Acknowledging that I get mildly obsessed about things from time to time and that it often gets in the way of social interaction with friends, I thought I should at least share some details. I’ll warn you now that there will be details in here that will fail to interest most of my site readers, but this is where my head is right now. 🙂
Since taking the beginner motorcycle course, I’ve been keeping my eyes on various places (craigslist and Cycle Trader, mostly) for potential bikes. At first, it was really more research than anything else, with no real plans to act.
A few weeks ago, though, I spotted one bike that was located almost literally just down the road. It was a 1993 Kawasaki Vulcan 750. Jeremy knows that I have a soft spot for this particular model of bike. Because I think many of my friends will find it amusing, I’ll try to explain why.
Back in the early ’80s, Japanese-made street bikes were mostly what would today be called “standards” or “UJMs” (for Universal Japanese Motorcycles), marked by upright seating position, centrally-placed foot pegs, medium ground clearance, and usually small displacement inline engines. Harley-Davidson, on the other hand, was continuing to follow its decades-old formula of larger, lower to the ground bikes, with more relaxed seating positions and their signature 45 degree v-twin engines. The style of bike now known as a “cruiser” owes most of its legacy to Harley. At some point, the Japanese makers decided to try and get a piece of Harley’s pie and try their hand at making cruiser-style bikes (with an interesting effect being that the US government for years imposed an import tariff on all bikes whose engines displaced more than 700cc as a protectionist measure for H-D). To make a long story a little shorter, if you look at the evolution of Japanese bikes since the early 80’s, you’ll see a gradual “morph” from the standards to the present, where some Japanese bikes look more like Harleys than some Harleys do.
During the early part of that morphing period, the Japanese manufacturers actually concentrated more on performance, reliability, features, and ease of maintenance than on making bikes with a full-out cruiser look. One of the results of that focus was Kawasaki’s Vulcan 750. The bike was created in the mid-80’s and remained almost unchanged until Kawasaki discontinued it just this year. The bike started out and pretty much remained the “ugly duckling” of the cruiser market. Compare its looks to Kawa’s current midsize cruiser offering, the Vulcan 900. Even so, the 750 for its entire life remained arguably the fastest and most feature-filled cruiser in its class. Tachometer, center stand, water cooling, shaft drive, hydraulic valves, dual overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder… you still can’t find another cruiser that comes with all that, much less back in the 80’s. So… does it surprise anyone that I would fall in love with a bike that most people think is a little bit ugly but has some of the most practical features of any cruiser made? 🙂
The price was right around what I was expecting to pay for a smaller bike, so, I talked to Amy about letting me think about the bike seriously. With the understanding that we are getting couches, she okayed it. Unfortunately, by the time I spotted the bike, it had already been on sale for over a month, and someone jumped in and snatched it up before I could get my ducks in a row. Oh well.
Since then, I briefly entertained the notion of looking for a Ninja 250 to buy. Their price makes them such that I could buy a newer bike on my self-imposed budget (thus removing some amount of worry about condition), and I could easily find one locally. Despite the sport heritage of the bike, I can actually get both my feet on the ground, and the seating is closer to a standard than a sport bike. In the end, though, I decided I was just pushing things. I’m not totally sold that I’ll always be on a cruiser, but I still think it’s the best starting place.
Yesterday, I rode up and down the owner’s driveway on a 2001 Honda Shadow VLX. That bike was so close to what I want, but not quite. The owner was asking a very good price, but it’s nevertheless more than I want to spend (it’s newer than what I’m looking for). Beyond that, though, that particular bike has a 4-speed transmission. I know that doesn’t mean much to most folks. For you manual drivers, though, 1st gear is so “tall” and the engine so unable to pull out of low revs, that it’s actually a bit of a challenge to get the right engine speed and clutch slip to get it moving. I stalled the bike probably 5 times trying it, and when I finally got it right, the bike was halfway up the owner’s driveway before I could blink. I swore I was in 2nd gear, but I wasn’t. That kind of gearing on a small engine that can’t lug very well isn’t what I need in a first bike. It would make the low speed practice I need to do very frustrating. The trip was very useful, though. It lets me cross the VLX off my list of potential bikes.
I’m keeping my eyes open. I really think what I want is either a Vulcan 500 or a Virago 535. As always, though, if the price is right, I certainly won’t turn down a Vulcan 750. 🙂 I’ll try to keep posting updates here.