Here’s a question: Is a Harley-Davidson a cruiser, or is a cruiser a Harley-Davidson? In other words, which is the Form?
And even when companies appeared to be breaking from the same old routine, such as when BMW made the R1200C, they weren’t really –– still adhering to the Form ideas of a cruiser as heavy, underpowered for its engine size, and expensive.
But in the quite recent past, we’ve seen a small movement to make cruisers that are lighter, less expensive, and that deliver more power with smaller engines. To my mind this started with the Honda CTX700N, a bike that looks as if it was designed to be used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which is to say, it looks as if someone in the 1990s was trying to imagine what cruisers would look like in the future.
Next to lift its head was Harley-Davidson itself, with the Street 500 and Street 750 models. To me, though, these bikes look a little confused. It’s as if Harley-Davidson wasn’t prepared to commit to the idea of a motorcycle that looked like anything other than a “traditional” Harley-Davidson.
I think the look of the Vulcan S is the best of this new school. Its headlight takes a little getting used to (it reminds me of Cobra Commander’s face shield) but once you break from the emotional need for a round headlight on a cruiser you can see that it fits the overall look and feel of the bike.
With its engine set to produce 61 hp, the new Vulcan S will deliver roughly the same amount of power as the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. It will have anti-lock brakes and a few other modern touches, such as its digital dash, but the thing that really strikes me is that the ergonomics will be highly adjustable. Moving the pegs and seat to a variety of combinations will, Kawasaki says, allow the Vulcan S to accommodate a large spread of heights. And Kawasaki says these ergonomic adjustments will come at no additional cost.
I also like that the exhaust is placed underneath the bike, creating a little more space for lean and lessening the chance of the rider or passenger burning his or her leg, a la Road Warrior Animal in SummerSlam 1992.
In the United States, the ABS version of the Vulcan S will be priced at $7,399 (and £5,899 in the UK), which still puts it at $100 less than the H-D Street. The latter bike offers less power and does not (yet) have an ABS option. Considering the half-hearted reviews the Street has received so far I think the Vulcan could stand out as the king of this little group of sub-800cc liquid-cooled machines.
However, although I definitely like the concept of the Vulcan S and will certainly make an effort to test ride one as soon as it arrives in UK dealerships, there is not really anything about the bike that makes me think: “I need this in my life.”
My hope, though, is that the Vulcan S and the Street models and even the dog ugly CTX700s will succeed. I think these are machines that can help widen the appeal of motorcycling just a little more. And I hope, too, that their success would draw Yamaha into the field, making use of its fantastic MT-07 platform.