Vulcan 900 Classic LT
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This is like an extended road test of the Kawasaki Vulcan 900LT in the form of a journal. I have owned the bike since new in July 2007. Mary Ann and I are taking the Vulcan and her Burgman to Vancouver Island in the summer of 2012. I have a blog named “Lost and Burgie Go West” about the preparations and (later) the trip. You can find it HERE. (click on the underlined word)
Introduction July 2007
It was a big step to buy a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 LT in the summer of 2007. In 37 years of motorcycling, I never owned a cruiser until now. I always thought of cruisers as bikes for the beer and tattoo crowd, and for hanging out at the pool hall.
Like most cruisers, the Vulcan has the low seat, and the floorboards mounted forward to stretch your legs. In the last few years I started having back pains while riding sport touring bikes. But a cruiser with a backrest has a similar riding position as an easy chair.
I rode the Vulcan wearing my full face helmet, Joe Rocket jacket, leather overalls, and touring boots. I felt no real need to get bikered up with a beanie helmet, fringed vest, assless chaps (I know, its redundant), or cowboy boots. Although I actually have some of these items.
Tip on Rising Rate Linkage or Unitrak Suspension
The Vulcan has a rising rate linkage on the rear shock, meaning the leverage changes as the shock absorber compresses. The more it compresses, the stiffer the suspension gets. Now for all you owners wondering where to set the preload adjustment, try #7, the one that raises the back of the bike highest. This is not the only bike I have had with this type of suspension and they all seem to work the same way – softest ride is on the maximum preload. This heretical idea goes against the mythology that softest ride is at the lowest preload setting. Which, by the way is bull, even for a simple rear suspension that has no links or levers. Setting it at 7 may not work for you if you need the lowest seat height possible. But for me, there is no situation where I need to adjust it back down. Admittedly, the suspension is still a bit stiff, but that is the because of the stiff original shock, not the preload setting. Its also good to have extra ground clearance.
If you have any comments on this piece of advice, or
anything at all actually, email me, click on email at the top of this
page. The rest of the page is written in journal form, starting at
the top from the day I took the bike home from the dealer.
Tuesday July 10 2007. (6 km.)
I rode the bike home solo, then went out for a ride with Mary Ann as passenger. Mary Ann said she could feel every bump in the road. The seat foam is very thin, and the passenger section is only 10 in. wide. So I added 4-6 layers of carpet underlay tied down with nylon straps, and a sheepskin on top. Then I raised the suspension to position 7 out of 7. It is a variable link single shock with about 4 inches of travel, so in theory should give a smooth ride like my Honda GL500. The back tire is 32 psi. (Recommended for over 215 lb load.)
The drive belt seems tight to my inexperienced eye, but apparently that's according to Kawasaki specs, also Harley belts are similarly tensioned. Seems to be a debate on the internet as to whether the factory setting is actually too tight.
Friday July 13, 2007 Driving Experience 600 Km
I think I will be able to match about 300 km per tank. I have 270 right now, and the needle is almost at the red mark. The 3 liter warning light has not come on yet. Last time I filled up at about the same needle position it was 11 liters and 220 km.
Cornering clearance: I have not dragged the floor boards yet. I don't think clearance is going to be an issue for me, regardless of other people's opinions. I did change my driving style a little by leaning my shoulders into the sharper corners. It helps keep the bike more upright. Also I have slowed down a bit from my BMW days, but that just means I don't come up behind slow moving traffic as often.
July 16, 2007
The reserve light started flickering on at 340 km, and I ran it to 378.4 km where I put in 16.745 liters (part way up the neck). The gas gauge was reading empty at about 270.
There seems to be a general feeling that Japanese bikes such as the Vulcan are Harley clones. I'm not so sure about that. This bike has 4 valves per cylinder, liquid cooling, fuel injection, and a short stroke motor. Maybe having 2 cylinders in a V is a rip-off, but really, lots of other bikes have had that layout for over a hundred years. Harley was not the first. It seems like most Americans like the look of a V-twin, so Kawasaki will build them for their customers. Now how about the stuff Harley copied from Japan? For starters, their entire manufacturing process was copied in the early eighties. That was just about the time that Harleys became reliable, and it's no coincidence.
