Is the Kawasaki Vulcan 750 the Most Beloved Cruiser?

Our 1996 Readers Thought So

Kawasaki Vulcan 750
Kawasaki Vulcan 750 owners are a happy lot. Just over 97 percent of the survey respondents were satisfied with their bike. With those numbers it seems like the Vulcan 750 would be the logical choice.Kawasaki

In fall of 1996, we asked our loyal readers to fill out surveys about their beloved cruisers. After months of letting the responses pile up to the point of critical mass, we had to make the difficult choice of which bike to cover in our first Readers Report. Being the clever folks that we are, we developed a completely scientific method for choosing the bike. We separated the responses by manufacturer and weighed the responses on a triple-beam scale. The results (despite a noble effort by Honda owners to stuff the ballot box by submitting more photos and, therefore, more weight per response) were overwhelmingly in favor of Kawasaki. Next, we tabulated the models covered in the Kawasaki responses only to find 95 percent of them were for the Vulcan 750. Our decision was made.

First introduced in 1985 in a 699cc displacement and bumped to 749cc in ’86, the Vulcan 750 incorporates Kawasaki’s first four-stroke street engine that wasn’t the transverse in-line design seen in most sport bikes. Other than the bump in displacement, the 55-degree V-twin has remained relatively unchanged since its inception. Breathing through two 34mm constant-velocity carbs and four valves prodded by dual overhead cams, the Vulcan will give most of the cruising 750 Vs a run for the money. To avoid giving the Vulcan’s engine the top-heavy appearance that most DOHC twins have, Kawasaki used a combination of chains and gears to keep svelte, yet functional, heads. Low-maintenance hydraulic valve adjusters and shaft drive slim down the maintenance chores, as well. A gear-driven counterbalancer and rubber engine mounts give the Vulcan its characteristic smoothness. Kawasaki must have known it had a winner because, after 13 years, the Vulcan 750 still exists in a clearly recognizable form—and still sells strongly. Go ahead, take the Vulcan challenge. Hold a picture of the ’85 model next to a ’97 and try to tell them apart.

engine
Like the motorcycle itself, the 750 Vulcan engine isn't fashionable but is willing, flexible and reliable.Kawasaki

The Average Vulcan Owner
According to our survey's respondents, Mr. Average Vulcan Owner is male, 43.2 years old, and has been riding for 15.7 years. He bought his loyal steed new in '94 for $5450 and has ridden it 9012.7 miles. He sure loves his Vulcan because he estimates his annual time in the saddle at 4300 miles, a bit higher than the odometer says he actually rides. Of those miles, he commuted an average of 25.3 percent, toured 16.2 percent, sport rode 2.9 percent, and reserved 55.8 percent for cruising. With all that riding, Mr. Average doesn't have to spend much money on maintenance. His annual maintenance expenditures is $130 for labor while parts only cost him $110. Insurance averages only $279 per year for full coverage.

Mr. Average is a faithful guy; his Vulcan is his only street bike. When asked how long he plans to keep his Vulcan, he usually responds with “forever” or “until I’m dead.”

Since the Vulcan 750 isn’t about being average, let’s look at the extremes. Riding experience varied from Robert Petraska’s 38 years to Sevier Cramer’s 7 months (with over 7000 miles already on the clock). Mileage ranged from Steve Berto’s 30,310 miles to two readers who had less than 1000 miles on their shiny new rides. Respondents’ ages ranged from 19 to 58. Women accounted for 5 percent of the responses.

Kawasaki Vulcan 750
After the survey results were in, we found that our reader's bike of choice was the Kawasaki Vulcan 750.Kawasaki

Satisfaction Guaranteed
Vulcan 750 owners are a happy lot. Just over 97 percent of the respondents were satisfied with their bike. Almost 80 percent would consider owning another bike of the same model, and those who would choose something other than the Vulcan 750, usually mentioned the Vulcan 800, 800 Classic or 1500 Classic as options. When asked to name their bike's best points, smooth power delivery over a broad power band lead the list. The vast majority also checked the "good" or "excellent" box for highway power and vibration control. Running a close second to power was the Vulcan's reliability and low maintenance costs. Looks and styling were third on the list. Most respondents said they performed their own routine maintenance. Two owners listed exactly the same best points for the Vulcan: "looks, speed, sound and ride." We briefly assumed that one had cheated and copied a good answer from the other, but their addresses placed them on opposite ends of the continent.

On the other side of the scale, the Vulcan’s low points were more varied, once beyond the most popular response of “none.” Although several people claimed they liked the look of the engine, the second most common low point mentioned was the engine’s appearance, most notably the air cleaners. Another common complaint was the amount of plastic on the Vulcan, a problem that, according to our readers in this survey, could not be remedied through the aftermarket. Bringing up the rear of the most common complaints were the seat and the pillion, yet relatively few riders had actually replaced the stock saddle.

Again, the leading response to our query about problems with the Vulcan was “none.” However, some problems were noted. Several people reported replacing their bike’s stator (one in less than one year of ownership). Two owners of ’95 models had problems with their shaft drives. Eric Lane wrote that after only 700 miles, his “bike developed a shaft drive leak. It started as a couple of drops on the rear rim, but after 50 additional miles, the rim was covered with fluid.” In both reported cases, the culprit was an improperly seated O-ring. Lane’s bike also required the drive’s needle bearings to be replaced. A few people experienced pinched or broken speedometer cables; one felt the problem was caused by cable routing causing them to rub against the engine and frame.

What Reader Report Would Be Complete Without a Hard Luck Tale?
Mark Merritt says his '90 Vulcan developed a major coolant leak and, shortly thereafter, had a rod bearing go bad to the tune of $1200. Once the bike was repaired, Merritt sold it and bought an '88 Vulcan with over 10,000 miles on the ticker, but somehow he couldn't shake the desire to own a newer bike. He sold the Vulcan six months later to buy an A.C.E., only to realize he missed his Vulcan.

When life doesn’t work out the way we’d all like, Vulcan owners are prepared. Vulcan owners know the best way to deal with life’s hard knocks is to carry full-coverage insurance. A whopping 97 percent carried full-coverage, and liability only accounted for 2 percent. Although several respondents left the insurance portion of the survey blank, 1 percent of the respondents were forthright enough to admit that they lived dangerously and rode without insurance. Since the average cost of a year’s peace of mind was $279, we wonder why they don’t pony up. Full coverage prices ranged from a low of $64 to a high of $700 annually. Progressive Insurance got the nod most often and was the company to give Kent Freeman his astoundingly low $64 rate.

Makin' It Mine
Vulcan 750 owners are no different from other cruiser riders. They can't keep themselves from modifying their bikes. Slightly over half of the respondents had added a windshield to their Vulcan, making it the most popular addition. National Cycle was the almost exclusive choice. Saddlebags also topped the accessory list, running a close second at slightly under the half-way mark. Willie & Max were the favorite, but Kawasaki's bags were also in the hunt. The three remaining accessories rounding out the top five were all from Kawasaki and consisted of (in order of reader preference) case guards, sissy bar/backrests and tail racks.

Kawasaki has shown its commitment to the Vulcan 750 by making it for 13 years and providing some of the best-selling accessories for the bike. Vulcan riders have responded in turn by remaining fiercely loyal to their bikes. Who knows, if Kawasaki holds its course, in the not-too-distant future, people born the first year of the Vulcan’s production may be able to buy a new Vulcan 750 right off the showroom floor. And judging from our survey, they’ll be pleased with it.

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