Vulcan 900 Review
Well, this one almost slipped by us. When Kawasaki announced the new-for-’07 Vulcan 900 Custom, it’s safe to say that there wasn’t a staff-wide arm wrestling sudden-death tournament to determine who got to ride it first. But, at Kawasaki’s urging that I was really missing something, I skeptically agreed to give the 900 Custom a shot. Really, how exciting could a sub-liter metric cruiser be?
The first thing that struck me when seeing the 900 Custom in person was that it looked pretty cool, especially for a bike that lists for $7,349. Right away, my eye was drawn to the automotive-style cast aluminum 21” front rim, with its double flanged and tapered spokes. The dual staggered slash-cut mufflers also and to the 900 Custom’s visual appeal, even if tiny exhaust outlets hide inside them.
The motor, of course, is less exciting to peruse visually. It’s your typical water-cooled V-twin with faux fins to simulate air-cooling. I hate faux, but I guess there’s no way around it so I suppose I should be more accepting of the virtually inevitable. Inside the motor, performance (rather than appearance) fans will find a bit to cheer about. Each cylinder houses an overhead cam and four-valves, each individually EFI-fed by a 34mm Keihin throttle body. Oh, that’s right. These are the same guys who bring us the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14. But, still, we’re looking at a 903cc V-twin cruiser. As I wondered earlier, how exciting could this bike be?
As it turns out, it may not be the most exciting bike you can buy, but the Vulcan 900 Custom is certainly an unexpected pleasure. Over 60 ft-lbs of torque at 3,500 rpm doesn’t really tell the story; instead, look to decidedly oversquare 88mm bore and 74mm stroke. Unlike the two-liter Vulcan, which suffers from a lumpy power delivery, induced by a mega-stroke, the 900 Custom revs both smoothly and quickly. It never gets in its own way, because it is simply moving too fast for that. No, it’s not a sport bike, but it’s not stretching things to call the 900 Custom a sport custom. (Click image to enlarge)
The 900 Custom’s handling cashes the check written by the motor. Intuitively, the narrow 21” front tire and 180mm (x15”) rear rubber suggests a bike that doesn’t want to hang in the corners. Nothing could be further from reality. This bike loves to carve in the canyons. While it doesn’t have sportbike ground clearance or brakes (single discs at both ends), as long as you don’t expect to go diving into corners and nailing the binders and cranking it over, you’ll be fine. The 900 Custom craves fast sweepers, where it will confidently hold a line at a surprisingly fast speed. Credit the Dunlop rubber for its part in the bike’s canyon performance.
Suspension also exceeds expectations, especially if you’ve been riding around on Sportsters lately. There are six inches of travel in the front and four in the rear, but, most importantly, these inches are properly sprung and well damped. Potholes are not cause for alarm, and the suspension is composed at high speeds—in both straight lines and when heeled over. For boulevard cruising, the suspension isn’t going to win you any tough-guy awards, as it treats you gently. Ergonomics add to the package. The pegs are definitely feet forward, but the drag-style bars come back to the rider, keeping everything comfortable and stylish, yet ready for spirited riding.
The result is a bike that’s hugely fun to ride in all sorts of conditions. While it may not turn heads like, say, a similarly priced Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Custom, there are enough styling hooks to nab the attention of a reasonable number of innocent bystanders. Kawasaki encourages further personalization by making the badges and emblems out of plastic and easily removed, facilitating custom paint. The shapes of the tank and fenders are welcoming for a custom painter’s brush. And, then, there’s the ride itself. The quick motor and secure handling doesn’t strand you on the boulevard. The Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom isn’t made for profiling; it’s designed for riding.
2nd Opinion — Kelly Callan
Before I get started, I have to admit my prejudices. I’m not a big fan of cruisers. I’d rather ride a sport bike or a dirt bike. Even though I was hyped on this bike before I laid eyes on it, I still wasn’t convinced. After one ride, that changed. This bike is fun!
The Vulcan 900 Custom doesn’t ride like a cruiser, it’s not slow and it doesn’t vibrate much. Plus, when I pull out of my driveway onto the canyon roads of Malibu, it is even more fun to ride. It doesn’t corner like a Ducati Monster, as much as I wish it did, but it’s more like riding a big bore sport-touring bike. I just glided through the turns and was able to do so at a pretty fast speed. It does scrape once in a while, but not nearly as much as the Harley-Davidson 883 Low that I rode in a story for the June/July 2007 issue.
I can’t say that I like the footpeg forward position, but the 900 Custom does make it work. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the bike at all, even on the first time out (I’m 5’6”, 110 lbs). That’s not because it’s slow—it’s not. The bike gained my favor thanks to it’s 27” seat height, reasonable 549-pound dry weight, and natural balance. Taking it down Ventura Boulevard, the 900 Custom just felt nice. It idles smoothly, and I don’t buy into the shake, rattle and roll school of engine design. Pulling away first from the green lights is child’s play. Also, I appreciated the smooth and predictable operation of the hand and foot controls.
The Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom may be a cruiser, but it’s a kind of cruiser that just might change my mind about the genre.
3rd Opinion – Arthur Coldwells
Don and I headed into the hills to do some testing on the spur of the moment. I didn’t select the Kawasaki per se, it just happened to be the closest of the two so I just jumped on and thumbed the starter. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but certainly I did get a very pleasant surprise. Following Don on the Star Roadliner—a very capable motorcycle in its own right—as he rode quickly through the twisty roads near his house I found the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom not only kept up easily, but it did it smoothly, quietly, and without undue wallow from the chassis. There are torquier motors out there, but the 900 acts like a much larger unit with effortless revs, and not inconsiderable power that comes in nice and smoothly. Coupled with the very reasonable ground clearance, I found myself able to concentrate on the road rather than having to manage any lack of capability on these roads. (Click image to enlarge)
Overall, the handling is good. If you crank it over hard the pegs will scrape, but they do fold up (negating any likelihood of tri-pointing on the asphalt) and beyond that you have to really push before any other hardware touches down. Naturally, the shocks at the rear are a little soft, but hey – this is a cruiser!! When Don and I pulled up I was impressed enough to wonder aloud what size motor this was. I was blown away when he said it was “only” a 900. If you would have asked me to guess I’d have figured the displacement much higher than that.
I found this street sleeper to be an endearing wake up call for me. It is a nice looking, fun bike that carries some cool cachet with it too. Kawasaki have done an exemplary job with the motor, and the handling and brakes are more than adequate if you happen to enjoy cornering too. The Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom that doesn’t excel at any one thing, but does everything so well and so easily that the whole is way more than the mere sum of its parts.