First Ride: Year 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic Fi

A Better Vulcan for eVeryone


Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 2000 -- Kawasaki cheats! It's a plain and simple fact, really; you can't invite the press to Daytona Beach, Florida to ride new motorcycles in the fun and sun of Bike Week 2000 and expect folks to say much of anything negative, except, perhaps, that Florida is pretty darn flat.

That said, we can't complain about the motorcycles we rode. When first we saw Kawasaki's new Vulcan 1500 Classic Fi, it was hard not to smile knowing we'd spend the better part of the day traversing roughly 160 miles of the twistiest roads in Florida, the vast majority of which would be considered arrow-straight anywhere north of the Panhandle or west of Denver.

Although the main selling point of the new Fi Vulcan is its fuel-injection system that is supposed to improve power and throttle response (that's why it's called the Classic Fi), Kawasaki has made a few other changes. The end result is a bike that Kawasaki hopes will travel longer, stronger and look better than its carbureted brother.

The new Vulcan 1500 Classic Fi. Since cruiser riders appreciate power as much as the next guy, Kawasaki installed new pistons that bump compression from 8.6:1 to 9.0:1 for a reported 2hp increase along with one additional foot-pound of torque. These changes necessitate the use of at least 90-octane fuel. The cam timing has also been tweaked to improve power and keep things smooth and quiet while the piston pin offset was reduced from 2.0mm to 1.0mm to minimize top-end noise.

Controlling internal movements of the Classic Fi is a new ECU that uses a 16-bit processor and has fuel mapping specifically designed for it. When compared to the carbureted version and combined with the new injectors and other changes, the new ECU is supposed to improve cruising range and gas mileage as well as power.

The ECU measures water temperature, intake-air pressure and temperature, atmospheric pressure and throttle-opening to vary the amount of fuel squirted into each cylinder to ensure the correct fuel/air ratio for all conditions. When the engine load is light, the ECU focuses mainly on engine intake pressure and speed to determine the correct amount of fuel needed. Under a mid-to-heavy load, the fuel amount is calculated from throttle opening and engine speed. This is a far efficient design than when the surrounding conditions were monitored only at start-up.

"On the tip of each injector are four nozzles with two aimed directly at each intake valve for better fuel atomization."

Fuel injection and a new ECU add a few more ponies and increase gas mileage and cruising range. The throttle bodies are dual 36mm items that use one injector per cylinder with separate intake tracts. On the tip of each injector are four nozzles with two aimed directly at each intake valve for better fuel atomization. To get rid of burned gasses, a new exhaust pipe features a 2.2mm larger inner diameter (up to 35mm) and utilizes a catalyzer in the collector to allow for maximum power output while still retaining acceptable emission levels.

The FI system incorporates an auto-choke system but the bike still retains a fast-idle knob. The ECU continuously monitors water temperature and adjusts the idle speed control valves to warm the engine quickly in cooler climates.

However, there is more to the new Fi Vulcan than the fuel-injection system. For example, the seemingly insignificant change from a cable-driven speedometer to an electric unit provided a huge increase in cruising mileage. By eliminating the deep housing the speedometer needed and the cable that passed through the bottom of the tank, Kawasaki found enough room for almost an extra gallon of fuel (from 4.2 gallons to 5.0 gallons) in the same space. The new speedometer features a digital odometer, tripmeter and clock, and the tank is now seamless, eliminating the unsightly external flanges.

New fuel tank is seamless and the capacity is increased by 0.8 gallons. The frame is now more rigid thanks to large main frame pipes that are 42.7mm in diameter (up from 34mm), a larger diameter steering-head pipe, bearings and stronger gussets. The head pipe has also been moved forward 35mm to decrease fork offset to 25mm (from 60mm), which increased trail from 4.8 inches to 6.3 inches.

The rear brake caliper is now a dual-piston unit that utilizes larger pads for more braking power. The rider's floorboards have been moved aft 65mm for a more upright seating position and the front brake and clutch levers are wider, 5-way adjustable items instead of the 4-way levers found on the carbureted Classic.

Other changes include an upgrade from a 12V-14Ah battery to a 12V-18Ah unit (while retaining the same physical size), a low-fuel warning light replaces the petcock and a new multi-pane headlight provides a brighter, more concentrated beam. A new, self-canceling turn-signal system is now used and the spokes have a special coating on them to make sure they stay shiny longer.

