Pros: Beautiful fit and finish. Beefy exhaust growl.
Cons: Sub 40 mpg gas mileage numbers. Uncomfortable seat after 30 miles.
I've been riding motorcycles since I first got my drivers license at 16 (31 years). In that time I've owned a half dozen different bikes ranging from a Kawasaki KL250 enduro to a full dress Suzuki Cavalcade. This is my first experience with a v-twin cruiser.
The bike I purchased was a brand new (2006) leftover that was languishing in the loft of the dealership I purchased it from. I bought the bike and brought it home 17 December 2010. The difference between the 2003 model and the 2006 are insignificant so I chose to put my review here.
This particular model Vulcan had a 6 year run before being replaced by the Vulcan 1700 Classic in 2009. There are still brand new 1600 Classics around the U.S. in various locations. You just have to look hard enough to find them!
In my opinion, the Vulcan 1600 Classic is fashioned after the Harley Davidson Fat Boy. The big Vulcan flaunts its presence with a large chrome headlight/nacel and big, wide beautifully sculpted (no flange at the bottom) 5.3 gallon fuel tank. The fenders are wide to accomodate the beefy Bridgestone Excedra tires (130/90-16 front/170/70-16 rear). The front forks are 41mm while the twin chromed rear shocks offer adjustment for 4 position preload and also air adjustability (0-43 psi depending on loading). I currently have the preload set at it's highest and 20 pounds of air in each shock. It's recommended that you use a zero loss air pump (one that does not allow any air to escape when you pull the air chuck off the shock). I purchased one off of Amazon for 45 bucks.
The engine is liquid cooled. Kawasaki design engineers did a commendable job shoehorning the radiator between the frame downtubes where it's not easily noticeable. The engine on the '06 has chromed fin edges, crankshaft, and clutch covers while the rest of the engine is blacked out. The dual circular chrome air filter covers (one on the left, the other on the right) are nicely tucked in and don't encroach on legroom. The chrome dual exhaust runs along the right side of the bike and ends with slash-cut tips. The bike is shaft drive and the driveshaft has a chrome cover as well. The seat is large and initially (first 30 miles or so) is comfortable, but after that, it has you wishing for softer foam in it. My wife has sampled the passenger seat, but only for short trips so I can't really say how it would be for an extended trip. There are many aftermarket seats available including Russell day long, Corbin, Mustang and others, but I have yet to choose one.
The bike I purchased is blue/silver with a red/gold pinstripe that runs between the two colors. The quality of the paint/fit and finish of the handlebar controls along with the tank-mounted speedometer is first rate.
The headlight is quite large and does an admiral job of poking holes in the dark. The forward foot controls feature a heel/toe shifter (which basically allows you to downshift with the front lever and upshift with the rear). This took a little getting used to since I never owned a bike with this feature before. The floorboards are wide and long and have rubber to keep your feet planted on them even in the rain. The passenger footpegs are standard fare, but easily upgradable thanks to the generous aftermarket. The wheels are cast aluminum painted grey. Very understated considering how the rest of the bike looks.
First ride impressions:
After handing over the cashiers check, I chose to take my new bike for a ride before loading it into my truck for the drive home. Mid December in Charlotte N.C. was cold (in the 40's) and overcast. I came prepared with my full face helmet, layered jackets and boots. Gauntlet gloves did a fine job keeping the cold wind from creeping up my sleeves.
The bike is heavy. 750 pounds full of gas. This is NO beginner bike by any stretch of the imagination. The upside is the seat sits nice and low, so those short of inseam should have little trouble flat-footing it at stoplights. The bike doesn't come with a windshield or fairing so as I rode at anything above 50 mph my stomach muscles were getting a decent workout trying to keep my upper body vertical. The wide handlebars had a hand in turning me into a sail also.
The 1552cc engine has a decent growl to it as you accelerate from a stop, but it's not obnoxiously loud. The overhead cams, twin sparkplugs per piston and single pin crankshaft gave a nice loaping sound at idle.
Acceleration is good with nice smooth shifts thanks to the wet clutch with Kawasaki's neutral finder transmission. It's only a five speed tranny, but fifth gear is tall enough to have the bike at a relaxed rpm when travelling at highway speeds.
There is no tach on the bike which I believe is a mistake. Everyone that I know that has a motorcycle likes to know where in the rpm range they're at while riding. The brakes (dual disc, twin piston calipers in front, single disc out back) are strong and bring the big bike to a stop quickly.
