Honda VTX1800C & Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Classic

Text: Andi Seiler • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

Cruisers are getting bigger, longer, lower and heavier. A distinctly American style of riding, cruising is the manifestation of a major market both here and abroad. And two Japanese companies seem to have learned their lessons very well with the VTX1800 and Vulcan 1600 Classic proving they can convey and deliver that feeling of freedom and relaxed riding.

Concept & Transformation
The feeling imparted on any bike is very important but even more so on cruisers and choppers. The shake and the deep rumble of a V-twin are entertaining on otherwise boring rides over long stretched highways, and mesh well with the relaxed riding position. No doubt about it, the V2 is the engine you have to choose for these type of bikes nowadays.

Even while pulling into the busy traffic of L.A., I get caught up in the feeling. You sit low, the motor pulls strongly, and everything is fine. While the VTX is definitely on the heavy side when trying to maneuver in a tight parking lot, the bike feels easy to manage when it's back on the road, again.

Its competitor, the new Kawasaki Vulcan 1600, heads in the same direction. Lots of weight that's only a little bit of bother when pushing it forward and backward to get off the parking spot. But after that it handles easily and responds to the throttle without any hesitation. Big twins are great.

I haven't been on a cruiser for a while - and I'm not the typical cruiser guy - but I am impressed and think right away that I should get one in the near future for commuting and club-hopping. It's probably the most relaxed way to go sightseeing and, if you just take it easy, touring too.

Engine & Transmission
The heart of the VTX, the 1,795cc engine, was newly designed for its introduction in 2001 but still has some features common to other Honda cruisers. For instance, like the Shadow Spirit, the 1800 has a 52-degree cylinder angle and three-valve sohc-heads. Also, offset crankpins (76 degrees) for the two con-rods and a counter balancer smooth out the power pulses. But how about the beat of a real V2, you may ask? Don't worry, there is more than enough oomph to deliver good vibrations, but not so it rattles and dislodges fillings. The forged steel crankshaft uses bolted counterweights to reduce crankcase width and crank weight but still throws in a massive 15.5kg (34lb.). The piston size (101mm in diameter) makes a beer can look real tiny: the stroke measures 112mm. Typical of Honda's high level of performance are two primary shaft-mounted balance weights, which minimize secondary coupling or crankshaft offset vibration, and the advanced, high-pressure Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI). The thing pulls like an excited Rottweiler on the leash.

The Vulcan engine is impressive, too, but it's not quite as strong as the VTX. The pistons are even one millimeter larger in diameter but move only 95mm. That's not bad at all but this bore-and-stroke design and the smaller capacity (1,553cc) is responsible for different engine characteristics. The Vulcan runs smoother though not as torquey. Many engine parts in the Vulcan come from the 1500 Classic but were revised and strengthened, examples being the crank, con-rods, clutch, and gearbox. Compared to the Honda, four valves per cylinder take over the commands in the sohc-cylinder head, which uses modified cam timing.

Even though comparisons in the performance data sheet give a big advantage to the Honda (horsepower: 97hp, US-model: 106hp vs. 67hp; torque: 117.8ft.-lbs., US-model: 120ft.-lbs. vs. 95.5ft.-lbs.) the difference is not as significant as one would expect. The Kawi runs strong, too, and we had a lot of fun pulling the throttle at lower revs to experience its kick-butt power delivery.
The clutch and gearbox are easy to operate on both bikes, and in trademark fashion for these kind of bikes, you definitely can hear it when you're changing gears, mostly in lower gears.

Chassis & Brakes
While riding tiny, twisty roads with Spanish names through the mountains southeast of Irvine, California, we were surprised how comfortable these cruisers are. Smaller bumps are well absorbed and both bikes precisely follow the riding line. This isn't typical for cruisers since their riders usually have to deal with a soft front end and the stiff, poor-travel rear shocks. Of course, neither the Honda nor Kawasaki has a setup that could satisfy the needs of real touring or enduro riders.