Just as I had some problems adjusting to the BMW K1100LT when I first bought it, now I am having some problems getting used to the Vulcan.
I am not used to chrome, it is almost blinding.
Do I need to take it in for servicing to keep the warranty? With the BMW I played it safe for the first three years, and was glad I did.
The Vulcan's passenger seat is too narrow narrow. But the length is OK, and Mary Ann says it is better than the BMW, especially the backrest.
The drivers seat is extremely low, actually causes some pain trying to lift my legs to the floorboards.
Inner tube tires are hard to repair beside the road, the BMW had a handy CO2 repair kit that I never used, never had a flat tire.
No tachometer? Not since my Honda CD175 have I owned a bike without a tach. But the Vulcan does have a rev limiter, I've hit it several times.
The Vulcan looks like a Harley to many people, even sounds bit like one. Nobody ever asked me if my BMW was a Harley. But then one person asked if my Vulcan was a BMW! I don't get that at all.
No drain plug for forks (remove fork to change fork oil). No replaceable fuel filter (replace fuel pump to change filter). That's the way cars are made today too.
Things I Like
Maybe the drive belt is the way of the future. I love it so far.
Big gas tank/ up to 400 km per tank.
Big fenders, round headlight, I like the retro look, and the splash protection.
The driver's seat may be too low for me but at least it's wide enough.
Almost no vibration, not enough to be a problem for me, anyway. The BMW always buzzed at almost any speed, at times it was bothersome in the handgrips.
Monoshock linkage is actually more sophisticated than the direct link shock BMW. But no damper adjustment.
July 17, 2007 1295 km. I went back to the dealer today. Jeff introduced me to the parts guy and I got a discount on two oil filters (one for the Burgman), a shop manual.
I changed the oil for 10W-40 Castrol, and put in a new filter. I can hold the bike vertically by putting boards under the sidestand, and a block under the right footpeg bracket.
The oil came out clean, I was surprised the oil filter was almost empty (but not dry). I had to buy a new filter wrench adapter $6.00 at Cdn Tire. The original filter was on real tight.
Adjusting Drive Belt Tension. I felt the tension was a bit tight, and not only Kawasaki owners, but Harley owners agreed that belts are mostly too tight from the dealer. And it was riding to the left side of the sprocket. (It's supposed to, according to the manual- Ed.) So I backed off the left adjuster 1 turn and the right adjuster backed off 1 and 3/6 turns. Now the belt is not banjo tight, but tight enough (say 10 lb. gives 9 mm deflection?). I didn't have a 27 mm flat wrench for the right axle nut, so I bought one. I sighted along the tires, and the wheels are centered.
After a ride, I didn't notice any extra suspension softness, but I don't think it's harder either. And there was no oil leaking.
July 20, 2007 1350 km
The headlight adjuster screws are the opposite of the Owners Manual. The vertical adjusting screw is actually on the port (left side facing forward), not starboard. (My shop manual gets it right)
There are a lot of cautions in the shop manual about the drive belt. I found the inspection window, which has marks spaced 5 mm. apart for reference. It also cautions about worn fabric on the belt, but I don't know what that looks like, I need some pictures.
July 22, 2007
I removed the tank badges that cut into my knees, and it's nice paint underneath. It was tedious removing the thick glue, though. Took about 2 hours. I sit forward, and I like to keep my knees in near the tank.
July 24, 2007
Looked at the headlight adjustment. I figure I can raise it a bit more than the MOT says without causing a problem, as there is a very sharp low beam cutoff, and as long as that stays below the oncoming drivers eyes, it should be OK.
July 25, 2007 1911 km .
I added a fly screen windshield, and moved the handlebar levers forward and up. Took a drive to Mitchell, and came back in the dark, again not a problem with the headlight adjusted properly. I felt very comfortable at the seat height with two layers of kneeler pads. I was running up to 140 in the dark on the way back, following another bike.
