Motorcycle review: Kawasaki’s Vulcan S is specially fitted

Kawasaki didn’t throw a lot of new technology onto its 2015 Vulcan S. The striking, 649-cubic centimeter cruiser is really a pretty basic motorcycle.

Kawasaki didn’t throw a lot of new technology onto its 2015 Vulcan S. The striking, 649cc cruiser is really a pretty basic motorcycle.

Still, Kawasaki touts it as “breaking boundaries,” not with any newfangled electronics, but with its Ergo-Fit hardware.

When a consumer buys a new Vulcan S from certain Kawasaki dealers, they can have the motorcycle custom fit to their height and liking for no additional cost. There are three Ergo-Fit options: Extended Reach for those 6-foot, 1-iinch and taller, mid-reach for 5-foot 7-inches to 6-footers and reduced reach for riders 5-foot 6-inches and under. Among adjustable components are the handlebars; footpegs, with mounting points that span 3″; and the seat, which comes in three different sculpted shapes.

Many motorcyclists are likely to custom fit their motorcycles anyway. Being a shorter rider, I have done that to many of my bikes, buying bar risers to ease reach and getting lower seats so my feet can reach the ground. Kawasaki is including this fitting, which can often cost hundreds of dollars, in the purchase.

It’s essentially another way Kawasaki, like many motorcycle companies, are reaching out to more riders, including beginners and women.

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I rode the mid reach version, the only one available to me at the time. Being 5-feet 2-inches tall, I found the footpegs to be a bit of a reach. Still, it was easily manageable, but I would have preferred not to have my legs so outstretched. The handlebar reach was also fine, but again, I would have done better with re-positioned bars.

Kawasaki says the Vulcan is a cruiser with the spirit of a sportbike. Its 649cc liquid-cooled parallel twin is derived from off Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 engine. However, it has been tuned to produce more low to mid-range torque, giving the Vulcan a very responsive, smooth and forgiving engine. In other words, it’s not easy to stall.

At 65 mph in sixth gear, the engine spins at about 4,500 rpms and it still gave me plenty of power to speed up and pull around or avoid traffic without needing to downshift.

The low, 27.8-inch seat height and narrow chassis also makes it easy for riders of nearly any height to have firm footing — another plus for beginners.

For some beginner riders or those returning to motorcycling after a long hiatus, they may find a 250cc bike to be too small. These small displacement motorcycles don’t often do well on highways or long rides. However, the Vulcan’s 649cc displacement offers enough power to cruise comfortably in the 70 mph range all day, and because the power is superbly manageable, this larger “starter” bike is very easy to handle.

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Shifting is smooth and light, as is the clutch lever. The single, 300 millimeter disc, twin-piston caliper front brake and the single, 250mm disc, single-piston caliper rear brake also offered confident stopping power. Combined with the suspension, braking over uneven surfaces and through turns was sure and steady.

Kawasaki boasts of a “positive neutral finder,” which makes shifting into neutral a breeze. On many motorcycles, finding neutral can take several frustrating tries as you try to gently tap the shifter down from second or up from first without actually clicking into the next gear. The Vulcan S provides what feels like a half-step between first and second gears, so you’ll feel a slight click when it hits neutral.

For a cruiser, it’s super nimble, and the low center of gravity makes the claimed 498-pound curb weight feel like much less. It doesn’t have a thunderous roar like a Harley-Davidson, but the exhaust does produce a nice burble.

What I didn’t like most about the bike is that it’s sold as a single-seater. Adding a passenger seat ($124.95), passenger footpegs ($239.95) and passenger backrest ($634.90) adds over $1,000 to the base price of the bike, which starts at $6,999. The ABS version of the Vulcan S, which is an additional $400 and the version I tested, is the one to choose in my opinion. As options go, the additional safety it provides is well worth the price.

Overall, the Vulcan S is a solid bike that beginners can grow into, and more seasoned riders can still have fun riding. The base price is in line with its competitors (Honda’s Shadow line cruisers are 745cc and start at $7,499, and Yamaha offers a 649cc V Star Custom for $6,990). But the ERGO-FIT feature makes Kawasaki stand out and is a great value for customers. More motorcycle companies should probably look into offering a similar fitting.

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I buy my clothes to fit, so if I spend thousands on a new motorcycle, having the bike fit me should be something I can expect.

Follow Andria Yu on Twitter @sixspeedsis.

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