A real downside of VTX and Vulcan on twisty roads is the low ground clearance compared to motorcycles in other categories like standards, sport and touring bikes. You have to adjust your speed before the turn. If you have to make corrections in the middle of the turn by leaning over farther, you'll run out of ground clearance. More than once the footpegs scraped the surface while riding tight California curves. It's a good thing that the first pieces that touch the ground are the footpegs on the VTX1800C or the floorboards on the Vulcan 1600 Classic, because both can flip up a little bit so the bikes won't get pushed off the road right away. Our team could barely discern differences in the handling abilities of the Honda and the Kawasaki. But the Kawi did handle a little bit easier while the Honda ran a slightly more consistent line.

For cruisers, the brakes on both bikes work well. Honda uses their Combined Brake System (CBS) with three discs (two in front, one at the rear) which makes slowing down easier and safer for the average rider. The bike's stopping power is admirable, considered one of the best in its class. The Vulcan incorporates three rotors, as well, which also offer good braking power. But the CBS system of the Honda is a bit better and more comfortable to use. Also, the Vulcan's foot brake pedal is mounted a little too high, reachable only by lifting your foot. And, by the way, due to the long wheelbase and the amount of weight on the rear wheel, the rear brakes can be used very effectively in both cases.

Accessories & Arrangements
Of course, cruisers and choppers are routinely designed without a lot of accessory features other than their chromed parts. The rider's seat on both bikes is wide and padded thickly, but a passenger will suffer over long stretches on the narrower, thinner rear perch. So, for longer tours, count on a solo trip. Asking your wife to come along could be a recipe for disaster, considering the foul mood the ride is certain to generate.

The handlebars bend backwards more on the Kawi, good for rides on a straight highway. For turns, we prefer the straighter ones on the Honda C model. The other two versions of the VTX, the VTX1800S (w/spoke wheels) and the VTX1800R (w/cast aluminum wheels), have handlebars similar to the Kawasaki. The small fairing on our test Honda comes courtesy of the company's accessory line. Another difference on the C model is the single muffler (S and R w/two mufflers), which produces a nice deep sound. The exhaust note of the Vulcan is fine but not quite as impressive as the one intoned by the VTX.

Honda decided to integrate the instruments in the handlebar mount; Kawasaki fits them in the top of the fuel tank. That enables the VTX rider to put a tank bag on; on the Vulcan a bag would cover your speedo. Even though a lot of people don't like tank bags on their cruisers, we rate not having that option a downside factor since luggage capacity is already seriously limited. As mentioned, the rear seat isn't wide at all and only provides enough space for a smaller bag. Side bags are a solution and available in both cases as genuine parts.

On the other hand, the Kawasaki offers a bigger gas tank (20l/5.3gal. vs. 17l/4.5gal.) and a better fuel range (328km/205mls. vs. 243km/152mls.) and the Honda's control light for reserve lights up too early.

Test Summary
Bottom line, it's more a matter of taste. Which of the two is right for you? Some might prefer the classic looks and the wide handlebars of the Vulcan more, and others will go for the more modern VTX styling and its impressive motor. And as for riding qualities, there should be no worries - both bikes can be counted among the best in their category.

TECHNICAL SPECS:
Honda VTX1800C

Retail Price $ 12,499 (w/o cockpit fairing)
Warranty One year, unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 600/4,000/every 4,000 miles (1,000/6,400/every 6,400km)
Importer/Distributor American Honda Motor Co.,1919 Torrance Blvd.,Torrance, CA 90501-2746,phone (310) 783-2000,www.hondamotorcycles.com

ENGINE
Type 2-cylinder, V, 4-stroke
Cooling water-cooled
Valve Arrangement 3 valves per cyl., ohc, cams chain driven, rockers
Bore & Stroke 101 x 112mm
Displacement 1,795cc
Compression Ratio 9.0:1
Carburetion electronic fuel injection, ø 42mm (throttle bodies)
Exhaust Emission Control no (catalytic converter for Europe)

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 5-speed
Clutch multi-plate wet clutch, hydraulically operated
Final Drive shaft drive

