Church of MO: 2002 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic Review

John Burns
by John Burns

Lighten up. Twenty years ago, MO was a wobbly start-up with no money, and a part-time job for most of us. Which doesn’t explain the brief haphazardness of some of the old content, but may excuse part of it. Do the Japanese even make cruisers anymore? Some of them weren’t so bad, including this 2002 Kawasaki Vulcan 800. I apologize for being so rude to it (probably because I was secretly attracted). Oh look, they DO still make a Vulcan 900; doesn’t look half bad really.

Great Personality

Torrance, California, July 23, 2002 — Listen, you may have to lead me out behind the shed and shoot me soon. Last week I was puttering down the road in some heavyish traffic on our 900SS Ducati, and the thought occurred to me I’d rather be riding the Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic I’d been putting miles on lately. No. Really. The Ducati’s a little tough on the wrists at subsonic speeds, and you have to shift gears now and then when your speed increases or decreases.Now that my butt had been molded into the flat, old-man pancake shape by the Vulcan, and its nerves deadened by the constant pounding, it was a little painful when the Ducati began trying to re-form my hindquarters into two distinct cheeks again; like frostbite thawing out.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If thats the case, what does a picture of a Vulcan 800 Classic taken through the drivers side window of a 1995 Ford Mustang say? One thousand words, single spaced, 10 point font please. Due Thursday.

Also, now that my fist-clenching cruiser muscles have developed to a point where even self-service can no longer be thought of as safe sex, I’m able to cruise at my usual 80-90 mph gait just as easily on the unfaired Vulcan as on the Ducati.

The Ducati is the kind of modern, uncomfortable furniture gay couples and New Yorkers have. The Vulcan’s your dad’s Barcalounger. Why not be comfortable then?

Fashion, that’s why. The number one way you know you’re over the hill is when you no longer care how you look, because when you don’t care how you look you don’t care how other people think you look–women, that is–and then it’s worse than being married–the Death of Hope. When you find yourself mall-walking in Rockports and double-knit shorts held up by a white belt and fanny pack, with more white ear hairs sprouting than Peter Rabbit, you know your days are numbered, friend.

The 800 Classic is one of the few cruisers where it was more appropriate for the bike to wear the chain rather than its rider.

On the other hand, all the bettys in the cars who used to check you out on a nice bike, and vice versa, are now all on the phone anyway, paying you no mind even on an MV Agusta. Why bother?

Where was I? All that aside, the Vulcan 800 is a really nice motorcycle, with a better, snappier engine than the Suzuki Volusia we tested a couple of weeks ago, better suspension, and better ergoes for 5’7″ persons such as myself (or, maybe since I didn’t start riding the Vulcan until after the Triumph America and the Volusia, more credit should go to them for developing my cruiser musculature beforehand?) My vanity, luckily, is exceeded only by my cheapness.

“If you like the Vulcan, you should get one; functionally it’s a great personal transportation unit.”

Johnnyb didn’t much like the exhaust tips.

At $6,799 this Vulcan retails for a lot less than what you’d shell out for an SS Ducati–and its 805cc sports liquid-cooled, four-valve heads.Really oversquare for a cruiser, at 88 x 66.2mm, it’s actually a free-revving, enjoyable engine to play with, coupled to an agreeable, wide-ratio five-speed box and a nice, light clutch. Throw it in fourth or top gear (fifth), and it’s easy enough to burble along from 30 to over 100 mph with very little fuss. A lone, 36mm Mikuni carburetor with an accelerator pump, no less, responds to the whip nicely once past the typical off-idle glitch (which one small washer shoved under the needle would probably fix).

This one’s a 55-degree, single-crankpin twin, but with a counterbalancer and rubber mounts. It runs plenty smooth, vibration is not a problem, and in truth the ride’s not at all bad. There’s a linkage-mounted shock hiding underneath the hard-tail looking swingarm, with four inches of travel, and an also nicely damped 41mm fork. Along with the fat tires and a thick, nicely supportive seat, the Vulcan gives up a surprisingly suave ride. Get aggressive going round corners, though, and the Vulcan’s pegs start dragging a bit early even by cruiser standards.

Other than that, what’s not to like? Eee, well, we realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but nearly everybody who beholds this beauty comes away wishing they hadn’t. It’s a Harley from Toon Town. Those “dual shotgun exhausts” might be cool if not for the black things in the ends which so obviously reveal the true diameter of your exhaust flumes; the motorcycle equivalent of getting caught stuffing socks down your pants. The front fender is a tire mullet.

Maybe it’s not even the individual parts as much as the disharmonious way they all fit together? This is one ugly motorcycle, but one which, in its defense, looks good in family photos next to sister 800 Drifter and cousin 750 Vulcan.

But hey, that’s just my opinion. My boy won’t be seen in shorts if they don’t extend past his knees. Tattoos and piercings and shaving your head are “in.” I always liked Camaros and still do. I’m afraid of Julia Roberts’ lips. Rap is a waste of oxygen. I’m hopelessly out of touch. If you like the Vulcan, you should get one; functionally it’s a great personal transportation unit.


Typle: 805cc liquid-cooled 55° V twin, SOHC 4v/cyl.; dual
anti-vibration countershafts
Bore & Stroke: 88 x 66.2mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Fuel: 36mm Keihin CVK
Ignition: electronic, digital
Valve-adjust intervals: 7,500 miles
Transmission: 5-speed, wet, multiplate clutch

Frame: steel backbone
Front suspension: 41mm fork, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: one coil-over shock absorber, link
type; 3.9 in. travel, adjustable for spring preload
Front Brake: 300mm disc
Rear Brake: drum

Wheels: 3 x 16 in.; 3 x 16 in. spoke
Tires: 130/90-16 , 140/90-16 Bridgestone Exedra
Wheelbase: 63 inches (1600mm)
Rake/trail: 32 degrees/ 4.8 inch (122mm)
Seat height: 27.5 in.

Measured weight, full fuel tank: 575 lb.
Fuel capacity: 4 gallons
Fuel mileage: 45 mpg
Colors: red, purpley like
Suggested price: $6,799 (US Dollars)

John Burns
John Burns

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3 of 38 comments
  • Tweet Tweet on Sep 13, 2022

    I don't know much about these bikes so I can't really comment on them, but I'm sure they were good. For me it does sort of highlight the relative value of the CF Moto bikes previewed earlier, especially the standard CL-X 700. Yeah I know, not exactly an apple to apple comparison with one a full blown cruiser with a slightly bigger v-twin vs the modern retro standard with a parallel twin, but still, a comparable bike with all day comfort and performance, with a two year warranty, 21 years later for less money--not bad!

  • Jim L Jim L on Sep 13, 2022

    I owned a 2001. Put a K&N 3527 air filter on it with a rejet and pipes and watch out. I know of folks that dyno'd that at around 57 rear wheel. A nice increase. Horrible stock seat though and useless rear brake. I did get a mustang touring seat, which was better, but still not so good. I sold it and bought a 1600 Nomad.

    • Jon Jones Jon Jones on Sep 15, 2022

      The 1600 Nomad is still a great bike. Kawasaki got the look right with these.