BMW R1200C / Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Drifter / Moto Guzzi California Special - Comparison Test

Text: Andi Seiler • Photography: Andi Seiler

Cruisers probably define the most popular style of American Riding. Because of the comfortable riding position, they offer you the best way to enjoy your ride. And besides, they look cool.

Motorcycles from BMW are very popular in this country. The reasons: their good image, they're comfortable, reliable touring bikes and they are well known for their standard of outstanding German engineering. Nevertheless, the motorcycle scene was surprised when the traditional German make decided to jump on the international Cruiser market. Presented in Arizona in 1997, the R 1200 C was, from the start, an exciting motorcycle that many people wanted to purchase. That's true in the US, and even the domination of Harley-Davidson-motorcycles didn't affect this.

It was also a brave decision when Kawasaki decided to enter the international Cruiser market with a model that undoubtedly looked like a traditional motorcycle made in the USA long ago: the Indian Chief from the '40s and '50s. And this at a time when the Indian brand was already revived, although there weren´t any motorcycles yet. In 1999 Kawasaki made their international presentation of the Vulcan 1500 and 800 Drifter in Miami, and there was no doubt these bikes would make their way into the USA with great sales numbers. The 1500 jumped right into the market while the American fans of the 800 had to wait another year until its final introduction (in Europe already in 1999).

The third bike in this test comes from one of the most popular and successful factories in Italy, Moto Guzzi. This bike is even more connected to the US market. Originally planned as a bike for the California Highway Patrol, the bike also found many owners in Europe that liked the relaxed riding position, the efficient windshield and its luggage boxes. Times changed and Guzzi made some alterations to their bestseller (windshield and boxes are unfortunately not included in the Special package). Besides the Special, there is another version in the US named the Jackal with fewer accessory details and for about 3,200 bucks less. Unfortunately, Moto Guzzi couldn't make it on its own, but luckily the make found a new owner that will continue producing these great motorcycles. Ivano Beggio, head of the proud and successful brand Aprilia, wants to lead Moto Guzzi into a better future.

CHASSIS & BRAKES
Now to the facts, guys and girls. Wherever there are nice, slightly winding roads with great landscapes, there will be a scene for enjoyable cruising. Even Cruiser fans are bored riding the straights of American highways through dry, dusty deserts. The R 1200 C shows its outstanding handling right away with a lot of ground clearance, good suspension and great brakes - especially if you choose the available ABS (Antilock Brake System). The rear end, though, isn't as comfortable as other BMWs. For some reason, the designers from Munich and Berlin decided to give up the successful linkage for the single-sided swingarm that, on most of their other bikes, absorbs the moving of the rear end caused by the shaft drive. Instead, the Bavarians decided to use a stiffer single shock on the C that kicks you in your butt from time to time while rushing on bumpy roads.

The Drifter stays right behind the Beemer. Handling is easy and better than on any other Vulcan, and brakes and suspension work okay. But you will recognize that the single disk in the front doesn´t bite as hard as those Brembos on the BMW. On the other hand, the Kawi shows better rear suspension that isn´t as stiff as the 1200 C. In comparison to the 1500 Drifter, the 800 uses a fully covered shock in the center with a triangle swingarm (1500: two shocks) and a drivechain to the rear wheel (1500: shaft drive) that makes it smoother while accelerating. Of course, some Cruiser fans will argue that the chaindrive needs a lot more attention and maintenance - and they are right.

The Guzzi offers a different riding position compared to the other bikes here. The footrests are mounted a bit higher than on other Cruisers. Bikers under 170 centimeters (5'7") tall have to stretch their legs while standing at a stoplight because of the wide driver seat. The rigidity and stability of the chassis is one of its best qualities. Whether on highspeed turns or straights, the V2 stays in a perfect line. The brakes come from Brembo and, in Guzzi-like fashion, have been converted to an integrated system that delivers brake power from the foot pedal to one of the disk rotors in the front and one in the back. The other front rotor gets its power from the lever of the master cylinder at the handlebar. This system has successfully been used also on other Guzzis for many years.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
For decades, the boxer has been the typical engine for BMW, although there are alternatives like their straight-four nowadays. One of the advantages of the boxer is the low center of gravity that makes handling very easy. Also, the Beemer isn't that heavy at all, riding a cruiser you can deal easily with 256 kilograms (569 lb.). Besides that, the engine delivers smooth power without any fine tickling vibrations. From the first miles on you feel very comfortable with this kind of riding, although you shouldn't expect the heavy pulling force like on a big sport bike or on a custom barhopper. But otherwise, the 1,170 cc engine does a great job and delivers usable power already from low rpm. It pushes out 61 hp at 5,000 rpm and 71 ft.-lbs. (9.6 mkp) at 3,000 rpm. BMW calls the torque diagram the 'buffalo curve' because, between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm, the engine delivers a high torque over 68 ft.-lbs. (9.17 mkp) - and that looks like the neck of a buffalo in the diagram. The gears of the five-speed gearbox were originally designed for the sixpack of the K 1200 RS, but in the C-model, the first three gears have a shorter transmission ratio, the fifth a longer (overdrive). Sixth gear, of course, was cancelled for the cruiser; you won't need it anyway. The long swingarm keeps the bike calm and steady. There are no bad movements through the shaft drive from shifting up and down, although changing gears is a little bit on the noisy side like on other BMW-boxers.

