Flagship Comparison: 1998 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic

Kawasaki's flagship with a classic American profile

1998 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic.
1998 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic.Fran Kuhn

With its round chrome airboxes, 50-degree V-twin engine, and classic American profile, the Vulcan Classic is the bike most likely to be called a Harley imitator. However, to its growing ranks of adherents, the 1500 Classic is more often regarded as an improvement on the original.

Though they breathe through a single carb and angle in a V almost as tight as Harley’s, those big finned cylinders are (mostly) liquid-cooled and displace 10 percent more than current Harleys. The radiator hangs unobtrusively between the down tubes with a small electric fan behind it. The valves get their orders from chains and overhead cams rather than pushrods, and there are twice as many of them—two intake and two exhaust—than used in Evolution Harleys.

Down in the bottom end, the shake of the single-pin crankshaft is stifled by a gear-driven counterbalancer, which also adds to the engine’s flywheel inertia. Finding neutral is simplified by a system that halts upshifts from first gear at the neutral detent when the bike is stopped. And, of course, the transmission—which now has five speeds—couples to the rear wheel via shaft drive.

Wide steel fenders wrap around wire-spoke, 16-inch wheels and tube-type tires, each stopped by a single disc with a twin-piston caliper. The speedometer, fuel gauge and warning lights sit atop the 4.2-gallon tank, and a wide two-piece saddle and forward-mounted floorboards speak of an easy ride. Suspension is unremarkable: chrome-covered 41mm legs up front and dual preload-adjustable damper-spring units in back. Helmet locks and bungee-cord hooks on the chrome rear fender rails help solve common predicaments.

Clean, mainstream looks, popular ergonomics, the draw of that big engine, excellent accessory support from Kawasaki and the aftermarket, and an attractive $10,699 price have made Kawasaki’s flagship cruiser its best-selling street bike.

High Points: Low Points: First Changes:
Classic V-twin cadence without vibration Unimpressive power Aftermarket suspension
Top-notch comfort Wallows in fast corners A Mustang saddle is even better than stock
Best floorboard arrangement Dumb oil-level check arrangement
kawasaki speedometer
To make its tank-top instruments (which include a fuel gauge) more readable at a glance, Kawasaki put a less nostalgic face on the speedometer. The warning lights are bright but away from your line of sight.Fran Kuhn
Specifications
Model/designation: Vulcan Classic/VN1500-E
Suggested base price: $10,699
Standard colors: Red/red, red/ivory, black
Extra cost colors: NA
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.
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.619:1
Chassis
Wet weight: 683 lb
GVWR: 1076 lb
Seat height: 27.6 in.
Wheelbase: 65.4 in.
Overall length: 98.4 in.
Rake: 32 degrees
Trail: 4.84 in.
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: 2 dampers, 3.4 in. travel, adjustments for spring preload
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal (1.1. gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.0 in. wide, 1 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 32.1 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 350 watts
Battery: 12v, 14AH
Forward lighting: 6.7-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: Two bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, coolant temperature, oil pressure
Performance
Fuel mileage: 34–48 mpg, 43.0 mpg avg.
Average range: 181 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top-gear: 2570
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 72.1 mph
1⁄4-mile acceleration: 14.67 sec., 89.0 mph

This article was originally published in the August 1998 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.