Turn signals are self-cancelling which is a nice touch. The bike's horn is not the tinny beep-beep one is used to hearing coming from a motorcycle. Rather it sounds quite a bit like a full sized car horn.
This bike was not designed to be flogged on winding country roads. The road-feelers on the bottom of the driver floorboards start to scrape fairly soon when doing a u turn or navigating through a cloverleaf. The 1600 Vulcan's weight and wide tires have a hand in letting you know that slow and steady is best in these situations.
I've currently got just a hair over 2,000 miles on my bike as of this writing. The fuel mileage is not as good as I'd like (mid to high 30's in mixed driving). It still beats many of the cars and all of the trucks on the road. Plus it's fun two wheeling it to work!
I'm accustomed to transverse in-line four cylinder engines and their impressive power output per liter. The 1552cc v-twin in the Vulcan 1600 Classic is the largest engine I've ever had in a motorcycle, but it's power is at the back of the pack. I've been in many of the Vulcan forums online and the consensus is that this particular bike is laying down about 60 rear wheel horsepower and approximately 80 pound feet of torque. It's enough for riding two up for a weekend trip, or a trip across the country with the right windshield and saddlebags.
As I get older (3 years from 50!) I realize that horsepower and torque numbers aren't everything. Sometimes it's about going slow enough to smell the flowers. The Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Classic is the perfect slow ride for just that!!
Since purchasing the Vulcan 1600 Classic in December, I've added the following "farkles" to my bike to enhance my comfort/carrying capacity.
Memphis Shades Batwing Fairing (ebay purchase included the fairing, mounting hardware and your choice of shield, I chose the tallest 12"). Cost: $350.00 This fairing makes all the difference in the world when travelling at highway speeds. The fairing/windshield combination that I chose helped take 95% of the wind off my chest and head allowing me to enjoy the ride better! The nice thing about the Batwing fairing is that it comes off with no tools in less than 15 seconds. I look forward to warmer days ahead when I'll be able to remove it and enjoy the warm air hitting my face.
Saddlemen throwover Extra Jumbo slant saddlebags (purchased used for $73.00 including shipping, came with mounting hardware). These bags enhance the "look" of my Vulcan without being too flashy. They hold at least a 3 day weekend's worth of clothes/toiletries for two-up trips.
Kawasaki Fire and Steel highway bar (also an ebay purchase, $130.00). This was more of an aesthetic add-on but I do believe it may save my mirrors in the event I drop the bike.
Aftermarket sissy bar/rack combo (ebay purchase $130.00 including shipping). This was for the comfort of any passenger that may want to go for a ride.
Givi Monokey 45 liter trunk. I had this from a previous bike and was able to mount it without much trouble to the rack that I mentioned earlier. This handy piece of luggage comes off the rack with a twist of a key and a push of a button.
The sissy bar gets removed for this piece of luggage but it has a built-in backrest.
Long term UPDATE:
I've had the 1600 Classic 21 months and 14,500 miles so far. The bike has held up very well. The OEM (Bridgestone Excedra) tires lasted 12,500 miles.
I replaced them with Kenda K673 Kruz tires. Front is the stock size 130/90-16 and the rear size is 160/80-16. The stock rear tire size is 170/70-16. I found the stock size very difficult to find (not a whole lot of options out there). The new tires are wearing extremely well. They make the bike more stable when cornering as well. I have yet to get stuck in a rain storm with them so I cannot attest to their handling on wet pavement.
The Classic's seat has softened over time. I still can't ride for more than 50 miles without experiencing monkey butt, but that's when the 10 dollar wooden beaded seat cover comes into play. These seat covers offer nice ventilation in the summer heat and they reduce pressure points on the hind quarters for the extended trips. They can be purchased at just about any Wal-Mart store. The seat cover stays in place with one bungee cord strategically placed across the passenger portion of the seat.
The 1600 Classic is a big, heavy cruiser. It's no wonder that fuel mileage is less than stellar. I check fuel mileage frequently and I average mid to high 30's around town and up to 44 mpg on the interstate. With the 5.3 gallon fuel tank I begin to look for a gas station after 150 miles of riding.
The bike requires fuel at a minimum octane rating of 91. Locally, my choices are 87, 89 and 93 octane. I put the 93 octane in because the engine will ping upon acceleration with anything less. The Classic comes from the factory with an extrememy lean fuel mixture dialed in. There are fixes for it including resistor mods and fuel injector controllers with prices ranging from $99 to $499. I've been able to avoid the pinging by rolling on the throttle gently.
All in all I'm still happy with my choice of cruiser. If I had to do it over again I would still by this big bike.