Today I took the bike down to Port Dover, and watched a tall ship come in. I also got to test in the rain. And I got soaked. I only had a fly screen on, and now I know why it's called a fly screen, it does protect your fly, a little. The vents on the short Joe Rocket jacket were not properly closed, so water got in there. My hands were black with the dye from the black riding gloves (reminds me of why I like the natural leather gloves.) My pants got wet, but I could keep my legs warmer by I putting my feet on the passenger pegs. My wallet stayed dry, but I guess it would not be able to take 2 hours of rain or more. The sheepskin was starting to absorb water where I was sitting, because of water running down my front. The rest of it appears to be dry (foam and sheepskin). I was wearing running shoes and they were totally soaked.
July 31, 2007 2657 km. I decided to bend (or straighten out) the heel shifter, so that I can rest my foot on the back edge of the floorboard, and also use the heel shifter when I want to. The pedal ends up about 45 deg. from square, otherwise it doesn't look too bad. I can bend it to the original if I need to, or simply get another gear lever if it breaks. I used sheet aluminum for scratch protection, big pipe wrench, a hollow tube extender, and a piece of wood to act as fulcrum. I also needed to remove the floorboard to give me space.
Now the Vulcan is 21 days old, seems like I'm averaging over 100 km a day, hardly seems possible! Today I took the longest, most tiring trip so far, in 32c. Heat plus two rain showers taking Barry as a passenger down to Clare Cycle to pick up his Harley. I left at 2:00 and got back at 7:45 PM. The worst for the wear was my lower back. No pain in the fingers, seat not too bad, no upper shoulder pain. I took Barry over some bad roads and at speed, the progressive link suspension needed no adjustment, and never bottomed out. Didn't get too wet in the rain, but if it was cold I would have dressed differently.
August 21, 2007 2900 km. 10C drizzle.
I went for a cold wet dark ride to test the gear and weather protection for a trip to Sept Iles on Sept. 7th. The results were satisfactory. I have put the original windshield back on minus the badge in the front. I also bungied two bags on the seat to give me a backrest. On the first test the buffeting was extreme at 120 kph, giving me double vision. Then I tilted the windshield back, and raised it to the top level. Now I can move my head to get a smooth quiet air flow.
August 29, 2007 More testing in preparation for the ride to Sept Iles . It is feeling comfortable enough for a full day's riding with no physical symptoms (I hope). It's packed with all the cold and wet weather clothing I need, with bags on the passenger seat for a makeshift backrest.
September 1, 2007 3637 km.
I added air to the tires, 38 psi rear, 32 psi front. Apparently Dunlop thinks Kawaski's recommendation is too low, and I didn't notice a harder ride with more pressure. Actually may feel a bit more planted on the road than with the 28 psi I had at the rear.
September 11, 2007 7208 km.
I just returned from Sept Iles without problems. Unless they were problems of my own making. I managed to run down down the battery, because I shut off the motor with the kill switch, then forget to turn off the key. A 30 minute ride charged it up enough to start twice the next day. But push starting the bike was difficult with the Kawasaki "Neutral finder" gear selector. This system prevents you from shifting into second gear while the bike is stopped. You have to push pretty fast just to be able to shift to second, and the bike will not start if you pop the clutch in first, the tire locks.
I did one 900 km. day on the freeway, where my back was quite tired at the end. I don't really want to put in longer days than that anymore. The rest of this trip included mountain roads, including some rough pavement, and the bike handled everything without complaint.
October 20, 2007 Partly cloudy 16c 8726 km
Just returned from Port Dover, first time ever scraping the floorboards (left side) while trying to stay ahead of a blue sport bike. But I was not leaning my shoulders into the curve, as I had almost forgotten about the "cornering clearance problem". It scraped at the rear of the floorboard, without touching the protective scrapers on the front. I realized the scrapers should have been mounted at the back of the floorboards. Maybe that's why I couldn't scrape the floorboards, while many testers said it was easy to do.
