Big Twin Rumble: Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic

A closer look at the Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 from the Big Twin Rumble

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 ClassicKevin Wing

Functionally, there's little to fault about the long-running Vulcan 1500. Stylistically, however, it's none too cutting edge. Kawasaki remedied this situation for the '96 model year with the introduction of the Vulcan 1500 Classic, a fat-tired retro-redraft of the biggest V-twin in production.

This was not just a matter of slinging on some puffy bodywork and breaking for lunch—Kawasaki engineers rolled up their sleeves and got downright greasy. New cylinder heads draw mixture from a single carburetor positioned in the center of the 50-degree V, and repositioned exhaust ports allow for a more graceful staggered dual exhaust system that sweeps down the machine's right side. Round, chromed air filters sit on either side of the engine to conceal the carburetor. For Classic duty, the cam timing, valve lift and compression ratio have all been backed off incrementally, with the objective of boosting low rpm power.

The Vulcan 1500 Classic's powerplant has new cylinder heads that draw mixture from a single carburetor positioned in the center of the 50-degree V.Kevin Wing

To make sure that the engine behaves itself at ultralow rpm, the gear-driven counterbalancer has been upped in mass substantially to net a 25-percent increase in the engine’s flywheel effect. Relative to the basic Vulcan 1500 from whence it sprang, the Classic has taller ratios for the top three transmission gears. For the ’97 model year, all 1500s will adopt the Classic’s gearing. Besides the functional changes, the Classic’s engine has also been extensively restyled. It’s now basic black, with recontoured chromed outer covers and polished cylinder finning. The new cylinder heads have a much more traditional proportion too.

The Classic’s chassis has little in common with its progenitor. The wheelbase has been stretched, the seat height is a bit lower, and the riding position is different. Wide longhorn handlebars lean you mildly into the wind, and forward-mounted floorboards replace the footpegs used on other Vulcan 1500 models. A speedometer the size of a personal-size pizza is sunk into the top of the tank, letting the chromed headlight shell reflect the passing scenery like a wide-angle lens.

This article was originally published in the February 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 ClassicKawasaki
Designation: VN1500-D2 (1997)
Suggested Base Price: $10,699 (1997)
Standard Colors: Candy Cardinal Red, Pearl Boulogne/Pearl Alpine White, Pearl Alpine White/Pear Chateau Gray (1997)
Extra-cost Colors: N/A
Standard Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended Service Interval: 6000 miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve Arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1470cc, 102mm x 90mm
Compression Ratio: 8.55:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.7 qt
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 4 speeds
Final Drive: Shaft, 2.619:1
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 16 x 3.00 front, 16 x 3.50 rear
Front Tire: 130/90-16 Dunlop D404F tube-type
Rear Tire: 150/80-16 Dunlop D404 tube-type
Front Brake: Single-action twin-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Rear Brake: Single-action caliper, 10.6-in. disc
Front Suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Dual dampers, 3.4 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gal. (1.1. gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.0 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging Output: 350 watts
Battery: 12v, 14AH
Forward Lighting: 55/60-watt 6.7-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: Dual bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, coolant temperature, oil pressure
Fuel Mileage: 29 to 39 mpg, 34.7 mpg average
Average Range: 174 miles
RPM at 60mph, top gear: 2100
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 71.5 mph
Quater-mile Acceleration: 14.99 sec. @ 87.9 mph