Ninja-Derived Power In A Mid-Displacement Cruiser

As the lightest bike in the Kawasaki cruiser lineup, the Vulcan S appeals to a variety of riders with adjustable footpegs and options for seat height and handlebar position. New from 2016, Kawasaki introduced the Vulcan S Café and the Vulcan S SE to round out its cruiser stable. Carrying the same low and lean profile of the bigger Vulcan cruisers, the S and its siblings combine Ninja-derived power and handling with the comfort and personalization capabilities of Kawasaki’s Ergo-Fit components

Continue reading for my review of the Kawasaki Vulcan S, Vulcan S Café and Vulcan S SE.

  • 2016 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S / S Cafe / S SE
  • Year:
    2016- 2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Parallel Twin
  • Displacement:
    649 cc
  • Price:
    7499
  • Price:

Design

2016 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S / S Cafe / S SE
- image 745113
The engineers even made the hand levers adjustable, so whether you have dainty little hands or great big meathooks, you should be able to find a configuration that works for you.

Kawasaki launched its first Vulcan in 1985. The Vulcan VN700A with Kawasaki’s first V-twin was limited to a 699 cc engine to avoid import tariffs on anything over 700 cc. Thank goodness that tariff was lifted, although today’s Vulcan S is a 649 cc parallel twin so it would pass muster even in yesteryear.

Typical of the Vulcan lineup, you’ll find a narrow chassis, tapered seat and low seat height so it’s easy to find the ground even for the shorties among us. In the new-from-2016 category, the Vulcan S Café sports a bullet fairing and the Vulcan S SE offers a few cosmetic splashes of color and bling.

I’ll say this for Kawasaki, they certainly bent over backwards to make the Vulcan S family accessible to the broadest range of body types possible. The Ergo-Fit concept allows the rider to change the size and shape of the rider triangle. You can add the short-reach handlebars to bring your hands closer to your body, use the reduced-reach or the extended-reach saddle with gel inserts to move your hips fore or aft, and move the footpegs forward or back one inch to tweak your foot position and amount of leg stretch.

With this many options available, most riders should be able to tailor fit the bike for a perfect fit. The engineers — bless their hearts — even made the hand levers adjustable, so whether you have dainty little hands or great big meathooks, you should be able to find a configuration that works for you.

Incorporating cruiser styling with sportbike performance, the Vulcans has features such as a 3.7-gallon teardrop fuel tank, a distinctive front inverted triangular headlight, LED taillight and black-out mirrors to compliment the black-out frame and muffler.

Chassis

2016 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S / S Cafe / S SE
- image 745124
As well as that cruiser look and feel, it has handling that tracks well at highway speeds and retains some agility for the corners.

Kawasaki used a perimeter-type frame as a sort of exoskeleton with two fore-and-aft pipes protecting the jugs and a double cradle supporting the engine. The tubular-steel frame sports a narrow subframe sans seat rails, which keeps the rear end as skinny as the rest of the bike, a design feature that makes for easy ground access for riders with shorter inseams.

The steering head is set at 31 degrees — nothing like a bit of rake to give a bike that cruiser look and feel — with 4.7 inches of trail for handling that tracks well at highway speeds and retains some agility for the corners. Old-fashioned, right-side-up forks support the front end with 5.1 inches of travel, and a coil-over monoshock tucked away under the rider’s right thigh floats the rear on 3.15 inches of travel. The rear shocks also come with a seven-position, spring-preload adjustment so you can dial in for your weight and preferred stiffness.

A two-pot caliper pinches the 300 mm front brake rotor, and a single-pot caliper binds the 250 mm disc in back. You can get the Vulcan S model with or without ABS, but the Special Edition (SE) and Cafe’ Racer come with ABS as standard equipment.

