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Kawasaki Vulcan 650 – The modern mid-capacity cruiser

The Kawasaki Vulcan 650 S is the big green factory’s attempt to sidle into the mid-engine cruiser market. And sidle is the right description, it doesn’t kick the door in shouting “look at me, I’m shiny and loud!” but politely slipped through the door while you weren’t looking and appeared like it had been there all along.

The Vulcan S is not your typical cruiser, claims Kawasaki. And, if I were to quote the Japanese bike manufacturer directly, “It doesn’t demand the user to adapt to any herd mentality fashion or lifestyle.”

It is referred to as a “Sport Cruiser” by Kawasaki. I’ve often grumbled about how manufacturers force each new model to conform within a pre-set category. However, Kawasaki has merely opted to create a new one in this case. Let’s see if it fits the bill Kawasaki made for it.

2022 Kawasaki Vulcan S 650 Review

2022 Kawasaki Vulcan 650
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2022 Kawasaki Vulcan 650

“If it ain’t broke, keep using it.” Seems to be the philosophy of Kawasaki with the engine in the Vulcan S 650. It’s the exact same 649 cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin engine Kawasaki has been using across most of its range for years that originated in its popular ER-6. It’s been tweaked a little and produces 61 bhp vs the 72 bhp the ER-6 pushes out and a few hundred less revs as a result.

It’s not all bad though; while the overall power is down, the torque is still at a comfortable 63 Nm, where it was with the ER-6. A more conventional V-twin cruiser engine typically has its mid range torque kick in between 4,000 rpm and 5,000 rpm, but this engine behaves and feels differently.

The Vulcan’s power arrives earlier than the ER-6—by a full 1,000 rpm—and continues to increase all the way to the red line thanks to a heavier flywheel. In light of this, it’s a vivacious creature that doesn’t need much persuasion on the throttle to get things going, and when you do, you’re greeted to a wonderful, fun baritone rumble that makes you eager and want more.

The Vulcan’s power is more than sufficient for getting around town or for a quick weekend blast out of the big smog to some more twisty roads. It may feel a little dull or weaker in comparison to the higher revving, more powerful engines some of its competitors put out, but you’ll sleep well knowing the engine has been around for a long time and proven to be a solid and durable lump no matter how badly you treat it. The engine features fuel injection and is mated to a conventional 6-speed manual gearbox.

The Kawasaki Vulcan S 650 handlebars are fairly long, especially for a light cruiser, with the rake at 31 degrees and a trail of 120 mm. The handling, though, is still light and agile, and it easily sweeps through turns.

It takes a little getting accustomed to the riding position because Kawasaki’s ergo fit foot-pegs are more forward than you would think, but once you do, you’ll find it to be a comfortable riding posture for short to mid-distance trips thanks to the seat; plush and accommodating. But if you stay in it for too long, your buttocks may start to argue with you, so make sure to stop every few hours.

If you choose to ride anywhere other than smooth asphalt, your spine will start to rebel alongside the buttocks. Low ride height and an almost horizontal suspension mounting make it susceptible to bottoming out over large potholes and particularly poor road conditions. If you catch a Vulcan rider swerving frequently, you’ll now know why.

In-depth examination of the ergo fit foot pegs reveals that you can adjust them to three different positions on the Vulcan S, 30mm front to rear. Which is an aspect that is often ignored. It sounds nice, but there is a catch. You’ll need to purchase the linkage rods separately if you want to do this; a good idea badly executed. A black mark against Kawasaki there.

Although the Kawasaki Vulcan S 650’s single front disc and two-pot sliding brake calipers come straight from the parts bin, the old adage “if it ain’t broke” applies once more. Even if they aren’t the greatest on the market or what Kawasaki themselves provide, the braking system get the job done.

In case you exert a little too much effort, the Dual channel ABS that comes with the Vulcan S function really well in gradually bring the 228 kg bike to a stop. The American market does offer the Vulcan S with or without ABS.

The Vulcan S weighs in at 228 kg, which is a bit on the hefty side of the scales when compared to its competitors and sounds big for a 649cc parallel twin. Although it is heavier, Kawasaki’s porky cruiser feels far lighter than the scales indicate thanks to a smart weight distribution strategy. The bike feels highly controllable because its substantial bulk being pushed underneath the low 705 mm seat. It feels as heavy as a 250 cc single cruiser bike even when you are just pushing it about.

