Just mention Austin, Texas, and I'm ready to head that way. A vibrant, college-town atmosphere, great food, innumerable live music venues, and some great riding make the Lone Star State's capital one of the coolest towns around. So when I recently received an invite to come to Austin and join Kawasaki for a day of riding on their new Vulcan® 900 Custom, all I needed was a flight number.
I won't lie. Initially, I was more excited about the locale than the bike. The idea of a press ride featuring a 900cc cruiser didn't exactly have the needle on the hoorah meter pinned to the peg; but the more I thought about it, the more curious I became: Why would Team Green be making such a big to-do about a mid-size model? I could only conclude that something interesting was afoot in Hill Country.
Upon viewing this new ride in person, I can attest that the teaser photographs don't do it justice. Tip to tail, the Custom tag fits this Vulcan to a T. The styling is bold yet understated, with lines and accoutrements typically found on a much larger machine. Out back, a 15-inch cast wheel sporting a beefy 180mm tire provides a solid, planted look; while up front, an absolutely gorgeous 18-spoke, 21-inch front wheel, designed by hand and said to have no straight lines, simply screams 'custom.' The graceful flow of the new fuel tank and rear fender, both featuring the twin-valley design, melds seamlessly and leads the eye downward, sweeping to the rear wheel via a swingarm that establishes a feel reminiscent of a classic hard-tail. A nifty one-piece gunfighter seat ties it all together, and liberal placements of chrome and minimalist corporate branding burnish the Custom designation. Admittedly skeptical at first, I now readily concede that this is one sharp ride.
In the cruiser world, it's a given that image is very important, but ride quality is something that should never be overlooked. Even before thumbing the starter, it becomes obvious that ergonomics and the overall feel received as much attention as did outward appearance. The wide, deep seat offers plenty of room along with a low 27-inch height, a feature especially appreciated by riders of shorter stature. The floorboards employed by other Vulcan models have been jettisoned on the Custom in favor of more aggressive, forward-mounted foot pegs. Coupled with graceful, pullback, drag-style bars, these pegs present a laidback seating position that easily fits my 5'10' frame while also allowing a little extra ground clearance in the corners. A quick scan around the cockpit revealed yet more custom-inspired touches. An analog speedo and all the necessary gauges and indicators are mounted atop the tank and enclosed within an attractive chrome console. It seems that no detail has been neglected, as even the switches are encased in clean, brushed-steel shrouds - very nice indeed.
Though dealt a rather chilly start to the riding day, the 903cc V-twin, fed by EFI with dual throttle bodies, effortlessly thumps to life and settles into a pleasantly throaty lope, compliments of the single-pin crank design. Once underway, the two-banger pulls steadily and responds immediately to the throttle. A gear-driven balancer enables the signature V-twin thump to shine through while keeping annoying vibrations at bay. Though the attractive dual slash-cut mufflers permit plenty of auditory personality, rest assured the neighbors won't feel compelled to have the sheriff on speed dial. At no point during the ride did the engine perform in a less than stellar manner. Whether galloping along with freeway traffic or leisurely frolicking through the Texas twists, the 900 felt right at home.
The tranny performed flawlessly through all five gears and finding neutral was never an issue. Smooth, predictable power delivery to the rear wheel is guaranteed thanks to a lightweight, and quiet, belt final drive. Aside from being a strong runner, the engine itself is an essential part of the custom theme. Though liquid-cooled, the radiator is well disguised, integrated with the frame's front down-tubes; and the functional cooling fins also enhance the classic aesthetic.
After a couple of hours on the road, it's plain to see that this motorcycle has plenty of go along with the show. Sure, the front end feels a little light - that's what you get with the narrow contact patch of a skinny front tire. But thanks to a stout yet stylish, wide-pitch fork, stability is not compromised. When it comes time to tame those 903cc, the brakes are more than up to the task. Twin pot calipers grab discs on both ends, handily hauling in the Custom with no hint of fade. Throughout the day, the only minor sticking point became the seat. Though attractive and comfortable, it did induce a case of the squirms after an hour or so. Then again, cruisers never were intended to be Iron Butt contenders.
I arrived in Austin not expecting much, and I came away extremely impressed with Kawasaki's Vulcan® 900 Custom. In appearance, this classically styled cruiser is hard to beat. Smooth, fluid lines invite the eye to easily wander stem to stern with the attention to detail assuring that no hitches interrupt the flow; and despite having the appearance of a much bigger bike, the Vulcan is graced with deceptively nimble characteristics that provide easy handling in the parking lot, around town, or out on the road. It's easy to ride and a heck of a lot of fun. If cruisers are your thing, do yourself a favor and see this one in person. For what many would consider a ground level price ($ 7,349), the Vulcan® 900 Custom truly delivers a nice package of top-shelf goods.
Kawasaki Vulcan® 900
+ price, style, attention to details
- five-speed, no tach
Distributor Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A.
MSRP $ 7,349
Engine V-twin, 8 valve, SOHC
Bore x stroke 88x74.2mm
Carburetion EFI w/ 34mm throttle bodies
Ignition TCBI w/ electronic advance
Frame high-tensile steel, semi-double cradle
Front Suspension 41mm conventional fork, 5.9in travel
Rear Suspension single shock, 7-way adjustable preload, 4.1in travel
Rake/trail 33°/ 7.2in (182.9mm)
Brakes Front/Rear single 300mm disc, 2 piston caliper / 270mm disc, 2 piston caliper
Tires Front/Rear 80/90 21, 180/70 15
Dry Weight 549lbs (249kg)
Wheelbase 64.8in (1646mm)
Seat Height 27in (686mm)
Fuel Capacity 5.3gal (20l)
Seat Height n/a
Colors candy plasma blue, candy fire red, ebony