Three Kawasaki Middleweights from a Retro Cruiser Comparison Get A Closer Look

The Kawasaki Vulcan 750, 800, and 800 Classic are under the Cruiser microscope.

With three distinct models based on two different engines, Kawasaki makes more 800 V-twin models than any other company.

Introduced in 1985, the Vulcan 750 has been around in its present form longer than any of the bikes here (except the Virago), and reflects all that was good and bad about 1980s vintage Japanese-brand V-cruisers; although the VN750 is produced in Kawasaki’s Lincoln, Nebraska facility. The 749cc engine makes no serious pretense of being air-cooled, and as a couple of testers commented, looks somewhat like a water pump. However, it does boast the most impressive technical credentials in the class, including dual overhead cams (DOHC) with maintenance-free hydraulic valve adjusters. Automatically tensioned dual-stage silent-type cam chains turn the cams. To tame the vibration of the 55-degree single-crankpin design, Kawasaki employs a gear-driven counterbalancer in addition to rubber engine mounts. Two 34mm carbs feed the engine, which exhales through somewhat homemade looking mufflers, on each side of the bike.

The five-speed transmission includes Kawasaki’s exclusive neutral-finding feature, which automatically goes into neutral when upshifted from first while at rest. Like other early Japanese V-twins, the Vulcan 750 uses clean, quiet, shaft final drive, and solid, air-tight cast wheels, which permit tubeless tires. The feature list extends to the chassis, where the dual disc brakes up front and air valves on the rear shocks, permit adjustments for load.

The Vulcan 750's 749cc powerplant.
The Vulcan 750's 749cc powerplant.Cruiser

Although the center-to-cancel turn-signal switch may remind you that not every feature was better on 1980s-vintage cruisers, you’ll soon forget about it when you notice all the extras the VN750 has to offer. There are dual horns, a centerstand, four-way flashers, two helmet locks, a small passenger backrest and the most complete instrumentation in cruising: a tachometer, coolant temperature gauge, and fuel gauge. There’s even a bank of warning lights that includes a light which warns if a headlight filament has burned out, automatically shifting to the other beam. Having amortized all those features, Kawasaki sells the 750 for a reasonable $6599.

Kawasaki 800
Although the Kawasaki 800 has a similar basic engine layout as the 750, this 805cc has little in common with the smaller Vulcan V-twin.Cruiser

Although they started with the same basic engine layout as the 750—the same 55-degree V-angle, 66.2 mm stroke and single-crankpin layout with gear-driven counterbalancer—the 805cc engine, which serves in both Kawasaki 800 models, has little in common with the smaller Vulcan V-twin. While still liquid-cooled, the 805 engine has much more convincing finning, and the radiators are hidden between the frames’ front downtubes. Though there are still four valves for each cylinder, they are operated by a single overhead cam (SOHC) with screw-type valve adjusters, which must be adjusted manually. Standard cam chains convey the motivation and are kept tight by hidden automatic adjusters. A single 36mm carb supplies both cylinders and inhales through the round chrome-covered air box on the right side of the engine. Though they also have five speeds, the 800s have chain final drive, which is less ex­pensive than a shaft.

Produced in Japan, the two Vulcan 800s use the same single-shock frame and triangulated, hard-tail-look swingarm but have different front ends, seats, and rear fender treatment. Kawasaki’s original 800, called simply the Vulcan 800 (and designated the VN800A), has a skinny 21-inch, 48-spoke front wheel, uncovered 41 mm fork legs, and a plain single-piston caliper on the single-disc front brake. The 800A’s handlebar is narrower and slightly taller than the 800B’s and swoops down to a smaller 5.7-inch headlight. It has button-tuck saddle upholstery, and a tail section extending to the taillight.

The VN800B, better known as the Vulcan 800 Classic, flaunts the wide look, with chrome covers on the fork legs, a beefy 16-inch front tire, and a big seven-inch-diameter headlight. The front brake is a twin-piston style. Basket-weave upholstery, two-tone paint and a conventional fender, distinguish the rear of the Classic.

805cc
The 805cc engine nestles itself in both 800 models, here it is in the Classic.Cruiser

The two VN800s have a lot in common: instrumentation atop a 4.0-gallon fuel tank, drum rear brakes, identical turn-out mufflers, maintenance- free batteries, and push-to-cancel turn-signal switches. Clean detailing and fewer plastic pieces than other Japanese bikes, helps to justify the two highest prices in the class. At $7199 for the 800A and a whopping $7999 for the 800 Classic (just $100 less than a Virago 1100), the 800 Kawasakis are not likely to get much attention from shoppers on a budget.