On the Kawasaki Vulcan S 650, electronics and equipment are straightforward. Dual channel Anti lock braking system, a computerised dash unit with plenty of data, an electric starter, and all-around lighting are included. No, those are not LEDs either. Other than the absence of LEDS, I really appreciate how straightforward this is. Less electronics means less potential problems and you can always add your own accessories later, however now we move on to the elephant in the room.

The Kawasaki Vulcan S is unmistakably constructed on a tight budget. There is nothing wrong with the fact that many manufacturers realise that we all cannot buy $10,000 motorcycles and that the simplest approach to reduce prices is to build new models using pre-existing components.

I admire and thank them all for accomplishing this. One such vehicle is the Vulcan S, which, when viewed from a distance, appears to be a great bike, well-made with attractive workmanship and a decent finish. Take a step closer this time, much closer, and start to really take in the smaller details…

The Vulcan’s Dash looks like it came from a bike 10 years older, and its switch gears and buttons just feel like they came from a much lesser model. One step away from looking like an AliExpress special buy.

All of the metal parts’ paint appears to be thinner than it is on more expensive models, and if you ride in all weather conditions year-round or don’t have the luxury of storing your prized possession indoors during the winter, you will need to protect all of these with anti-corrosion spray to stop corrosion from taking hold.

Not only is Kawasaki guilty of this; all the major manufacturers participate in it in an effort to “keep the pricing down,” but it feels like a significant step backward. These are the criticisms we’ve levelled at less expensive “Chinese” bikes throughout the years, although in recent years, their construction quality and durability have improved.

I’ll venture to say that the higher-quality Chinese brands, such as Lexmoto, Sinnis, Voge, and CFMoto, are now competitive with the less expensive products from Japanese producers. Even the Indian-made Royal Enfield bikes are catching up to them, and the prices are still lower, all because of the name imprinted on the tank.

Kawasaki Vulcan S 650 Spec list

Engine:                 Liquid-cooled, 8 valve, DOHC, parallel-twin

Capacity:              649cc

Max Power:        61 bhp / 44.7 kW @ 7,500 rpm

Max Torque:      63 Nm / 46.5 lb ft @ 6,600 rpm

Gearbox:             6-speed manual

Top speed:         100 mph / 161 kph

Fuel capacity:     14 L / 3.7 US Gal

Seat height:        705 mm / 27.75 inches

Wet weight:       228kg / 503 lb

How Does The Vulcan S Perform?

The Vulcan S in tourer mode
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The Vulcan S in tourer mode

In a stagnant cruiser market, the Kawasaki Vulcan S 650 was a welcome breath of fresh air. Its sleek engine and contemporary appearance truly drew in a new clientele. It wasn’t the largest leap of innovation, but it gave a failing market a modern twist with their alternative cruiser design, which was beginner-friendly because to its smooth power and absence of vibration.

It quickly grew in popularity amongst novice riders, those returning to motorcycling and those looking for a cruiser that would handle well and not shake them to pieces every time they went for a ride.

2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S 650 Gen 1

The Kawasaki Vulcan S 650 launched using a retuned version of the ER-6 engine. The Vulcan S was Kawasaki’s first attempt to bring a more modern approach to the cruiser market.

2017 Kawasaki Vulcan S SE

The Special Edition Vulcan S featured a special deep red and black paint job alongside matte black wheels, frame, and exhaust parts. An updated dash gave the Vulcan a gear-position indicator.

2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S Café

The Vulcan S Café featured a fly screen and new paint offerings. A touring version of the Café was also available with additional luggage and passenger backrest.

2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S Performance

Kawasaki Vulcan S Performance
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Kawasaki Vulcan S Performance

The Performance variant of the Vulcan S featured the same flyscreen as the Café but also a sporty Arrow exhaust system and new paint schemes for the bike. As with the Café, the additional luggage system and passenger backrest was also made available.

2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S Kawasaki A2

Kawasaki also launched a restricted version of the standard Vulcan S in 2018. Offering a 46.9 bhp / 35 kW version of the base Vulcan S for those who are license restricted.

How Much Does the Vulcan 650 S Cost?

The Standard Vulcan S starts from £7,249 ($7,349 Non-ABS, $7,899 ABS). The Vulcan S Performance is £7,999 and £8,499 for the Touring version (UK Only). All have the option for matte colours at an additional £200.

