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2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Comparison

Monday, March 1, 2010
2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
The Vulcan 900 Custom features a slim front end, with its black matte finish getting a big thumbs up from our test crew.
Kawasaki’s Vulcan 900 rests right smack in the middle of the Japanese marque’s cruiser lineup. At the very bottom is the itty bitty Eliminator 125 with the massive Vulcan 2000 at the top. The 900s, however, look much closer to their larger siblings. For our test we received the Vulcan 900 Custom, which sports a more stripped down look than the similar Vulcan Classic.

The Vulcan Custom’s narrow fork tubes, along with the skinniest tire of all the test rides, contrast the bulkier front ends on the Star and Honda entries. The lines flow up to the high-placed handlebar, with the 21-inch front wheel (largest in our test) completing the stretched, skinny look. The drawback of the minimalist front is it leaves the radiator and oil-cooler more exposed, less integrated into the design than the radiator on the Shadow, and busier-looking than the clean fronts on the air-cooled Harley and Star.

2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
The Kawasaki front end and tall front wheel didn't hold back its handling prowess.
The matte black tank and bodywork garnered compliments from of our test riders, along with the slashcut right-side exhaust. Out back the narrowest front tire of the test is contrasted by the opposite extreme, with the fattest rear tire at 180 spooned onto a 15-inch hoop. The two-tone seat looked strange to some, but the Kawi styling elicited a overall favorable response.

“This one caught my eye out of them all,” says Joey of the Vulcan Custom. “The matte finish black was just sexy.”

Styling’s a big factor in the cruiser aesthetic, but the Kawasaki backs it up with a potent engine. The Kawasaki Twin gets its 903cc displacement from an 88mm bore by 74.2mm stroke – the 900 upping displacement from 800 during the 2006 model year. A single overhead cam operates the 900’s four-valve head design. The fuel-injected, liquid-cooled Kawi took top honors in raw power production, registering peak numbers of 50.61 hp and 51.47 lb-ft torque on the Mickey Cohen Motorsports dyno.

2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Dyno Numbers
Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Dyno:
50.6 hp @ 5900 rpm (highest)
51.7 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm (highest)
Seat of the pants dyno on the street found the Kawasaki Twin not as visceral as the Harley mill, though all agreed the Kawi felt the best off the bottom. The usable immediate power down low allows riders to chug along at low rpm with ease, even in high gears. And when it does come time to ring out the throttle, power delivery lacks any hiccups or surges with the steady fueling. As a total package the Kawasaki Twin feels refined yet authoritative, building power in a linear manner. Riders rated it second to the Sportster in on-road performance and personality, only because the Harley’s motor felt a hair snappier with a more responsive mid-range

“The Kawasaki had probably the best bottom-end,” agrees Adam, “Its mid-range wasn’t as stout feeling as the Harley’s, but overall a good happy-medium.”

2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
The Kawsasaki featured some of the best ground clearance, allowing for a faster pace than its competitors in the corners.
As mentioned before, the exhaust looks great (a special edition version of the Vulcan offering blacked-out pipes). But while the exhaust note sounds fine enough, it could use a little more rasp for the extra chutzpah to match the tone of the H-D and surprising rattle from the Shadow.

The well-sorted five-speed gearbox never had any issues, with clutch engagement quick and easy. Neutral was particularly easy to find (the same could not be said of the Star) and lever pull was light. No complaints from any test riders, explaining its top rating in clutch and transmission.

While none of these cruisers can boast the invigorating braking prowess of a sportier street/sportbike, the Kawasaki’s brakes rated best of our comparo bunch. The front 300mm rotor pinched by two-piston Tokico caliper delivers a pleasing bite and feel at the lever. Teamed with the 270mm rear disc, the two binders bring things to a halt well enough, all the more impressive considering they slow down the heaviest curb weight at 619 lbs.

Yet the extra pounds don’t hinder the Kawasaki’s handling scores, where it came out on top, nor does the tall/skinny front and wide rear tire combination. Sporting a 33-degree rake, the Vulcan has the most trail (7.2 inches) in our testing group, almost an inch more than the Honda. Combined with its 64.8-inch wheelbase, it may not turn quite as quick at the others, but once it does the Vulcan holds a smooth, stable line. Simply push on the wide bars and tip the Vulcan into the turn, where, unlike some of the other rides in our comparison, it can actually lean over a little without the immediate scraping of hard parts.
2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
The Kawasaki's ergonomic package was deemed the friendliest to our test riders.

