By Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

Making a great bike punch even harder

Sometimes less is more. We kept that in mind when tackling the 2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom project bike. The blacked-out Vulcan already had some good things going for it, from its high-rising T-bar, brawny tank, skinny and tall front tire and overall hot rod look. For us, though, it didn’t quite have the punch we wanted.

So we did what most owners do looking for more power from their motorcycle – switched out the air box. Force Motor Products out of Lake Havusa City, Arizona, has a high-performance forward-facing air filter called the Forcewinder we believed was the solution to our problem. We ordered the $426.25 upgrade in Gloss Black to match the gloss black of the stock engine covers. The kit contains everything you need for a fairly simple conversion, so let’s get the process started.

Instructions say to remove the seat, tank and dash cover first, but we cheated a bit, only removing the seat and sliding the tank over a tad without disconnecting it so we could access the stock airbox on the motorcycle’s right side. The stock air cleaner, backing plate and air box support all needed to come off first. We then took the sensor out of the stock air box and reinstalled it into the Forcewinder adapter using a small bolt provided with the kit. There’s a 90-degree fitting on the Forcewinder adapter that you need to make sure is pointing up to attach the breather hose to. The adapter then goes back into place using the bolts from your stock air box, but first the sensor plug has to be reconnected. With the bolts to the adapter threaded but not tightened, the instructions say to swap out the breather hose with a longer one they provide, but we found it to be too long and it kinked when we put the tank back on. We didn’t have any problems connecting the fitting to the stock hose, so that’s what we went with. We bolted on the air filter elbow next followed by the crankcase breather hose. This hose does need to be lengthened, so Force supplied a plastic elbow and an extended hose, which connects to a K&N breather filter. We ran this hose above the crankcase housing and back into the frame, zip tying it to a small bracket below the battery and behind the exhaust. Finally we installed the K&N Pro Series Billet Filter and called it a wrap.

Thumbing the starter button, we are rewarded by a deeper, throatier exhaust note. Emissions smell a little richer, too. Kicking into first, we head for open road so we can run it through some gears to see if we can notice any differences. The addition of the Forcewinder definitely smoothed out the flat spots on the low end of the rev range. Overall, the gears feel wider, too. Rolling off the throttle, the Vulcan 900 Custom is popping and crackin’ on deceleration, mostly during the cooler mornings. This could easily be remedied by the addition of a fuel management system like the Fuelpak or Power Commander, but we’ve got a set of Vance & Hines Slash-Cut Staggered pipes to slap on too, so we’ll wait before we attempt to get the electronic fuel injection dialed in. We’ll get the bike dynoed as well so we can compare the numbers to the stock torque and horsepower numbers we got during testing for the 2012 Women’s Cruiser Shootout. Seat of the pants impressions say the bike breathes much better now and is more responsive at the throttle. Before we were short-shifting second and third gear to get the most out of the Vulcan 900 Custom, tapping into the powerband while it’s climbing to get the best acceleration. Now we can wind those gears out a bit more thanks to the addition of the Forcewinder performance intake.

With the new air cleaner in place, we set about installing a new chin scoop/radiator shroud and front fender our friends over at Low and Mean (L&M) sent us. Another company based out of Lake Havasu, L&M is a leader in metric aftermarket parts. The L&M Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Chin Radiator Shroud lists for $299, but we went with the optional honeycomb screens for it, which cost an extra $55. The VN900 Reaper Front fender, made from hand-laid fiberglass, sells for $225.

Low and Mean has done a good job of making the process as quick and painless as possible. The radiator cover/chin scoop combo is one piece that came in a black gel-coat finish and actually matched up well with the flat black of the bike, so we left it that way. Before beginning the swap, though, we put on the aluminum honeycomb screens using epoxy, a spray accelerator and double-sided tape to connect the screens to the shroud. After allowing them to dry, it was time to remove the horn, radiator screen and rectifier cover mounted between the downtubes. You’ll need to tuck the wires to the horn back behind radiator for relocation later. We then put bolts and aluminum collars into the holes of the chin radiator shroud first, then slid it up into place before wrenching the bolts tight. Word of warning, don’t tighten them down too tight or you will crack the fiberglass. We also dabbed a little Locktite on them. We then moved the horn to a mount under the front of the gas tank on the exhaust side. This was accomplished by removing the bolt that holds a small sensor in place and mounting the horn and sensor together on that bracket. There is a small tab on the stock horn bracket that we had to hammer straight in order to allow it to bolt back into the stock mount, but beyond that, installation was simple. The Low and Mean Chin Radiator Shroud cleans up the busy look and clutter between the downtubes of the Vulcan 900 Custom and gives it a lowered look.

The Low and Mean Reaper Front Fender also came in the same gel-coat black as the chin scoop, but we sent the fender out to get some paint to match the tank and rear fender. We also ordered a stock racing sticker from Kawaski, which cost over $30, but the same design runs the length of the bike, so we put one on the new fender too. The Reaper Front Fender is shorter in the front and longer in the back than the stock unit. The extra length will help keep the front wheel from spitting up as much debris from the road back at riders and is cut with more aggressive lines than the stock fender. Four bolts are all that hold the fender in place. We put rubber spacers on the new fender, but beyond that we slapped it right back into the stock mounts. It fits snugly up against the tire, stretches down much farther in back and matches up well with the new chin scoop.

The final addition to the 2012 Vulcan 900 Custom project was a new seat. For this we sourced the Kawasaki Accessories catalog, opting for a new VN900 Custom Gel Seat with flame stitching. The factory replacement sells for $264.95, and the flames are stitched right into the seat so they’re subtle, not flagrant. To put the new seat on, we simply removed the stock seat, which pops off with the twist of the ignition key. Then you have to pop off the eight rubber grommets from the stock seat and put them on the new seat. Installation also requires that you remove the stock mounting brackets, washers and nuts from the stock seat as well as the passenger hand hold strap. These, too, will be remounted on the new seat, except for the strap, which is replaced by a new one that is provided with the set. With that done, the new Kawasaki Custom Gel Seat slides right back into place.

The new seat was firm when I first sat on it, but I don’t even notice it now that I’ve broken it in. It does come up higher on my lower back, and the extra support feels better than the stock seat. The pillion pad is thicker than the stock one, too. On my daily blasts up and down I-5, I don’t even think about the seat because I’m comfortable, so it’s doing its intended job.

Now our 2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom project bike looks and acts the part of a drag bike more than before. We just got the Vance & Hines Slash-Cut Staggered pipes on, too, and will report on them once we can get the bike dynoed. But we’re already pleased with the changes. We’ve put 2086 miles on the Vulcan 900 Custom since our initial report, and gas mileage has dropped from 41.5 mpg to 37.321 mpg. We confess that many of those miles have been spent blasting down the highway above the speed limit (we plead the 5th on how fast) and those miles have included stints with the new intake and pipes. But we can say it has more pop and a better snarl now and looks more ominous than ever.