Kawasaki Demo Days

Published Saturday, June 23, 2012 by Bryan

It's summer, and that means riding … as long as your bike is up for it. As with last summer, June is proving to be a frustrating month. It's oil again this year, but this time the pump is fine; it's just that it's pumping some of the oil into my air box, instead of returning it to the sump. It's manageable as long as I keep an eye on the remaining level, and empty out the box before it soaks the filter, until I can get some time at the shop (a week from now). But, that adds up to a desire to search for a bike that's a little less … cantankerous.

Thus, I found myself at Kawasaki's demo day in Mansfield, MA today. They brought most of their street line up (no offroad-only bikes), with the exception of their smaller offerings (those under 650cc). They were all on display to look at and sit on, and every hour they led group rides for people to get the feel for them.

I rode down specifically to look at one of the sportier bikes, but found myself also taking a spin on a cruiser to pass the time (signup was first come, first served, and I wasn't early enough to get a sport spot in the morning). The route was out of the parking lot, onto I-495 for a few miles, a "backroad" loop, and then a short return on I-495 again.

Bryan in black motorcycle gear sitting on an orange Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom.
A flying couch, indeed.

My cruiser ride was aboard a Vulcan 900 Custom (which is what my friend, Stan, rides). I understand now why Stan calls his a flying couch. Very smooth. Very light controls (it would be a tap to shift if it didn't have so much travel), smooth clutch, smooth throttle. I got it pretty leaned over on the highway ramp, but despite the bike feeling wide, nothing dragged. Foot pegs instead of floor boards may have made that difference. It took me many standing starts to get used to putting my feet forward instead of just pulling them up, as on my standard-position bike. There's quite a bit of vibration in the handlebars at highway speed - impossible to tell of someone's making hand signals in your mirror. I'm waiting to hear how Stan keeps from burning his leg on the engine? If it weren't for my riding pants, I think I'd have scars.

Bryan sitting on a yellow Kawasaki Versys.
The reason for the visit.

My sport ride was aboard the Versys, the bike I that drew me down there. It was definitely worth going, because the ride was quite different than I expected. The nice bits were a comfy saddle, lots of torque with a large RPM range to use, good wind deflection from the small screen, comfy foot peg placement, and a good weight balance that made me feel comfortable holding it on just the balls of both feet. The parts I'm not ranking positive, but haven't decided if they're completely negative were mostly to do with vibration. The first gear is really short, so you're either revving way out or shifting mid-standing-start-turn. The gearbox is six speeds, but over 70 on the highway, you're rising over 5000 RPM, and you really start to get some buzzing in your hands. Slowing down again, there's also a point where you hear the fairing vibrate instead. Kawasaki definitely considers this a sport bike, though they occasionally label it "touring" or "dual". You need only witness the small-diameter handlebars, narrow grip, tiny toe shifter, and forward-rotated rear brake lever to know what I mean. I think this paragraph sounds more negative than I meant it to - the Versys is a nice bike, but the day swayed me more toward really wanting to investigate some other bikes (instead of falling for the Versys, as I expected).

I think the funniest part was that the sport ride felt much slower than the cruiser ride. I don't know if it was, or if I just felt more rushed on the cruiser ride while acclimating to the different position.

In any case, it was a fun day. Lots of friendly people wanting to talk about bikes. Lots of different styles of bike in the parking lot. I would definitely do another of these.

Categories: Motorcycle