Unlike cars, motorcycles don’t have infinitely adjustable seats, telescoping controls and adjustable pedals. They come stock, and you deal with it. Custom-made motorcycles aside, that means there’s no guarantee the bike’ll be a good fit. And getting the right fit is everything; a bad set up can compromise control or hurt endurance on longer rides. So Kawasaki’s new Vulcan S ABS ($7,399), equipped with their adjustable Ergo-Fit system, is a bit of a godsend to riders, giving them comfort, stability, and one hell of a ride.
MORE MOTOS: Ducati Scrambler | World’s Deadliest Moto Race | 5 Vintage-Style Motos
Before riding the Kawasaki Vulcan S, Kawasaki fitted me for the bike (like getting measured for a tailored suit, Vulcan S customers get sized for their rides the day of purchase). There were three bikes set up in the three main configurations, so I could sit on each and static test the positioning, Goldilocks style. I tried the Reduced Reach (intended for shorter riders), Mid Reach (for riders up to 6 feet tall) and an Extended Reach (for riders 6-foot-1 and taller). Additionally, I mixed and matched the three foot peg positions, three seats of varying depths and two handlebar lengths until the bike fit my long-legged 6-foot-1 frame.
Like getting measured for a tailored suit, Vulcan S customers get sized for their rides the day of purchase.
Initially I chose the Mid Reach bars, Mid Reach seat and Extended Reach pegs (one inch farther forward from factory pegs). But as any rider will tell you, sitting on a static bike and riding it through town are two very different things. The morning of the ride, I felt that — tangibly. Pulling out of the parking lot, it was obvious my legs needed more space. I had to lift my foot completely off the peg and around the shifter to downshift. On any motorcycle, let alone an unfamiliar one, that extra movement is unintuitive, distracting and, after a while, exhausting. Lifting my leg for every downshift would have quickly turned the day’s over-100-mile ride through Santa Barbara’s wine country into a marathon torture test.
I made due on the morning leg of the ride and at lunch I explained my dilemma to the Kawasaki wrenchers. A simple switch to the Extended Reach seat brought my hips back another inch and voila, no more lifting my leg to shift. This type of tailor-fit service is available at the dealer with no extra charge, a perk totally unheard of in this segment. If you buy a brand-new Vulcan S and get fit at the dealer, then ride off and the dimensions don’t feel quite right, bring it back and the dealer can tweak the ergonomics until it’s comfortable. That’s the beauty of the Ergo-Fit system.
Accompanying the unique sizing system is an equally unique engine/chassis combo for Kawasaki. A retuned version of the 649cc parallel-twin found in the Ninja 650 makes its way into the Vulcan S’s lightweight cruiser chassis. With the looks of a cruiser and the engine of a sport bike, the Vulcan S has an inherent split personality, but it’s one that translates to thrills on the tarmac. Just like its bigger siblings, the Vulcan S is right at home on the highway — there’s plenty of smooth, predictable midrange power for passing, but because it’s a parallel-twin (not the traditional “V”), the engine won’t shake your molars loose near the higher 9,000 rpm redline.
I constantly pushed the bike into turns — faster and faster, lower and lower, until I scraped the pegs.
The Vulcan S surprises the most off the highway and on the tight and winding roads. Arching the bike side to side, shifting in the seat and hanging a knee out in the turns — it wasn’t just good for a cruiser, it was good by any standard. The chassis and engine are tuned so well they seem to be held back by the relaxed confines of the cruiser geometry. One of the tricks up the Vulcan S’s sleeve is a horizontal rear shock (as opposed to the classic cruiser side-mounted suspension). Kawasaki tucked the rear shock in front of the rear wheel — a design element usually reserved for sport bikes — which allows the cruiser’s lines to remain fluid and uninterrupted. With ABS-equipped two-piston calipers pinching a 300mm disc brake up front, I constantly pushed the bike into turns — faster and faster, lower and lower, until I scraped the pegs. Thoughts started conjuring of a higher seat, rear set foot pegs and drag bars. A Kawasaki café racer drifted to mind. Why couldn’t Kawasaki just build a café racer, damn it?
To be able to ride a cruiser around like a sport bike speaks to the confidence the bike inspired. It was fantastic. The tailored Ergo-Fit put me at such ease in the saddle that I felt more confident pushing the bike, even though it was a first ride. I had no problem tossing it around rag doll-style through S-bends and it had no problem threading through them. Much like how a custom suit from the tailor exudes the confidence of its wearer, a tailored-fit motorcycle does the same for a rider. For new riders, a custom fit means more control and confidence leading to a less nerve-racking first-time experience. For an experienced rider, the reaffirmed confidence opened up a thrilling new way for me to ride.