Kawasaki's Drifter does not use this kind of final drive. Instead you have to worry about chain tension and black, dirty hands from time to time in exchange for an overall softer force transition. Whoever prefers the shaft drive can get the Drifter with 1500 cc. Although the 800 Vulcan doesn't have the huge displacement of its bigger sister, it delivers enough performance to go cruising - 57 hp at 7,500 rpm and 46 ft.-lbs. (6.2 mkp) at 5,500 rpm will give you a wide usable range of power and torque. The Drifter runs smooth even if you totally open the throttle at low rpm. It's a really good-looking and nice-working engine that fits the rest of the bike. And changing gears takes less effort and noise than on the other two candidates. No 'klunk' at all!

And then there is the Guzzi. It's almost like in the good old days...from low needle positions on the big V2's tachometer, its pull is strong and impressive. No doubt about it, this engine was originally designed for cement mixers. This is not meant in a bad way, because the Special undoubtedly shows how effective a big displacement and a long stroke (compared to similar displacements) can be. The two big cylinders - in a good way - trudge ahead like the engine of a steam locomotive, but the bike runs a lot smoother than earlier Guzzi models because of its electronic fuel injection. The gearbox and the shaft drive do their job well, even if the distance between gears is a little bit longer.

ACCESSORIES & ARRANGEMENTS
At the end of our ride the bikes are sparkling in the late afternoon sun, with shiny accessories all over them. The seating position on the Guzzi is a little different than on the others. Its footrests are a bit higher, but after a short while you feel comfortable. Besides that, you find a lot of chrome parts and a complete instrument panel with the typical white Veglia speedo/tach arrangement. The BMW here offers a lot less with only a speedometer and some indicator lights. But the seat is convertible from a solo- into a double-version. If you're alone you can use the upholstery for the back seat as a sissybar by folding it up. The Drifter looks like an Indian and has the most comfortable seat even for two passengers, although it doesn't look like it at first. It clearly has fewer accessories, but then you don't pay that much for it: $ 7,299 retail price is a good deal for a reliable and comfy cruiser. Kawasaki already offers a new 2001 model with custom accessories like chrome headlight, taillight, engine side covers, turn signals, fork covers, handlebar, instruments and instrument panel. Also, the Vulcan carries a classic looking soloseat with rivets.

TEST SUMMARY
'There's no business like show business.' It is tough to make any final judgements on which of these three bikes is better. It depends on your personal tastes. All together they are great motorcycles that run perfectly and give you the kind of ride you'll enjoy cruising. The BMW offers the greatest charisma and the most aristocratic charm, the Guzzi the typical Italian flavor with an impressive engine and the Kawasaki the most traditional look and the most refined power delivery. Which one fits you? Only you can answer this question. We gave some criteria, but now, the final decision is up to you.

TECHNICAL SPECS:
BMW R 1200 C

Retail price $ 14,500
Special Edition R 1200 CE (European version): $ 15,100
R 1200 C Phoenix (small windshield, Graphite/ Mandarin-Paint Theme, BBS alloy wheels): $ 15,900;
Montana (windshield, larger passenger seat, saddlebags, heated handgrips): $ 15,900
Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles
Maintenance schedule 600/6,000/every 6,000 miles (1.000/10,000/every 10,000 km)
Importer/distributor:
BMW of North America, Inc., P.O. Box 1227
Westwood, NJ 07675
(800) 831-1117
www.bmwusa.com

ENGINE
Type 2-cylinder Boxer, 4-stroke
Cooling Air/oil-cooled
Valve arrangement 4 valves per cyl., hc, cams chain driven, pushrod and rockers
Bore & Stroke 101 x 73 mm
Displacement 1,170 cc
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Carburetion Electronic fuel injection

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 5-speed
Clutch Single plate dry clutch
Final drive Shaft drive

CHASSIS
Frame Cast-Alloy-Front w/steel subframe
Wheelbase 1,650 mm (65 in.)
Rake 60.5 degree
Trail 86 mm (3.4 in.)

Front suspension Telelever w/single shock
Stanchion diameter 35 mm (1.38 in.)
Adjustments -
Travel 144 mm (5.7 in.)

