As more motorcycle cruisers take to the open road, the focus of style over substance redirects from the later to the former. Traditionally, the Japanese have always had a better grasp of engineering than style when it comes to cruisers, though this gap has been narrowing annually. So, when taking on a Japanese cruiser that has an actual job to do—touring—things get a bit more interesting.
The Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 Classic LT displaces a staggering 125 cubic inches, and each 4-inch piston has a throw of nearly 5 inches! This ultra-long stroke gives the LT both plenty of torque, and delivers it in a demonstrably lazy way. There’s no tachometer, but the rev limiter is pleasantly soft. You won’t feel the power in raw acceleration, but you will notice that downshifts are rarely necessary. I did notice, however, that I would have liked an additional upshift at my disposal. Compared to the new 6-speed Harleys, the top gear of the Vulcan felt just a little shorter than I’d like. When shifts are called for, the Vulcan makes the desired clunking sound, but manages to shift smoothly and flawlessly. The heel-toe shift ensures that the toe on your left boot won’t wear out.
I have a standard test for baggers. I take off from our offices in Malibu and head out for lunch with my dad in Palm Springs. Once there, my dad gives me his styling report. As a former owner of a 1940s Indian 4, he liked the Vulcan’s retro image, but he was a bit perplexed by the black crinkle finish on the engine cases—like father, like son. Still, the bike turns heads and gets approving nods at red lights.
Along the way, I take some side trips to keep things interesting—maybe Idllywild, maybe the Badlands–but most of the ride is eating up miles on Interstate 10. Ground clearance is good on turns, but part of the reason for that is the fairly stiff suspension. What works for turns, doesn’t necessarily work on bumpy California freeways. I felt jarred by the rear suspension, and fiddling with the rebound damping and preload isn’t going to fix it if you’re riding solo. Fortunately for Vulcan 2000 Classic LT owners, Progressive Suspension makes an aftermarket shock that can be sprung and damped to your personal specifications. If it were our bike, we’d have that shock. Up front, the forks work well, though still a tad tight.
I liked the seating position, but I wasn’t quite able to make the 150-minute ride without some butt numbing and tingling. Moving around on the saddle helps, but, eventually, the only solution is to take a break. Another upside is that the air filter cover doesn’t force your right leg out, as it does on, say, the Harley-Davidson Road King. On the Classic LT, your feet can easily plant themselves on the floorboards.
The leather bags look good and have enough capacity for a weekend getaway. A sturdy backrest is standard for the passenger, allowing you to easily add some Dowco luggage if you need a bit more capacity. The windshield does a good job, and is optically correct, as most riders will look through, not over it.
Ultimately, the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 Classic LT is just the kind of competent cruiser we’ve come to expect from the west side of the Pacific. It may lack the raw personality of American baggers, but it does have a sensibility about it that will appeal to the more conservative among us.
Helmet: Shoei Multitec
Jacket: Arlen Ness Old School Leather
Gloves: Harley-Davidson Highway Full Finger
Pants: Hugo Boss Black Label
Boots: Harley-Davidson Hustin