What could be a more appropriate backdrop than a Vulcan sign as we sent Korf to Austin to handle riding duties aboard the 2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom.
For 2006 Kawasaki revamped its Vulcan line of middleweights and upped the displacement ante, dumping the Vulcan 800s for the new and improved Vulcan 900 series. Back in March, Hutch was granted the opportunity to throw a leg over the newly released Vulcan 900 Classic at Daytona Bike week and found out just how formidable the Vulcan 900 is on the road to cruiser nirvana.
Certainly not one to rest on its laurels, Kawasaki has expanded the Vulcan 900 line of motorcycles by adding the Vulcan 900 Custom to the middleweight fleet. As if the 900 Classic and LT weren’t enough to entice riders, Kawasaki added a bevy of aesthetic changes to the Vulcan 900 and the result is impressive. After a day of touring the Austin, Texas, area on the Vulcan 900 Custom, it’s clear Kawasaki is looking to dominate this cruiser segment with a machine that not only rips on the asphalt but looks good while doing so.
For years, fans of metric Twins have clamored for a cruiser with a 21-inch front wheel. Kawasaki has heeded the call and delivered middleweight cruiser fans with the 900 Custom. The most impressive aspect of this cruiser is not just the new shiny bits and pieces, but Team Green managed to change, dare I say improve, the appearance while retaining the appealing price tag.
Before we launch into the road test, a quick look at additions to the 900 Custom are in order to help delineate between the 900 Classic and its latest family member.
Give Kawasaki credit for their ability to offer a machine that will appeal to new genre of cruiser lovers without sacrificing functionality or price. The differences are purely aesthetic and give customers a chance to tour the road on a bike that offers a different feel than its two brethren in the 900 Vulcan lineup.
The most obvious difference between the 900 Custom and the Classic is where the rubber meets the road. Up front a 21-inch cast wheel sets the tone with a distinctive spoked wheel. The final product looks great up close, with spokes that are tapered and flanged in two directions. At speed the cast wheel looks great, but it looks even better sparkling in the Texas sunshine.
Korf cruises comfortably over Austin’s streets on one of the best bargains in the cruiser business. You get a lot of bike for $7,349.
Another significant change is in the controls of the Vulcan 900. Fans of the Mean Streak line will recognize the high-rise drag bars fitted to the 900 Custom. The draggers not only look good but provide riders of a variety of sizes equal opportunity for comfort. Shorter riders can still reach the grips and forward controls thanks to the extended reach of the chrome draggies.
Kawasaki outfits the Vulcan 900 Classic and 900 Classic LT with traditional floorboards. Those in the market for something a little sportier will appreciate the forward controls of the Custom where pegs replace floorboards. Aside from the visual upgrade, the 21-inch front wheel helps offer impressive lean angles for a cruiser. Inevitably, a new model comes with a new saddle of some variation and the Custom is no different. While the new seat doesn’t offer a significant improvement while riding, my ass can attest the Custom saddle offers up impressive styling and plenty of comfort.
On The Road Again
I have to admit that since the first salvo in the big-bore cruiser wars was launched years ago, my appetite for large displacement and unending amounts of power at the twist of the wrist has distorted my sense of what is acceptable. Moreover, having just finished off a test of Harley-Davidson’s 110 cubic-inch CVO lineup, my adrenal glands weren’t exactly expecting to get a workout during my voyage to Austin. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts of Kawasaki’s engineers. They managed to convince my senses that 900 cubic centimeters can pack the punch of machines that are much larger.
Nestled in the double-cradle frame is a liquid-cooled 903cc 55-degree V-Twin SOHC engine. One of the Vulcan’s impressive engineering feats is the fact they opted to deliver a bike that is liquid- and air-cooled which enhances visual and mechanical functionality. Kawasaki engineers did an admirable job of retaining the visual charm of a cruiser by tucking a slim radiator neatly into the frame. Additionally, old school remains in vogue thanks to cooling fins decorating the Twin.
Inside the cylinders a pair of pistons work within the confines of a 68mm bore and 74.2mm stroke with a 9.5:1 compression ratio. Despite the relatively small nature of this powerplant, the amount of torque and power delivered by this belt-driven steed belies its middleweight sensibilities.