The American Market still offers the Vulcan S Café for $8,099

At the time of writing Kawasaki have announced the 2023 Vulcan S 650 at £7,499 (American prices appear to remain the same as 2022)

Used Price Examples

There are several Kawasaki Vulcan S 650’s available second-hand at the time of writing. If you’re on a tight budget, have patience and troll the internet regularly, then a good deal can be picked up from a private seller for less than £4,000 ($4,900) for an early generation variant but with less than 10,000 miles on the clock!

Here’s an example on Auto Trader.

If you’re looking for something a bit younger and have more to spend, you’d be able to pick up a 3-year-old bike for around £5,600 ($6,800) with less than 5,000 miles to its name.

Something like this one, again on Auto Trader.

How Does the Vulcan S Compare to its Competitors?

Let’s break down the Kawasaki Vulcan S against its closest competitors on paper.

 Kawasaki Vulcan S 650Honda Rebel CMX 500Suzuki Boulevard C50
Price:£7,249 / £7,899£6,299 / $6,699£7,200 / $8,609
Engine:Liquid-cooled, 8 valve, DOHC, parallel-twinLiquid-cooled, 4 valve, DOHC, parallel-twinLiquid-cooled, 4 valve, SOHC, V-twin
Capacity:649cc471 cc805 cc
Max Power:61 bhp / 44.7 kW45.9 bhp / 24.2 kW53 bhp / 39.9 kW
Max Torque:63 Nm / 46.5 lb ft40.5 Nm / 29.9 lb ft70.5 Nm / 52 lb ft
Gearbox: 6-speed manual6-speed manual5-speed manual
Top speed:100 mph / 161 kph95 mph / 153 kph99.4 mph / 160 kph
Fuel capacity:14 L / 3.7 US Gal11 L / 2.9gal15.5 L / 4.1 US Gal
Seat height:705 mm / 27.75 inches691 mm / 27.2 inches700 mm / 27.6 inches
Wet weight:228kg / 503 lb185 kg / 408 lb277 kg / 611 lb
ExtrasSlipper Clutch, Full LED lights, A2 license compliantLED indicators and rear lights

It’s another conundrum. As the only 650 cc cruiser available today, the Kawasaki Vulcan S destroys the Honda in terms of power and holds its own against the Suzuki thanks to its smaller weight, increased power, and narrowly superior peak speed. 

But this is where it all stops. Putting statistics aside, both the Honda and Suzuki provide greater overall quality in paint and equipment, such as the dash unit. The Honda even features a slipper clutch, and both provide LED illumination. If you can overlook the power loss, the Honda is a great deal with better components for over £1,000 less than the Kawasaki.

Summary

Going back to the original query of whether the Vulcan S falls within the “Sport Cruiser” classification Kawasaki gave it. Despite my disdain for the Vulcan S, I’m almost tempted to agree. 

In compared to many other current cruisers on the market, it has a smoother engine, goes through bends nicely, and appears unashamedly modern (apart from the switch gears and that dash, which I won’t let go!). 

The suspension needs work so you can drive over bumpier roads without needing to engage traction the next day, so I’m toeing the line for the “Sport” aspect. Maybe I’d go so far as to refer to it as a “Modern Cruiser” as a great compromise to Kawasaki. That does really sound nicer!

The Kawasaki Vulcan S has been a challenge for me to like. In any version. On paper, it checks all the proper boxes; It’s simple, looks the part of a modern-day cruiser, and has a bombproof engine. 

I just can’t get over the fact that the big green factory skimped out too much on it and produced a bike that won’t last the distance without corrosion sticking its nose in and those switches breaking after a few years or hard presses.

I find it amusing that Kawasaki just altered the paint colour and added a screen on the Vulcan S, calling it a “Café,” before putting an extra “sporty” exhaust and labelling it “Performance” on the 2018 models and significantly raising the price. 

If I haven’t truly missed something else, it appears that they have gone for maximum profit for those purchasing in the niche market for motorcycles with the least amount of work.

I wouldn’t buy a Vulcan S for myself. I could buy the same thing for over a grand less from one of the up-and-coming Chinese brands or wait until the Royal Enfield SG650 cruiser finally launch in 2023 and get the same quality. 

While it will not match the Vulcan in performance (The SG650 with a new 650 cc parallel-twin engine Royal Enfield have been developing putting out 47 bhp), they will be significantly cheaper, that too by a sizeable margin. 

So, if you aren’t too eager, I’d suggest holding on a little longer to see what Royal Enfield’s offering will look like when it hits the dealers next year.

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greg williamson

Sunday 25th of September 2022

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