The coolant overflow tank is normal, which I checked today. And I washed the bike for the first time since I bought it (I mean a full wash with bucket of water and rag etc.) Wow does it ever look new again.
October 29, 2007 Sunny 8918 km
Took a peek under the chrome plastic cover on the left of the engine, it covers the ignition coils. I really like the look of the bike when it is shiny and clean. Maybe I won't turn it into a rat bike after all.
November 3, 2007. 9471 km. 8c to 12c Sunny
A run to Ipperwash beach where you can ride on the sand, and Ravenswood where the new wind turbines are going up. Next run to Port Dover, where I just barely touched down the left floorboard scraper (now installed correctly). I met a woman on a Sportster who wanted me to feel her hand because it was warm with her surgical gloves under her riding gloves. Much as I appreciated the demo, I will not be getting surgical gloves any time soon.
November 7, 2007. 9500 km. 1c Light snow
For cold weather, I added two aluminum brackets for mounting mud flaps in front of the floor boards. They will protect my feet. Then I put two hand muffs on the handlebars. They are called Sidewinder ATV Handlebar Mitts. They were on special for $36 at Crappy Tire. There were problems in using the ATV muffs. With the stock mirrors, the closure at the front can't close tight especially on the right where I have the throttle cables coming out. Still, I was able to ride in the dark for about 45 minutes in summer gloves under the muffs, working all the controls easily and even able to take my hands off the bar and get it back on. I also went on the freeway to make sure they work at speed.
November 8, 2007. 9500 km. 1c Light snow
This morning, to make the muffs fit better, I removed the stock mirrors and replaced them with two Emgo universal handlebar mount mirrors, which I got for $11 each at Zdeno's. Now I can tighten the muffs completely over the control pods. I still needed to add a spacer on the left to keep the muff from rotating.
November 10, 2007. 9600 km. 4c Partly Cloudy
I took a ride out to Two Wheel Motorsports to pick up oil filters for the Burgman and the Vulcan.
It's about the coldest I've ridden in with the Vulcan. I wore one pair socks, winter motorcycle boots, light jeans, bib leather pants, sweat shirt and the inner liner from my parka, my long Joe Rocket jacket, winter gloves. No scarf. On the bike I had the mud flaps in front of the floor boards, of course the windshield, and the new handlebar muffs.
November 12, 2007. 9653 km.
I decided to tighten the drive belt a bit today. The belt was starting to feel a bit loose. I got some use out of my $27 wrench for the 27 mm axle bolts. I tightened it 3 flats (½ turn) on each side, and it's pretty tight but actually when I got it new, it was ½ turn tighter than that. .
November 13, 2007. 9903 km. Sunny AM 5c up PM 13c
Filled up with gas at GTO and headed to Toronto. I wore 2 pr. Socks instead of one, my neck warmer/balaclava instead of a scarf. Otherwise same street outfit as Nov 10th. But this time I was never cold, sometimes actually too warm and had to remove a few items of clothing. I first stopped at Tim's on Dundas and Kipling, then came back to Parker Bros. After that, went down 427 to Lakeshore all the way to Bay St. Then north on Bay St. past the Starbuck's to Bloor, turned right on the next street where it was permitted, then right again on Yonge, down to Queen's Quay, headed east past the Second Cup coffee shop with a couple of bikes parked in front on the sidewalk. Then down the QEW to Guelph Line. I went north on Guelph Line and stopped at the Ice House for pie and coffee. There was a group of six riders (Harleys and BMW's) at one table, a couple riding a Triumph Tiger at another. Then back home on the 401. Departed at 9:30, Arrived at 2:15.
My handlebar muffs were absolutely perfect. I could use my left hand to give the V sign to a school bus full of kids out at 110 kph, then stick the hand back in with no problem. And my hands were warm all day.
November 17, 2007. 9903 km. Light Snow AM 1c up PM 3c
I connected the electric vest for Mary Ann on her scooter, and while I was out testing it, I bought an electric vest for me, it's a Blackjack by Electrowear in Vancouver. It was $100 at Zdeno's, plus $15 for an on off switch on a pigtail extension. A thermostat was available for $40, but I didn't buy it.
