A pair of Kawasakis get taken for a ride; A sticker shocker

COMPARE AND CONTRAST: The 2013 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT (purple and white) offers a smoother powertrain and better suspension than the author’s still-fun 2001 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 (rear/red).
COMPARE AND CONTRAST: The 2013 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT (purple and white) offers a smoother powertrain and better suspension than the author’s still-fun 2001 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 (rear/red). –BILL GRIFFITH

The gentleman was insistent. Please take our Kawasaki motorcycle for a test drive:

“Can we drop off a motorcycle for you to test drive?’’

“No thanks. I do ride a motorcycle, but I only write about cars.’’

“Well, what do you ride?’’

“A 2001 Kawasaki Vulcan 800.’’ “Well, why don’t you try our 2013 Vulcan 900 Classic LT? You can compare the two.’’

And so that motorcycle arrived.

Now, it’s not fair to compare two bikes that are 12 years apart in age, but it was an interesting exercise; plus it was fun to ride the new motorcycle. Despite their age difference, I was looking to see where my bike might compare favorably.


A dozen points of comparison, all starting with the new bike.

1. The 2013 bike had electronic fuel injection, meaning it started and ran smoothly when it was cold. Mine has a fuel enriching feature that works like a manual choke. The new one you could hop on and ride immediately. Mine? You’re best advised to let it warm up for a minute or two.

2. The new bike’s throttle is much easier to control at low speeds. My bike revs faster with less turn of the throttle.

3. The new bike’s shift lever has a heel rest, meaning you can upshift either by pushing up with your forefoot or down with your heel. My riding boots have a worn spot on top where I have to kick up against the gear lever for every shift.

4. It had a much bigger fuel tank (5.3 gallons) AND a fuel gauge. Mine has no fuel gauge. Instead, I reset my trip odometer every time I fill up (about 3 gallons) and start keeping my eye out for a gas station at 100 miles—and get nervous by 125 miles.

5. The good-sized footrests are much more comfortable on long rides than the pegs on my bike.

6. The big front tire on the new Kawasaki (mine has a much narrower tire) gives the bike a smoother ride.


7. It’s got big and stylish slash-cut mufflers with emissions-reducing catalyzers. Mine has loud aftermarket Cobra pipes.

8. The new bike has nice paint, but so does mine, along with some nice pin-striping.

9. The new Vulcan’s engine makes the same internal noises as mine. That’s a relief.

10. The new Vulcan is belt-driven. Mine has a chain, which is messier and requires regular lubrication and checking.

11. The new Vulcan has wide handlebars. Getting back on my own bike, the handlebars seemed oddly narrow.

12. The new Vulcan has lots of plastic where mine has actual (and sometimes corroding) metal.

On the road, the new bike was quieter, predictably responsive, smoother (much less vibration), handled bumps better, had a much nicer windscreen, and was easier on the body on longish rides. It was a good representative of Kawasaki’s slogan: “Let the good times roll.’’

The new Vulcan has an MSRP of $9,699. Mine was paid for years ago.

The new Vulcan promises years of worry-free service, but mine has required minimal repairs—a few bulbs, a loose windshield, front brake pads, new clutch cable, and new tires—over the eight years I’ve owned it.

If I were upgrading from a first bike and looking for a new ride, the new Kawasaki would be on my short list; however, my old ride has given me too many fond memories.

Still, the 900 Classic is a keeper—which might be the nicest thing I could say about the Kawasaki brand.

Sticker Shock

Sticker shock takes many forms. A few weeks back we mentioned that we spent a few days in a pricey Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio. The Fiat was a blast to drive, but with a price of a whopping $53,600, according to the sticker, we figured there wouldn’t be many sold.


When a European reader emailed, “They must really be marking those up in the States,’’ I took a second look.

Yup. Base price was $50,000. Options included a comfort/convenience group (automatic climate control, heated seats, and satellite radio with one-year subscription ($850), special seats, body stripes, and mirror caps ($350), TomTom navigation with mounting stalk ($500), white aluminum gloss wheels ($1,200) ,and destination ($700).

That brought the price to the stunning $53,600…or so the paperwork said.

An inquiry to Chrysler brought a “WhaTTTT?’’ response … and an immediate email with the correct window sticker.

The Abarth Cabrio still isn’t cheap, but the fun-filled package actually carries a sticker of $30,050.

Base price is $26,000 with the same options and delivery adding $4,050.

That’s more in line with the main competition: the Mini Cooper S, Mazdaspeed3, and Ford Fiesta ST.


The photo of the Tesla Model S in last Sunday’s Auto Section was a terrific piece of artwork with the car set off against the backdrop of an ocean sunset. Colleague George Kennedy, who was credited with the photo, would have been proud to call it his own; however, he asks that we note it was used courtesy of Drew Phillips from Autoblog.com. … Looking ahead to Aug. 16-17 (a Friday-Saturday) and the 8th annual Northeast Chevelle & El Camino Regional show and reunion will be under way in Sturbridge. Details at chev-el.com. … Today is Tutto Italiano at Larz Anderson Auto Museum. It’s a great day for the scooters (Vespas and Lambrettas), motorcycles (Ducatti and Moto Guzzi), and all sorts of fabulous Fiats, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis. … Next Saturday is bicycle day at the museum, a time to realize that pedal technology has advanced nearly as far as motorized transport.

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