Close-Up: 2006 Kawasaki VN900 Vulcan 900 Classic and LT Motorcycles

Getting a better look at Kawasaki new 903cc Vulcan twins, the 900 Classic and Classic LT light tourer. Words and photos by Art Friedman.

Although it will probably be mid March before we get a chance to ride them, we were interested in getting a closer look at Kawasaki's new 2006 903cc V-twins, the Vulcan 900 Classic and its touring-oriented stablemate, the Vulcan 900 Classic LT. So when we learned that the Kawasaki had prototype production versions of both bikes in the country, we arranged to take some pictures and poke around the bikes a bit.

If you missed our 2006 Kawasaki new-model announcement, the 900s replace the Vulcan 800A and 800 Classic in Kawasaki cruiser line. There are two 900 models. The basic model is the $7299 Vulcan 900 Classic. That means that all the new goodies the 900 brings add just $750 to the price of a 2005 800 Classic ($6549), and the 900 Classic is $100 less than the 2006 Kawasaki 800 Drifter. It's also $500 more than the 805cc Suzuki C50, currntly our favorite ride among 750 to 900cc cruisers.

To the basic Vulcan 900 model, the $8499 900 Vulcan Classic LT simply adds a windshield, leather saddlebags, a studded passenger backrest, and studs in the saddle. Except for paint, the LT's additional equipment is the only difference. The Classic is available in monotone silver, black, blue or red. The LT comes in a pair of two-tone choices: blue/silver or black/red.

The Vulcan 900's bottom end was more or less lifted from the 800, and has the same 55-degree cylinder V angle and single-pin crankshaft configuration of the 800. As with the 800, a gear-driven counterbalancer soothes the savage vibration of the single-crankpin design. The cases look a lot like the 800's too. Kawasaki's site says that the 900s have a 68mm bore, but we believe that is an error and that it's actually the same 88mm diameter as the 805cc engine. With the 74.2mm stroke specified, that would create the correct 903cc displacement.

The Vulcan 900's tranmission uses five speeds like the 800, and a cable is used to operate the wet multiplate clutch. However, the big news is at the very end of the power train. For many Vulcan enthusiasts, the belt final drive (which replaces the chains used on all 800s) is the biggest news about this bike. Lots of 800 owners and potential owners have had this at the top of their wish lists for years. It is much cleaner than a chain, requires far less maintenance, and is almost as efficient.

The top end of the 900 has the same single-overhead camshaft, four-valve architecture as the 800, and shares the smaller bike's liquid cooling. The 900's tall, thin radiator slips discretely between the frame's front downtubes. The top-end has been restyled. The cylinders are still finned, but the fins are more rounded and better finished than the 800's. The polished and chromed camshaft covers have a new shape. The intake and exhaust ports are reconfigured somewhat.

With tighter emissions standards looming in the U.S. and Europe, it's no surprise that the 900s get digital fuel injection. Of course, fuel injection brings other benefits in addition to a friendlier discharge from the dual slash-cut mufflers. It should make for easier starting and more even throttle response. The Keihin injection system has 34mm throttle bodies. All this promises a noticeable power increase and more predictable reliable operation.

Though the frame has the same single-shock style and hard-tail-look rear end as the 800s, it is completely new. At 65 inches, the wheelbase is 1.4 inches longer than the 800's, and the 900's 32-degree steering head is half a degree steeper than the 800s. Like the 800 Classic, the 900 has 41mm fork tubes and 130/90-16 front tire on a wire wheel. However, there is a new 300mm disc with a two-piston caliper. The fender is a bit more shapely. Our back there is a bigger 180/70-17 tire, also on a wire wheel that's stopped by a 270mm disc. Most of what you can see of the frame is pretty, especially around the steering head.

Kawasaki gave the styling a significant overhaul. All the bodywork is new with nice shapes and finishes almost everywhere you look. Most of the details—lighting components, instruments, covers, etc.—are new. There is a prominent bottom seam on the 4.8-gallon fuel tank, and a lot of noticeable wiring on the right side of the steering head, but most of the details are nicely done, especially when you remember that this class doesn't have the same styling expectations of bigger bikes.

Since the pair of Vulcan 900s I was dealing with were not final production motorcycles, I wasn't expecting to ride them bike, but it turned out that I did ride the LT—across Kawasaki's parking lot. My snap impressions about the motorcycle were that it fit me well, that the fuel-injected engine responded smoothly and strongly when when cold (and, with less than two minutes on board, it was cold the entire time), that the windshield was a good fit for five-foot-ten-inch me—that is, I could comfortably look over the top of it—when set on its lower position, and that the exhaust note was surprisingly strong and full-throated. Of course, any of these or other aspects of the bikes could still change before the Vulcan 900s go into final production for the U.S.

On paper and in the flesh the new Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic and the Classic LT look like more than a match for Suzuki's C50 and C50T, but looks can be deceiving. We are looking forward to riding Kawasaki's new heavy middleweight and finding out who's on top of crusing's most popular class when the 900s arrive in dealers in late winter or early spring.

The Vulcan 900 Classic LT is the smae as the basic Classic with two-tone paint, a windshield, saddlebags, a passenger backrest, and asddle studs added.
The hinge in the brake pedal means that if you drag the floorboard, it doesn't trap you toe against the pedal.
Like other Vulcans, the 900s have position adjusters for the front brake levers, to adjust them for different hand sizes.
Floorboards with a one-piece heel-toe shift lever are standard equipment on both Vulcan 900s.
The LT's windshield features a very prominent Vulcan badge up front on the polished chrome-metal frame.
The windshield is nicely finished front and rear and offers a choice of two height positions.
Instead a slotted adjustment as on the Nomad, the windhield simply has two sets of holes to set height.
Besides a counterbalancer, the 900 uses rubber mounts snub vibration.
The top end has been significantly changed and restyled from the 800.
The 900 we photographed has a brawnier exhaust note than other 800s.
The tall, thin radiator tucks between the frame tubes.
The rear fender and taillight have cleaner, sleeker styling.
Under the locking seat are a tool kit and a helmet lock.
Under the locking seat are a tool kit and a helmet lock.
The lightweight saddle is a single piece. This studded version is for the LT.
A cable from a lock on the left side cover operates this latch for the seat lock.
With the longer wheelbase, the seat seems to have gotten roomier.
Both 900s get big reflector-optics headlights set above a redesigned bracket for the turn signal/position lights.
The LT's leather saddlebags are fairly capacious, and the box-style tops appear to seal them well.
Leather straps and metal buckles conceal quick-release plastic buckles beneath them.
Like other Classic models, the 900 wears covered fork tubes. Beneath the covers, the tubes are the same 41mm diameter as the 800's.
Although the right side of the steering head is cluttered with wires and cables, the left side lets you see how clean the frame is.
With a bigger front disc and a better caliper, the 900 should brake better than the 800, especially with a rear disc instead of the 800's drum.