Kawasaki Vulcan S Review (2015)
What Is It?
The Kawasaki Vulcan S is an A2 friendly cruiser style bike which has a great following and is easy to customise. It's powered by a liquid cooled 649 cc parallel twin engine, producing 60.3 bhp at 7,500 rpm and maximum torque at 6,600 rpm.
- Seat Height: Low (705 mm / 27.8 inches)
- Weight: Heavy (229 kg / 505 lbs)
- Economy: Average (50 mpg / 5.6 l/100km / 17.7 km/l)
- Range: Average (150 miles / 241 km)
- Power to Weight: Average (0.262 bhp/kg / 0.195 kW/kg)
- Top Speed: High (120 mph / 193 km/h)
What Is It Like?
My biking life started in 2015, I have owned several 125 motorcycles and scooters and got to spend the majority of my CBT career with my “dream” 125 of the time, the YBR Custom.
This is a standard riding position bike with what I would call “soft” cruiser styling, it was supremely comfortable for long trips (3 hours per stop) and incredibly fuel efficient (250+ miles to a tank), but naturally also incredibly slow – to be honest, even for a 125. So with my DAS on the horizon in 2016 I began research for my ideal “big bike” as we say in the UK – more on that later.
I had a dilemma. I tend to ride touring style – I like to be comfortable and to ride long distances, with everything necessary in tow packed away off my shoulders. However, I never seriously considered adventure / touring bikes for two reasons. Firstly I am short, I am 5”5, and secondly it’s cruisers that turn my head.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all bikes, but it’s when a cruiser rolls past I do a double take and really nod my head, and this is important I think as you’re just more likely to look after something you really love. So – next criteria – not a Harley. Why? The expense for what you get, mainly. My budget was £5000, ideally saving as much off this as possible.
Technical criteria – very few, I was open to anything but really wanted fuel injection at a minimum as I had become so used to it, nothing very heavy and nothing above 750cc (leaving room for moving “up”, but also knowing I will never personally master the limits of a 125 on the road let alone a 600+, also weight of the machine is important).
Choosing The Vulcan S
I can’t even remember what else I looked at because as soon as I found the Vulcan S I fell in love. I looked at all the modern cruisers and sure they were all nice but more than anything the piles and piles of positive owner’s reviews of the Vulcan S were very reassuring.
Friends I know had said to me “don’t get a cruiser because everyone ends up wanting a sports bike” – well, here’s the perfect match. A cruiser with the heart of a sports bike. Something unique thus far, something very modern and forward thinking.
The low seat height and ergo fit options appealed to me because of my height, it’s advertised as “beginner friendly” and is confidence inspiring. Reviews spoke of how fast and agile the bike is, especially compared to conventional cruisers, how much fun the bike is to ride and how comfortable it is.
Many owners were people who had had many bikes in the past, cruisers of all shapes and sizes, litre bikes, all sorts, all saying the Vulcan S was their favourite bike so far.
A little deeper digging unearthed some of the common complaints – mainly: the stock seat being uncomfortable, the exhaust being too quiet, and some wishing for less vibration at “highway” speeds. A lot of my research actually came from the US, despite the bike not going down as well there as it did / is doing in the rest of the world.
I’d chuckle to myself every time I’d see people asking if a 650 was powerful enough for the highway (70mph+) – but I came to learn in America as with most of their products, they have a big focus on “bigger is better” so it’s the 1,000cc+ cruisers people think of as being capable, and there’s me on my 125 just wishing I could at least do 70 to keep up with traffic on A roads.
Finding The Right One
So I settled on the Vulcan S being my dream bike, but I carried on reading reviews and watching videos, carried on looking at other bikes and nothing fit the bill in the same way – over the course of a year it took for me to get to taking my test, due to a myriad of things getting in the way, it was still the Vulcan S at the end of the day, and I had alerts set on Gumtree to monitor the price of the machine on the used market.
