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Kawasaki's Vulcan S Cruiser: Reliable, Affordable, Powerful
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Kawasaki's Vulcan S Cruiser: Reliable, Affordable, Powerful

Since the year 2006, the Kawasaki Ninja 650 family has given rise to a number of successful motorcycles. But it took an entire decade before a cruiser variant could finally join the family. The Vulcan S sets great store on possessing the sporty disposition of a tried and tested frame and engine package to provide easy cruising at a reasonable price.

If you were to ask someone what a Vulcan is and you may get the reply that it is the fictional home planet of Mr. Spock of the Star Trek movie fame. Others may say it is the name of the Roman god of fire, but a motorcyclist will immediately identify the name with a Kawasaki cruiser.

When it comes to Kawasaki motorcycles, the name Vulcan has come to symbolize cruisers. This is after a series of models with the VN tag were launched in 1985, starting with the Vulcan 750. Later, several variants were introduced, with engines varying from 400 cc to 2000 cc. Most of these models were V-twins. But there was a Ninja 500R derivative that was the only significant exception. It was equipped with an inline twin engine and it continued being produced till 2009. Meanwhile, by 2006, Kawasaki had already launched a new inline 650 cc twin engine and they used it to power one of its most successful models ever. The Ninja 650 (or ER-6 as it was known in some countries) gave a dominant performance, whether in its naked or full version. It also formed the basis of another runaway commercial success in the form of the Versys sport adventurer. Actually, it is a bit puzzling that Kawasaki did not utilize this new model to power Vulcan 500’s successor-although this finally came to pass in 2015.

Even though Kawasaki has just substituted the Ninja 650 engine with the newly-introduced Z650 in 2017, encasing the latest version of its twin-cylinder motor in a new steel frame, the Vulcan S is founded on the first generation Ninja 650 that came before 2012. It has the same chassis as the one found in the Versys, easily identifiable from the frame side bars that cut horizontally across the two sides of the cylinders.

Unknown to most people, the heritage of this motor includes Ninja ZX-12R genes. Originally the company designed the Ninja 650 twin inline using features from the 1.2-liter 4-cylinder powerplant. It employed the same 81-millimeter bore that had a marginally longer stroke more suitable to the mid-powered sport roadster.

The Vulcan S utilizes an equivalent six-speed gearbox with similar ratios, and this is shared throughout all the models in the family. However, it runs on newly designed camshafts, exhausts, and intakes- and the bike's flywheel is heavier. Created to adapt the sporty engine to its new cruising role, it generates 60 horsepower (or 45 kW). In comparison, the Z650 produces 68 horsepower (or 51 kW). The torque output generally remains constant at 63 Newton-meters (or 46.3 pounds per foot), but it builds up using a strong curve that is useful when operating with low rpm.

The steel frame has been redone to fit the cruiser bill. This is mostly in order to function with forks that now sit at 31 degrees (from the previous 25 degrees) and a lowered seat height of 27.8 inches (or 706 millimeters). However, the most critical feature is the Ergo-fit scheme by Kawasaki. This enables the customer to make a pre-order for the motorbike already with the ergonomics customized to fit his or her body without incurring any extra costs. It includes a choice of various seats that all have the same height but the rider is positioned closer to the handle bars(reduced reach) or further backward (extended reach). The foot pegs can, as a result, be rearranged one inch (25 millimeters) forwards or backward. In addition, the steering, when using the option of reduced reach, can be extended one more inch closer to the riding seat.

We took the Vulcan for a spin using the normal mid-reach setup and this proved to be okay for my six feet (1.82 meters) height. In case I was to buy this motorbike, I would not change a thing. Indeed, Kawasaki says that the extended reach option is meant for riders who are over six feet one inch tall and the reduced reach option is better suited for people who stand under 5 feet six inches tall.

At initial contact, the seating arrangement appears so comfortable that it feels familiar. The seat provides sound back support, there are no bizarre angles for the legs and it is comfortable from the word go. The Vulcan S was clearly designed for a wide variety of customers. Firstly, it ought to be quite efficient when it comes to commuting and the torque motor is its strongest attribute while riding in the city. After spending several days riding the Versys, I jumped onto the seat of the Vulcan- and its gutsy performance when running at low revs is pretty evident. It makes for better acceleration, particularly when riding at low speeds in the city and the engine is at its most optimal above 4000 rpm. However, below this mark, it still has enough elasticity to propel the bike’s 505 pounds (229 kilograms) weight without needing urgent downshifts when overtaking.

This feature will also prove to be useful for novice riders. It will ensure comfortable cruising at low speeds with a friendly demeanor. Things become more aggressive when the motor nears its maximum torque, around 6000 rpm. But since it is a twin engine, it will always be more predictable and linear than a four-cylinder engine of the same power rating, and certainly less shaky than a single. The 650 cc motor can effortlessly venture far away from the city since the Vulcan S will comfortably maintain any speed up to 87 miles per hour (140 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed can go up to 106 miles per hour (170 kilometers per hour), but this is noticeably less than the 124 miles per hour(200 kilometers per hour) that the Versys and the Ninja 650 are easily capable of, but it is still more than adequate.

After riding the Vulcan S for an entire week, the average fuel consumption was a very fair 44 miles per gallon( or 5.3 liters per 100 kilometers)-and this was attained using a somewhat heavy hand. Going by what is shown on the bikes ECO indication display can assist the rider to deliver 50 miles per gallon(or 4.7 liters per 100 kilometers), a feat that is easier to achieve while riding in the city.

The twin motor naturally tends to rev high because this is ingrained in its DNA. This temptation will put you under pressure each time the road opens up in front of you. There is a zippy superbike disguised under the skin of the cruiser and playing in the zone near the maximum levels of power (over 7000 rpm) will significantly pull down those miles-per-gallon readouts.

Whereas the suspensions of the Vulcan S are a bit soft and more suited to provide comfort than do fast cornering, they still allow the bike to sustain a steady line while in mid-corner.the rear spring is the only part that can be adjusted for preload, but this is not really a concern since both the rear shocks and the forks offer sufficient damping to ensure consistency while on the road.

The brakes are quite capable as well, aided by the quick-acting ABS system. The latter is particularly useful since the front wheel is positioned far from the rider and it relays quite poor feedback. The Vulcan S challenges motorcycles like the new Honda Rebel 500 and the Street 500/750 by Harley-Davidson, coming to the fight with an ace when it comes to power. The task in hand is not easy, but with a starting price of US $7,099 for its main target market, it might lure a lot of customers into giving it a serious consideration.

Kawasaki did not take any unnecessary risks and this is why it built around a frame and engine combination whose reliability is proven. Seemingly intending to make the bike affordable when compared to its direct competition, it constructed an economical cruiser without flashy equipment and electronic gimmicks. The Vulcan’s bare essentials can do the trick while its powerful motor is proving to be a solid asset. It may resemble a small replica, but it is a complete motorcycle that can handle long distance riding on any type of road and also glide across town every day. It is a predictable and friendly bike and it is a valid choice for the experienced rider as well as a person who wants to upgrade from a tiny two-wheeler to a large motorcycle. The bike’s weight is delicately balanced to ensure control at low speeds and its dimensions are suitable for even the most congested areas. With its dependable and affordable suspensions and braking systems, the Vulcan S is still part of Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 family, but with a new twist. 


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