A Shorter Perspective: Kawasaki Vulcan S

Christina Orris
by Christina Orris

One rider's opinion on Kawasaki's Ergo-Fit system

One look around the proverbial Motorcycle.com office and it’s hard not to notice one thing: everyone on staff is a guy. Of course, this isn’t surprising considering the male domination of this sport, but women represent one of the fastest growing segments in motorcycling, and it’s only right we get a woman’s voice – and opinion – on our digital pages. Our friend Christina Orris is just the person to help. An excellent rider, both on- and off-road, she’s in-tune with the wants and needs of the female motorcyclist, and best of all, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. When we were thinking of the perfect candidate to review the Kawasaki Vulcan S and its unique Ergo-Fit system, we knew she was the right person for the job. Follow along as she gives her thoughts. —TS

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Since this is my first time writing for Motorcycle.com, I’ll tell you a bit about myself. I am a female motorcyclist, and I have been riding for about seven years. I started on the street, moved to mini-bike road racing a few months later, and picked up big bike track days and dirt bikes along the way. I didn’t know any other motorcyclists when I began riding, and I made a few dumb bike choices back then including my first bike, a 1985 Yamaha Virago 700 with starter problems, which almost made me quit riding after leaving me stranded a few times. Nowadays, my street bike preferences lean towards sport-standard, and my go-to most days is my Triumph Street Triple 765RS. That said, one of my favorite things to do is ride motorcycles that don’t belong to me, the further from my comfort zone the better. So, I obviously jumped at the chance when Troy Siahaan asked me to try out the Kawasaki Vulcan S. Aside from my old Virago, my cruiser experience has been limited to the occasional demo ride at IMS.

The Vulcan S’ 27.8-inch seat height was a boon around town where frequent stops require putting your feet down.

Most female riders (and shorter riders in general) will agree that there are always concessions when it comes to bike choice. Option A is going for something smaller, lighter, and less powerful, the obvious benefits being the confidence you get moving it around and the ability to touch the ground. Option B is every other bike in existence, meaning you end up compromising on a heavier, taller bike to get the performance you want. I’m 5-foot, 3-inches, so I’m tip-toeing most bikes. The shorter folks in the audience know what this means: being extremely mindful about how and where I park, my lane position at a stop light; really anywhere I put my feet down requires careful forethought. Even my Honda Grom, which is extremely light and narrow, doesn’t have a very short seat height, and I’ve dropped it before when the ground wasn’t where I expected it to be.

2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS – First Ride Review

Enter the Kawasaki Vulcan 650S. Troy and I took a trip to Kawasaki HQ to pick up the Vulcan. While there, they gave me the real buyer experience (minus the hit to my bank account), and fitted me up on the bike with the Kawasaki “Ergo-Fit” program, which is offered at all participating dealerships. Basically, the Ergo-Fit program allows the customer to tailor the pegs, bars, and seat to best suit their individual body type. I initially went with the “Short Reach” of all three customizable options: handlebar, footpegs, and seat. However, much like the writer of the initial Vulcan S review, after a few hours on the bike I found the short reach seat to be a bit constricting, as it really limited my movement on the bike, and I rode back to Kawi HQ to swap out for the Mid-Reach seat. This turned out to be my “just right” combination.

The standard seat turned out to be the Goldilocks position for me. The Reduced Reach was too restrictive, and the Extended Reach was never considered.

Our rainy winter in Southern California put a damper on my riding, but I’ve still been able to put about 1000 miles on the Vulcan so far. Do you know that feeling when you’ve been doing something for so long, that you hardly realize how annoying it is until you don’t have to do it anymore? Sitting on a motorcycle with my feet entirely on the ground, even knees bent (!!), and easily maneuvering the bike out of a parking spot? I honestly forgot how convenient it is to be able to park wherever I want. The Vulcan S has a 27.8-inch seat height, a very narrow saddle, and nothing to burn yourself on if your legs rest a little closer to the bike. Its curb weight is just shy of 500lbs, but you’d never guess that pushing it around the driveway. The center of gravity is very low, making it an absolute breeze to maneuver at low speeds and helping that 500 lbs seem a lot lighter.

2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S First Ride Review – Female Perspective

I didn’t have to pay the $7,499 price tag (ABS Version), but Kawasaki managed to squeeze a lot of value into the Vulcan. The 650cc parallel twin has incredibly smooth power delivery and has no trouble keeping up with much larger bikes. It is perfectly happy cruising at 85mph without feeling like you’re wringing its neck. I even found myself going a bit faster than I intended, this motor is just so smooth you don’t get that “vibration feedback” at high rpm. In the canyons, you can ride the Vulcan almost like a sportbike – in a lower gear and higher rpm.

Perhaps the Ergo-Fit system should also include suspension settings, too. The shock was too stiff for my body weight.

I was pleasantly surprised by the handling, as the Vulcan has terrific cornering clearance for a cruiser. I’m quite comfortable leaning a bike over in the canyons, and it doesn’t bother me to scrape the pegs. Still, a whole day on tight, technical canyon roads only resulted in scraping a peg once. My only real complaint about the bike is in the suspension department, as it seems like the suspension is set up for a much heavier rider. I found myself getting bounced around quite a bit on bumpier roads. I feel like it would be a great addition to the Ergo-fit program to adjust the suspension for the rider’s weight.

The basic display is easy to read at a glance, and the tachometer and gear shift indicator would be welcome features for any new riders. I also found the controls to be very comfortable, the levers are adjustable so they can be moved closer or farther from the grips.

Overall, this would be a great bike for a responsible beginner, someone who is ready to move up from a starter bike, or even experienced riders who may want to transition from something sporty to a more relaxed riding position. I’m not in either camp, but I appreciate the Vulcan S for what it is – and the Ergo-Fit system is something I hope catches on with more motorcycles and manufacturers.

2019 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Specifications

MSRP$7,499, $7,099 (non-ABS)
Engine Type649cc, four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, parallel-Twin
Bore and Stroke83.0 x 60.0 mm
Fuel SystemDFI with two 38mm throttle bodies and sub-throttles
IgnitionTCBI with Digital Advance
TransmissionSix-speed with positive neutral finder
Final DriveChain
Front Suspension41mm telescopic fork, 5.1 inches of travel
Rear SuspensionLay-down offset rear shock with linkage and adjustable preload, 3.1 inches of travel
Front BrakeSingle 300mm disc with twin-piston caliper, ABS available
Rear BrakeSingle 250mm disc with single-piston caliper, ABS available
Front Tire120/70×18
Rear Tire160/60×17
Wheelbase62.0 inches
Rake/Trail31°/4.7 inches
Overall Length90.9 inches
Overall Width34.6 inches
Overall Height43.3 inches
Ground Clearance5.1 inches
Seat Height27.8 inches
Claimed Curb Weight498.3 lb. (491.7 lb without ABS)
Fuel Capacity3.7 gallons
Available ColorsMetallic Matte Covert Green, Stormcloud Blue
Warranty12 Month Limited Warranty
Christina Orris
Christina Orris

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2 of 33 comments
  • Paragon Lost Paragon Lost on May 04, 2019

    I'd love to see fitting options for all motorcycles, it's a solid idea and would probably help them sell more bikes. Good review. Oh, BTW, you all need to get out of Southern California more. In the video you mentioned the bad roads, well anymore that appears to a majority of the roads across the nation from my experience. :/

  • Ramon_Nudal Ramon_Nudal on May 05, 2019

    Same ergonomics as my car but my car has a backrest. I couldn't imagine driving very far without it.