Kawasaki Voyager XII
CYCLE WORLD TEST
The smallest giant
MONUMENTAL WORDS OF INSIGHT SOMETIMES come at odd times and places. In this instance, it was at a filling station in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The speaker was looking at a road map, trying to figure the best way back to Los Angeles without getting lost, then he looked up and a totally unrelated thought struck him. "This might be the only Japanese bike to be less complicated than the model it replaced." The speaker was Feature Editor Jon Thompson, the bike was the Kawasaki Voyager XII, and the words were indisputably true.
Back in the early Eighties, Kawasaki had no idea what to do with the all-but-useless six-cylinder monsterbike it had developed. At the time, the only place that immense size seemed to be acceptable was the touring market. Fine. That's where the big 1300 went. In subsequent years, the Six was the subject of more size jokes than William “The Refrigerator” Perry.
Then along came 1986 and the Kawasaki Voyager XII. The 1200 was everything the 1 300 wasn't—namely small,> at least for a touring bike. And now. the 1989 1200. which is basically unchanged from the original model, is the only touring bike that Kawasaki officially offers, even though hardcore mass addicts can still find the discontinued Six at some dealers.
What's most interesting about the Voyager XII is that even though it has two less cylinders, even though it weighs 150 pounds less, and even though it has half the cubic stuff that the 1300 had, it seems to give away nothing. In fact, the 1 200’s engine is noticeably stronger than the I 300's. It produces more bottom-end power and revs out to a healthy mid-range. Both motors have a zippy, race-car exhaust note, but on the big Six, the engine always sounded like it was working way too hard. The XII has a lope-along mode that’s much more relaxing. And in that mode, engine vibration is all but unnoticeable. Oh. you can tell a slight difference between acceleration and coasting with the clutch pulled in. but you have to think about it some. The Voyager is still about as smooth as motorcycles get.
And the all-important list of touring items is about as long as you need. No matter how far you lean towards materialism, chances are you'll be satisfied by the XII. It has all the right stuff: an ÄM/FM cassette deck; an excellent cruise-control system; passenger speakers and controls for the stereo; píenty of storage. What it doesn't have is a decent tool kit—the one in a Honda Gold Wing, as poor as it is. puts the Kawasaki's to shame. It also doesn't have an onboard compressor for the suspension, or for any kind of inflatable seat-comfort-enhancing device. That, it could use. The XII's seat is thin and uncharacteristically low-ball—out of place on a top-of-the-line luxury tourer.
But then the seat on the old 1 300 was really never anything to get excited about, either. That's about the only thing the two have in common —Kawasaki really did succeed in its goal of making the 1200 as much unlike the 1300 as possible. With that goal in mind, it's easy to understand much about the 1 200. Kawasaki went overboard trying to make it small and maneuverable to compensate for the Six's problems. And it is the smallest, best-handling of the big touring bikes. Turning it requires virtually no effort at all—quite a change from the freight-train-like Six. In fact, cornering is so easy that you find yourself scraping footpegs w ithout really trying.
Conversely, holding the XII straight on a long, curveless freeway requires a little more concentration than it does on other big touring bikes. Just as soon as your thoughts start to wander and riding the bike becomes the secondmost-important thing on your mind, the bike takes the opportunity to make slow, lazy weaves in the lane.
While we're griping, we might as well mention the fairing. It offers protection that is merely OK compared to most of the others on the market. Basically, too much air finds its way around the fairing, despite the addition of small w'inglets on the outside edges of the fairing, a modification first made to the 1987-model XII.
It’s interesting to note that in Cycle Worlds June, 1 986, touring bike comparison test, we complained about virtually all the same things: the thinly padded seat, the slight weaving and the fairing’s air spill-over. In fact, Kawasaki has made only three major changes to the Voyager XII since then: the addition of passenger speakers, cruise control and the change to a champagne color. That's a shame. > because with the addition of a better fairing and seat, plus improved stability, the Voyager could lay claim to being the best touring bike in the country.
Instead, the Voyager now sits at the top of a much smaller nitch. With the Honda Gold Wing taking the six-cylinder approach, the Kawasaki is left as the smallest and lightest of the heavyweights. It’s also the cheapest—by over $1000. Compared to the old 1300, the XI1 goes to show you that sometimes you can make your best progress by taking a few steps back. Compared with some of the other more-finished tourers, though, it’s still a few steps behind. 0