1992 Kawasaki Vulcan 750

The Lowdown

A strange bike that must have been designed by a schizophrenic. Not much fun to ride but not exactly dull either. Extremely reliable engine and shaft drive. The Vulcan 750 has acquired something of a cult following.

The Details

October, 2001. Seattle. It rains all day. Every day. The idyllic Seattle summer has been replaced with sadistic water torture that never seems to let up. Most people deal with it by chain-smoking cigarettes and chain-drinking lattes. Some check in to tanning salons that serve illicit prescription strength espresso. Chemical solutions aren't my way. Instead, I dealt with it the way any truly clear-headed, rational, thinking person would. I left.

Honolulu, Hawaii. It is sunny all day. Every day. Beaches, sailboats, sandals. Of course, I can't possibly spend time in a place with such perfect weather and great scenery without a motorcycle, can I? Renting is a possibility but it is expensive and the longer you stay the more it makes sense to buy a used bike and sell it when you're done.

I picked the Vulcan 750 because it suited my immediate needs, was available for a good price and has a reputation of being extremely reliable. The reputation is well-founded. Kawasaki has been making this bike for several years and it is designed to go the distance with a shaft drive, zero-maintainence hydraulic valve adjusters and a water-cooled engine. It all adds up to a bike that can take a reasonable amount of neglect and keep running well. That quality makes it a good candidate as a used bike.

Still, if there is any flaw in that plan you can be sure that eventually I will find it or it will find me. The very day after I bought it I noticed the engine did not turn over quickly when I pressed the starter button. It did turn over and start but there was a slight hesitation that shouldn't have been there. Still, it started and seemed to run fine and Deb and I were off on an excursion around the island to sample the beaches, enjoy the sun and have a fabulous time. Over the next two days each time I started the Vulcan it was a little more reluctant to turn over. It got bad enough that I grew worried it wouldn't start at all and we would be stranded but the Vulcan never let us down and we got back home without needing help.

Diagnosis? Here are the possibilities:

- The starter isn't getting power because the battery is weak.

- The starter isn't getting power because the circuit between the battery and starter has failed (possible bad or corroded connection.)

- The starter is failing.

Most of the time, by far, the cause is a weak battery. This was a 1992 bike so it was possible that the battery was old. I had a mental picture of the bike being left to sit long enough that the battery drained and the owner charged it up one last time so he could ride it to the dealer and trade it in on a new bike. That happens but if you let the battery fully drain it's never as strong as it was before. Do it twice and it's pretty much toast.

I had another mental picture of a failing alternator but that seemed a little less likely at this point.

Batteries are relatively cheap for this bike and a replacement Die Hard from Sears was just $36. Good thing this isn't a BMW! I proceeded to install the replacement and was a little surprised to discover the battery in the bike was just one year old. But the new battery seemed to help. I immediately put the old battery on a charger and got the strange result that it appeared to be almost fully charged.

The battery cables appeared to be in good condition and overall there is extremely little corrosion on the bike. It looks like it has always been stored in a garage. Bikes that are left outside rot quickly in Hawaii.

This is still a mystery to be resolved. Could it be the starter? If so, why did the new battery seem to make such a difference? Could it be that merely installing the new battery resulted in a better electrical connection somewhere? It's possible. I'll keep an open mind and watch it to see if the problem returns. I will edit this review as I learn more.

The Vulcan 750 is a strange bike. I can't figure out what Kawasaki was thinking when they designed it. I will call this bike "Eve" because it suffers from multiple personality disorder. This will take a bit of an explanation but I hope you will find it interesting.

You can see at a glance that Eve is a cruiser. V-twin engine, low seat, buckhorn handlebars, forward foot controls. It seems to be another Japanese Harley wannabe.