Frame: High-tensile steel double pipe perimeter frame
Rake: 31 degrees
Trail: 4.7 inches
Suspension, Front: 41mm telescopic fork, 5.1-inch travel
Suspension, Rear: Lay-down offset rear shock with linkage and adjustable preload, 3.1-inch travel
Brake, Front: Single 300mm disc with twin-piston caliper, ABS
Brake, Rear: Single 250mm disc with single-piston caliper, ABS
Wheel, Front: J18M/C x MT3.50
Wheel, Rear: J17M/C x MT4.50
Tire, Front: 120/70x18
Tire, Rear: 160/60x17

Drivetrain

2016 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S / S Cafe / S SE
- image 745110
The 649 cc engine shares DNA with the sporty Ninja 650 plant, but comes tuned specifically for a more cruise-tastic power delivery with more bottom-end torque at a less-frenetic engine tempo.

The 649 cc, two-cylinder, short-stroke mill shares DNA with the sporty Ninja 650 plant, but comes tuned specifically for a more cruise-tastic power delivery with more bottom-end torque at a less-frenetic engine tempo, all good things for a relaxed ride when you want it.

Even the most sedate rider will occasionally feel the need for speed, or need power to evade a traffic situation. The engine produces a maximum of 46.3 pound-feet of torque at 6,600 rpm, plenty of power for its 500 pound curb weight. This torque comes from the cruiser-tuned intakes in the 38 mm throttle bodies, cam grinds and dual-valve induction management, as well as the beefed-up mass of the flywheel.

A balancer shaft helps counter the rocking couple, and smooth out the vibrations from the reciprocating masses in the engine. Kawasaki’s own Digital Fuel Injection makes its contribution to low-end torque as well, so as you can see, the factory really wanted to make sure the sporty Ninja engine was appropriately grunty for its new role.

So far, I have to agree with the factory prose that names the Vulcan as a great beginner’s bike, and one of the features in the six-speed transmission reinforces that opinion. Allow me to explain; first-time riders, and even experienced riders on an unfamiliar bike, can have a hard time finding neutral. The stiffer your boots are, the harder it is, and there can be exacerbating circumstances such as clutch drag to make it worse. Not only is this inconvenient, it can be dangerous, so I am in favor of anything that makes it easier to get the tranny out of gear. Enter the Positive Neutral Finder, Kawasaki’s answer to the problem. Once you come to a full stop, you just upshift from first to find neutral on the first try, every time.

Engine: Four-stroke, Two-cylinder, DOHC, Liquid-cooled
Displacement: 649 cc
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 mm x 60.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Maximum Torque: 46.3 Pound-Feet at 6,600 rpm
Fuel System: DFI® 38 mm throttle bodies (2), with sub-throttle valves
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: Six-speed with positive neutral finder
Final Drive: Sealed Chain

Pricing

2016 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S / S Cafe / S SE
- image 745126
MSRP for 2018 is just $100 over last year, but we lose some nice colorways.

MSRP on the Vulcan S is $7,099 without ABS and $7,499 with it. The SE goes for $7,699 and the Café will run you $8,099. While I’m not digging the new paint choices as much this year, color is at the bottom of the priority list much of the time. Kawasaki covers your Vulcan with a 12-month limited warranty and you have the option of picking up additional coverage through Kawasaki Protection Plus™ for 12, 24, 36, or 48 months.

Model: Vulcan S Vulcan S Café Vulcan S SE
Colors:
2017: Urban City White, Candy Matte Orange Metallic Matte Carbon Gray/Metallic Matte Phantom Silver Metallic Imperial Blue/Metallic Spark Black
2018: Pearl Blizzard White Pearl Storm Gray Pearl Lava Orange
Price:
2017: $7,399 (non-ABS model - 6,999) $7,999 $7,599
2018: $7,499 (non-ABS model - 7,099) $8,099 $7,699

Competitors

2016 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Street 500 / Street 750
- image 731667
2016 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S / S Cafe / S SE
- image 745115
These bikes are so close, I can see only the name power Harley brings to the table as a tiebreaker. To me, this speaks highly of what Kawasaki has done with the Vulcan.

Since the Vulcan S range is obviously meant to compete in the U.S. market, I came to a quandary when selecting a worthy competitor. Do I go with another import geared toward the American crowd, or pick a bonafide domestic brand? Though the Shadow Phantom from Honda was a tempting foe, I decided to go the domestic route with the Harley Street 750.