When the ignition is thumbed, the Vulcan springs to life and the tympanic drum is greeted with a nice little lope that only a single-pin crankshaft can deliver. The slash-cut pipes deliver a muffled rumble at idle, but hop on and twist the throttle and the pipes spit a nasty little roar from this nine-hundo.
The 900 Custom delivers plenty of giddy-up with the help of a 5-speed transmission and electronic fuel injection delivering ultra smooth doses of power through a pair of 34mm throttle bodies. Gears one through five feel a little short, but some sacrifices are required when you want a 900 to feel several hundred cubic centimeters larger. All the clicks in the tranny feel smooth and I was pleasantly surprised at the revving capabilities of the Vulcan. Beyond 3500 rpm the engine loses some of its pep, but if the rider keeps it under 3000, the Vulcan will give the competition in its class fits. At highway speeds, even when the speedo reads 75, buzz is absent and the Twin continues to deliver a silky-smooth ride. I never encountered a missed shift or false neutral, and for those who are newbies, locating neutral is a breeze.
For those unfamiliar with Austin, images of long, boring, flat stretches of asphalt might spring to mind and question whether we were able to test the suspension and handling. Much to my delight, the region offers plenty of curvaceous roads and hills to test the pull and push of the Kawi 900 Custom.
Throwing the Custom into corners is another impressive attribute of the Vulcan 900 experience. Exchanging floorboards for forward controls increases the available lean angle on the 900 Custom. Scraping metal parts is rare unless the pilot really pushes to accomplish asphalt-induced sparks. Stability is a key characteristic of the Custom thanks in large part to the 41mm front fork which offers 5.9 inches of travel. In an effort to accommodate the 21-inch front wheel, Kawi sets up the front-end with 33 degrees of rake and 7.2 inches of trail for impressive straight-line stability. Out back the rear end stays planted thanks to a Uni-Trak swingarm rear suspension that offers seven-way adjustable spring preload and 4.1 inches of travel.
Bringing the 900 to a stop is an impressive 300mm hydraulic disc up front, while out back is a 270mm hydraulic disc. As with many of the components on the 900, the binders fitted on the Custom do an admirable job of slowing the chrome and steel. The front binder provides nice feel and stopping power without being grabby or too harsh. The rear functions as one would expect, providing aid to the front when the needle on the speedo starts to turn clockwise. The brake lever (as well as the clutch) provides buttery-smooth action and can be actuated by the daintiest riders. Levers are non-adjustable.
Ergonomically, the 900 offers comfort for a wide range of riders. Shorter pilots will appreciate the low 27-inch seat height. However, the forward controls might uncomfortably test the elasticity of riders under 5’6″. On the opposite end of the spectrum, riders who are larger than 6’2″ will likely find the 900 to be a little cramped, even with the forward controls. For individuals who fall in said range, the 900 offers a comfy ride in all situations. The 900 also accommodates a passenger with a gunfighter-style seat that is designed for comfort and style.
Those who are looking to ride long distances will be eternally stoked with a 5.3 gallon fuel cell. We managed close to 85 miles of goon riding before we stopped for lunch. Doing a little math off the top of my head, one could expect to cruise for close to 200 miles on a single tank if they kept their throttle hand under control (no easy feat, even on this little 900).
The existence of the Custom version of the 900 Vulcan is proof that Kawasaki is interested in delivering a beautiful machine, but the attention to detail with a keen eye on functionality is proof Team Green is listening to the customer. Need proof? Look no further than the instrument cluster which not only offers classic styling but also all the requisite dials and lights to keep the pilot informed, including a fuel level indicator and a digital clock.
Into the Sunset
At the end of the day, the setting Texas sun began dipping below the sky scrapers and historic buildings, signaling the end of my time with the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom. Having cruised the scenic region of Austin, filled my belly with world famous barbecue courtesy of The Salt Lick, and felt the effort of the Kawasaki engineering team, I was on sensory overload. Aptly, this is how the Vulcan 900 feels.
With a price tag of $7,349 the Vulcan delivers aesthetics, performance, and refinement that are normally found in motorcycles that cost thousands more. It’s available in three colors: Candy Plasma Blue, Candy Fire Red, and Ebony.
Over the past few years Kawasaki has created an impressive portfolio of cruiser options. Now there’s another steed in its lineup to give the competition fits on showroom floors and, more importantly, to provide riders with an outstanding machine at a reasonable price.