The current obsession

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.

6 thoughts on “The current obsession

  1. Yeah! Go with the Vulcan 750.
    Hopefully helpful Vulcan 750 links:

    Keywords: cycle trader vulcan 750
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&safe=images&as_qdr=all&q=cycle+trader+vulcan+750+&btnG=Search

    Keywords: craigslist vulcan 750
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&safe=images&as_qdr=all&q=craigslist+vulcan+750+&btnG=Search

    Yahoo Group ( 2188 members )
    http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/VN750/

    Pix of my VN750 with 30mm Ammo Can saddlebags on my bio page:
    http://abintrapress.netfirms.com/bio-plain.htm

    Note: email addy used is a catch-all trash bin for spammers.
    Real email addy is on my website.
    Ed Howdershelt – Abintra Press
    Science Fiction & Semi-Fiction
    http://www.AbintraPress.com
    My Fictionwise Ratings: http://tinyurl.com/26v45
    “3rd World Products, Book 1” on Fictionwise Top 50 page: http://www.fictionwise.com/Z95920TC21/top50.htm

  2. I have a 2003 ninja 250 custom paint job, and a muzzy exhaust with a K&N raising air filter how much do you think i should let it go for

  3. Tracy,

    I have no idea. Your best bet is probably to start out by looking up your bike in the NADA motorcycle guide. Click this link, then click Motorcycles.

    Since Ninja 250’s sell really often, you could also look at Cycle Trader and Craig’s List for your area and see how much others have sold for recently.

  4. It’s been a while since your post, and I hope I’m not barking down a blind alley (heh).

    I own and ride a Vulcan 750 (VN750) and love it. However, do NOT learn to ride on one! I did, and it was a mistake that held me back somewhat. I recommend ANYONE start on a Ninja 250 (EX250). It’s light, cheap, easy to ride, durable when dropped, and quick as a scalded cat. It’s the most popular starter cycle in the country – plenty used out there, and easy to sell if you want to move up. Many owners never “move up”, since it’s a fast (100 MPH), sweet-riding cycle all on its own. My wife still loves hers, and I ride it sometimes just for fun.

    I’m a 6’0″ 190-pound aggressive mountain biker and general outdoor freak. Neither small nor weak, with lightning fast reflexes. Nonetheless, I dropped the cycle no fewer than five times in the first six months. All at walking speed with no damage, lucky. I didn’t hit anything or skid, just got a little off-balance. You have to react quick to catch 500 pounds before it’s too late to hold up, and a noob just doesn’t have that reflex yet.

    I owned the Vulcan for a bit before my wife and I took the MSF course. I got to ride a Honda Nighthawk at the class, and man! Did it make a difference! I could handle, learn, and experiment better on the lighter cycle, it was a dream! Once you have some experience behind you, a VN750 would be fine. Do yourself a favor and learn on a Ninja 250 though. You’ll learn faster since you can push it a bit more! With a heavier cycle, you’re too busy trying to control the mass to push your other limits.

    I bought the Vulcan because a friend was selling it. If I had it to do over, I would have started on an EX250. Wrestling a heavy cycle only slows down the learning process. I could have gotten better faster and then gotten the VN750.

    Future fighter pilots don’t learn on high-performance aircraft. They learn to fly in trainers, then move to faster, bigger planes once they have the basics down. I strongly urge you to do the same. Get an EX250 that will help you learn fast and well. Once you are an established moto rider, your decision on what to buy next will be much better informed. You’ll also be able to handle the VN750 – you’ll already know how to ride, it’s just a little more weight.

    Final thoughts: Read the conclusions of the Hurt Study (search online, you can’t miss it) and take them to heart. Most moto riders do it unsafely, contributing to the rotten safety rep. Ride ATGATT: All The Gear, All The Time. The road is an endless belt sander, keep your skin covered.

    Good luck, and ride safe!

  5. i love my 2000 honda shadow vlx 600.. its my first bike and it has everything i need.

  6. I am 69 y/o and have been riding for 40+ years. I have covered the gamit of various motorcycles, including 2 Burgman scooters, a 400 and 650. Just bought a 2006 750 Vulcan and I love it. Good power range, not too heavy….good for commute or longer ride. Only drawback so far is the seat for 2 up riding. My wife finds it pretty uncomfortable so I am looking for an accesory add one to make it bigger and softer. One up is fine even after a 4-5 hour ride. I especially like the 750 style, little bit chopper and little bit cruiser. Just choose wisely and don’t “overide” yourself. Enjoy! Bob

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