First off, the price range was right. The Street falls into the entry-level range at $7,549 in Vivid Black and $7,844 in the optional custom colors, right alongside the Vulcan S non-ABS at $7,099, Vulcan S ABS at $7,499, Special Edition ABS at $7,699 and the Cafe’ Racer at $8,099.

Looks-wise they are comparable, too. The bullet fairing on the Street and the Vulcan Cafe’ Racer lend both bikes a cafe’-esque air, though neither really qualify as such by my definition. That aside, they both look pretty cool in my book.

Engine power falls out in the same neighborhood as well. The Vulcan ekes out a win with 46.3 pound-feet of torque, just over the Street’s 44.5 pound-feet, though the Street maxes out at a much-lower four grand. Plus, the V-Twin in the Harley just adds to the overall American cruiser look.

These bikes are so close, I can see only the name power Harley brings to the table as a tiebreaker. To me, this speaks highly of what Kawasaki has done with the Vulcan, and I can’t help but be just a little impressed with it.

He Said

My husband and fellow writer, TJ Hinton, says, “I’m with my wife on this one, I like the Vulcan range, though I’d have to go with the Cafe’ Racer version if I had to pick one. The smooth power is a plus, too. As much as I like my Harley, there are times I could do without the vibration, to be sure. I expect to see this expanded Vulcan range perform well on our shores, even though the mid-size cruiser market is heating up as more manufacturers release smaller-displacement rides.”

She Said

"I’m glad to see more of these mid-range displacement engines in the cruiser market. I think the market went big-big-big for a while and I’m glad to see things dialed back a bit. Not everyone wants to go as fast as possible with as big an engine as possible. These cruisers in the 600-1,000 cc range really open things up for a lot of riders and the price is right for the entry-level or budget-minded folks"

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Four-stroke, Two-cylinder, DOHC, Liquid-cooled
Displacement: 649 cc
Bore: 83.0
Stroke: 60.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Maximum Torque: 46.3 Pound-Feet at 6,600 rpm
Fuel System: DFI® 38 mm throttle bodies (2), with sub-throttle valves
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: Six-speed with positive neutral finder
Final Drive: Sealed Chain
Chassis:
Frame: High-tensile steel double pipe perimeter frame
Rake: 31 degrees
Trail: 4.7 inches
Suspension, Front: 41mm telescopic fork, 5.1-inch travel
Suspension, Rear: Lay-down offset rear shock with linkage and adjustable preload, 3.1-inch travel
Brake, Front: Single 300mm disc with twin-piston caliper, ABS
Brake, Rear: Single 250mm disc with single-piston caliper, ABS
Wheel, Front: J18M/C x MT3.50
Wheel, Rear: J17M/C x MT4.50
Tire, Front: 120/70x18
Tire, Rear: 160/60x17
Dimensions & Capacities:
Length: 90.9 inches
Width: 34.6 inches
Height: 43.3 inches
Ground Clearance: 5.1 inches
Seat Height: 27.8 inches
Wheelbase: 62.0 inches
Minimum Turning Radius: 126 inches
Curb Weight: 498.3 Pounds
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 Gallons
Details:
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty, optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ for 12, 24, 36, or 48 months
2017 Colors:
Vulcan S: Urban City White, Candy Matte Orange
Vulcan S Café: Metallic Matte Carbon Gray/Metallic Matte Phantom Silver
Vulcan S SE: Metallic Imperial Blue/Metallic Spark Black
2018 Colors:
Vulcan S: Pearl Blizzard White
Vulcan S Café: Pearl Storm Gray
Vulcan S SE: Pearl Lava Orange
2017 Price:
Vulcan S: $7,399 (non-ABS model - 6,999)
Vulcan S Café: $7,999
Vulcan S SE: $7,599
2018 Price:
Vulcan S: $7,499 (non-ABS model - 7,099)
Vulcan S Café: $8,099
Vulcan S SE: $7,699

References

2016 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Street 500 / Street 750
- image 662436

See our review of the Harley-Davidson Street 500.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: kawasaki.com, harley-davidson.com

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