Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic And Triumph Rocket III Touring - Long-Term Bikes-Part 1

Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic
MSRP: $7349
Caretaker: Kay
Measurements: 5'4"/159 lb/29" Inseam
Odometer: 1547
Miles to Date: 1165

An '08 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic has shown up in the Cruiser garage as my long-term ride, and the timing is perfect. Sure, I know Zimmerman did a short stint with the 900 LT version just over a year ago, but I'm going to spend a couple of issues fooling around with it anyway.

The centerpiece is the liquid-cooled, 55-degree V-twin engine with four valves per cylinder operated by single overhead cams. Topping off the bike is a 5.3-gallon touring-sized fuel tank, gauges that include a clock, and an adjustable brake lever-another nice touch.

On the styling front, the Classic beats a lot of more expensive rides. The staggered slash-cut mufflers are more like custom aftermarket parts, and those meaty tires-especially the 180mm rear-look just right. Of course the mirrors seem like they came off some mid-'70s import car, and I personally think the air cleaner cover looks a bit weird.

At 580 pounds wet the Classic is svelte compared to the bigger-engined heavyweights. Handling is positively agile in traffic, and while the power won't set the world abuzz it still wins the stoplight-to-across-the-intersection dragrace with ease. The five-speed gearbox is slick, and engine vibes only become an issue at above-legal highway speeds. The riding position is spacious, but the bars are a little wide for me, the floorboards are a bit of a reach for my 29-inch inseam, and the seat is somewhat misshapen at the back-only a problem on long rides. Combined, they only detract a tiny bit from a pretty terrific light-middleweight cruiser. What detracts more is the suspension. The fork springs are soft and the damping too hard. The shock is soft as well and bottoms with ease. Also, the front and rear brakes would benefit from a little more power and better feel. Those things are all offset a smidgen by the 42-mpg average mileage we've seen so far.

So what does the future hold? In no particular order, I'll be attacking all of the above-suspension, brakes, seat, handlebars and mirrors-in the quest for greater comfort and performance. Also, I'll be adding quick-detach touring accessories, and some more power would be good, too. Say 20 percent? Lofty indeed, but I'm setting my sights high. -Evan Kay

Triumph Rocket III Touring
MSRP: $17,299
Caretaker: Zimmerman
Measurements: 5'10"/200 lb/32" Inseam
Odometer: 1050
Miles to Date: 165

Due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, my R3 long-termer was late in arriving. How late? Well, it's cooling off from a first ride as I write.

So these truly are first impressions. Until now my contact with R3s of any ilk has been peripheral at best, and I'd forgotten how massive these beasts are. Since the changes from the PC version (that's for "power cruiser," not "politically correct") have been documented elsewhere, I'll just say that the Touring rendition with its revised tires and slightly detuned engine is in every way a better bike.

Less power or not, this thing still has enough motor to part the hair on your chest right down the middle. While this isn't the fastest bike I've ever ridden, it's certainly one of the most powerful. Down low there's a pronounced but nonintrusive rumble that's typical of most three-cylinder designs, but as the revs build the mill becomes silky-smooth.

The handling, if not exactly up to sportbike standards, is much improved, although it takes a firm hand at the controls. But getting the Tour around a turn no longer requires rodeo-bull-wrestling skills, and so far the ground clearance seems more than adequate.

Given my limited time in the saddle it's hard to assess the comfort level, but so far so good. The seating position is to my liking and the floorboards properly angled. My only complaint is that the shifting is still a little stiff. Hopefully as the miles build those big gears will break in.

The quick-detach windshield works well. So far I haven't experienced any buffeting, and those hard bags, which are also quickly detachable, have drawn an admiring glance from the distaff side. My take is that they seem a little narrow, but I think if they were any wider they'd probably look odd. The information center is a handy feature, and toggling between time, mileage and whatever else is as easy as pressing the "I" button on the right-side switch. In sum, I'm impressed. We'll have to see how much I remain so as the miles pile up. _-Mark Zimmerman__