Custom cruiser: Kawasaki Vulcan S tested
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When it comes to customisable motorcycles it seems the cruiser style still reigns supreme. But while many people will think of the film Easy Rider, where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda rode highly modified Harley-Davidsons, there are more simple ways to start making a bike custom fit to its rider.
Somewhat surprisingly, it is Japanese brand Kawasaki that has one of the best factory setups for creating a custom-fit cruiser, in the Vulcan S range.
Based around the same DOHC 650cc parallel-twin engine as used in the popular Ninja 650 and Z650 sports bikes, the Vulcan S is also offered in both full power and LAMS guises.
But where the Ninja and Zed go for the thrill of unleashing the engine in a sporty chassis, the Vulcan acts to create the most comfortable fit for its rider with Kawasaki’s Ergo-Fit system core to the bike’s identity.
Straight from the dealership, the Vulcan S offers 18 combinations of ergonomic adjustability with three positions for the forward-mounted footpegs alone. This means riders can have the bike tailor-fitted before they even leave the dealership.
This comes at an additional cost with the optional extended/reduced reach seats for the Vulcan S priced from an additional $280, while the handlebars start at $159.
That said, with an entry price of just $13,995, the Vulcan S offers good value for the learner rider as well as the more experienced rider looking for a fun bike to enter into the cruiser lifestyle.
Aesthetically the bike hits the spot. Low and raked out, its silhouette ticks all the boxes for a cruiser.
Cradled within the high-tensile steel perimeter frame and at the centre of mass is the 650cc parallel-twin heart which adds to the burly look of the Vulcan S with an underslung muffler.
Our test bike featured the matte look Metallic Flat Spark Black that has a gorgeous sparkle when you get up close in the daylight underneath the otherwise flat black paint scheme. For the base bike, this is the only option available, but for an extra $1000 you can upgrade to the Vulcan S SE, which adds Metallic Matte Covert Green as an alternative.
Stepping over the bike and nestling myself into the seat, I found the Vulcan S’ factory ergonomics well-suited for my 176cm height. If I were to move the controls, I’d perhaps bring the handlebar fractionally closer for longer trips, but otherwise, I was comfortable.
With the LAMS-restricted 650cc parallel-twin humming between the steel perimeter frame, I clicked the Vulcan S into gear to explore some fantastic backroads in the Waikato.
The biggest surprise many will get from the Vulcan S is how able it is when it comes to putting a grin on your face. Despite its cruiser layout and 226kg of fully fuelled mass, that 650cc parallel-twin combined with its generous lean angles means you can hustle the Vulcan S through a twisty backroad at a pace approaching the sports bikes its engine originated in.
In the class of small capacity cruisers, I’d say the Kawasaki is the most dynamic when it comes to confidently attacking your favourite backroad loop. There is just something about how well planted it feels — possibly due to the quality Dunlop Sportmax tyres fitted as standard — which let you confidently roll on the throttle and listen to the twin-cylinder engine. But that isn’t what most buyers of this style of motorcycle are in the market for. They want a comfortable machine they can hop on and leisurely soak up the kilometres. The Vulcan S manages to nail this part of the cruiser lifestyle.
With its factory solo seat featuring a wide scalloped lip at the rear providing comfort and the forward set pegs letting you stretch out, it’s easy roll along all day.
Though the Vulcan S may not have the brand recognition as the top-selling bike in the LAMS cruiser segment (Harley-Davidson’s Street 500) in my eyes the Vulcan outclasses the American in terms of rider dynamics and fun factor.