Florida Frolicking

A sunny Florida day during the middle of Bike Week 2000. Even with all the chassis tweaks, Kawasaki tells us that they upgraded the Vulcan Classic to Fi status to give it more power and better fuel economy. So, why then should somebody purchase the Fi model which makes only 2hp more than the carbureted version yet sells for $800.00 more?

Although there has been only a minor increase in the power output of the Classic Fi, we prefer it over the carbureted Classic. Why? First, the chassis changes offer a more solid and sporty ride. Also, the new fuel-injection system cleans up throttle response and, when you install a set of loud and chrome exhaust pipes, there's no need to worry about re-jetting -- the new Fi system should do it all without you ever having to even look at the owner's manual, knock wood.

The added fuel capacity is also a noteworthy change since the cruising range is now in the neighborhood of 160 miles compared to 105 miles on the carbureted Classic. Once the reserve light comes on there's still enough fuel for another 30-plus miles, so a single tankful should last all day. Also, the more upright riding position and comfortable seat make this additional cruising range and fuel mileage all the more inviting to access.

The suspension on the Fi is better than what's commonly found on other cruisers. Most cruisers have an under-damped feeling that tends to feel harsh over the small pavement irregularities. The Vulcan Fi surprised everyone with its soft, yet well-sprung ride that smoothed out most all of the annoying little bumps on Florida's backroads.

Look closely. There's only one real melon-head in this photo. Minime is everywhere...

Though the front suspension is non-adjustable (very few cruisers are adjustable), the 5-way preload adjustable rear shock was easy to adjust even while riding, and with each change we felt a difference. The ride-height didn't seem to increase any since we would still drag the floorboards at approximately the same lean angles, but the ground clearance was about on par with what is offered by other manufacturers: it's notably better than that of the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and about equal to that of the Yamaha Road Star.

We had the chance to ride a few of Kawasaki's custom Vulcans with modifications such as high-compression pistons, stiffer valve springs, more aggressive cams, drag pipes and even turbos. Kawasaki motorcycles, from Ninja's to Drifters, are known for their engines, and there are lot of tweaks that can reliably be done reliably to the Vulcan 1500 Classic motor, and the Fi makes it all a less daunting proposition.

"It's not only the newest iteration of one of their best-selling motorcycles, it's also the platform for a number of models to come."

Will it make you Smile? Kawasaki's newest variation on its Vulcan line, this Classic Fi, is more than just their latest and greatest up scale cruiser. It's not only the newest iteration of one of their best-selling motorcycles, it's also the platform for a number of models to come.

We look forward to getting our hands on one of these new Vulcan 1500 Classic Fi models so we can compare it against similar bikes in a heads-up contest of big-bore cruisers. Still, in the brief time we spent on the bike in and around Daytona Beach, we must admit we smiled.


Specifications

Engine type:             4-stroke V-Twin, SOHC, 8-valve
Displacement             1,470cc
Bore x Stroke:           102.0 x 90.0mm
Cooling:                 Liquid
Induction:               Mitsubishi Digital Fuel Injection 
                         with dual 36mm throttle bodies
Ignition:                Digital with Throttle Responsive 
                         Ignition Control (K-TRIC)
Transmission:            5-speed
Frame:                   High tensile steel, double cradle
Rake/trail:              32 degrees/6.4 in.
Suspension, front:       41mm hydraulic fork
Suspension, rear:        Dual hydraulic shocks, 5-way preload 
                         adjustable
Wheel travel, front:     5.9 in.
Wheel travel, rear:      3.7 in.
Tire, front:             130/90x16
Tire, rear:              150/80x16
Brakes, front/rear:      Dual hydraulic disc/ Single disc
Overall length:          98.6 in.
Overall width:           39.2 in.
Overall height:          44.9 in.
Ground clearance:        4.9 in.
Seat height:             27.6 in.
Dry weight:              659 lbs
Fuel capacity:           5.0 gal.
Wheelbase:               65.6 in.
Color:                   Candy Cardinal Red/Pearl Gentry Gray, 
                         Pearl Purplish Black Mica

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