Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café Review | Techno Motorcycle Cruiser
Some motorcycles are more difficult to review than others, and the 2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café ranks among the trickiest subjects.
With the wide dealer-configured customization of the ergonomics available (called ERGO-Fit by Kawasaki), plus the unusual combination of cruiser and sport bike attributes, the 2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café is something of a Rorschach Test.
Before we get going, let’s look at what makes the Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café a “café”. It’s not much—just a large flyscreen and three-color paint.
That’s good news, as “café” often denotes “uncomfortable”, as the seat loses padding and the ergonomics get stylish. In the case of the Vulcan S ABS Café, that means you still get some choices of seats, handlebars, and footpeg locations.
I went with the standard seat and footpegs, along with the pullback reduced-reach bars, which resulted in a feet-forward, upright seating position for my 5’ 9” frame.
The ERGO-Fit system is the most important feature of the four flavors of Vulcan S—standard, ABS, ABS SE (two-color paint) and the ABS Café. When you purchase the bike, the dealer will custom fit the bike to your taste. Don’t take that choice lightly, as it will have a huge impact in how much you enjoy your Vulcan S. Also, those ergonomic selections will change the handling of the motorcycle in addition to your comfort.
The concept of the 2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café is not a new one. It’s a throwback to the 1970s when the Japanese would modify an existing sport bike such as the KZ1000 with a stepped seat and pullback bars, and the results were bikes like the KZ1000 LTD. In the case of the Vulcan S, the donor bike is the Ninja 650 upright sport bike.
So, the Vulcan S platform took the Ninja 650, shortened the suspension, relaxed the geometry, reworked the ergonomics, and retuned the motor for torque. Despite the modifications, you can see much of the Ninja 650 in the liquid-cooled DOHC parallel twin motor and the perimeter frame with the exposed side-mounted shock. There is no missing the family resemblance.
If you expect the Vulcan S to be a sporting cruiser motorcycle, you would be right. The engine loves to rev, and requires it to get the most from the motor.
You will always know how quickly the engine is turning, as there’s a large rev counter on the dash, which is borrowed from the Ninja 650. Your speed is a large LCD readout, and this year there is a new gear position indicator—something I find unimportant, but colleagues such as Coram President Arthur Coldwells and Associate Editor Kelly Callan find essential.
From a handling standpoint, with the ERGO-Fit in the positions I prefer, the Vulcan S is definitely sporty. Even with 31 degrees of rake (seven more than the Ninja 650) and a 62-inch wheelbase (6.5 inches longer than the Ninja), the Vulcan S is a nimble cruiser. Reasons behind the spunky handling include the aggressive profile of the Dunlop Sportmax D220 tires and its 498-pound curb weight—light in its class.
Around town, the Vulcan S is easy to move around—the center of gravity is low, the 18-inch front wheel steers lightly, and the pullback bars give good leverage. The Vulcan S has a motor that is willing to rev, which is a good thing, as the torque peak of 6600 rpm requires that ability.
The single seat is comfortable for a while, but you probably won’t want to run through the 3.7-gallon tank before taking a break. Otherwise, I found the ergonomics tailored to my preferences to be excellent. The fork has more travel than the Ninja 650’s, though it’s at an awkward angle for soaking up bumps, while the meager three inches of rear wheel travel has its limitations on bumpy urban asphalt.
Taking the 2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café to the canyons will give you mixed feelings. It handles great and the Dunlops are nice and sticky. However, your boot heels touch down in turns with regularity, even in high-speed sweepers. At those higher speeds, the Vulcan S is less than perfectly stable—the price you pay for its agility.
Getting from one café to another quickly is about letting the Vulcan S rev, rowing the smooth-shifting gearbox, and using body English to compensate for the limited lean angle.
You might have noticed the single disc up front, rather than a dual-disc setup on the Ninja. Given the way you are likely to ride the Vulcan S, it’s definitely adequate, and the brakes work in an especially friendly manner around town. When you’re making time in the canyons, the speeds still aren’t that fast and the single disc, along with ABS, should keep you out of trouble.
Whenever I test ride a motorcycle, it’s about determining who the bike is designed for, and how well-satisfied the intended audience will be. In the case of the 2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café (and its three siblings), that is a fairly difficult task.
The Vulcan S has unorthodox contemporary styling, so it will appeal to motorcyclists who want something out of the ordinary. It’s a smaller motor than the vast majority of cruisers, and it revs higher, making it a completely different kind of ride. Many cruisers want to project a badass attitude—the Vulcan S is pretty much threat-free.
For those who like the canyons, the Vulcan S can accommodate you, and cruiser riders will be impressed with its handling. As a commuter, it’s capable in the worst traffic, as well as handling high speeds on busy urban freeways. Those who want to ride down to the local coffeehouse will get more curious questions than words of admiration.
If you’re an independent thinker, who knows what he wants, and is secure about the choices you make, the 2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café is a motorcycle that will be on your radar when it comes time to select a new ride. It may not make the cut, but it makes a unique case for its appeal.
Photography by Kelly Callan
- Helmet: HJC CL-17 The Punisher
- Jacket: AGV Sport Atom
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Café Racer
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Accelerator
- Footwear: Joe Rocket Big Bang 2.0
2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café Specs:
- Type: Parallel twin
- Displacement: 649cc
- Bore x stroke: 83 x 60mm
- Maximum torque: 46 ft/lbs @ 6600 rpm
- Compression ratio: 10.8:1
- Valve train: DOHC
- Fueling: Dual 38mm throttle bodies w/ sub-throttles
- Cooling: Liquid
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ positive neutral finder
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Perimeter-design high-tensile steel
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 41mm fork; 5.1 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Spring-preload adjustment shock; 3.1 inches
- Front tire: 120/70 x 18; Dunlop Sportmax D220F ST
- Rear tire: 160/60 x 17; Dunlop Sportmax D220 ST
- Front brake: 300mm petal-style disc w/ 2-piston Nissin caliper
- Rear brake: 250mm petal-style rotor w/ 2-piston Nissin caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 62 inches
- Rake: 31 degrees
- Seat height: 27.8 inches
- Fuel capacity: 3.7 gallons
- Curb weight: 498 pounds
2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café Colors:
- Metallic Matte Carbon Gray / Matte Urban City White
- Pearl Blizzard White / Candy Lime Green
2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS Café Price:
- $8099 MSRP