Rear suspension Steel single sided swingarm w/single shock
Adjustments Spring preload
Travel 100 mm (3.94 in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
TypeSpoke wheels w/ aluminum rims
Front 2.50 x 18
Rear 4.00 x 15
Front Tire 100/90-18
Rear Tire 170/80-15

BRAKES
Front brake 2 discs, 4-piston calipers
Diameter 305 mm (12 in.)
Rear brake 1 disc, floating double- piston caliper
Diameter 285 mm (11.2 in.)
Combining ABS (Antilock-System)

WEIGHT & FUEL CAPACITY
Wet-Weight 256 kg (569 lb.)
Fuel capacity 17 l (4.5 gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (crank) 61 hp at 5,000 rpm
Torque 10.0 mkp (74 ft. lbs..) at 3,000 rpm (US: 9.6 mkp/71 ft. lbs.. at 3,000 rpm)
Top speed 170 km/h (106 mph)
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (0-62.5 mph): 5.8 s
Fuel consumption 5.9 l/100 km (40.3 mpg)
Fuel range 288 km (180 miles)

EQUIPMENT
Speedometer, indicator light for fuel reserve, emergency flashers, key switch in the center of the dashboard, rear seat convertible into a sissy bar w/luggage rack underneath, leather handlebar grips, leather seat for driver and passenger, and side stand.

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

TECHNICAL SPECS:
Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Drifter

Retail price
2000-version (as tested): $ 7,299
2001-version (more chrome, single-seat): $ 7,499
Warranty One year
Maintenance schedule 600/3,000/every 3,000 miles (1.000/6,000/every 6,000 km)
Importer/distributor
Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA, 9950 Jeronimo Road
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 770-0400
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 88 x 66.2 mm
Displacement 805 cc
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Carburetion One 36 mm carburetor

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 5-speed
Clutch Multi-plate wet clutch
Final drive Chain drive

CHASSIS
Frame Steel tubular frame, double cradle
Wheelbase 1,615 mm (63.6 in.)
Rake 58.5 degree
Trail 158 mm (3.4 in.)

Front suspension Cartridge fork
Stanchion diameter 41 mm (1.6 in.)
Adjustments -
Travel 150 mm (5.9 in.)

Rear suspension Steel triangle swingarm w/single shock
Adjustments -
Travel 105 mm (4.1 in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type Spoke wheels w/steel rims
Front 3.00 x 16
Rear 3.00 x 16
Front Tire 130/90-16
Rear Tire 140/90-16

BRAKES
Front brake 1 disc, floating double-piston caliper
Diameter 300 mm (11.8 in.)
Rear brake 1 disc, floating double-piston caliper
Diameter 270 mm (10.6 in.)
Combining -

WEIGHT & FUEL CAPACITY
Wet-Weight 267 kg (593 lb.)
Fuel capacity 15 l (3.9 gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (crank) 57 hp at 7,500 rpm
Torque 6.2 mkp (46 ft. lbs..) at 5,500 rpm
Top speed 170 km/h (106 mph)
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (0-62.5 mph): 6.2 s
Fuel consumption 5.7 l/100 km (41.7 mpg)
Fuel range 263 km (164 miles)

EQUIPMENT
Fuel tank integrated speedometer, petcock with position for fuel reserve, key switch left side behind the engine, helmet lock, and side stand.

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

TECHNICAL SPECS:
Moto Guzzi California Special

Retail price $ 10,950
Warranty Three years of unlimited mileage
Maintenance schedule 1,000/6,000/every 6,000 miles (1,500/10,000/every 10,000 km)
Importer/distributor:
Moto America
455 W. Depot Street
Angier, NC 27501
(800) 872-6686
www.motoguzzi-US.com
Moto Guzzi Italy: www.guzzi.com

ENGINE
Type 2-cylinder V, 4-stroke
Cooling Air-cooled
Valve arrangement 2 valves per cyl., ohv, cam chain driven, pushrods and rockers
Bore & Stroke 92 x 80 mm
Displacement 1,064 cc
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Carburetion Two 40 mm carburetors

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 5-speed
Clutch Two plate dry clutch
Final drive Shaft drive

CHASSIS
Frame Steel tubular frame, double cradle
Wheelbase 1,575 mm (62 in.)
Rake 62 degree
Trail 98 mm (3.9 in.)

Front suspension Cartridge fork
Stanchion diameter 45 mm (1.77 in.)
Adjustments spring preload
Travel 124 mm (4.9 in.)

REAR SUSPENSION
Steel swingarm w/two shocks
Adjustments Spring preload
Travel 114 mm (4.5 in.)

WHEELS & TIRES
Type Spoke wheels w/aluminum rims
Front 2.50 x 18
Rear 3.50 x 17
Front Tire 110/90 VB 18
Rear Tire 140/80 VB 17

BRAKES
Front brake 2 discs, four-piston calipers
Diameter 320 mm (12.6 in.)
Rear brake 1 disc, two-piston caliper
Diameter 282 mm (11.1 in.)
Combining Guzzi integrated brake system

WEIGHT & FUEL CAPACITY
Wet-Weight 270 kg (600 lb.)
Fuel capacity 19 l (5 gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (crank) 73 hp at 6,400 rpm
Torque 9.6 mkp (71 ft. lbs..) at 5,000 rpm
Top speed 185 km/h (116 mph)
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (0-62.5 mph): 4.7 s
Fuel consumption 5.8 l/100 km (40,8 mpg)
Fuel range 328 km (205 miles)

Equipment
Dashboard w/speedometer and tachometer, two petcocks with position for fuel reserve, key switch in the center of the dashboard, and side stand.

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