2015 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
Kawasaki adds to its Vulcan 900 lineup with the 2015 Vulcan 900 Custom. Think of this as the sibling with a recessive “mean gene” that the 900 Classic and Classic LT didn’t get. The Custom shuns the family-friendly, boulevard cruiser look of its brothers in favor of something a little more sinister with – and I mean this in the best possible way – much less in the way of social value. If “edgy and dark” are attributes that you are looking for in a motorcycle, this ride has it in spades, and may be the bike for you.
Continue reading for my full review.
2015 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
Engine:Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, SOHC, four valves per cylinder V-twin
There is a sculpted flow to the upper lines of the bike, with a voluptuous curve in the tank/saddle/rear fender transition that is pleasing to the eye – and the posterior. Overall, the Custom looks like the name implies, like a bike from an era when rigid frames were the kings of custom.
Overall, the Custom looks like the name implies, like a bike from an era when rigid frames were the kings of custom.
The triangular swingarm emulates the look of a rigid frame with none of the associated discomfort, due to a cleverly hidden swingarm pivot and shock-absorber system similar to Harley’s Softail models.
As long as I’m bringing up Harley, I will go ahead and point out that the Custom is most like the H-D Softail Breakout, as opposed to the more cruise-centric 900 Classic and Classic LT, which more closely resemble the Fat Boy and Heritage Softail Classic, respectively.
Blacked-out engine and exhaust components, foot pegs instead of floorboards, and a complete lack of baggage transforms this ride into a sleek boulevard bruiser with none of the “grocery-getter” attributes of its brethren.
A double-cradle steel frame and “Uni-Trak” swingarm serve as the blank canvas upon which the rest of the bike is built, and sets the tone for the rest of the project. Frame design incorporates 33 degrees of steering-head rake that pushes the overall length out to 94.7 inches with 7.2-inches of trail, and the faux-rigid shape provides 5.5 inches of ground clearance with a low, 27-inch seat height.
The low seat and lower center of gravity means that all but the shortest riders will have easy ground access and plenty of leverage to control the bike without it turning into a wrestling match.
The low seat and lower center of gravity means that all but the shortest riders will have easy ground access and plenty of leverage with to control the bike without it turning into a wrestling match.
The 41 mm hydraulic tubes handle front “forkage” with a comfortable 5.9 inches of travel. “Kawi” opted for a more traditional look on the front end by installing the forks right-side-up, as opposed to the increasingly popular inverted-fork design more common in sportbikes.
The “Uni-Trak” swingarm gets a single, preload-adjustable shock that provides 4.1 inches of travel. While this rear travel distance trends toward the short end of the spectrum, it is typical of this type of frame, and is adequate for around town riding with short hops on the interstate.
The 21-inch front rim and 15-inch rear present an asymmetrical look that feeds the custom vibe of this ride, while the wide, 180 mm rear tire and 80 mm front reinforce this look. Dual-piston calipers work with a single, 300 mm front brake disc and 270 mm rear to control the bike, but with a 600-plus pound curb weight and no ABS, I think that I would personally prefer to see dual discs up front.
The 55.1 cubic-inch, liquid-cooled, V-twin engine cranks out 58.2 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. A pair of 34 mm Keihin throttle bodies with electronic fuel injection control fuel-air induction through grip-actuated throttle plates, as well as the ECU-controlled secondary plates to give the engine a nice, smooth throttle response across the board.
Rubber engine mounts isolate the typical V-twin vibrations from the frame and rider, which minimizes rider fatigue over long hauls.
Rubber engine mounts isolate the typical V-twin vibrations from the frame and rider, which minimizes rider fatigue over long hauls. A radiator with an automatic fan dumps waste heat, as do the cooling fins on the jugs and heads for true, hybrid cooling while maintaining the traditional, air-cooled V-twin look. The exhaust system looks traditional as well, in spite of the catalyzer hidden within each one that helps meet emission standards.
A five-speed transmission works with a belt final drive for quiet and low-maintenance locomotion. The transmission represents one of the areas where riders had something negative to say about this bike – namely, that it needs a sixth gear for any sort of prolonged highway travel.
I feel their pain, and wish that my Sporty had a sixth gear as well, because occasionally I go looking for that gear that isn’t there. The good news is, unlike my ride, you can actually get a six-speed gear kit through the aftermarket, and some owners report very good results.
Base price is $8,499, which is a low price for this much bike by anyone’s estimation. The sticker comes with a 12-month, limited warranty, and you can extend that out to as much as 48 months by buying the optional Kawasaki Protection Plus warranty. Color choice is somewhat limited, with Kawi’s Ebony paint scheme that features a particularly evil-looking green flame job over glossy black that is sure to turn heads.
“This bike is very comfortable to ride, and it corners better than most people imagine a cruiser should. Though it’s comparable to the H-D Breakout — one of my very favorite bikes from Harley — in size and shape, the price tag is around half of the Breakout, which should make this a good purchase for someone searching for that look without buying into the whole Harley mystique.”
My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "I like the Harley mystique, that’s true; but for $8,500 bucks, I probably need to sit down and shut up on this one. It’s very affordable for a cruiser, looks snarly, and as a shorty, I do appreciate the low seat height."
|Engine:||Four-Stroke, Liquid-Cooled, SOHC, Four Valves Per Cylinder V-Twin|
|Displacement:||55.1 Cubic Inches|
|Bore X Stroke:||88 X 74.2 mm|
|Compression Ratio:||9.5 to 1|
|Maximum Torque:||58.2 Pound-Feet at 3,500 rpm|
|Fuel System:||DFI® With Dual 34 mm Keihin Throttle Bodies|
|Ignition:||TCBI With Digital Advance|
|Transmission:||Five-Speed With Positive Neutral Finder|
|Front Suspension / Wheel Travel:||41 mm Hydraulic Telescopic Fork / 5.9-Inch Travel|
|Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel:||Uni-Trak® Swingarm, Seven-Way Adjustable Spring Preload / 4.1-Inch Travel|
|Front Brakes:||300 mm Hydraulic Disc|
|Rear Brakes:||270 mm Hydraulic Disc|
|Frame Type:||Double Cradle, High-Tensile Steel Tubing|
|Rake/Trail:||33 Degrees / 7.2 Inches|
|Overall Length:||94.7 Inches|
|Overall Width:||35.2 Inches|
|Overall Height:||44.1 Inches|
|Ground Clearance:||5.5 Inches|
|Seat Height:||27.0 Inches|
|Curb Weight:||610.8 Pounds|
|Fuel Capacity:||5.3 Gallons|
|Warranty:||12 Month Limited Warranty|
|Kawasaki Protection Plus™ (Optional):||12, 24, 36, Or 48 Months|