The battery on the Vulcan was easy to find, just remove the tool tray, but the tray leaves little space under for the wires. I finally got everything back in place, now for the riding test.
Notes on electric vests: They are worth the trouble in freezing weather. When I get cold on the motorcycle, it happens from my insides, because my outside is well protected. But no matter how many layers I am wearing, I'm breathing in cold air, which cools the inside of the lungs. You don't immediately feel the cold in your lungs (not at 0c anyway), but you are gradually losing body heat with every breath of air. This is where the electric vest helps. It can offset the gradual loss of body heat. Also, because I can turn it off while riding, I don't get too overheated at the start of my ride. And I don't have to wear so many layers of clothes, and yet I feel really warm riding around all day with the vest on. I've used electric vests in cold weather since 1987, but it's still a strange sensation, which is almost as good as riding in warm weather. If the vest fails for any reason I can usually still ride about an hour before getting too cold.
Sunday November 18, 2007. 10,000 km. Sunny/clouds 10 AM -4c up 1 PM +2c
Port Dover: Departed 9:45, arrived home 1:15 PM. Because it was so cold, I was wearing my new electric vest. Also, two pairs of socks, winter gloves, long johns > jeans > bib leather pants. T-shirt -> sweatshirt -> electric vest -> parka liner -> long Joe Rocket Jacket. Balaclava around the neck, earplugs, full face helmet. Handlebar muffs.
I saw only one other bike, right in Port Dover. I had spare winter mittens and rain pants if required, but I didn't need them. Part of the time, the vest was too warm, and I shut it off, in towns for example. On the open road, the vest ran full blast and felt OK. But I can see now the potential of a thermostat, which I did not buy. If it is inside the jacket, it might be able to regulate itself without all the fumbling with the switch. I forgot to disconnect the plug while gassing up, but I didn't pull it hard before I noticed. Another time I dropped a glove after I had sat down and connected the vest, and had to disconnect and get off the bike to reach it.
More notes on electric vests: If you are dressed right, you should not need to turn it on for the first 20 minutes of riding. It would be nice to have a connector that pops free with a light tug on the wire. The connector should go on the left because it's the side you get off the bike, and the best spot for it is near your left knee or inner thigh. Finally, don't wad up an electric vest when packing in your saddlebag, you can break the wires. Try to keep it flat (or wear it).
Saturday December 8, 2007
I have not been riding since Nov 18 because of wet roads, ice and cold. But I did go to the motorcycle show in Toronto yesterday with Barry and Bob. We took the subway to Union Station in and walked in on the skywalk, which was the first time I ever heard of it.
I got a chance to sit on (or in) a Mustang saddle. It was the one with a backrest. I could feel that the foam was not as thick as mine (which is now a total of 4 inches.) The backrest was kind of small, compared to a full bedroll. I think I will use my efforts to try to find newer handlebars that are narrower and reach further back so I can lean back more.
Wednesday January 9, 2008 +3c Damp roads, cloudy,
winds up to 75 kph
I went for a 40 minute ride, first time since November 18, it started as easily as if it was the middle of summer, easier than the BMW in cold weather. I have never used the electric charger yet on this bike. We had three days of temperatures over 10c, melted amost all the snow. I wore the same outfit as on Nov 18th except no long johns and I didn't need to turn on the electric vest at all. The main challenge was the wind, almost knocked me down while I was fumbling with the electric vest switch, crossing an intersection in the city centre. It was a wind tunnel. But out on the highway, the Vulcan felt very stable and easy to keep on a straight line.
Sunday January 13, 2008 +1c Dry roads, cloudy 10380
I went to Port Dover in almost the same conditions as last time (Nov 18). I saw no motorcycles until I had finished my coffee and was gassing up. A man riding a BMW and a woman on a blue Indian stopped across the way at Tim Horton's. Her bike had the big fenders and said Indian on the gas tank, I didn't take the time to look closer, as I wondered if it might be a Kawasaki Drifter in disguise. I saw one other motorcycle on the way home, a woman passenger, too. I flashed a V sign, and saw a huge grin on her face. When I got home, Mary Ann said she must be dead and the smile frozen on. I was doing the <cough> speed limit and didn't get a really good look. I was wearing long johns and the electric vest was on and I was actually quite warm all over.
