2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Lineup
Three Middleweight Knockouts Do NY State
At a time when bigger isn’t always better, and more expensive means more hits to your bank account than you have friends on FaceBook, finding a compromise (moderation) in the key to long life. A thanks goes out to a family friend for the life-long motto I live by.
Adhering to the trend, if not leading the way, Kawasaki has its finger on the pulse of middleweight cruiser market. Stuffed into its lineup between the parallel-Twin 498cc LTD and the new 1700cc Vulcans is the Vulcan 900 (903cc) series of cruisers. Lighter in both weight and price, but not lacking in style or rideability, the middleweight Vulcans are comfortable, smooth and adequately powerful.
We had tested the Vulcan 900 Classic in a previous Motorcycle.com shootout, in which Pete Brissette said Team Green did a “very good job of crafting a classic look.” Kawasaki has since added to its attractive lineup two other variations.
At Bill Dutcher’s Americade, like any gathering of motorcyclists and travelers, cruising the boulevard is just part of the excitement for cruising riders. Sure, it ain’t no Main Street at Daytona, but the attendees and locals of the annual Adirondack touring rally and expo like it that way. The Kawasaki Vulcan line of cruisers is a perfect fit with their low-decibel roar, good-natured handling and classic styling.
When we weren’t entertained with bike shows, paddleboat cruises or shopping our way through the immense vendors area, we were riding the winding greenways between lakes George and Placid. With undulating tree-lined roadways, gentle sweeping bends and world-class lakeside scenery, upstate New York touring is some of the best to be had. No surprise the annual event held it’s 26th anniversary in 2009, kicking off just about the time the first Vulcan hit the market.
Crossing back and forth Lake Champlain, both by ferry and bridge, our group of Vulcan cruisers gobbled up the miles with poise and efficiency. Kawasaki claims its 900 Vulcan achieves 45 miles per gallon, and toting 5-plus gallons of fuel, we rode all day without need for any stops other than to enjoy the scenery around us, buy some homegrown maple syrup and peer off at the New York and Vermont countryside with a smile.
The week-long event wasn’t all fun and games, however. I had to endure the cavernous greenways and lakefront restaurants of Lake George in the hopes of deciding which Vulcan 900 was right for me: the 900 Classic, 900 Custom or the Classic LT. Kawasaki has been offering such life decisions for more than 40 years – calling this one their “Middleweight Knockout” - and most recently I had to make the choice for myself. Deciding between the three middleweight cruisers while touring around upstate New York lake country.
Forever the type of guy that wants to ride across this great nation, I tend to think I’d choose the Japanese maker’s middleweight tourer, the LT. But when I think about where I ride the most of my miles, a high-styled cruiser like the Custom SE is better suited for the streets of LA. Maybe I need a comprising model like the baseline Vulcan Classic to fill in for both my wants. Time to do my homework.
Virtually the same, each of these Vulcans are built on a steel double cradle frame with a liquid-cooled SOHC powerplant. The 903cc 4-stroke fuel-injected V-Twin is the heart of all the bikes I rode in New York. Each delivers rubber to the road via a 5-speed final belt drive with a wheelbase of 64.8 inches, sprung atop a 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork with 5.9 inches of travel and a Uni-track swingarm with 4.1 inches of rear-wheel travel.
Vulcan Classic / $7,499 / Specs
Metallic Diablo Black, Candy Plasma Blue, Candy Diamond Red
Starting with the basics, the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic is where the V-Twin fun begins for Kawasaki riders. Introduced in 2006 as the first of the 900 Vulcans and mid-pack in its cruiser cubic-centimeter scale, the 903cc powerplant is the heart of all three Vulcan 900s. Producing a claimed 58.2 ft-lbs of torque at 3500 rpm, the Classic is the basic two-wheel flowing-line cruiser, and it will not disappoint.
The Classic took second place in Motorcycle.com’s Light Middleweight cruiser comparo in 2006 and since then Kawasaki has introduced an LT version as well as a Custom and Custom Special Edition. When compared against the Harley 883, A Honda Shadow 750, and a Suzuki Boulevard M50, we called the Classic the “Komfort King of the group.”
Vulcan Classic LT / $8,799 / Specs
Metallic Diablo Black / Candy Imperial Blue, Candy Diamond Red / Metallic Titanium, Metallic Titanium /Pearl Crystal White
Taking the Classic to the next level, Kawasaki offers a light-duty touring package called the Classic LT. With the same rider ergos and saddle height (26.8-inches) as the core Classic, the LT is ready for weekend get-aways and grocery runs if you must.
Mostly likely to have been ridden from neighboring states, the Vulcan Classic LT has both the power and stock accessories necessary to make it a glorious trip. This middleweight cruiser uses steel-frame-supported leather saddlebags, a luxury cross-stitched two-up saddle with passenger backrest, rider and passenger floorboards and a big windscreen for light touring duty.
Weighing in 37-pounds heavier than the Classic, the 657-pounds are easily managed with wide-set bars and favorable rubber cross-sections. Up front you’ll find a 130mm tire mounted on a 16-inch rim while the 15-inch rear holds a beefy-but-not-too-bulky 180mm tire. You’ll find the same set-up on the core Classic as well.
When belts aren’t driving you to your next destination, hydraulic disc brakes front and rear, are slowing you to a halt. Dual 272mm front rotors pair with another two-pot caliber in the rear, clamping down on a 242mm rotor. Again, same goes for the Classic.
Custom / SE / $7,699 Special Edition $8,099 / Specs
Metallic Midnight Sapphire Blue, Candy Burnt Orange, Special Edition Ebony
When Kawasaki first introduced the Vulcan Custom in 2007, our old pal Gabe Ets-Hokin did most of the legwork with his test ride in Austin, TX, breaking down the spec sheet as well a the barkeep at the Steven Austin hotel. Ah... Does anyone out there remember the scotch watch?
The big-wheeled cruiser likes to speak for itself, however. And with a 21-inch cast aluminum roulette ring up front and a 17-inch hoop in the rear, the Custom is all about looking good. Based on the same Vulcan 900 platform, the Custom has more than just a bigger front wheel with an 80mm Dunlop. In addition to the drag-style handlebar, the frame is raked out another degree (to 33 degrees) to provide more trail (7.2-inches) for housing that big beautiful wheel up front. The rear end has the same 180mm-shod 15-inch wheel with a slightly larger (270mm) hydraulic disc brakes. The front has a bigger 300mm disc.
Combine larger discs with an overall lighter weight of 611 pounds wet, and you’ll notice not only less scraping in the corners, but also stronger stopping power. The Custom comes with forward-mounted footpegs instead of floorboards, which offers more lean-in clearance.
The Custom is offered in three colors and two option packages, and the special-edition Custom SE carries a $400 premium that includes a special black paint scheme with tribal pinstripe accents, blacked-out exhaust pipes, air cleaner and engine case, and attention-getting orange valve covers.
Standing in the middle of NY’s lake country, roads head off in every direction. Choosing one is a decision I’m rarely prepared to make. City or country, short rides or long hauls, cool or causal, the Vulcan 900 lineup has the middleweight cruiser niche covered. And with MSRPs easy enough for many budgets to swallow, moderation can also be the key to a many smiling miles in the saddle.