this time of year by heavy and heavily laden farm equipment. It is always ridged near the center and edges and has vast stretches of washboard. It is generally everything but smooth. Most bikes will be ok up to about 40 mph on this road as far as comfort goes. Sure they can go much faster on it but I’m just looking to test the suspension and the limits of actual comfort. The Vaquero positively just smoothed this road out for all but the worst of encounters. I kept gradually increasing speed until I was in excess of 50 mph which is the posted limit. I was sufficiently impressed so I backed it down to 40 mph and noted that the bike had regained full composure. I had noted it felt busy at higher speeds. The suspension is definately a plus. It’s well engineered and performs properly.

SUMMARY

So maybe I’ve been gushing, but in my defense I’m visually oriented and the bike is good looking. Everyone who saw it liked it. I have a mechanic background and I like it when things work together. This bike’s components do work together. I like performance. This bike performs well. I like to go fast sometimes. Sometimes I like to go fast in curvy roads. Other times I like to go fast in a straight line. Either way or both, this bike likes to go fast too. I always like to stop when I want to or need to. This bike stops on demand. This bike fills all my likes and wants. Most of them it fills effortlessly. So maybe I did gush a little.

But read on because I’m finished gushing.

As I said at the beginning, it was a very hot day when I first rode the Vaquero. I quickly discovered this bike makes a lot of heat. The fairing ducts next to the headlight are just for looks though. Go back and look at the dash. No vents. Kawasaki could have easily added some dash vents to help dilute the heat you feel. But they did not.

You can see the two huge “scoops” next to the headlight.
But when you look in them you will discover they are closed off.
You can add driving lights in there but not ducting or vents.
Really Kawasaki?

Next up on things I didn’t like at all was the helmet hook. This wonderful bike actually requires you to remove the seat each and every time you want to secure your helmet to the bike. Of course you have to then remove the seat again to retrieve your helmet. Meanwhile your helmet is happily rubbing the paint and itself while also absorbing the heat from the engine. As if this isn’t enough, Kawasaki also placed the key operated latching mechanism on the kickstand side and down low to boot. At best it’s awkward and inconvenient to use. Overall it’s just absurd. Fortunately the aftermarket offers solutions.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier the beautiful tail light is an LED unit. However the rest of the exterior lighting are simple incandescent light bulbs. I find this disappointing from both a personal and a technical aspect. My final wonderment is definitely a personal observation because it in no way has any effect on the actual performance of the machine as a motorcycle. In this twentieth year of the new millennium why don’t all baggers come with three tail lights and turn signals mounted out there on the bags too? And not down low either, just about mid bag high would be good in my opinion.   

Would I buy a Vaquero? Yes if I were in the market for a muscle cruiser. At MSRP of $17,799 minus any incentives the bike is a bargain. The golden rule is that preowned units usually sell for less. I borrowed this one from Diamond Motor Sports in Dover, Delaware and it will be in their showroom soon. If they are outside your shopping area I’m sure you can find a Vaquero near you.

Editor’s Note: this is not a paid article.