Saturday March 22, -4c Sunny, Dry roads 10,450 km.
I went to Paris and back, about 90 minutes. Started on the first push of the button. Either the shock absorbers were stiff, or the road was rough, or my back was sensitive, but altogether a bit of a punishing ride. This was about the coldest weather yet, and my feet started to get a little cool after 90 minutes, but my hands were actually toasty warm, using the handlebar muffs and my winter gloves. I forgot to unplug the electric vest after I got home, but the plug came apart as I stepped off, without breaking anything I hope.
Oil change: Castrol 10W-40. No oil filter at this time.
I got a recall notice in the mail about the fuel line connector. This is the first recall notice I have ever received for any vehicle I have ever owned. It says "DO NOT RIDE THE BIKE". A bit late for that since I have over 10,000 km on it already. Anyhow, I went out and checked the fuel line connector - the notice doesn't say anything specific, but I read about it in the online Kawasaki forums. Seems OK to me, I'll stop by the dealer when I get a chance.
While surfing the Kawasaki forum for the recall notice, I came across a new owner upset at having bought the LT model with the luggage, windshield and sissy bar included. He thought it would be better if he had got the plain 900 and added aftermarket accessories himself. It was his first bike. I have had plenty of experience mounting accessories on bikes, and here is why I got the LT with the factory accessories. In almost every case, factory accessories fit perfectly, mount solidly, are good quality and don't cost as much as if you ordered separately. This was certainly true of the 900LT accessories. Best of all, you can see them all mounted on the bike before making your decision to buy that model.
Aftermarket accessories are a crap shoot. They may be very good, they may be junk. It takes a long time to carefully research each one, order, and install it. Universal accessories always come with a set of brackets to adapt them to your bike. Sometimes the brackets need to be forced, or drilled. If you are adding more than one accessory, one might interfere with another close by. Finally, the good aftermarket accessories are usually more expensive.
With the LT accessories, I didn't care that the saddlebags did not lock, and were not removable. Locking saddlebags are great when you are parking at a mall or at a movie theater. They are not really necessary at Tim Horton's, McDonald's, or at most motels, which is where I park. I don't leave valuables in the saddlebags. Even when I had my BMW with the removable bags and trunk, I would leave the bags and trunk on the bike, and just take out my overnight or clothes bags to take into the motel. I tried it the other way for a while, it was just so much easier to leave the (usually) dirty saddlebags on the bike.
One problem I had was with the windshield on the LT which stands up a bit too vertically for me, but it is large and solidly mounted. I was able to tilt it back a bit and it's perfect for long trips and cold rainy weather. In the summer I can remove it for day trips. The sissy bar is great in that it is really solid, and I can tie luggage to it without worries. My back rest for long trips is a duffel bag strapped to the back seat.
It would not be a good idea to buy an LT thinking that you could buy different bags, windshield, and sissy bar later that would attach to the factory brackets. No aftermarket supplier would design their stuff to use a Vulcan VN900 LT's brackets, as it would not fit other bikes, and the LT (as you can see) comes with it's own accessories. Aftermarket suppliers would not get a lot of sales with that kind of thinking.
Anyhow, it's easy to understand how a new motorcyclist might make some mistakes on their first purchase, because they are unsure of what they want in the bike itself, let alone all the accessories. However I knew what I wanted, the accessories are functional, relatively inexpensive, solid, convenient, and no waiting.
June 1, 2008. 17c 11589 km
While cleaning the bike, I noticed the middle clamp on the front heat shield was loose, and the shield was rattling a little. I tightened it, and after a test ride I found my knocking sound had disappeared. Good, because I was using premium fuel thinking it was preignition. Now back to the "cheap" stuff. (i.e. $1.34 per litre)
And by the way, I got a chance to see what the exhausts would look like without a heat shield. I put them back on. As much as I dislike pretty bikes, that uncovered exhaust was just a tich too ugly for my taste.
