Kawasaki created its Vulcan line back in 1984 in an attempt to capture a slice of the American cruiser market, and it is still alive and kicking in 2016. The family sports a trio of models from the boulevard bruiser “900 Classic” to the heritage-style “900 Classic LT” and the home-cooked “900 Custom.”

A 900 cc, V-twin mill and 600-plus pound curb weight put the range firmly in the mid-size cruiser category and give it the mass one expects to find an American cruiser. This slice of the market is hotter than it’s been in decades with Indian and Victory recently adding to the long-term pressure from Harley-Davidson as well as the rest of the Big Four, so let’s see what Kawasaki is doing to keep the line relevant in the face of such steep competition.

Continue reading for my review of the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic, Vulcan 900 Classic LT and Vulcan 900 Custom.

  • 2016 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic / 900 Classic LT / 900 Custom
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V-Twin
  • Displacement:
    903 cc
  • Price:
    7999
  • Price:

Design

2016 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic / 900 Classic LT / 900 Custom
- image 689312

(Vulcan 900 Classic)

These three siblings come with a healthy dose of Americana built in. The low, 26.8-inch seat height on the Classics and 27 inches on the Custom places the rider’s butt comfortably close to the ground for confidence and safety when you deploy your training wheels. A faux-rigid frame, similar to Harley’s Softail and hydraulic front forks pull the panache back in time to the late ’40s through mid-’50s when wet forks were in but hydraulic shocks and swingarms had yet to replace the old hard-tail frames.

All three Vulcan 900 models carry the same upper lines with a tank-mount instrument console and a wide, deep-scoop saddle that tapers down to fender width. The “LT” gets a studded seat with matching bags and passenger backrest while the “Custom” swings in the other direction with a Mustang-type saddle that sports a minimal pillion seat for an almost solo look.

Each of the three models sport varying combinations of blackout and chrome, but the biggest difference across the board has to be the accouterments that turns the LT into an old-school tour bike from a time long before full front fairings when large windshields were king.

Forward foot controls put the rider into the windsock position and force a fairly upright posture, though there is plenty of room to slouch into the wind for comfortable cruising.

Chassis

2016 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic / 900 Classic LT / 900 Custom
- image 689324

(Vulcan 900 Custom)

High-tensile tubular-steel members make up the double-cradle, double-downtube frame; a format that fits the historical narrative and provides a handy place to mount the radiator. Said radiator is fairly inconspicuous as it blends into the black hole that is the engine compartment, except on the LT where the contrast of the chromed mill makes it stand out.

All three bikes run a 15-inch rear hoop, but while the Classic and LT models roll a 16-inch front tire with a 32-degree rake and 6.3 inches of trail, the 21-inch front tire on the Custom changes the geometry a bit and leaves us with a 33-degree rake and 7.2 inches of trail. No matter which one you choose, you can count on it having some stability at speed for low-fatigue rides even if you pay for it with a bit of reluctance in the corners.

Kawasaki used 41 mm forks across the board, but achieved a fatter look with beer-can-type shrouds on the Classic and LT. A hidden, preload-adjustable monoshock supports the triangular swingarm, and gives up 4.1 inches of travel to go with the 5.9 inches at the front end for a reasonably comfortable ride. There are no adjustments to ride quality other than the bare minimum, but that isn’t uncommon with street bikes in this price bracket.

A twin-pot, piston-and-anvil caliper binds the single 272 mm front disc, and a single-pot caliper pinches the 242 mm rear, which I’ve got to say is a little underwhelming for a bike this heavy. True, it’s only a skosh above the 600-pound mark, but add to that a couple-hundred pounds of rider and suddenly you have the best part of half a ton to control, and it doesn’t even have the safety net of ABS or linked brakes to prevent you from overdoing it. All this means is that you have to manage your brakes the old-fashioned way, with your Mark-1 skillset.

Drivetrain

2016 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic / 900 Classic LT / 900 Custom
- image 689318

(Vulcan 900 Classic LT)

When building a bike to appeal to this particular market, it isn’t enough to just give it a familiar bone structure, the engine layout has to compliment the overall panache. Kawasaki’s 903 cc mill comes in a 55-degree V-twin format so it fits the mold, but unlike most typical American-made engines, the 88 mm bore and 74.2 mm stroke leaves it oversquare with a short stroke.

The four-valve heads are timed by the SOHC, and a pair of 34 mm throttle bodies manage the mixture with a pair of sub-throttle valves that help the engine respond smoothly to right-hand demands. Electronic fuel injection and digital ignition control handles the rest, and the mill grinds out a respectable 58.2 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. While not exactly stoplight-burning numbers, I assure you it’s plenty for passing and cheap thrills in spite of the weight, and delivers about what one should expect from a mid-size cruiser.

A five-speed transmission comes with a positive neutral-finder feature, and it sends power to the rear wheel via a carbon-reinforced belt drive.

Pricing

2016 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic / 900 Classic LT / 900 Custom
- image 689313

(Vulcan 900 Classic)

The Vulcan 900 Classic serves as the base model for the family and rolls out for $7,999 MSRP, while the pimped-out Classic LT commands the highest starting price of the range with an $8,999 sticker. In the middle, the Custom sits at $8,499, and all three make a good almost-blank canvas for customization so expect the prices to go up if you dive headlong into the accessories catalog.