Ground clearance on the Kawasaki far exceeds the Star and Harley-Davidson, encouraging more spirited runs around the corners – always a grin factor plus. The Vulcan can handle the quicker pace offered by the extra lean without the wallowing instability of the Honda. The suspension, a 41mm fork and preload adjustable rear shock, hold up its share of the handling duties, delivering more than ample travel (5.9 inch front, 4.1 inch rear) and a plush ride.

Speaking of plush, Kawasaki describes its Vulcan perch as a gunfighter seat, not quite sure why, but it’s certainly comfortable whatever the name. Rated the cushiest in our test, the seat is just one highlight of an ergonomic package that best suited our test rider frames, another being the tall handlebar, with its great leverage and comfortable reach. Footpeg placement gives riders that foot-forward cruiser pose, but the entire riding position is quite agreeable to packing on the miles. No question if we told our four testers they had to select one bike for an iron-butt rally, they’d fight tooth and nail over the Vulcan.

The Vulcan observed the lowest fuel efficiency at 42 mpg. However  it yielded the longest range at 222 miles from its 5.3 gallon tank.
The Vulcan's instrument console was the only ride in our test to use a fuel gauge.
Fit and finish on the Vulcan has highs and lows. The controls and switchgear are functional, if a little plain. The mirrors don’t add to the design, though they provided one of the better rear views. On the plus side, we found the instrument console attractive, very much appreciating the fuel gauge. The headlight brightness was good too, tied with the Yamaha as second-most visible from the front, but bettering its Japanese rival in illuminating the road for the rider.

As for fuel, the Vulcan observed the lowest fuel efficiency at 42 mpg. However, it yielded the longest range at 222 miles from its 5.3 gallon tank. Getting 200-plus miles from a full tank always gets a brownie point in our book, making longer distance runs and touring more amenable.

The Kawasaki took tops in grin factor rating, with its competent engine performance and handling chops. It’s not always one thing that makes a bike stand out in this most subjective of categories. Often it’s just all the intangible traits of a bike matching up best with the personalities of the test rider. Whatever it is, the Kawasaki has it.

“Best grin factor with looks, engine sound and performance,” agrees Ray, one of majority to rate the Vulcan high in the category.
2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
The Kawasaki delivers a complete package and the most enjoyable all-around street performance.

Sure the smiles come with a slightly higher MSRP, the Vulcan the most expensive ride in our test at $8349 (includes a 12-month warranty). That’s $260 more than the Star we tested (different paint schemes for the V Star close the gap to a mere $60), but a small price to pay for those who find the Vulcan fetching.

Really the biggest question with the Vulcan is the styling, and riders who don’t fancy the Custom’s lines might prefer the beefier looks of the 900 Classic. Whatever the case, the sum of the Vulcan 900’s parts add up to a fantastic cruiser experience, one many of our test riders found the most personally satisfying.

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2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Specs
2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
Engine: V-Twin SOHC Four Valve
Displacement: 903cc
Bore: 88
Stroke: 74.2
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Cooling: Liquid
Fuel Injection: EFI with 2 34mm Keihin throttle bodies
Transmission: 5-speed
Final Drive: Belt
Front Brake: 300mm disc
Rear Brake: 270mm disc
Front Suspsension: 41mm fork, 5.9 in travel
Rear Suspension: 7-way preload adjustment, 4.1 in travel
Front Tire: 80/90x21
Rear Tire: 180/70x15
Rake: 33
Trail: 7.2 in
Wheelbase: 64.8 in
Seat Height: 27.0 in
Fuel Tank: 5.3 gal
Curb weight: 619 lbs.
Dry weight: 587 lbs.
MPG: 41.79
MSRP: $8,349
Warranty: 12 months