September 3, 2008. 27c 16610
Another trouble free 5,000 km, doing day trips this summer. The fuel line recall still has not been inspected officially. I did actually drop by at the dealer, but they would not look at it without an appointment, as it apparently takes half an hour. We have been getting rain almost every day all summer so far, and I don't want to make an appointment because I can't be sure of the weather.
September 12, 2008. 19c 17100
I have been doing some local riding and have a few odd observations. I changed the mirrors last year, so this is not with the factory mirrors. But the left one was steady on the freeway while the right was blurred from vibration. Must be the weight of the brake reservoir that changes the vibration frequency. Another observation: Driving into my mother's carport over about a 3 inch rise, I heard a bang under the bike. The middle grease fitting for the rear suspension is damaged.
My mother had some memory foam for me to try under my sheepskin seat cover. I have never used memory foam before, it will take a while to assess whether it helps.
I often feel a sharp pain around the kidney area when I hit a bump. The problem seems to be getting worse, so I wonder if my back is getting weaker, or if the rear spring is sacking out. One solution is to sit further forward. There are reasons why this works, but no time right now to analyse. I fixed up my memory foam so I could sit forward and it really helped, it felt like I was floating over the bumps.
September 17, 2008. 19c 17600
Today I took a look at the suspension links, thinking I would try to lubricate them through the fittings. One of the grease fittings got a little bit crushed last week, so I went to Canadian Tire to find another one, and I also wanted some kind of 90 degree fitting because my grease gun will not fit on the nipple straight, not enough ground clearance. The metric grease nipples at Canadian Tire are so close, but do not fit the Vulcan. I brought some home, but they only screwed in about one thread then jammed. I also bought a right angle grease gun adapter for $6, and it actually works. By taking off the fittings, I found that the inside of the nipples had no grease. If the suspension links have any grease at all in them, it must have been put in before the final assembly of the suspension at the factory, not through the grease nipples. The joints took a lot of grease from my grease gun before they finally filled up. I guess Kawasaki saves millions on grease bills by putting the bikes together like this. Hoping that greasing the suspension made it smoother over the bumps, I went for a test ride. I also dug out an old kidney belt that I bought over 20 years ago, but have never used since. It was a real squeeze! So I don't know what helped, but I did not feel any painful jarring over the bumps on my ride.
21, 2008. 18c 18461 km
I did an oil and filter change, 10w-40 Castrol. I put in 3.2 litres, as the book says to do with a new filter. And now the sight glass level is right in the middle.
I rode the
bike a short distance yesterday without earplugs or a helmet, and
noticed a little ticking noise in the engine. I did it again today,
but didn't hear anything.
September 23, 2008. 16c 18650 km
Yesterday the windshield was flexing in the wind, and the lowest nut and bolt on the right side was loose. Next I checked the spokes, for the first time. I thought the rear spokes sounded a bit dull when tapped with a screwdriver, so I got out my 6mm wrench and tightened them all about one quarter turn. It's a bit tricky with the Vulcan with no centre stand, so I used bits of tinfoil to mark the spokes while I rolled the bike backwards to get the next batch of spokes into view. I also had to switch sides of the bike because the spokes on the left are not easily accessible from the right. The front spokes seemed OK so I left them alone. I also boosted the rear tire pressure from 25 to 29 psi. I think the manual calls for 28 solo and 32 with a passenger. Actually it says 215 lb load is 28 psi, and I weight about 200. The next level is up to 397 lb. so that should be safe with Mary Ann as a passenger.