So in 2018 when I went to my local for my MOT, and outside was a Purple 2015 Vulcan S, the deal was done. It hadn’t even been cleaned and serviced, wasn’t even on their system yet and I bought it there and then – it was a 9,000 mile bike, but at £4,000 the cheapest I had seen the whole time I had been monitoring the market.
It was a little worse for wear, clearly had been stored outside and by an owner a little less anal about maintenance than I am, but well worth the price as it was only cosmetic and all fixable, plus it came with the 8” Delkevic exhaust, R&G tailtidy and a large touring screen. The cacophonous thunder that bike made when they started it for me light up my face and cash left my bank pretty quickly.
The catch: I hadn’t passed my test yet. So it sat in my garage for just over a month begging me to jump on it, but I stayed patient and got my licence. One of the best moments of my life with bikes came the day I passed my test. I jumped on the Vulcan S, went over the bridge and a little kid excitedly pointed at my big purple noise maker – result.
Over the course of the next month of owning the bike, I did about 1,000 miles, and I would estimate half of that was with a pillion. My partner doesn’t drive or ride, and many of my friends also rely on public transport, so I became a motorcycle taxi taking my partner to work, then picking up a co-worker, and repeating.
I kitted the bike out with a 48 litre top box, Shad 23 litre panniers, engine bars, Oxford heated grips, a phone mount, radiator guard and some auxiliary lights ready for year-round riding in all conditions. Being a newish model bike, at 2015, the scope for aftermarket accessories is limited but thanks to robust information from the owners group on Facebook, I found exactly what I needed in every category.
It’s a very customisable bike, and my setup is a testament to the “touring” variant one could go for, but I have seen the bike chopped, or stripped back to a very café racer style (beyond the superficial Café variant, which is just a screen and a paintjob from standard), and a myriad of other setups suited to the individuals riding it.
It has a very broad range of fans, marketed with the ergo-fit option, there are plenty of female owners, which is refreshing to see, but equally the bike is comfortable for people 6 foot and beyond with the extended reach configuration, moving the pegs, handlebars and seat to better suit people of different heights.
I’ll start at the top and work down – bearing in mind my experience thus far was mainly of 125 bikes and scooters, as well as the Kawasaki ER6N (same engine) and XJ600 I did my test on.
Not terrible. I love the non-standard headlight housing; however I have seen people convert it to a 7” round bucket, which looks pretty good too. But I think it looks modern and makes the bike instantly recognisable – character, that’s the ticket.
The lights are adequate, better than my 2010 YBR Custom but fairly standard, as far as it goes. There is always the option to upgrade the bulb, but instead I opted for auxiliary lights mounted to Fehling engine bars, the same as I had used on my YBR for extra visibility at night.
Concerned with safety, I had read that perspective and distance is easier to judge when observing two or more lights vs one on an inbound vehicle, and I can say I haven’t had an accident whilst the lights were on so in my experience it rings true. My bike, as mentioned, came with the R&G tail-tidy, which eliminates the long black rear light housing but keeps the OEM turn signals. Not much to mention there other than it does look neater this way, however it's not something I’d bother with from the get-go personally.
Two pistons up front and one on the back, with ABS, and a single disc both ends – a massive improvement for me from one tiny caliper and a rear drum on the YBR.
Personally, I found the seat to be perfect for me. I did at max a 2 – 2.5 hour trip without rest to London, my pillion said she was starting to get a numb bum but persevered. My rump was not the issue, more my legs getting a bit stiff, but the main thing that plagued me was a tingly throttle hand. I assumed it was the aggressive vibrations, but in truth it was a bit of that and a bit of a death grip on the bars being new to motorways and new to going beyond 60mph, especially with a pillion.
I did notice myself tensing up and the more I got used to the new freedoms of a full license, the longer I was able to ride before the tingles came back. I put Grip Puppies on and an Oxford Throttle assist to aid getting back to my previous three hour limit per rest stop on riding, the Grip Puppies increased comfort and I prefer a wider grip, but it sent the levers further away from my small hands due to the extra padding.
