One of the newest trends in motorcycling is the emergence of tourers, a.k.a. baggers, as the dominant individual street bike category. Riders are discovering that it’s a real plus if your bike not only looks stylish, but is also practical in that it can carry several days’ (or weeks’) worth of gear so you can go traveling. While Harley-Davidson has led that genre with its various Glide models, Victory, Indian and the Japanese manufacturers are also offering similar machines, often high-styled V-twin cruisers with fairings and cut-down windscreens, long flowing lines and those functional saddlebags.
There are two approaches to formulating these machines. In the great majority of cases, the manufacturer adds a fairing (with minimalist shorty windscreen rather than a taller one) and bags to turn a bare-bones V-twin cruiser into a ripped and stylish tourer. Sometimes, the bodywork and fenders are also stylized. The other approach is to begin with a dresser tourer and strip it down as Honda has done with its F6B, a stripped version of its Gold Wing GL1800 dresser.
For this test, we went on the road with a pair of these performance baggers, a stripped Honda F6B and a Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero ABS SE, which is a ripped version of a bare-bones Vulcan cruiser. Note, however, that the company no longer offers a bare model of this big Vulcan. Which works best for you, ripped or stripped? Let’s find out.
The Honda’s saddlebags are built outward from the rear fender, and though their inner walls are convoluted in shape the bags hold a great deal. The Kawasaki’s bags are separate units bolted to the bike, and hold less. Both sets of bags open to the sides, which allows loose items to come tumbling out when you open them; those same items would easily stay put when dumped into top-opening bags. Many top-loaders also feature arched lids so you can cheat a bit by throwing your jacket liner in on top of your luggage on a hot day.
On the Road
Board these bad boys and you’ll notice that the Honda requires less effort to lift off its sidestand, though it is only a few pounds lighter than the Kawasaki (836 vs. 843 pounds wet). With its flat-6 motor and some of the fuel tank beneath the seat, the F6B carries its weight low, while the Vulcan’s tall V-twin motor dictates that it carries it higher.
The Kawasaki provides a higher handlebar and the feet are positioned on floorboards set out front for a more traditional laid-back cruiser seating position. By contrast, the Honda rider has a lower bar with the feet positioned almost underneath for a sportier ride. Light them off, and you’ll notice the Honda’s smooth 6-cylinder whine as opposed to the Kawasaki’s thumping, big-twin chugga-chugga rumble. The Vulcan thumps away from a stop with a V-twin bass beat while the F6B zooms away with a welling roar.
When the road becomes twisty, the lighter Honda, with its weight carried lower, has a sportier, more mass-centralized feel. It steers lighter and changes direction more quickly than the Kawasaki. Though torquey V-twins are all the rage, the Kawasaki rider needs to downshift sooner and more often to keep the Vaquero’s motor in its happy place. The F6B rider just dials in power with the throttle, the 6-cylinder having a much wider powerband.
If you intend to carry a passenger, note that both are equipped with what are known as “gunfighter-style” seats, which consist of a dished rider’s portion with a higher and tapering passenger section. The Honda rider’s seat is wide, flat and firm, but in a supportive rather than in an unyielding sense. Its rear portion is likewise wide and flat, and incorporates passenger grabrails.
The Vaquero rider, by contrast, sits into a very plush and well-shaped pocket that cradles, but does not offer much opportunity to move around. The rearward-sloping passenger portion of the seat gives the co-rider the impression that he or she is teetering off the back, and there’s nothing to grab onto other than the rider. Basically, this cowboy rides alone. With that said, your Kawasaki dealer will cheerfully offer you a couple optional touring seats. Accessory passenger backrests are available for both bikes.
The Kawasaki’s dashboard reminds one of a ’60s hot rod with its round gauges set into chromed rings, but central to them is a modern LCD display. In comparison, the Honda carries a set of three dial gauges with a lower LCD display, and it does not have the panache of the Kawi’s dash.
Though the Kawasaki throbs throughout its acceleration range, it smoothes out at highway speeds for pleasant cruising. With their suspensions appropriately adjusted, each bike can deliver a well-controlled and comfortable ride. Cornering clearance is not great, so when you get frisky on the bikes the Honda will soon be dragging its footpegs as the Kawasaki’s floorboards go clattering along the pavement. Settle in, and each becomes a joy for distance riding…unless the windblast is particularly bothersome.
On both bikes the wind hits the rider in the chest, which became tiring on our long ride up the California coast. If you’re planning to do some serious touring on either of these bikes, I strongly suggest a taller windscreen. Kawasaki offers four taller screens (all clear) for the Vaquero, and Honda offers one.
During our comparison test we rode the bikes more than 800 miles, and through our admittedly hard use (including numerous passes in front of photographer Kevin Wing) the Kawasaki delivered 37.5 miles per gallon of premium fuel, while the Wing delivered 39.7 miles on regular. With its 6.6-gallon tank, the Honda has a range advantage over the Kawasaki with its 5.3-gallon supply.
As for which bike “wins” our competition, it’s really a factor of what you seek in terms of your cruiser’s style and feel. They are so different that a direct comparison devolves into a contest between one very smooth and refined apple vs. a visceral and thumping orange. A V-twin aficionado may well dismiss the Honda as boring for its smoothness, sportier seating position and perceived lack of personality. At which point the F6B rider may counter that the Kawasaki has too much throb, needs to be downshifted too frequently on a twisty road and is too raw relative to the Wing. We should point out that both Vaquero models come standard with cruise control and anti-lock brakes, items that are not available on the higher-priced F6B.
We can conclude, however, that these are two very competent motorcycles, one of which bulks up while the other slims down, and each nicely meets a differing demand for various portions of sophistication vs. rawness—though they never quite meet in the middle. If you want proven power with smoothness and relative lightness, greater luggage capacity and passenger comfort, choose the Honda Gold Wing F6B. If, on the other hand, you crave that coveted V-twin rumble, low-end torque, that traditional cruiser seating position mated with ABS and cruise control—and of course those dramatic flames—choose the Kawasaki Vaquero ABS SE.
** This article Ripped vs. Stripped was published in the May 2014 issue of Rider magazine. Individual sidebars on both motorcycles were also published. Follow these links to read the sidebars: