Motorcycles: Attention, Chopper Shoppers

<< Back to Robb Report, March 2007
  • Barry Winfield

One-of-a-kind, custom-built chopper motorcycles are commonly referred to as hogs for good reason: Their rudimentary suspensions offer limited creature comforts. If demonstrating your individuality is absolutely essential, comfort may not be a critical criterion. However, if your ego can withstand compromise better than your back can, then the moderately priced ($7,350), mass-produced 2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom might be appealing.

The bike’s complex and eye-catching cast-alloy design does not include a single straight line. The 21-inch-tall, 90-mm-wide front tire appears to be barely wide enough to provide the grip necessary to keep the bike upright, but it performs admirably for its size. The contours of the organically shaped fuel tank suggest the muscles under the taut skin of a lithe animal. A gunfighter seat drapes between the tank and the rear wheel, kicking up onto a bobbed rear fender that frames the fat, 180 mm rear tire.

“Our intention was to give the machine the substance and presence of a big cruiser while retaining the midsized engine,” says Croft Long, Kawsaki’s product manager. The bike’s 55-degree V-twin is based on the preceding Vulcan 800’s engine, but its stroke has been increased to bump its displacement to 903 cc—which, coincidentally or not, was the exact size of the engine in the company’s legendary Z1 4-cylinder bombshell of 1973.

Kawasaki added fuel injection to this new engine, using dual 34 mm throttle bodies. Combined with catalytic converters, the new fuel metering system meets strict new European emission regulations while offering a wonderfully linear and responsive throttle response. The engine features a common-crankpin design, which produces the off-beat engine cadence characteristic of most cruisers. A gear-driven balancer quells the engine’s vibrations without eliminating that distinctive pulse.

The real virtue of the Vulcan 900 Custom is its rider-friendly nature. With a seat height of just 27 inches, the bike is easy to mount, and its 550-pound weight will not intimidate smaller riders. During the machine’s press introduction, its riding position proved comfortable for riders of various statures, and the combination of stability at speed and light handling in confined spaces elicited compliments from cruiser and sportbike fans alike.

The Vulcan’s single-shock rear suspension worked well with the big rear tire and its belt final-drive system. Equipped with a smooth-shifting 5-speed and a fairly light-pull clutch, the Vulcan displayed the sophisticated operation of a more expensive machine. Those attributes, plus the Vulcan’s sharp styling, might leave you with little compulsion to commission a bike from a chopper shop.

Kawasaki
www.kawasaki.com

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