Competitors

2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Softail Breakout
- image 651657
2016 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
- image 648681
2015 - 2017 Suzuki Boulevard C50 / Boulevard C50T
- image 677988

Kawasaki has its work cut out for it in this sector against foes both foreign and domestic, and the design spread covers a number of possibilities so let’s take a look at a few of them. First off, since there is no ignoring the elephant in the room let’s go ahead and address it; the current Vulcan designs look awfully familiar to my Harley eyes, with several examples throughout the Softail line that show striking similarities.

The Harley Softail Breakout ($19,299) and Vulcan 900 Custom ($8,499) share similar looks, but the engine size and price difference means two very different buyers will be looking at these rides.

On the old-school touring end of the spectrum, the H-D Heritage Softail Classic ($17,549) shares much in the way of form with the Vulcan 900 Classic LT (($8,999), but again price and engine size sets them apart, as does fit and finish. The seamed fuel tank just cheapens the look of the Vulcans, and a small change there would go a long way toward increasing the curb appeal of this family.

Traditional domestic foe Suzuki also brings a pair of threats from its Boulevard family to the race, and the C50 ($8,199) looks like a toe-to-toe match for the Vulcan Classic ($7,999).

Though only a couple hundred bills separating them on the price, the Boulevard mill falls short in displacement with 805 cc versus 903 cc with the Vulcan. This price and displacement difference holds true across the board and applies to the Heritage-like Boulevard C50T ($9,399).

Buyers on a budget who want a reasonably priced cruiser may find a friend with either of the Japanese companies, so in that respect the Suzuki products present a much more direct threat to Kawasaki than does the premium-price H-D.

He Said

My husband and fellow motorcycle writer, TJ Hinton, says, “As far as copycat bikes go, this one does a fairly good job with the look except for the glaring seam on the fuel tank. That just cheapens any bike that runs one, and unfortunately makes the rest of the bike seem chintzy, fair or not. Having said that, the look does fit, and could make a decent ride for someone looking for the Harley look without the concurrent price tag.”

She Said

"I’m not a fan of the feet-forward riding position, but that may be because I’m short. Folks who have a lot of miles on sport bikes will find it a bit weird at first, but will get used to it. It’s a typical cruiser — low seat height, an upright and relaxed riding posture, and not an overabundance of power. It’s all about easy cruising and enjoying the ride."

Specifications

Model: Vulcan 900 Classic Vulcan 900 Classic LT Vulcan 900 Custom
Power:
Engine: 4-stroke, 55° V-twin, 4 valves per cylinder, SOHC, liquid-cooled 4-stroke, 55° V-twin, 4 valves per cylinder, SOHC, liquid-cooled 4-stroke, 55° V-twin, 4 valves per cylinder, SOHC, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 903cc/55.1 cu in 903cc/55.1 cu in 903cc/55.1 cu in
Bore x Stroke: 88.0 x 74.2mm 88.0 x 74.2mm 88.0 x 74.2mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1 9.5:1 9.5:1
Maximum Torque: 58.2 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm 58.2 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm 58.2 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Fuel System: DFI® 34mm throttle bodies (2), with sub-throttle valves DFI® 34mm throttle bodies (2), with sub-throttle valves DFI® 34mm throttle bodies (2), with sub-throttle valves
Ignition: TCBI with electronic advance TCBI with electronic advance TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: 5-speed with positive neutral finder 5-speed with positive neutral finder 5-speed with positive neutral finder
Final Drive: Kevlar-reinforced belt Kevlar-reinforced belt Kevlar-reinforced belt
Performance:
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork/5.9 in 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork/5.9 in 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork/5.9 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Uni-Trak® swingarm/4.1 in Uni-Trak® swingarm/4.1 in Uni-Trak® swingarm, 7-way adjustable spring preload/4.1 in
Front Tire: 130/90x16 130/90x16 80/90x21
Rear Tire: 180/70x15 180/70x15 180/70x15
Front Brakes: 272mm hydraulic disc 272mm hydraulic disc 272mm hydraulic disc
Rear Brakes: 242mm hydraulic disc 242mm hydraulic disc 242mm hydraulic disc
Details:
Frame Type: Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel Double cradle, high-tensile steel
Rake/Trail: 32°/6.3 in 32°/6.3 in 33°/7.2 in
Overall Length: 97.0 in 97.0 in 94.7 in
Overall Width: 39.6 in 39.6 in 35.2 in
Overall Height: 41.9 in 58.3 in 44.1 in
Ground Clearance: 5.3 in 5.3 in 5.5 in
Seat Height: 26.8 in 26.8 in 27.0 in
Curb Weight: 619.6 lb 657.1 lb 610.8 lb
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gal 5.3 gal 5.3 gal
Wheelbase: 64.8 in 64.8 in 64.8 in
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty 12 Month Limited Warranty 12 Month Limited Warranty
Kawasaki Protection Plus™ (optional): 12, 24, 36, or 48 months 12, 24, 36, or 48 months 12, 24, 36, or 48 months
Color Choices: Metallic Imperial Red/Metallic Graphite Gray Metallic Phantom Silver/Metallic Spark Black Pearl Crystal White/Metallic Carbon Gray
Price: $7,999 $8,999 $8,499

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Image Sources: www.kawasaki.com, www.suzukicycles.com, www.harley-davidson.com

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