2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic, Classic LT, and Custom Review

Cruising in the middle

The Vulcan 900 Classic and Classic LT. Photo © Fonzie

Manufacturer's Site

With mega-cruisers getting all the attention these days, it’s easy to overlook the middleweights. Kawasaki saw a gap in their cruiser lineup, and plugged it with the Kawasaki Vulcan 900. Competing with the venerable Harley-Davidson Sportster 883, Suzuki Boulevard C50, Yamaha V-Star 950 and Honda Shadow, the 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 comes in three flavors: Classic ($7,499), Classic LT ($8,799) and Custom ($7,699, $8,099 for the Special Edition). The Classic and Custom arrive with a 12-month/unlimited-mileage warranty; The Classic LT gets 24 months. Each gets tagged with a 45-mpg fuel economy estimate. Let’s ride.

First Glance

I harbor a lot of fondness for the Kawasaki brand. My first bike was a 1979 Kawasaki KZ 400, which currently sits in my parents’ garage awaiting restoration. I’ll get around to it someday. Back when I bought that used KZ in 1980, 400 cc was considered a middleweight motorcycle. Heck, I was considered a middleweight back then, too. Today, Kawasaki’s cruiser lineup extends from the Eliminator 125 and Vulcan 500 LTD all the way up to the Vulcan 1700 and Vulcan 2000. So, the Vulcan 900 is technically a middleweight cruiser, but it is a full-sized, full-fledged motorcycle by any meaningful measure. I would hardly consider it a beginner’s bike, and at over 600 lbs, it is not a bike for the small of stature. I spent a couple of days in the saddle, switching from Classic to Classic LT to Custom and back again in the course of my test riding.

I joined the Kawasaki team for a trip to Americade 2009, and we took off as a group for a ride from Americade’s headquarters in Lake George, NY, through the state of Vermont up to Lake Placid, NY and back again. We covered a variety of roads, from romps down curvy country lanes to brief blasts down the superhighway. The ride showed off the good (and bad) of each Vulcan configuration.

Seat of the Pants

The Vulcan 900 Classic lives up to its name, with classic cruiser styling cues. The black, double cradle steel frame supports a finned V-twin single overhead cam engine. 41 mm front forks rake out at 32º with 5.9” of trail to hold on to a 16” steel spoked wheel. A single, hidden underseat shock controls the bounce of the 180 mm wide 15” spoked rear wheel. Belt drive connects the 5-speed transmission to the rear hub. You can almost overlook the thin radiator mounted at the front of the frame. The Classic’s low 26.8” seat height looks cool, and the rider floorboards add to the chill vibe. A big speedometer takes center stage on top of the 5.3-gallon fuel tank. The handlebars with a gentle pull back complete the classic cruiser layout.

The Vulcan 900 Classic LT builds on the Classic, adding some touring amenities to the package, including an adjustable windshield, leather saddlebags, a studded two-up seat and a passenger backrest. You could put together your own touring version of the Classic from the Kawasaki accessories catalog, but the LT package saves significant scratch.

The Vulcan 900 Custom tweaks the package a little bit for a sportier look. A flat handlebar is mounted on top of a revised steering head and triple tree with 33º of rake and 7.2” of trail. A 21” cast wheel sits out front, and a 15” x 180 mm cast wheel anchors the rear. 300 mm front/270 mm rear disc brakes with twin piston calipers are slightly larger than the Classic and LT’s 272 mm front/242 mm rear binders. In place of floorboards, the Custom wears pegs, mounted slightly forward.

Journey's End

The only thing left to do is jump on the Vulcan 900 and ride. Kawasaki doesn’t publish power ratings for the 903cc V-twin mill, but I believe the figures that I’ve seen on other websites, which put horsepower in the upper-40s and torque in the mid-50s. Which is to say, adequate power for cruising the byways. Highway speeds are manageable, but not much fun for long periods of time. On the twisty back roads of Upstate New York, I saw some sparks fly from the pegs when my fellow journalists really dug in and rode fast, but I didn’t ever have a problem with cornering clearance riding at my normal conservative pace – hey, I’m the slow guy, okay?

I would opt for the Custom over the Classic or the Classic LT, purely out of personal preference. The slight increase in rake and trail had a smoothing effect on handling at speed, without any noticeable detriment in parking lots. If I needed the carrying capacity, I’d add saddlebags and supports from the catalog, along with a detachable windshield. The Custom is a more pure expression of the cruiser form, rather than an “almost touring” bike.

How does the Vulcan 900 stack up against the competition? As a Sportster owner, I couldn’t help measuring the Kawasaki against my Harley-Davidson. The Vulcan is very smooth, solid and well built. After a few minutes in the saddle, I felt confident and secure. I didn’t miss the heat of the air-cooled engine, and the V-twin engine’s throb felt familiar and comforting. With Kawasaki’s reputation for reliability and longevity, I’d feel very confident putting a Vulcan in my garage for weekend riding.