Kawasaki Drifter provides low-cost cruising fun


May 28, 2004|by ARV VOSS/Motor Matters

For the sport-bike person who has entertained the idea of adding a cruiser, but put off pursuing the concept because of its massive size and weight, Kawasaki has just the bike for you - the solo Vulcan 800 Drifter.

This is a metric cruising machine that exhibits a nostalgic flair on the order of a vintage Indian Chief, complete with sweeping valanced fenders fore and aft. Coded VN800-E4 (add an L at the end for the California-approved model), the 800 Drifter comes with a price tag of only $6,999 which doesn't include freight, taxes or licensing.

The diminutive and highly manageable Drifter (there's also a 1500cc model) weighs in at only 542 pounds dry (no fuel or lubricants), and comes in only one paint scheme - Ebony and Galaxy Silver metallic with red striping. Wheelbase measures 63.6 inches - considerably shorter than other cruisers in the Kawasaki lineup. The chrome-studded solo saddle's height is the tallest of the cruising line at 29.9 inches, but actually seems much lower. The rest of the bike's trim consists of brushed aluminum and lots of chrome.


There are traditional floorboards, but road bars and windshield are not part of the standard equipment list. A single headlamp leads the way, flanked by non-canceling directional signal lamps. Badging is minimal, and easily removed for those with a penchant for customization.

Power comes from an 805cc 4-stroke, SOHC (4-valves per cylinder) 55 degree V-Twin with a Keihin CVK36 carburetor featuring a fuel recovery system and manual choke. The motor is liquid cooled with an auxiliary fan.

Exhaust is a two-into-one affair featuring a downward slash-cut tip. The ignition system provides digital advance and a throttle position sensor. The transmission is a five-speed unit with a positive neutral finder and a rocker style shifter linkage. Final drive is an O-Ring chain setup. Fuel capacity is 4 gallons with a reserve switch. The mellow exhaust rumble is pleasing but not raucous.

The 800 Drifter's double-cradle frame, made from high-tensile steel, rides on twin 41 mm hydraulic, telescopic forks up front with a 130/90-16-inch tire mounted on a 48-chrome-spoke wheel nestled beneath a fully valanced fender. Aft is a unique, Bottom-link UNI-TRAK swing-arm pivotal suspension with a seven-way pre-load adjustment, also with full valanced fender, which covers a 140/90-16-inch on a chrome lace 48-spoke wheel.

SUMMARY: My test Vulcan 800 Drifter was an extreme pleasure to ride and would prove an excellent bike for the beginning rider due to its outstanding balance and agility. The wide, low-set bars make maneuvering a piece of cake during both low-speed exercises, and at highway speeds. Even the most conservative rider is likely to lean sharply and scrape floorboard edges as enthusiasm increases with easily gained confidence.

Power will be more than adequate for the majority of pleasure riders in the cruising class, but should more performance be desired, there's always the Vulcan 1500 Drifter, which is a shaft-driven bike that weighs in at 670 pounds. The 1500 Drifter also switches to a twin air adjustable shock rear suspension with four-way rebound damping, which allows for two-up riding while the retro styling remains the same.

The Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Drifter is a lot of cruiser for the solo rider at only $6,995. plus freight, tax and licensing. It combines "eye-candy" appeal with a tossability through the twisties that a lot of cruisers can't offer. A superior balanced ride quality and heightened sense of control comes quickly for beginning riders, and is sure to even bring a smile to the countenance of riders with lots of miles under their boots. Kawasaki's cruisers range from the Eliminator 125 through the new Vulcan 2000, with nine bikes to choose from in between.


Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Drifter

Base Price: $6,999.

Price as Tested: $6,999.

Engine Type and Size: 805cc SOHC, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, 4-valve

cylinder head, 55 degree V-Twin, naturally aspirated.

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

Drivetrain: Final drive - O-Ring Chain

Suspension: Front - Twin 41 mm hydraulic telescopic forks. Rear - Uni-Trak with 7-way adjustable preload.

Brakes: Front - Single disc/Rear - Drum

Tires: Bridgestone Exedora GTO5 - 130/90-16 67H front/

140/90-16 71H rear-mounted on chrome lace 48-spoke wheels.

Wheelbase: 63 inches

Curb Weight dry: 542 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 4 gallons

Seat height: 29.9 inches

Copyright Motor Matters, 2004

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