VULCAN 500 Sporty engine, cruiser looks
KAWASAKI'S SMALLEST CRUISER, the 454 LTD, has a new stablemate this year: the Vulcan 500. But don’t be surprised if you can’t tell the difference between the two from a distance; they look very alike. That’s because the Vulcan 500 is actually a development of the 454 LTD and retains many of that bike’s components.
The Vulcan’s steel frame, fork, discfront and drum-rear brakes, tear-drop fuel tank, chromed fenders and cog-belt final drive are identical to those of the LTD. The 19-inch front and 15-inch rear, seven-spoke, cast-alloy wheels on the Vulcan are similar to those used on the LTD, but they use a new, cleaner design. Also new are the chromed, dual mufflers. The 500’s instrumentation is simple. There’s a
speedometer and odometer housed in a round, chromed pod, while an adjacent squarish pod contains the turn-signal indicators and colored warning lights.
The LTD’s liquid-cooled, dohc, four-valve-per-cvlinder, inlineTwin engine has grown to 498cc. A larger bore and stroke, 74 x 58mm compared to 72.5 x 55mm. gives the increased displacement. This modified 454 engine has already been used in Kawasaki’s popular EX500 sportbike for the past four years.
Regardless of its maturity, this is a great little engine: Power is plentiful, and the powerband is wide. Throttle response is excellent, and a counterbalancer smoothes the Twin’s power pulses so well they are seldom felt. A slick-shifting, sixspeed transmission and a strong clutch add to this engine’s overall niceness.
The Vulcan 500 is about 2.5 inches longer than an LTD, thanks to a longer swingarm and new rear subframe. This added length let Kawasaki’s engineers increase the length of the stepped seat, mostly in the rider’s portion. Thus, the Vulcan feels like a larger motorcycle than it is. Tall riders are comfortable on the 500, but short ones might find the forward placement of the footpegs a bit of a stretch.
Even short riders will be able to plant their feet on the pavement, though, when aboard the 500.
Shorter rear shocks have lowered the Vulcan’s seat height to 28.7 inches.
A new, one-inch-diameter, pull-back handlebar should fit a wide range of riders.
So, what’s wrong with the new Vulcan 500? Not much. The suspension, while good when crossing small bumps, gets a little harsh on larger hits. But that’s a small complaint that verges on being picky when a motorcycle is as well designed as the Vulcan. This bike starts quickly, runs great, handles well in curves and on high-speed straights, and if you like cruiser styling, the 500 looks right. The Vulcan 500 retails for $3699, $550 more than the LTD 454, but it’s worth every extra dollar. — Ron Griewe