So it’s a double edged sword – more comfortable for long rides, but in the city with a lot of clutch it was slightly less comfortable but nothing I couldn’t get used to. The throttle assist was the key, though, and helped get my hands relaxed on the bars – easy to install, and makes a huge difference on comfort so I highly recommend that for any bike to be honest.
Could the bike do with less vibes? Yes, but it is a parallel twin and it revs high, that’s the nature of the beast, the vibes come with a lot of fun behind them. In terms of manual handling, I usually sit on the bike to get it to the right position for parking or in the garage. From previous accidents and other injuries, moving heavy things around is not particularly easy for me, but the amount of leverage you have on the bike whilst seated makes it feel a lot lighter than it is.
Again my lack of experience on other bikes is an issue here! I can say I noticed the XJ6, an inline four, was smoother throughout the range of the gears and throttle, but that’s about as much as I can comment for comparison. This bike shoots off the line. It’s a pleasure, it’s fun, it just goes and has more to give at almost every opportunity – at least as far as I am comfortable to give it.
On the motorway it is effortless to overtake anyone. I kept up with my friend on an MT-07 on my first ride after my test, we went on the motorway and I just followed him, to 70mph of course.
Initially, I didn’t notice a different with a pillion on the back beyond the obvious – the handling and braking, but in terms of acceleration and top speed I barely noticed a difference. However the more distance I covered, swapping from solo to pillion, the more in tune I became with the bike’s behaviour.
Acceleration is different two up but honestly you barely notice the difference and probably should be a little more kind to your passenger anyway, and not surprise them with a rocket launch off the lights. You’ll get to the speed limit no problem two up with luggage.
Many owners have gripes with the “twitchy” throttle response and opt for a booster plug to smooth it out. Personally, I can see where they are coming from – it’s 1-2nd gear that you feel it in, but using the clutch smooths it out and it’s not such an issue for me that I feel I need to correct it. I am also used to fuel injected bikes, so perhaps that’s another reason why the throttle response is largely familiar to me.
The bike handled all conditions, rain, long trips, short trips, filtering and commuting – no issues, all a pleasure. In traffic it’s easy to stay feet up, the centre of gravity is very low and allows for good slow speed control. I have found that I get about 150 miles to a tank and that was about as much as I wanted to push it before refuelling.
The Delkevic, the 8” stubby can + system, is a monster. It’s one of the loudest bikes I have ever heard with that exhaust on. But also one of the quietest ever with the OEM exhaust on – quieter than many mopeds even, which is a feat of engineering – that exhaust collector box is HUGE and HEAVY.
With the Delkevic, cars leap out the way as I filter and pedestrians stay put on the pavement until it’s safe to cross (i.e. when I am not about to pass them). With the OEM, cars pull out and pedestrians walk right in front of me, stare right at me and continue to lumber across the road even given a throttle blip. I blip the throttle with the Delkevic on and they *run*.
That being said – the hearing damage is a thing with an exhaust that loud, and the only aftermarket exhaust with a more acceptable db level is very pricey, the Arrow Rebel, which is £700! So it’s earplugs or ear-ringing with this one, but I have decided to stick with it for now until I can afford the Arrow because I feel much safer being heard in advance of being seen.
So my dream life with my (first) Vulcan S came to an abrupt end, as on the way back from a trip out of town with my partner a driver hit us and completely totalled my wonderful bike. It was all very dramatic, and we are lucky to be alive, as the bike was pretty much obliterated.
This was about a month and 1,100 miles in to my ownership of the bike. I’ll add, my aux lights were not on as it was daylight and I was running the OEM exhaust at this point, my ears having become tired of the thunder. I’m not one to ruminate, but I do wonder if having that exhaust on might have changed things – which is why I am now running with the Delkevic, because…
The story doesn’t end there. I picked myself up, dusted myself off – I’m in the process of getting my cheque for total loss of the bike and picked up another 2015 Vulcan S in Purple off eBay for the same price as the bike was valued by the engineer, except this bike has only 1,000 miles on it.
