2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Review

2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Review

At first glance, the 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS looks like a rebirth of the Eliminator 500, but there is much more to this motorcycle than meets the eye. That “much more” is the Ergo-Fit system, and it’s an innovation that may just make the Vulcan S the most revolutionary motorcycle of the year.

Ergo-Fit is the ability to custom fit the motorcycle to your body type and preference, and do it before you take delivery and at no extra charge. To accomplish this feat, Kawasaki makes the Vulcan S easily adjustable. This includes an option of three seats, three footpeg positions, and two handlebar choices.

In the Mid Reach mode, the Vulcan S will fit the vast majority of male riders – 5’ 7” to 6’ 0” is the standard target height. However, Kawasaki’s Ergo-Fit option brings the ergonomics of the motorcycle to taller riders, and well as those who are shorter.

For the rider 5’ 6” and under, the Reduced Reach seat can be installed, which moves the rider up two inches. The Vulcan S footpegs can be put in the rear position, with brings them an inch closer to the seat (a total of three inches when the two are used in tandem). Finally, the Reduced Reach bars come back 1.4 inches from standard. Again, when used with the Reduced Reach seat, that puts them 3.4 inches closer together than the Mid Reach setting.

Riders over 6-feet tall can move things in the opposite direction. The Extended Reach seat is an inch back from the Standard, and the footpegs can be moved an inch forward from Mid Reach. However, there are no Extended Reach bars for the Vulcan S – just Mid and Reduced.

The rough three position settings – Reduced, Mid, and Extended Reach — are a great starting point, but I found that none of them quite fit my 5’ 10” frame and preferences. Clearly, the Mid Reach worked pretty well for me.

However, I found the bars to be farther forward than I would like, so I went with the Reduced Reach bars, along with the Mid Reach seat and peg position. The Vulcan S fit perfectly!

Now, before you discard this innovation as a gimmick, think for a minute about your car. Would you buy one that didn’t have an adjustable seat, or an adjustable steering wheel? Of course not, and that is why Ergo-Fit is so important. Virtually everyone buying a Kawasaki Vulcan S can be purchasing a bike that fits like a glove.

Okay, enough about Ergo-Fit. You get it, I hope. The rest of the story is what a fun ride the Vulcan S is, despite its modest engine size of 649cc.

Observant motorcycling enthusiasts will immediately recognize the motor as that used in the Ninja 650 and Versys 650. Yes, it’s the same mature parallel twin that puts out good power over a wide rpm range. It’s a winner in the sport and adventure applications, and Kawasaki has optimized the powerplant for cruising.

There’s a shorter cam duration, reduced valve lift, fluted intake ports, and a heavier flywheel. Experienced riders know that all points to improved low-rpm power, and that’s something cruiser riders of all types appreciate. Even given its torquey nature, the twin still spins up to a 9500 rpm redline. Apropos of a cruiser, the Vulcan S has a six-speed transmission.

With a seat height below 28 inches (regardless of seat choice) and a rake of 31 degrees, the Vulcan S has a long, low look, with a bit of pro-stock and bobber to it. The wheelbase is just 62 inches, so it remains an agile machine. Part of the Vulcan S’s ease around town comes from the curb weight of less than 500 pounds — very light for a cruiser. This is a great urban cruiser.

2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS TestAs good as it is in-town, the 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S is an impressive canyon bike. While you may think the 650-class engine won’t be enough to have a good time, you’re forgetting its light weight and willingness to rev.

Also, the Vulcan S gets Dunlop Sportmax D220 tires, and the 120mm 19-inch front is a good compromise between a too-fat tire that doesn’t want to change direction and a too-skinny tire that doesn’t grip the road with authority.

With 5.1 inches of fork travel and 3.2 inches of rear wheel travel, the Vulcan S has a decent ride height and impressive cornering clearance. Sure, you can drag the pegs if you like, but you can also rip through the canyons at a fast clip without much grinding. Rider confidence is high, and I suspect that a number of new riders who get the Vulcan S will be enticed to supplement it in his garage with a sport bike after he finds out how much fun it is to go fast in the corners.

At the same time, the Kawasaki Vulcan S is a great cruiser for a sport rider who wants a second bike that’s ideal for urban battle. He’ll find out that it’s also fun in the twisties, and will probably ride it more often than he expected.

Turn-in on the Vulcan S is fully predictable and sure. The bike has no problem holding a line, but is also welcome to mid-corner adjustments, as needed. Turning effort is minimal.

The braking isn’t overwhelming – better news for a new rider than an experienced one. You get a single 300mm disc up front, and a moderately effective 250mm disc in the rear. Again, the braking is fine for a typical cruiser, but the Vulcan S is a big more capable of fast going. On the upside, the ABS allows you to be extra aggressive, and is well worth the $400 premium.

Kawasaki went with the modern cruiser look, including a perimeter large-tube frame, the teardrop tank, triangular headlight, shorty muffler, and more black than chrome.

The 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS is a huge sleeper. People won’t understand the importance of the Ergo-Fit option, until they try it. It’s something I definitely want to see on more motorcycles. The performance and handling are well above what you’d expect from a relatively inexpensive bike, and it will surprise more than a few cruisers and sport bike riders in the canyons.

A great re-entry bike, an excellent next-step bike for a new rider, and a superb second-bike for a sport-oriented rider, the 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS is an amazing all-around motorcycle.

2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Specs:

  • Engine: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, parallel twin
  • Displacement: 649cc
  • Bore x stroke: 83 x 60mm
  • Compression ratio: 10.8:1
  • Cooling system: Liquid
  • Fuel system: DFI with two 38mm throttle bodies, with sub-throttles
  • Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
  • Transmission: Six-speed with positive neutral finder
  • Final drive: Sealed chain
  • Frame: High-tensile steel double pipe perimeter frame
  • Front suspension / wheel travel: 41mm telescopic fork / 5.1 inches
  • Rear suspension / wheel travel: Lay-down offset rear shock with linkage and adjustable preload / 3.2 inches
  • Front tire: Dunlop Sportmax D220; 120/70 R18
  • Rear tire: Dunlop Sportmax D220; 160/60 R17
  • Front brake: Single 300mm disc with four-piston caliper
  • Rear brake: Single 250mm disc with single-piston caliper
  • Overall length: 91 inches
  • Overall width: 34.7 inches
  • Overall height: 43.3 inches
  • Ground clearance: 5.1 inches
  • Seat height: 27.8 inches
  • Wheelbase: 62 inches
  • Curb weight: 492 pounds
  • Fuel capacity: 3.7 gallons
  • Colors: Candy Lime Green, Pearl Crystal White or Flat Ebony
  • 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS MSRP: $7399 ($6999 sans ABS)

Riding Style:

Photography by Kevin Wing