It’s long been known that when beginning riders want to approach the cruiser style, Kawasaki offers a greatly balanced package under the Vulcan 500 LTD model name. We’re glad to find that in 2009, at least things haven’t changed for the worst as the bike carries on with a simple color scheme change that refreshes the overall look, helps the low seat stand out and corresponds with the attractive engine performance.
The unbeatable combination behind the smallest Vulcan is achieved by a user friendly chassis and sportbike engine heritage. As a rider, you feel well at home on the low and comfy seat and the handlebars are at quick reach so it’s clear that Kawi built this thing around the rider, but what’s best about the chassis is how it ensures light handling as the 471.9 lbs wet weight seems to disappear as speed increases.
Powered by a 498cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, eight-valve parallel twin engine, like the one on the Ninja 500R, the small cruiser is very lively so it competes with much more recent entry level alternatives and also manages to deal with four-wheeled traffic participants without any problems whatsoever.
Versatility was always the key behind the Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD and the 2009 model year makes no exception. From boulevard cruising to high speed passing down the open road, it stood out as a top performer and time allows for that to become part of this Vulcan’s character. This is not the kind of bike about which you read some other guy’s first impressions, but one that is recommended to you by experienced riders who have spent a few years on it when they were just starting out. I’ve often happened to hear people refer to it as “Kawi’s two-cylinder Magna” or “the small cruiser blast” so you don’t just buy the 500 LTD to learn how to ride, but you buy an enough serious motorcycle that invites to be ridden long after experience is gained on it.
The biggest drawback is the lack of fuel injection. This system would have radically improved engine performance and, to be quite honest, we were expecting this from the 2009 model year. Yet, there’s a six-speed gearbox ensuring both low fuel consumption and a decent top speed of approximately 90 mph.
What’s best about this bike is that things have always been this way so you just can’t expect less from it…less than 46 horsepower and 45 Nm that it.
Honda quit making the Shadow VLX so the most appropriate bikes remaining for us to mention are the V-twin powered Star V Star 650 models, the Classic, Silverado and Custom. These are at least $1 grand more expensive motorcycles, but do look like veritable cruisers and not at all like starting bikes. Also, the 2009 Suzuki Boulevard S40 features a much bigger engine (652cc), but featuring a single cylinder and that’s what keeps the starting price just under $5 grand. We’ve reviewed these models so click on the links and check out the details.
In the case of consecrated models such as this one, it is no problem buying with the heart as long as this last beats harder when spotting the bike. Kawasaki doesn’t mention the Vulcan 500 LTD as being neither a classic nor a custom, but the overall design indicates towards the last category mentioned.
You get a sharp front fender curved around a 19-inch front wheel, quick-grab handlebars and a one-piece seat so it’s a good thing to start considering from the very first time you lay your eyes on the bike. It would be so easy looking at it like at a standard motorcycle simply because there isn’t a V-twin engine contradicting us. Still, the teardrop tank with the speedometer, turn signal indicators and caution lamps being mounted on it compensates for the engine configuration not being the right one for this kind of bike. So is the 28.1 inches seat, the straight-flow exhaust and the custom rear fender and taillight. The passenger also gets a decently sized portion of the seat and the spoked rear wheel features a 140mm wide rear tire.
The 2009 model year distinguishes thanks to the Metallic Imperial Red paintjob as the bike hasn’t been significantly changed for years now.
Not only economic, reliable and highly performing for a 500cc cruiser, the 2009 Kawi Vulcan 500 LTD comes with an affordable starting price which positions it in between the Star and Suzuki models - $5,499.
Kawasaki could have revamped the half-liter Vulcan with the facile addition of a fuel injection system and yet they choose to carry on producing the bike with no significant change. Hopefully, at least 2010 will bring the much anticipated upgrade together with a totally restyled body if the engine isn’t of the most appropriate type for this kind of bike.
Engine and Transmission
Engine: Four-stroke, DOHC, eight-valve parallel twin
Bore x stroke: 74.0 x 58.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.2:1
Carburetion: Keihin CVK32 x 2
Ignition: Digital TCBI
Chassis and Dimensions
Final drive: O-Ring chain
Frame: Double-cradle, steel
Rake / trail: 33 degrees / 5.9 in.
Suspension, front / wheel travel: 41mm hydraulic fork / 5.9 in.
Suspension, rear / wheel travel: Dual hydraulic shocks with five-way adjustable spring preload / 3.9 in.
Front tire: 100/90x19
Rear tire: 140/90x15
Brakes, front: Hydraulic disc
Brakes, rear: Mechanical drum
Overall length: 91.3 in.
Overall width: 32.7 in.
Overall height: 44.3 in
Ground clearance: 4.7 in.
Seat height: 28.1 in.
Curb weight: 471.9 lbs.
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal.
Wheelbase: 62.8 in.