In a market where most new release cruisers are 500cc and the rest of the 650cc competition is as old as the hills, the Kawasaki Vulcan S is a breath of fresh air.
While Kawasaki aren't known for their cruiser offerings – with their supersport ZX range and entry-level Ninjas taking much of the limelight – the Vulcan S flys under the radar with a tremendously well put together package.
Sure, when many of us think of a cruiser it involves a V-twin engine out of the gate, but with many in the industry switching to parallel twins the Vulcan leads the charge with its Ninja 650 derived 649cc parallel twin.
The other thing we tend to think of when we think of cruisers is customisation, with tall bars, raked-out front ends and loud pipes all seemingly part and parcel of the genre. While you'd be quite dedicated to going all out on the modest middleweight Kawasaki, it does have some built-in customisation tricks which are quite appealing.
You see, the Vulcan S has one of the best factory setups for creating a custom fit cruiser in the class.
But first, let's talk some background. The Vulcan S is based around the same DOHC 650cc parallel-twin engine as used in the popular Ninja 650 and Z650 sports bikes, and just like those 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 package, the Vulcan, on the other hand, acts to create the best fit for its rider with Kawasaki’s Ergofit system core to the bike’s identity.
Straight from the dealership, the Vulcan S offers 18 combinations of ergonomic adjustability with three different positions for the forward-mounted footpegs alone. This means that riders can have the bike tailor-fitted to their unique sizing before they even leave the dealership.
There is a catch, however, and that comes in the form of the optional seats for the Vulcan S which alter both seat height and reach to the footpegs. While getting the pegs and handlebars adjusted is free from the dealer, you'll need to pay for the accessory parts up front. This comes in at $280 for the optional extended/reduced reach seats, while the handlebar options are priced from $159.
That said, with an entry price of just $13,995, the Vulcan S still offers good value for both the learner rider entering the market as well as that 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 offering a gorgeous sparkle when you get up close in the daylight. 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 a striking 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 was to move the controls at all, I’d perhaps bring the handlebar fractionally closer to me for longer trips, but otherwise, I was very comfortable.
With the LAMS restricted 650cc parallel-twin humming between the steel perimeter frame, I clicked the Vulcan S into gear and set off to explore some of the fantastic backroads in the nearby Waikato.
The dash unit is a tidy affair, with a large analogue tachometer keeping you abreast of the engine's revolutions while the LCD insert tells you all the info you could want to know including speed, time and gear position. While I'll admit to being quite partial to a TFT or all-digital display these days, there's just something that is 'right' about the dash on the Vulcan...
The biggest surprise many will get from the Vulcan S is just how willing and able it is when it comes to putting a grin on your face.
Despite its cruiser layout and 226kg of fully fueled 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 fact, in the class of small capacity cruisers, I’d go as far as saying the Kawasaki is the most dynamic when it comes to confidently and comfortably attacking your favourite backroad loop on. There is just something about how well planted it feels – possibly due to the quality Dunlop Sportmax tyres fitted as standard – that lets you roll on the throttle and listen to the twin-cylinder engine do its thing.
But that isn’t really what most buyers of this style of motorcycle are in the market for. Rather, what they want in a bike is a comfortable machine that they can hop on and leisurely soak up the kilometres on. The Vulcan S somehow manages to nail this part of the cruiser lifestyle as well.
With its solo seat from the factory featuring a wide scalloped lip at the rear providing just the right amount of comfort and the forward set pegs letting you stretch out it is quite easy to hit the highway and roll along all day.
It’s arguably a very enticing package and while the Vulcan S may not have the brand recognition as the top-selling bike in the LAMS cruiser segment – Harley-Davidson’s Street 500 – the Vulcan far outclasses the American in terms of rider dynamics and fun.