The 2003 Vulcan Takes on Challengers from Honda and Harley

The Sportster rivals the Honda in terms of fit and finish and it also boasts the only set of self-canceling turn signals, which is a very nice feature for a bike possessing such a low price tag. The abundance of chrome and killer looks make it clear that even if Harley can’t win the performance wars they refuse to finish second to anyone when it comes to aesthetics.

The Kawasaki’s pluses and minuses are the exact opposite of the Sporty. While the Sporty is all show, the Vulcan is all go, a redeeming factor considering the $5,999 Vulcan is basically an aesthetic abortion. The 2003 Kawasaki Vulcan possesses all the style of the awkward cruiser-style bikes Japanese companies offered 20 years ago before they figured out how to properly rip off the Harley look.

The Vulcan’s raked-back handlebar in combination with the cramped riding position makes long rides uncomfortable, and even its lively 805cc V-Twin can’t save the Kawasaki’s ergonomics from being criticized. While the other metric manufacturers have updated their style, the Vulcan is archaic, a deadly sin in the style-conscious cruiser segment.

The Vulcan’s liquid-cooled Twin was the clear winner on the dyno thanks to a cool 47.8 horsepower at a surprisingly high 7,500 rpm, the highest of the group in both respects. Torque, at 39.3 ft.-lbs., is just barely the lowest in our test, but its peak comes at a relatively low 3,500 rpm. The Twin feels good at any pace and excels at rapid cruising speeds.

If not for that beefy little engine, the Vulcan might’ve been left at home after just a few rides. The pillow-like seat becomes uncomfortable after an hour on the road and the close-coupled handlebars make an already smallish-feeling bike feel even more cramped for riders taller than 5’11”. In fairness to the Vulcan, our shortest tester, Ken Hutchison, who measures in at 5’8″, wasn’t bothered by its size.

“I don’t think it felt as small as everyone else,” commented Hutch. “But the bars and styling could use an update. I felt like I was riding something from 1981.”