1999 Kawasaki VN800A
Beautiful bike, let down a little by poor build quality
On stock Bridgestone tyres, the bike was horrible. The tyres had no grip, so braking distances from 100 kph / 60 mph were 30 ft. longer than they should be. Handling was awkward, with a tyre profile not suitable to each other between the front and rear wheels, and balancing it at a walking pace was next to impossible without dragging your feet. Comfort also suffered from the stiff carcasses on these tyres. No wonder some refer to the brand as Bridgerocks.
Being stingy, I kept the tyres until they wore out after 9400 km / 6000 miles. I then fitted a slightly wider, but still narrow at 90mm, front sporty tyre in the form of a Pirelli MT75, along with a cruiser tyre at the back from the same maker, model MT66. The transformation was massive! The profiles were ideal matches, leaving identically sized chicken strips - just under 10 mm - unlike the stock set that were massively different in this regard.
With the Pirellis, balance at all speeds were like one expect from a motorcycle, and there was grip to stop in normal distances. Cornering briskly, well, as briskly as can be done with a cruiser, was now a pleasure with none of the front end slides previously experienced. Also, the steering was neutral and consistent now - before, it would alter substantially by how far the bike was leaned over. S-combinations could now be taken as a complete section, instead of being split into separate corners like I had to do before.
Amazingly, the Pirellis not only gripped better, they also lasted much longer. After more than 5000 km, or about 3500 miles, they were less than 50% gone. Never before a fan of the Italian brand, their tyres convinced me they do know a thing or two about making rubber.
But enough about tyres. How did the rest of the bike do? The finish wasn't good. Well, it looked good new. I rode it 5 km from the shop to my home and stripped the bike. I used rust protective oily wax in every hidden surface, and regular wax on everything else. The bike was only used in dry weather, yet bits like various nuts and bolts showed rust every time I washed it. And the spokes on the wheels corroded as well. The chrome on the exhaust system was quickly polished through the chrome and down to the brass underneath, which I've never experienced before or since.
The rear shock lacked both compliance and damping, especially rebound damping. And adjusting the preload required taking half the bike apart. Not good.
The fork wouldn't absorb small ripples, so one had a constant shake coming through the bars. Replacing the stock 10W fork oil with 2.5W synthetic fork oil helped noticeably, but it was still lacking. A thin and hard seat that soon let my bum kiss the pan, didn't help long distance comfort in any way.
That's about it for negatives. The big speedo on the tank was easy to read without unpleasant digital readouts. The seating position is like sitting in a Stressless chair, although this also made it stressful at speed until I fitted a large windscreen. After that, it was superb, just in need of a better seat and more compliant suspenders.
The switchgear was simple to use, with big, sturdy buttons. The small headlight was strong, and the overall look of my fire-engine red bike was simply stellar. It drew more compliments than any other bike I've owned. It was also excellent for carrying my 8 year old son as a passenger, what with the optional sissybar, narrow seat and tall pegs. In other words, not ideal for grown-ups.
The engine was great for Norwegian speed limits, with enough power for safe passing and climbing hills without being really fast. The clutch and carburation were as perfect as they come. Sitting with the engine idling, waiting for the lights to turn green, I could twist the throttle just as I fed the clutch in, without a hint of bogging or unnecessary high RPM. And it would take off like a bullet out of a cannon. Not once did I lose out to a sportbike, which was oh so cool. Of course, I would stop accelerating before reaching 40 mph, shift into top and rumble along as I knew the lead couldn't be kept for long with a 100HP-plus sportbike screaming behind me.
Handling was good enough to keep up with my brother and his Z1300 six on back roads, as well as a mate and his SRX-6. The latter only because he's not all that fast over back roads, preferring faster roads. Only danger was on right hand corners, when hitting dips and bumps would slam the lower muffler so hard into the ground that the bike was lifted up and sent straight on. With the slow steering, things could get really dangerous, and only luck kept me from running off the road on a few occasions.
Later, my brother bought a Triumph Daytona 900, and my Yamaha-riding friend upgraded to a Suzuki RF900. And suddenly the handling limitations of the Vulcan became very apparent. So I sold the bike and bought a Suzuki GSX600F Katana in order to be able to keep up. However, had the overall finish of the Vulcan been better, I would have kept it and upgraded it with a much longer, high quality shock absorber and a Race-Tech fork kit. Plus a more touring friendly seat. Because overall, the bike was quite lovely.
Would you buy another motorcycle from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 20th October, 2012