The Vulcan S was / is my dream bike, and even after having the opportunity to change course, I had no desire to whatsoever – after only a month with the bike I was nowhere near close to knowing the ins and outs of it, let alone getting bored! It feels a bit like cheating to jump right on to such a fantastic machine, not having to slog my way through bikes of lesser quality, but this is the one for me right now.
It fits all my needs and every small thing – the analogue rev counter with a digital display underneath, for example, is brilliant. The styling is fantastic. The performance is more than I could realistically ever need on the street. But nothing is without faults, and below are my observations of the bike so far – things they could improve on.
First of all, the paintwork is very brittle. Compared to my YBR, it’s just not up to scratch – literally. This 1,000 mile one has chips in the tank paint – cheekily not revealed in the eBay listing – and light swirls, and it just doesn’t hold up to use quite frankly. Something I have seen on all the Vulcan S bikes.
It was the same with my 9,000 mile 2015, but the depth of the paintwork had faded as well to reveal a dusky sort of yellow tinge where it should be a deep dark black colour. The colourways are nice, don’t get me wrong, the purple has blue metallic flecks in and is really rich and interesting – it just doesn’t hold up to time.
The matte finish is even worse, I have heard, due to the lack of lacquer on top. With whatever settlement I get from this accident, I’m planning on getting some paintwork done on the bike to fill in the chips and give it something that will last and can be maintained.
The bare metal fins on the engine and inspection covers are prone to corrosion very quickly too – Autosol and elbow grease fixes this, and ACF50 can protect it, but it’s something that pops up on even a garaged almost-as–new bike. From the 9,000 mile bike I had, which had been stored outside, the paint and finish around the frame on the footpegs, swingarm and rear shock was flaking away with rust underneath. I think it was somewhat a case of neglect, but also a continuation of this very delicate paintwork Kawasaki have gifted the bike.
Mechanically sound, owners and myself included report very few issues – I can tell you that this 1,000 mile bike feels exactly like the 9,000 mile one, there’s no difference at all there in terms of engine function, brakes, handling, it carries over through the miles.
Another issue is the lack of electrical power for accessories on the bike – it’s got plenty of factory provided connection points in the loom, but only 35W spare to power extras before you sap the battery beyond what the regrec can charge whilst running. This is a bit of a worry, as there’s obviously no kickstart, so a dead bike means a stuck you.
Replacing turn signals and the running lights with LEDs can help save power, but it’s a consideration if you like to run heated grips, extra lights or charge a phone – I didn’t / haven’t run into trouble, but I was riding in the Summer, and it’s during the Winter when I’d be using the heated grips and extra lights more. You can make it work, but you have to be careful and manage the system on the bike, something I wasn’t expecting to be the case coming from a 125.
Yes, the exhaust is quiet, but that’s a rules and regulations thing in part from the Euro 4 compliance. In time more exhaust options will pop up, but for some a quiet exhaust may be a bonus. Finally, this isn’t a criticism but a note to mention, that the bike has a long wheelbase, meaning you may be pulling a few extra moves to park up or do a U-turn, however a long wheelbase also makes cornering more stable and planted. Just compared to my 125, which had the turning circle of a small penny, it was something to get used to for sure.
Finally, maintenance – it has holes for paddock stand bobbins from the factory, and you’ll need a few spacers to protect the swingarm from a paddock stand if you put bobbins on but they do make maintenance easier. Due to my relatively short time with both bikes, I have only done an oil change and clean / lube of the chain, so the basics – all easy to perform especially with the paddock stand. Nothing much to report there as yet.
- Blend of sporty performance with modern cruiser looks
- Comfortable, variety of ergonomics to fit rider
- Gentle enough for beginners but with plenty to offer experienced riders
- Great owners community
- Both fun and practical
- Some people report poor comfort from stock seat
- Quiet exhaust
- Fragile paintwork on all colour variants
- Only 35W of power for accessory circuit
It’s a dream bike for me. It’s everything I wanted out of a bike and for now, the only thing I’m waiting for is more aftermarket parts to enter the fray. The only downsides that affect me day to day is the relatively small power for accessories, and the fragile paintwork – both things more than liveable, and very little to complain about overall. Owning this bike as my first bigger bike feels like I’ve cheated!