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

Kawasaki Vulcan 750 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic
High Points: High Points: High Points:
Comfortable saddle Well-executed styling Well-executed styling
Strong power Comfortable version of chopper style Comfortable for rider and passenger
Shaft drive Comfy riding position for most riders Smooth engine
Many Useful features Smooth Engine Low Points:
Low Points: Low Points: High price point
Gives ugly a bad name Low-speed hesitation Low-rpm flat spot
Mushy suspension Chain drive Chain drive
First Changes: First Changes: First Changes:
Improve suspension Jet kit Jet kit
Change handlebar
Kawasaki Vulcan 750
Kawasaki Vulcan 750Cruiser
Kawasaki Vulcan 750 Specifications:
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled, 55-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by rockers, hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 749cc, 84.9 x 66.2mm
Compression ratio: 10.3:1
Carburetion: 2, 34mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.2qt., spin-on filter
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.522:1
Chassis
Wheels: Cast, 19 x 2.15 front, 15 x 3.50 rear
Front tire: 100/90-19 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Rear tire: 150/90-15 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Front brake: 2, 10.1 in. disc, single-piston calipers, s
Rear brake: Drum, rod operated
Front suspension: 38mm stanchions, 5.9in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.5in. travel, adjustments for air pressure, rebound damping
Fuel capacity: 3.6 gal. (0.5 gal. reserve)
Handlebar: 31.4in. wide, 7⁄8in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 34.4in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 288 watts
Battery: 12v, 14 AH
Forward lighting: 55/60 watt, 7.0-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: 2 bulbs, license light
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer, odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge, coolant temperature, gauge, warning lights for neutral, high beam, oil pressure, headlight failure,turn signals
Performance
Fuel mileage: 39—53 mpg, 46.1 mpg ave.
Average range: 166 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 4130
200-yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 72.7 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.70 sec., 97.6 mph
Kawasaki Vulcan 800
Kawasaki Vulcan 800Cruiser
Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Specifications:
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled, 55-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by rockers, adjusting shims
Displacement, bore x stroke: 805cc, 88 x 66.2mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Carburetion: 1, 36mm, Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.4qt., spin-on filter
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Chain, 42/17
Chassis
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 21 x 1.85 front, 16 x 3.00 rear
Front tire: 80/90-21 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Rear tire: 140/90-16 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Front brake: 1.8-in. disc, Single-piston calipers, 1
Rear brake: Drum, rod operated
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9in. travel
Rear suspension: Single dampers, 3.9in. travel, adjustment for pre-load
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal. (0.8 gal. reserve)
Handlebar: 29.2 in. wide, 1.0 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 32.2in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 282 watts
Battery: 12v, 12 AH
Forward lighting: 55/60 watt, 5.7-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: 2 bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, warning lights for neutral, high beam, oil pressure, turn signals, coolant temperature
Performance
Fuel mileage: 41—51 mpg, 46.1 mpg ave.
Average range: 184 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 3710
200-yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 69.7 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.00 sec., 93.6 mph
Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic
Kawasaki Vulcan 800 ClassicCruiser
Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic Specifications:
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled, 55-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by rockers, adjusting shims
Displacement, bore x stroke: 805cc, 88 x 66.2mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Carburetion: 1, 36mm, Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.4qt., spin-on filter
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Chain, 42/17
Chassis
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 16 x 3.00 front and rear
Front tire: 130/90-16 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Rear tire: 140/90-16 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Front brake: 11.8-in. disc, Dual-piston calipers, disc
Rear brake: Drum, rod operated
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9in. travel
Rear suspension: Single dampers, 3.9in. travel, adjustment for pre-load
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal. (0.8 gal. reserve)
Handlebar: 3.0 in. wide, 1.0 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 32.4in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 282 watts
Battery: 12v, 12 AH
Forward lighting: 55/60 watt, 7.0-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: 2 bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, warning lights for neutral, high beam, oil pressure, turn signals, coolant temperature
Performance
Fuel mileage: 35—46 mpg, 44.6 mpg ave.
Average range: 178 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 3710
200-yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 72.1 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.07 sec., 92.6 mph