Racking up the Miles
Riding Shot: Sorena Lowe
Most of the purpose-built touring bikes on the market are large displacement machines. Big motors require chassis that can accommodate the size and handle the power at the same time. The weight, height, and girth of these bikes can be intimidating for newer riders or those with less inseam and/or strength. Then there's also the expense of many of the traditional touring rigs.
In recent years the Big Four Japanese manufacturers have dabbled in the more diminutive touring class, offering fully functioning longer-haul machines that are easier to ride and handle than their big brothers. It's not to say they are small bikes--just comparatively, yet a bit more manageable. One such off the showroom floor bike is Kawasaki's Vulcan 900 Classic LT, which is accessorized with saddlebags, touring seat, passenger backrest, and an adjustable windshield. Powered by a 903cc liquid and air-cooled, rubber-mounted motor the LT is based upon Kawi's successful Vulcan 900 middleweight platform.
Before even throwing a leg over this bike it's immediately noticeable that Kawasaki put a lot of thought into the design. The two-tone paint scheme and stylized Vulcan badges looks top notch and fits with the retro-classic design of the bike. A nice two-up seat, tall padded sissy bar, spoke wheels, and 180mm rear tire add to the package. Sitting on the LT, the 26.8-inch seat height, rubber floorboards, and wide beach-like bars start the rider off in a comfortable position with all of the controls and mirrors in the right place. A tank mounted speedo, with the requisite warning lights and odometer, looks nice but is a bit out of the way to be seen; you have to take your eyes off the road even for a quick glance. One of the first things riders will either love or hate is the very large windshield. While it provides great protection from the wind it's so tall that all but the tallest riders will be looking through it, rather than over it even if adjusted up or down. While the wind and rain protection are very good, in heavy winds the fork-attached shield can act like a sail.
Thumbing the starter instantly brings the motor to life thanks to a smooth operating, dual throttle body fuel injection system. Cold or warm there was never any idle or hesitation issues, including high up in the mountains of Southern California. On the open road the fuel mixer was equally impressive with good throttle response from idle to wide open. The dual, staggered, slash-cut exhaust pipes produce a nice, mellow rumble thanks in part to the single-pin crankshaft. Shifting through the five-speed gearbox was easy and combined with the easy-pull clutch, smooth. A nicely placed heel-toe shift pedal made long hauls more enjoyable as the heel portion was far back and recessed. This allowed many different foot positions on the left board without the shifters getting in the way as sometimes occurs on other heel-toe setups. Our only real complaint in the gearing department was fifth gear, which was too short for all day cruising. What that means is that above 75mph the bike starts to run out of steam and vibration increases. Of course, in most parts of the country that is considerably above the speed limit. It's not a terrible thing but cruising along at 80 for a while gets a little buzzy even with the rubber mounted motor and gear-driven balancer. That might also be why we only got 36.5 mpg from the 5.3-gallon tank since the motor was working a little harder than it needed to. However that still gets you over 190 miles between fill ups and more if you don't push it so hard.