- Devin V, 2018
Gear & Accessories
The Second Opinion
Vulcan S Cafe
I looked around for about three months when I set out to buy my first bike. I knew I didn't want a sports bike, but didn't know what I wanted out of a cruiser. Having a lot of buddies that have Harleys, all I knew was I needed something that would keep up and I don't have Harley money.
After looking at several different bikes I (thought) I had my mind made up on a Indian Scout Bobber. That's when I saw it..the Kawasaki Vulcan S. I knew I just had to have it.
Not to get caught up in an impulse buy, I continued to look at other bikes, but something kept bringing me back to the Vulcan S. Finally I pulled the trigger and don't regret it at all.
It's a great bike and I find the handling on it outstanding. The first time, for me, in the feet forward riding position and the bike forgave every small mistake I made. The 649cc power plant, straight out of the Ninja, is a tested engine that leaves nothing out. The feel of a sport bike in the relaxed position of a cruiser - what more could you want.
The transmission is smooth and the clutch and throttle are effortless. The stopping power with the single discs and ABS are well balanced. I get asked about my bike all the time, most people assume it's a larger engine than it is, and as far as keeping up with my Harley friends, no problem.
I love the styling but some of the factory parts I could do without. The cafe screen is worthless, but it does look cool. The seat is not made for long trips and usually starts to feel it after about an hour or so.
I did add the passenger seat and pegs, the ¼ inch of support you get from the seat does help with longer rides, but it's definitely not meant to be a touring bike. The rear section, brake light, turn signals and plate mount look cheap and frankly don't fit the bike. I replaced them with an LED ChromeGlow fender eliminator and it really made the bike look more sophisticated.
Once I changed the rear nothing else seemed to fit. The front turn signals got replaced with Sportster turn signals and brake and clutch lever we're replaced to match (all black). I also swapped out the factory bulb in the headlight with a bright white bulb, which made a world of difference.
After just a few hundred bucks on top of the £5,700 price tag I can say that this bike looks and performs excellently! I couldn't be happier. It's fun to ride, easy to handle and awesome to look at.
The signature shape of the headlight makes this bike stand out among all others and it's a fantastic first bike for those who want something they can enjoy for years. Couldn't be happier.
- Jason S, 2018
A Few More Thoughts
Kawasaki Vulcan 650S Cafe 2019
Tell us a bit about you
I am a 56 year old male, 6 foot tall and 127 kg / 20 stone. I have ridden motorbikes on the road from 16 to 20 years old (where I owned 4 bikes up to 100 cc) and 51 to 56 years old (where I have owned 2 bikes up to 650 cc).
Why did you choose it?
I choose this bike for three main reasons:
- I wanted a bike that I could easily kick my leg over and which had a comfortable riding position.
- Even though I love classic / retro looking bikes, I wanted a modern looking cruiser.
- I wanted a cruiser looking bike that was quick and handled well.
The Vulcan S Cafe does all of the points above very well.
What could be improved?
- Seat comfort
- LED lights
- Exhaust sound
Any mods or upgrades?
What is the economy like?
It does around 59 miles per gallon.
How is the engine?
Great! It's a very responsive engine and for a 650 cc has good power and torque. It also seems very reliable, I've had it over two years and it has never let me down.
How does it handle?
For a cruiser style bike, of which I have tried many, it handles extremely well!
What are the brakes like?
Good with no issues. They stop well, even though it has only one disc back and front.
Is it comfortable?
The seat needs to be more comfortable, after 50 minutes it feels hard. I have had it re-covered / padded which has helped.
How reliable have you found it?
No problems at all. It starts every time and has never let me down.
What's the servicing frequency and cost like?
Okay. I have had it serviced 3 times and the costs: £110, £180 and £172.
To Sum Up
The Vulcan S Cafe is a fun and exciting to ride, which makes me feel happy 😃
- Craig E, 2021
Check out this video review from CagerOnTwoWheels.