CHASSIS
Frame steel tubular frame, double cradle
Wheelbase 1,715mm (67.5in.)
Rake 58 degree
Trail 146mm (5.7in.)
Front Suspension telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 45mm (1.77in.)
Adjustments no
Travel 130mm (5.1in.)
Rear Suspension steel swingarm w/two shocks
Adjustments spring preload
Travel 100mm (3.9in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type billet-aluminum wheels
Front 3.50 x 18
Rear 5.00 x 16
Front Tire 130/70 R 18
Rear Tire 180/70 R 16

BRAKES
Front Brake 2 discs, floating 3-piston calipers
Diameter 296mm (11.7in.)
Rear Brake 1 disc, floating double-piston caliper
Diameter 316mm (12.4in.)
Combining Single CBS (Combined Brake System)

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Seat Height 710mm (28in.)
Wet-Weight 345kg (767lb.)
Fuel Capacity 17l (4.5gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at clutch) 97hp at 5,000rpm (U.S. model: 106hp at 5,000rpm)
Torque 15.9mkp (156Nm, 117.8ft.-lbs.) at 3,000rpm (U.S. model: 120 ft.-lbs. at 3,500rpm)
Top Speed 189km/h (118mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 4.8s
Fuel Consumption 7.0l/100km (33.9mpg)
Fuel Range 243km (152mls.)

EQUIPMENT
Cockpit fairing (Honda accessory), handlebar dash panel w/speedometer, digital gauges for odometer and tripmeter, key switch behind the rear cylinder, lock at the right side of the steering-head tube, side stand.

ROADRUNNER Test Diagram
Engine 5/5
Chassis 4/5
Brakes 5/5
Comfort 3/5
Luggage w/accessories 2/5
Equipment 3/5
Design 5/5
Bike for the buck 3/5

Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Classic

Retail Price $ 10,499
Warranty One year, unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 600/4,000/every 4,000 miles (1,000/6,000/every 6,000 km) every 16,000km, oil change every 2000 miles/3,200 km)
Importer/Distributor Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA, 9950 Jeronimo Road,Irvine, CA 92618,phone (949) 770-0400,website: www.kawasaki.com

ENGINE
Type 2-cylinder, V, 4-stroke
Cooling water-cooled
Valve Arrangement 4 valves per cyl., ohc, cams chain driven, rockers
Bore & Stroke 102 x 95mm
Displacement 1,553cc
Compression Ratio 9.0:1
Carburetion electronic fuel injection, ø 36mm (throttle bodies)
Exhaust Emission Control no (catalyticconverter for Europe)

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 5-speed
Clutch multi-plate wet clutch, hydraulically operated
Final Drive shaft drive

CHASSIS
Frame tubular steel frame, double cradle
Wheelbase 1,680mm (66.1in.)
Rake 58 degree
Trail 168mm (6.6in.)
Front Suspension telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 43mm (1.69in.)
Adjustments no
Travel 150mm (5.9in.)
Rear Suspension steel swingarm w/two shocks
Adjustments rebound damping
Travel 95mm (3.7in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type billet-aluminum wheels
Front 3.50 x 16
Rear 4.50 x 16
Front Tire 130/90 H 16
Rear Tire 170/70 HB 16

BRAKES
Front Brake 2 discs, floating double-piston calipers
Diameter 300mm (11.8in.)
Rear Brake 1 disc, floating double-piston caliper
Diameter 300mm (11.8in.)
Combining no

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Seat Height 700mm (27.6in.)
Wet-Weight 345kg (767lb.)
Fuel Capacity 20l (5.3gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at clutch)67hp at 4,700rpm
Torque 12.9mkp (127Nm, 95.5ft.-lbs.) at 2,700rpm
Top Speed 180km/h (113mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 5.6s
Fuel Consumption 6.1l/100km(38.9mpg)
Fuel Range 328km (205mls.)

EQUIPMENT
Dash panel on fuel tank w/speedometer, digital gauges for odometer and tripmeter, key switch in front of the dash panel, lock at the right side of the steering-head tube, side stand.

ROADRUNNER Test Diagram
Engine 4/5
Chassis 4/5
Brakes 4/5
Comfort 3/5
Luggage w/accessories 2/5
Equipment 3/5
Design 4/5
Bike for the buck 4/5