2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition
Look, it's a 2011 Harley Davidson Sportster Forty Eight, and right next to it is a 2011 Honda Shadow Phantom, and next to that is a 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition! Now which one is which? You could certainly be excused for wondering how to tell these virtual clones apart, as the paint job is certainly not going to give you any hints. They're all black on black on black, with highlights in… black!
From across a street the only hope you have of identifying the Kawi is by checking out the front end. If it's fairly light and has a motocrosser front wheel, it's the Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition. If the front wheel and tire looks like it just came off of a 1948 Oldsmobile, then it's either the Honda or the Harley.
Strictly from a riding standpoint, the best choice is the Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition. It's the best handling of the three (with one gaping exception to follow), as well as the most technologically advanced.
The Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition is propelled down the road by a 903cc liquid-cooled, SOHC, four-valve per cylinder, V-twin which generates a fairly respectable 58.2 foot pounds of torque at a reasonably low 3,500 rpm. It's not in the same stump puller league that the late Vulcan 2000 owned, but then again its displacement is less than half of the former Kawasaki two wheeled Caterpillar D9.
Where the Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition really comes up short is in the tire department. The front 21 inch cast wheel and 80/90x21 tire simply does not provide enough contact patch for a nearly one litre motorcycle. It may look the part of chopperized custom, but it still has to do its job to keep the front end from washing out in corners, and it's just too thin to instill any sense of confidence and safety in the rider. Style is great, but not when you stand the chance of paying for it with gravel rash. On the rear end, the complaints are only cosmetic. Although the 15 inch wheel is great, the 180/70x15 would have been far better off as a 200.
At just a few hundred over the price of the Honda Shadow Phantom, the 2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition simply spanks the Honda all the way to the bobber factory. For your few hundred bucks, you get 150 more cubic centimeters, a bike that was redesigned from the ground up just a few years ago (unlike the swiftly aging 750 Honda) and a far more cohesive style and feel. If only they hadn't taken the front wheel off a Schwinn!
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition At A Glance
Base MSRP: $10,299
Engine Displacement: 903 cc
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled 4-stroke V-Twin
Bore & Stroke: 88 x 74.2 mm
Ignition Type: Digital
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Valve Train Type: SOHC, 4 valves/cylinder
Transmission Type: 5-speed, return
Final Drive Type: Belt
Front Tire: 80/90-21M/C (48H)
Rear Tire: 180/70-15M/C (76H)
Wheelbase: 1,645 mm
Saddle Height: 685 mm
Curb Dry Weight: 277 kg
Fuel Capacity (US): 20 litres
* Specs/pix apply to 2010 model, updates as released