Just to further confirm this impression the engine even has a Harley-style single crankpin design. Both pistons attach to the crankpin at a single point. To get an idea what this does to an engine imagine what it would be like on a bicycle. The pedals are offset by 180-degrees. Now imagine if they weren't offset at all. The pedalling would be uneven and unbalanced. Now, imagine it at 5,000 revolutions per minute. It would tear itself apart. No one would be foolish enough to design a bicycle like that. Well friends, that is exactly what a Harley tries to do, tear itself apart. The story goes that the first Harley v-twin was built by grafting a second cylinder onto a single cylinder motor. The second piston rod was attached to the same crankpin as the first and the classic 45-degree Harley v-twin was born. Harley just overbuilt the engines to the point where they could withstand the stress this design created. And, hey, everybody loses their teeth eventually, anyway, right? That's part of the charm.

The early Japanese Harley clones used a sensible offset dual crankpin design to eliminate the vibration. This kept your teeth from vibrating out of your jaw but it sacrificed the character that makes a v-twin a unique and interesting bike. They eventually came up with a compromise. The idea was to stick with a single crank-pin design but put a counterbalancer on the crankshaft that only engages at higher RPM. It gives you that nice low-RPM rumble while eliminating the bone shaking vibrations as the RPMs creep up the scale. Even Harley has duplicated this design with their recent Twin-Cam 88B engine.

Eve has just such a counter-balancer but as far as I can tell it is always engaged. There doesn't seem to be vibration at any RPM. If so, why did they go with a single crank-pin design in the first place?

Further, the engine is rubber mounted to wipe out any sneaky vibrations that manage to get past the counter-balancer.

As I mentioned earlier the engine is water-cooled, the valves use a hydraulic self-adjusting mechanism and it has a shaft drive. Very practical stuff.

So, what does this bike want to be?

It's a v-twin cruiser. Raw and proud of it. Leather and chrome. Amateur tattoos barely visible on sunburnt skin. Long uncombed hair flowing in the wind. This is the bike your mother warned you about.

It's a civilized street bike. A sensible and reliable design. Practical. The well-groomed accountant that mother has been trying to hook you up with.

What is it then? I really don't know. If there ever was a bike designed by a committee this has to be it.

Still, a person with multiple personality disorder is more interesting than a person with no personality at all. Eve does have her charms. I wouldn't want to live with her as my only bike but she's interesting to hang around with and it's fun to try and figure her out.

The Vulcan 750 has acquired something of a cult following. People seem to like the practical design in a cruiser frame. I don't share that same perspective but I can see how some would be attracted to it. If you're a well-groomed accountant and you just have to have a cruiser this is the bike for you.

Twenty years ago a 750 was considered a big bike but today it's just average. It's peppy and fun to drive one-up but power is only adequate for two-up trips. This engine is a little unlike most v-twins in that it likes to rev. You'll spend a lot of time at 5,000 and 6,000 rpm but you still won't notice any vibration. It's that smooth. The only bike I've ridden that had less vibration was BMWs K75 and you could balance a quarter on that bike and rev the engine without it falling over. The quarter, that is.

Handling is good for a cruiser which is to say that it's not particularly good compared to most street bikes. Then again, no one buys a cruiser to get great handling.

Brakes are adequate. Dual disk up front and drum in the back.

The stock seat is a weak point. It's good for about fifty miles before it starts to become uncomfortable. Replacement seats from Corbin are popular.

The fuel tank holds about three gallons (claimed 3.6 gallons.) It doesn't sound like much but think of it as a good thing since you'll want to stop often to relieve your tired butt. I get fuel mileage in the low 40s.

Weight is 483 lbs dry. It seems lighter than that thanks to the low seat height.

The styling is straight from the 80s. You either like it or you don't.

The cost is just $6,099 MSRP. That's very little money for the engineering that has gone into this bike. You can surely find it for under $6K at a dealer (and probably hundreds less if you pick up last year's model.)

I haven't had this bike for long but I am gradually growing more fond of her each day. She has two sides to her personality and neither one is annoying. It's the perfect bike for toodling around a tropical paradise but I don't think I'll take her back home to meet mother.

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