Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Review | Cruiser Motorcycle TestThe Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom is an eye-catching mid-size cruiser that strikes a winning balance between easy handling and cruiser attitude. First and foremost, the 900 Custom is a non-intimidating, sharp-looking ride. The welcoming 27-inch seat height invites almost everyone to sit flat-footed in the saddle, and nothing spells confidence like being able to easily reach terra firma at a stop.Wide drag bars enable plenty of leverage from the comfortable and roomy one-piece seat, and forward-mounted foot pegs (no floorboards or heel toe shifter) complete the relaxed, nonchalant riding stance on the Vulcan 900 Custom.
Carrying its 610-pound curb weight low, and with plenty of torque from the oversquare SOHC V-twin, the 900 Custom is light handling and easy to maneuver, even at a walking pace. Parking lot forays, gas station stops, or U-turns—none are cause for concern with the Vulcan 900.In addition to the low center of gravity, ease of handling comes from the narrow 80mm 21-inch front tire that turns lightly—certainly welcome by the fairer sex. Naturally, the trade off for a lighter front end is a less planted and secure feel; it’s not hard to oversteer, and on rough roads the front Dunlop will move around a bit. However, there’s plenty of rubber from the chunky 180mm 15-inch rear wheel to keep you connected to the asphalt, and once you appreciate the characteristics of both ends of the Vulcan 900 Custom, you will really enjoy this ride.With such a broad contact patch in back, it’s easy to use the rear brake almost exclusively to slow down, as the feel is strong and smoothly delivered. Of course, if you need to stop quickly, the front brake is available and effective. It does not have too fast or sharp of a bite, but you will still want to use it judiciously as that narrow front tire will make itself known, as I discovered on a wet patch of rough road on Mulholland Drive above Hollywood.Riding through tight, narrow, and well-worn roads in a residential mountain neighborhood, the Vulcan 900 Custom proved to be a confidence-inspiring mount. I was able to poke along in first or second gear in easy control of the 900, and made stress-free turnarounds on a semi-steep grade. Not only is the Vulcan 900 Custom an easy bike to ride, it is also extremely comfortable. Ergonomics put the rider in a casual and slightly extended position that encourages a laid back attitude. This establishes a relaxed and comfortable riding position that encourages longer rides than what you might have planned when you first set out.I’m in no hurry aboard the Vulcan 900 Custom, I’m just enjoying the road, the scenery, the feel of the smooth ride. Of course, if I need to pick up the pace, the 900 Custom can accommodate. Twist the throttle hard and there’s plenty of power from the 903cc liquid-cooled V-twin; it’s no quarter horse, but the acceleration is powerful and gathers momentum quickly.The Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom does a fine job of maneuvering tight conditions, and when caught in slow moving traffic I found the bike to be an easy lane splitter. There’s a fair amount of heat coming off the right side of the motor, which was welcome on my late autumn rides, but not so much during summer cruising.Perhaps unexpectedly, the Vulcan 900 Custom handles straight-line full speed duty on the freeway confidently, despite the narrow front hoop. The low center of gravity and almost 65-inch wheelbase surely contribute to its stability. With wide ratios and plenty of torque it’s easy to ride for miles without shifting. The 5-speed gearbox is smooth and engages accurately. Slipping into neutral at a stop is nearly automatic, thanks to the highly effective Positive Neutral Finder feature. Just shift up from 1st gear at a stop and you’re in-between cogs.This is a visually appealing machine, with its light and airy front end to the blacked out and chunky back. From the clean lines of the chrome drag bars, to the beautiful teardrop tank, and the parallel slash cut pipes, to the pin stripe wheels and engine fins, the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom is a great-looking bike. For 2014, the bike is mechanically unchanged, and you have a choice of a blacked-out version, and one with lots of Lime Green on tank, fenders and sidecovers.Many riders will reflexively dismiss a smaller displacement cruiser. I understand that, and a big brusque motor has both a visual and visceral appeal, as well as its performance advantages. Still, for city use, a lighter, more agile cruiser makes a lot of sense and the freeway is certainly not off-limits for the peppy motor. It may appeal to a newer rider or one on a budget, but the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom works quite well as a smart urban cruiser and commuter.Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style Helmet: Arai RX-Q Vibe Jacket: River Road Sapphire Gloves: River Road Tallahassee Pants: Icon Hella Heartbreaker Boots: River Road Women’s Square Toe Zipper HarnessKawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Specifications Engine…Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, SOHC, four valves per cylinder V-twin Displacement…903cc / 55.1 cubic inches Bore x stroke…88.0mm x 74.2mm Compression ratio…9.5:1 Maximum torque…58.2 ft/lbs. @ 3500 rpm Cooling…Liquid Fuel injection…DFI with dual 34mm Keihin throttle bodies Ignition…TCBI with digital advance Transmission…5-speed Final drive…Belt Frame…Double cradle, high-tensile steel Rake / trail…33 degrees / 7.2 inches Front suspension / wheel travel…41mm hydraulic telescopic fork / 5.9 inches Rear suspension / wheel travel…Uni-Trak swingarm, 7-way adjustable spring preload / 4.1 inches Front tire…80/90×21 Rear tire…180/70×15 Front brake / rear brake…300mm hydraulic disc / 270mm hydraulic disc Overall length…94.7 inches Overall width…35.2 inches Overall height…44.1 inches Seat height…27.0 inches Curb weight…611 pounds Fuel capacity…5.3 gallons Wheelbase…64.8 inches 2014 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom MSRP…$8499
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.