Battle Of The Basic Big Twins 2000 Kawasaki Vulcans

Kawasaki's army that was assembled for the Basic Big Twin battle

This article was originally published in the August 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Kawasaki joined the big-twin game in the 1980s with the original twin-carb Vulcan 1500. That bike carried the flag for 10 years until 1996 when, perhaps anticipating Motorcycle Cruiser would need a crowd-stopper for the cover of its premiere issue [Spring 1996], Kawasaki introduced its Vulcan 1500 Classic. The Classic was the first import to offer the sort of style and substance that Americans wanted from a big twin. Instead of the obviously liquid-cooled engine of the twin-carb 1500A, the Classic had heavily finned cylinders and its radiator tucked out of sight between the front frame tubes. It breathed through a single carb and was tuned for lots of thrust right off idle. It retained the single-crankpin design with its traditional sound (and continued to quell vibration with a counterbalancing system). However, the cadence of the exhaust was now backed up with traditional American lines—a big headlight, covered, fat-legged fork tubes, a fat fuel tank and seat, floorboards, a staggered dual exhaust and wide fenders curving deeply around wire-spoke 16-inch wheels. The bike retained features such as the clean, quiet, low-maintenance shaft drive. Though some pundits thought the Classic was a blatant attempt to copy Harley-Davidson, instead it was the company's response to research that said customers wanted a cruiser that looked, sounded and felt the way the Classic does. This bike promptly became the best-selling metric cruiser, a title that it continued to hold the last time we checked.

Kawasaki soon began producing derivative models, such as the Nomad tourer, which came with a new version of the twin-shock frame, beefed up to support the weight of a touring load and with revised steering geometry. Next was the Drifter. It brought an even more nostalgic look with the full fenders that harkened back to the Indians of the 1940s and other pre-war touches. Blacked-out trim and a minimum amount of chrome and polish easily distinguish the Drifter from the Classic—even though they use some of the same components, including the 4.2-gallon fuel tank. The Drifter also introduced fuel injection, a feature that was updated and incorporated into the Nomad FI late last year.

The most recent of the Classic derivatives is the Classic FI, which assembles the best pieces from the rest of the line. It has the strengthened frame of the Nomad and the air-assisted shock from that bike, its own version of a fuel-injection system and the other power enhancements that come with it, such as nastier overhead camshafts and more compression for the four-valve combustion chambers. It also brings new gear that is so far unique, including a 5.0-gallon fuel tank topped by a revised instrument cluster with an LCD odometer/tripmeter/clock readout. With the arrival of the Classic FI, the original Vulcan 1500—the twin-carb 1500A—was retired, its sales having diminished to a point where it was no longer worth building.

Because there are substantial differences between Kawasaki’s three basic cruisers, we ended up including them all here. Though the Classics may appear the same, they have substantially different engines, ergonomics and frames.

2000 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Drifter
2000 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 DrifterCruiser
2000 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic FI
2000 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic FICruiser
2000 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic
2000 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 ClassicCruiser