Does the Street 750 still maintain its supremacy in this class or can the Vulcan usurp the Harley?
There is no doubt that when one thinks of cruising on two wheels, Harley-Davidson is the first brand that pops up in the mind. They have built an image of machoism and freedom around them on two wheels that no other motorcycle company has come close to matching. The aspiration levels have never dipped, especially in India where a motorcycle becomes a status symbol, and nothing comes close to Harley in this regard. Everyone would love to have a motorcycle from the hallowed manufacturer in their garage. That is where the Street 750 did wonders for Harley as it brought forth a new wave of budding HOGs wanting to imbibe the spirit of Harley-Davidson without splurging big moolah on bigger machines.
So, what are we on about here? Well, Kawasaki has some other ideas in mind. They have ridden into the segment monopolised by the H-D Street 750 (with the sportier Street Rod joining the line up) with their own cruiser – the Vulcan S. An offspring of the older-spec Ninja 650, the Vulcan S aims to ride Kawasaki back to the forefront of the big bike scene in the country.
Kawasaki Vulcan S
Remember the Kawasaki Eliminator? Made by Bajaj Auto, it was among the first cruisers made in India (if you don’t consider the Bullet to be a cruiser) which was then merged into the Bajaj portfolio as the Avenger. Now with Kawasaki and Bajaj going their own ways the Japanese are back with a cruiser. With the name derived from the home planet of Star Trek’s Spock, the Vulcan S is in every sense a cruiser, fitting the bill on all accounts.
When we tested the bike, Kawasaki only had the all-black theme, giving the Vulcan a dark brooding demeanour. Since then, they have added an orange colour option which definitely freshens things up. Although you have to shell an extra ten grand for it. You could be forgiven for mistaking the headlamp unit to be from the refreshed Avenger motorcycles, although it is Kawasaki who first had the bike globally, not the other way around.
Instead of opting for compact styling, Kawasaki has decided to give the Vulcan a rather wide appeal, pun intended. The 14-litre fuel tank does not mask its width well. The tank is especially wide near the seating area which I was not quite comfortable with. Another area of hindrance were the mini-ape hangers. They are arched inwards making it a little uncomfortable in tricky slow speed situations and are a bit of a reach when taking a U-turn.
Surprisingly, the Vulcan’s riding stance is more like a conventional cruiser than the Harley. Says something, doesn’t it? You sit really low at 705mm, arms wide and legs forward. There are custom-fit adjustable foot pegs that allow you to move the foot pegs an inch closer or further away from you. They are relatively cheap and have their own shift linkage rods and parts to change the said posture.
Given that most of the motorcycle is a derivation of sorts from the older generation Ninja 650, there is a lot to love on the Vulcan. The chassis is of course brand new to make for a cruiser setup with a 31-deg rake. The suspension units though are near identical to the Ninja with 41mm dia conventional forks and an offset rear monoshock. The front wheel is now an 18-incher, no longer making use of the 17s of the Ninja. Both wheels get a bit of webbing that looks out of the box. There is just a single 300mm front disc with a dual-piston caliper providing retardation for the Vulcan, no double disc setup like the Ninja, while on the rear wheel, you get a single-piston caliper with a 250mm disc and not the 220mm twin-piston setup of the Ninja. ABS is but obvious.
On the go, the Vulcan feels extremely stable. She is poised, calm and collected. The 235kg kerb weight may sound a bit too much on paper, but this helps the Vulcan stay grounded at triple-digit speeds.
The 649cc parallel-twin motor has been tweaked for cruising and thus the torque is made significantly lower down the rev range than what it earlier used to do on the Ninja. But you have to wring the throttle to get the Vulcan singing as she feels numb below 3,500rpm, something that would be the mid-range on most traditional cruisers. She isn’t happy revving beyond 10k and you can expect a bit of throttle snatchiness during transitions like the good ol’ Ninja. Although she will reach speeds in excess of 150kmph quite easily, there is just no excitement about it. The bike is fairly safe and sound, something that those who enjoy a sombre experience would like.
Going around bends isn’t her forte. It isn’t the Harley’s either but the Street 750 is lighter on its feet. The Dunlop Sportmax do a fair job of keeping the motorcycle the right side up. They fit the motorcycle’s ambitions to the T, something that it failed to do so with nakeds and sport tourers.
Harley-Davidson Street 750
I think this is third or the fourth time that we are pitting a motorcycle against the Street 750. Just goes to show how important and impactful the Street 750 has been to our country’s motorcycling scene. We have not seen any updates to the motorcycle since its launch at the Auto Expo in 2014, apart from colour schemes and standard ABS fitment. And yet there is something that makes it one of our favourite rides.
The styling is minimalistic. It may carry a litre less fuel than the Vulcan but the tank design is still quite wide. The difference here being that it is rather flat and tapering towards the rider rather than the bulbous design of the Kwacker. You get a bikini fairing around the headlight and there are just four more panels on the entire motorcycle – the front mudguard, underseat plastics on either side and a tail piece. That’s it.
Your bottom is perched 15mm higher than the Vulcan, the bars aren’t as forward set and the pegs are very much mid-set, thus making the triangle a very relaxed one. Don’t hound me on this but it is much like the Royal Enfield Classic (cue the fan comments). The build quality is still a couple of notches below the Kawasaki but neither does truly well on this front.
That being said, the Harley has the biggest ace up its sleeve – the 749cc Revolution-X V-twin motor. The way this motor just shoots the motorcycle off the line is simply spectacular and it is all thanks to the 59Nm of torque that is generated at 3,750rpm. Now you get the difference in the two motors. It does make fewer ponies than the Vulcan but that’s okay. One thing that the Kawasaki’s parallel twin lacks and is available in abundance with the Street 750, is soulfulness. There is something about the Vee twin that gives you the right amount of feel.
The suspension is on the softer side. It does a better job of absorbing undulations than the Kawasaki but there is evident wallowing for a few moments after the bump. The same setup makes it a bit twitchy around the bends, but I’ll take the twitchiness rather than the refusal to go down any day. The Harley is just two kilos lighter than the Kawasaki and despite its extra one degree of rake, it is the more agile of the two motorcycles. This is down to the 17/15-inch wheel setup as well as slimmer profile of the tyres. The brakes offer ample bite and presence of ABS has given an added layer of safety.
Speaking of tyres, the Harley comes standard with MRF Nylogrip Zappers while Michelin Scorchers are optional and not out of budget – keep those Screamin’ Eagle air-box and your Vance & Hines exhausts for later.
The accessories and after market parts is a big plus for the Harley. It means owners can customise their Street 750 to suit their identities; right from auxiliary lamps to saddlebags to loud exhausts to ape hangers, you can kit them all.
Competition is always welcome, especially in this segment where the go-to bike has been a Harley for the longest time. The Vulcan S does mount a solid challenge – a friendly bike that will never break a sweat (nor will its rider, for that matter). Like traditional cruisers, it is happier on the open highway than in the twisties. But the engine is not tuned like a traditional cruiser. At Rs 5.44 lakh it is priced well and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for an easy riding cruiser.
The Street 750 changed the rules of the game five years ago and it still manages to stay ahead. The motor is one of Milwaukee’s best. It enjoys corners as much as it does straights and is more affordable than its rivals. It is a Harley, complete with all the cool stuff – parts, vests, pipes, swag and camaraderie. And that seals the deal.