Buying A Used Motorcycle: 1998-1999 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic

A feasible option when you are buying a used motorcycle

1998-1999 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic
1998-1999 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 ClassicCruiser

Every time someone asks me what my favorite bike is, I feel like I need to further define the terms. Do I plan on touring, customizing or merely rolling through the countryside? Luckily, I had an instantaneous job brief—with no qualifications—when the editors of Motorcycle Cruiser called and asked me to write about my pick of a used cruiser for everyday use.

Just the thought of an early-model Vulcan 1500 Classic takes me back to 1996, when I started my motojournalist career at Motorcycle Cruiser. While the 1500 Classic wasn't the first bike I ever brought home from the office, the big Vulcan became a weekend favorite, and I logged many thousands of miles on the magazine's several long-term units over the years.

I've always felt that the Vulcan Classic was on the shortlist of motorcycles responsible for the mainstreaming of metric cruisers. Off-the-rack, it had the right stuff, and the aftermarket was firmly behind it. The engine was willing—if not overly powerful (although you'd be hard-pressed to say that with the way it accelerated off the line). The single-pin crank doled out the correct amount of shudder when you wanted it yet remained smooth when it was necessary. The bike had unmistakably American style while offering amenities, like liquid cooling, hydraulic valve adjusters and shaft drive, that metric cruiser riders came to expect from their machines. Commuting on a Vulcan Classic was as easy as it was fun. With gas mileage checking in at around 43 mpg, I could go for almost a week between fill-ups if I didn't take any recreational rides. The bike carried its weight in such a manner that low-speed maneuvering in the morning bump and grind made me look forward to the trip to work. The light pull on the hydraulic clutch kept the bike either inching along or roaring away from traffic. Pop on a windshield and some bags, and you've got a competent tourer. The Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic was, quite simply, a good-looking cruiser that could do just about anything you might want.

I prefer the five-speed versions in the 1998-1999 model years, although (almost) any of the pre-injection bikes would be fine. (The only Classic model I’d avoid would be the 1996 version—and only if no proof was available that the potential second-gear issues of the first production year were addressed.) Don’t think I’m dissing the 1500 FI by leaving it out—I’m just saying that the carbureted 1500s are a bit cheaper and offer more value at a relatively small functional cost.

Much to my surprise, the place I had the most luck researching a used model of this bike was Craigslist.com; eBay turned up a big goose egg, while Kelley Blue Book and NADA Guides gave me numbers that differed by almost $800. In my search around the country for used Vulcan 1500 Classic prices, I found remarkable commonality in price range. I'd expected to find better deals in less urban areas, but I was wrong. Bone-stock 1500 Classics were offered at $2500 to an unrealistically high $6000. The average for a well-kept specimen was about $4000. The choice is yours as to whether to go with a low-priced fixer-upper or stocker. While some great deals can be had by buying someone's lightly customized Vulcan, you'll have to negotiate a bit more to get the price down into the bargain range.

For that reason alone, I’d be tempted to look for a stock Classic. However, in most cases, I’d go for stock over an accessorized bike for a whole tassel of other reasons. For example, I don’t like windshields, so I’d immediately remove one that came on the bike. When it comes to aftermarket pipes, I’m extremely particular. I don’t like them overly loud and absolutely loathe the sound of straight pipes. On the other hand, a reasonable-sounding pipe and a well-jetted carburetor can increase the functionality of almost any bike. Still, many “extras” that intrude on the bike’s usability would tend to devalue it, in my eyes. Items—like a good custom seat or an attractive set of bags—that increase the bike’s versatility would be worth paying a bit more for. After all, this bike would live a fairly utilitarian life as a commuter.

This article was originally published in the April 2007 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.