- 2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700
It was twenty years ago that Harley-Davidson introduced a game-changer, the Fat Boy. Their Heritage Softail (introduced a few years earlier) was basically a modern re-creation of a 1950's FL, and the Fat Boy was its stripped-down cousin-somewhat like what a custom version of the old FL would have been like in the '50s, but done up for the '90s. The original was all silver, with yellow highlights and edgy (at the time) solid disc wheels. While the Heritage had some success here and there, the Fat Boy was nothing short of a worldwide sensation, even in Japan, where its name was an uncomfortably close hybrid of 'Fat Man' and 'Little Boy', the atomic bombs dropped on the islands in World War II. You could even argue the entire cruiser culture reoriented itself around the look and feel of the Fat Boy, and perhaps no bike was a more faithful imitation of the FLSTF than the original Vulcan 1500 Classic.
There was a rumor circulating in the '90s that the designer of Kawasaki's Vulcan Classic was the president of the Harley Owner's Group (HOG) of Japan. Whether or not this is true, there is no denying that: A) the first 1500 Classic was a stone cold clone of the Fat Boy, and B) it was easily Kawasaki's most popular cruiser model to date. Much has changed since those heady days, especially the fact that Harley-Davidson no longer has trouble meeting demand from customers. In fact, nobody does. But what of these two genre-defining machines? Well, the Fat Boy is still with us, albeit with a new frame, engine, transmission, brakes and all the other improvements that have come to Harley's Softail lineup. But the new Fat Boy Lo is an entirely different animal. Dropped into the weeds, blacked out, and given a tighter, bobber-like riding triangle, it's the 21st century re-do of the '90s custom retro bike. That's right: it's Harley's reinterpretation of its own reinterpretation of its history.
The Vulcan 1500 Classic on the other hand, has been gone for a couple of years, first replaced by a 1600 model, which then morphed into the new Vulcan 1700. You could argue that, based on price, the Fat Boy's direct competitor is the Vulcan 2000 Classic, but that model's gigantic engine blasts the weighty machine into a separate orbit shared with other mega-displacement bikes, while back here in the mid-teens, the 1700 takes on the role of the Everyman Cruiser.
What's striking about these two bikes isn't their similarities; it's the differences. The Fat Boy is the epitome of low key, badass styling, with satin chrome finishes on many components and dull black in others. Though the early-release Vulcan only came in monotone black, its palette has been expanded to include two-tone colors (Metallic Black and Candy Blue) for 2010, while the rest of the bike is done in more cruiser-common chrome highlights and swoopy lines. And for the ultimate irony, the 1700 is, well...fatter than the Fat Boy.
The Root of Fatness
Where the Vulcan really apes the Fat Boy is in its model lineage. The Fat Boy is a descendant of the Heritage Softail, which was never a real touring mount, yet it still sports a windshield and old-timey leather bags like a 1950's Hydra Glide might. The Vulcan, meanwhile, is the base version of Kawasaki's new cruiser platform, which consists mostly of touring models, all the way up to the flagship, full-dress Voyager. While we had mixed feelings about the Voyager (mostly revolving around the compromises of this do-it-all platform), we can say absolutely that the base Vulcan got the good end of that bargain. Air-adjustable suspension and a full-featured dash are not usually de rigueur items on a typical cruiser.
The Vulcan brings a larger,tank-mounted...
The Vulcan brings a larger,tank-mounted instrument cluster with LCD readouts galore, including average fuel consumption.
The Lo's black-faced setup...
The Lo's black-faced setup also sports features like a remaining fuel countdown, though it's smaller and harder to read at speed