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Comments
weasel -Kawasaki 900  December 25, 2010 08:05 PM
I also liked the article here as well, I am an older guy but still love motorcycles. I plain on buying a Kawasaki 900 classic. Love the fat front tire and the way it looks,Also you all know you can see the instrument console really good on the Kawaker custom as well as the classic. Also I am through with air cooled motorcycles Even Harley Davidson and Yamaha star also. Liquid cooling is great for long givity, perfect for what I want. I live down town and I am in a lot of stop and go traffic. During the dog days of summer the liquid cooled bike will be wonderful. Also the engine can be put together with closer tolerances and makes for a quieter motor. I'm convinced the classic 900 Kawi is my next motorcycle mo-to USA you have made up my mind The 2010 classics are on sale for $6,250.00 OTD the customs are about 4 or 500 more dollars though thanks Weasel
tank -lite mid shoot out  November 2, 2010 11:07 PM
For one thing you got the hp and tq mixed up for the Star 950. Go to rider mag. or just about any other mag. and the Yamaha wins hands down. I think the journalist were trying to please the Kawasaki Ups, that support there magazine's with bikes and such and advertising money for there magazine adds that go in this magazine. They had no choice another words
Luiz C Laba -Fair enough to like it - Second review after 200 Miles.  April 20, 2010 11:43 AM
Got into the new 2010 Vulcan 900 Custom flat-black. PROS- the bike has a great look; engine is powerful for a cruiser; ride position is just okay; lights and instrumentation is enough; just comfortable for two; perfect size and handling for two; handles easy, perfect weight, great size gas tank and once again, GREAT LOOKING BIKE. CONS- position of the feet is strange and sometimes dangerous for a person coming out of a center foot position; Rear brake I find it very week, you need to put more than your toes to have breaking power due to the position of your foot; feet will be pulled backwards by the wind over 70 mph due to the position;The exhaust will burn you almost all the time (like my previous HD X1200); rear pax will always leave a foot mark in the exhaust...Did not notice before purchasing it...everything engine covers are plastic, therefore they look very good. OVERALL- Great bike for the PRICE and size, would recommend over any other sporty looking cruisers out there. Ride safe, LCL

Durk G. -Great bike  April 15, 2010 03:58 PM
I bought this bike in Aug. '09. So far it has been a great bike. I take issue with their mileage though--riding on the highway and in traffic I have been getting 48-49 mpg. A couple minor gripes--no helmet lock! They have a clip UNDER THE SEAT which is a pain in the ass to use. I put on the Kuryakin (sp.?) grips and then added the helmet lock that fits on the end. Also, no tach--I like to know what the engine is doing. The exhaust note is a little too quiet--could definitely be more like a Harley. I also wish it had 4-way flashers and self-cancelling turn signals like my Virago.
I was talking to a guy who had a 900 Classic. He had straight pipes on it and said the mileage was "surprisingly bad". He said he got 35 mpg around town and 30 on the highway (!?). I had the same experienc when I put Vance and Hines baffled pipes on my 1100 Virago--lost mileage and power. Had the carbs re-jetted and added a K&N air filter. Won't make that same mistake twice.
The bike looks great and I have gotten lots of compliments on it--I have the dark blue model. I have added highway pegs, a backrest (which should have been standard equipment) and saddle bags. Changing the oil is relatively simple (much easier than the Virago) and the huge 5.3 gal. tank is great for long trips. The fuel light comes on when it's consumed four gallons.
I'm really glad I got this bike. Though I have owned two Yamahas, I decided to get a Kawasaki because Yamaha didn't really have what I was looking for. (I liked the Raider but it wouldn't have worked for various reasons, including the 1800cc motor was way too big. I like getting great mileage on my 900C.)
I would advise anyone, newbie or experienced rider, to check out the 900 Custom.
Luiz C Laba -Great and reliable Bike  April 13, 2010 01:08 PM
I have gone through most of brand name motorcycles in the past 26 years, my last one was a Harley Sportster Nightster 1200, great looking bike, but with quite a few issues. I decided then to change to a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom and everyone is happy, we can ride two-up without ANY MODIFICATION, it is a great and powerful bike.
So I am sorry HD, there is not such thing as WANNA BE anymore!
Thank you for the article, it helped on my decision.
LCL