The Satisfying Cruisers – The Right Look and the Right Price
The year was 1984, Van Halen released the iconic album 1984 and I am thinking that cute Cherub on the album cover was biting its wrist trying to hold back saying “Dang Kawasaki, that Vulcan is hot!” Ok, that may be a stretch, but tell me you don’t hear the thump-thump of a V-twin in the drum intro to Hot For Teacher?
Alright, back to the topic at hand: the Vulcan series of cruisers introduced by Kawasaki in 1984. The first was the Vulcan VN700A, a 699cc bike that began the long list of future Vulcans ranging in displacement from 400 to 2000 cc. For this article, I am going to focus on two Vulcans that are a great choice for the new rider.
Our Take: Why You Should Buy a Vulcan 500 or 650S:
Cruiser bikes make up a huge segment of the overall motorcycle market and for good reason. The very title “Cruiser” gives away the goal of comfortable, badass, mile-munching good times. The traditional ‘American Iron” that is the usual image many of us had, tends to be large, heavy, powerful, and a more expensive bike than many new riders are ready to commit to.
Kawasaki filled this segment with the introduction of the Vulcan, and the popular series of bikes has persisted thanks to quality engineering and styling. With models like the Vulcan 500 (1990–2009), and the current Vulcan 650 (2015-present), new riders will find the style, power, and even the ability to customize their bike at a wallet-friendly starting point. These two particular Vulcan models offer intuitive handling, smooth torquey powerbands, and great riding positions that allow quick learning curves for skill development.
With the long production runs for these Vulcan models, finding used examples is no issue. I went looking and found clean low milage examples for less than $2000.
Bottom line: The Kawasaki Vulcan 500 and 650 are perfect choices for new riders seeking a real cruiser at a low entry price. Strong torquey engines, low seat heights, and smooth suspensions make it easy to enjoy both commuting and longer weekend cruising on the highway. Great bikes to enter this enjoyable hobby.
Reasons to buy the Vulcan 500 / 650S:
Good power and torque down low, you won’t outgrow it too fast, you won’t find it too much
The suspension is a great blend between comfort, compliance, and performance
The smaller displacement parallel-twin engine(s) are great on gas. 58 mpg or better
A low seat and the Kawasaki Ergo Fit system, make easy fitment of a wide range of rider sizes
Well balanced bikes that are easy to maneuver
Reasons not to buy the Vulcan 500 / 650S:
Suspension a bit too soft, and power not quite enough for 2-up cruising long distances
Some owners complain of high-speed vibrations
Production Run & Notable Model-Year Changes
Production Run & Model Generations
Vulcan 500 First Generation (1990-1996)
Kawasaki introduced the Vulcan 500 (EN500A) in 1990, to replace the 454 LTD.
A 6-speed gearbox and a belt drive connected to the 498cc parallel twin.
36 mm telescopic fork, and 11,0 l / 2,9 US gal fuel tank.
Vulcan 500 Second Generation (1996-2009)
EN500A replaced with the EN500C often called the Vulcan 500 LTD.
The engine is reworked for more torque at lower RPM (34 lbs-ft at 6000 RPM down from 8000 RPM).
New ergonomics, now sitting a half-inch lower on a wheelbase 1.5 inches longer.
Vulcan 650S First Generation (2015 – )
Introduced as a Sport Cruiser.
Introduction of the Ergo Fit system, lots of options for rider positioning.
*Kawasaki has produced other smaller displacement Vulcan series bikes, the Vulcan 500 was a widely sold motorcycle in the North American market, therefore making it easy to find on the used scene. The Vulcan 650S is the lowest displacement Vulcan currently offered and has been a strong seller for Kawasaki, making used examples easy to come by.
Owner Reviews of the Kawasaki Vulcan 500 / 650S
Press & Magazines
Kawasaki Vulcan 500 – Review
“The unbeatable combination behind the smallest Vulcan is achieved by a user friendly chassis and sportbike engine heritage. As a rider, you feel well at home on the low and comfy seat and the handlebars are at quick reach so it’s clear that Kawi built this thing around the rider, but what’s best about the chassis is how it ensures light handling as the 471.9 lbs wet weight seems to disappear as speed increases.”
“Factor the whole V-twin style issue out of the deal and few bikes deliver a bigger bang-to-buck ratio than the 500 Vulcan. On the downside, there’s the care and feeding of a potentially messy drive chain to contend with, and the eight valves to adjust in that Ninja 500-derived engine. Still, if (relatively) cheap, efficient, stone-reliable basic transportation is more important than inspiring vehicular lust at Chuy’s Taco Hut on a Saturday afternoon, and the size of your monthly payment matters most, nothing in this group beats the Vulcan 500.”
The Vulcan 500 is just as quick as the bigger bikes, thanks to far less weight
Riding comfort – Kawasaki’s Ergo Fit system is great for fitting the 650S to a huge range of people. Easy to get very comfy.
The price – You can easily find a good condition Vulcan 500 for $2,500 or less. That makes a cruiser bike very affordable.
The 650S just looks fantastic, it always gets compliments.
What Owners Complain About
It is hard to find a seat upgrade on the Vulcan 500, it is older now and most aftermarket seats were made for the larger Vulcans.
Needs more grunt to make it a good choice for 2-up weekend road trips.
The Bottom Line
The Vulcan series of motorcycles from Kawasaki is renowned. They are rock solid reliable machines, that punch way above their engine size. The Vulcan 500 is a classic. It has the old school cruiser look but doesn’t cost much to buy, to insure, or to repair. The power and handling are great without being intimidating. Perfect for a wide range of new riders.
The Vulcan 650S sure does live up to the Sport Cruiser concept. If you have a bigger budget, this newer Vulcan carries on the excellent tradition of comfort and performance, with the expected updates in modern tech and style.
The Vulcan 500 and 650S are very solid all-around performers. These bikes are the reason Vulcans are well respected among seasoned riders. They just fit, and they offer an excellent place to sit and rack up the miles.
Kawasaki Vulcan Competitors
If you’re looking at a Vulcan 500, you may also want to check out
Yamaha V-Star 650
Suzuki Boulevard S40
If you’re looking at a Vulcan 650S, you may also want to check out