September 24, 2008. 21c 18680 km
The rear tire looks bald down the middle, lots of tread on the edges. It makes the bike a little skittish on uneven pavement. And, according to the book it is more likely to get a puncture when worn. I got a new rear tire installed today. Metzeler Marathon ME880 180/70x15B, bias ply, tubeless, made in Brazil. It cost $200 for the tire, $60 installation, and $18.99 new inner tube. I really appreciate that you can watch this mechanic work on the bike, a rare event these days. I have two wheel weights now, the other tire only needed one. My re-usable cotter pin was discarded and replaced with a new one. But I did ask for the old tube back. From what I could see, he did a careful job of mounting the tire. I noticed that the tire does indeed have a “safety bead” meaning it takes a lot of force to break it away from the rim, similar to a tubeless tire. They pumped the tire to 40 psi, I lowered it to 30. I also think the belt is tighter than I had it.
These Brazilian Metzelers have had a few complaints on the Internet, so I'm going to keep an eye on the tire. Sometimes these complaints turn out to be baseless.
October 1, 2008 19083 km.
I needed a little exercise today, so after sweeping the driveway I pulled the Vulcan out of the garage to adjust the belt tension and rear wheel alignment. I wanted it loose enough to give .5 cm. with a one fingered push. I know that is not scientific, I just don't like it when it's a tight as a banjo string (another scientific term). So I loosened the adjuster one half turn. Then I loosened the other adjuster a full turn to line up the front wheel (using my precision guided eyeball). Then I tightened up the axle nut with my $27 wrench and slipped in a new cotter pin. It still bugs me that the mechanic who changed the tire tossed the re-usable clip I had in there – he threw it about 30 feet probably a world record for discarding parts off my motorcycle.
October 7, 2008 19600 km
Today was sunny and cold. I needed a couple of sweaters under my short Joe Rocket jacket. I went on a trip to Niagara Falls, taking the scenic route through Port Dover. I left at 11 AM and returned at 7 PM after spending all the time riding except for a couple of Tim Horton's breaks. This was a big test for the memory foam in the seat, and for my kidney belt. I think the Kidney belt worked well for me, I actually only put it on after the first hour and a half. Even at the end of the day I was not feeling lower back pain. The memory foam I'm not so sure of, my rear end hurt more than my lower back. Usually it's the other way round, at least in the last four years. But I was still in good shape by the time I got home, nothing hurting bad enough to spoil the fun.
The bike was really fun to ride today, I guess being comfortable makes everything seem better – the gear shifting, the suspension smoothness, even the engine power and sound. I got into a little high speed riding in rush hour traffic on the freeway, and the Vulcan seems to have the same kind of lunge forward that my old BMW did. Although, to be honest, that's physically impossible with only half the horsepower of the BMW. But it was cutting through traffic just like the BMW, except that one time there was a Gold Wing ahead of me that simply vanished in the distance – the BMW would have reeled that one in. The only bike I actually passed was a sportbike. I thought “good going”, until I went by and saw it was a Ninja 250.
October 13, 2008 19876 km
I went for a ride today, 22c and sunny. Mary Ann rode her Burgman with her sister, I took the Vulcan. At one point the engine seemed to bog down and then cleared itself. That was after about 4 minutes of running, just where it normally goes into warm running mode. One way I can tell when it warms up is by the idle speed dropping, if I'm at the traffic light. It was the first time I have ever felt the Vulcan 900 falter for more than a split second.
The handlebars bend does not seem to fit me, when I try to raise them, the brake reservoir hits the edge of the windshield. The problem is not with the original design of the bike, because when I bought it, the seat was much lower and the windshield more vertical. But now I need to raise the bars and they hit the windshield. So I found some used bars off a V-Star 650, and tried them against my bike, but no luck. They would need some long risers to get them within reach, and away from the windshield. So then I decided to raise the standard bars as far as I could and see what happens. Now the bulky brake fluid reservoir on the right handlebar is pressing against the windshield and bending it out a little. I put a split rubber hose on the edge of the windshield to prevent chafing. Finally, I think the bars are high enough. Too bad I can't return the V-Star bars, but they were only $40 anyway, and I may be able to find some risers later and experiment with them. I would also probably cut some off the ends of the V-Star bars to make them narrower, as they are just as wide as the stock Vulcan bars.
October 16, 2008 20200 km.
A 400 km. all day ride in the cold (9c to 12c). Mary Ann came with me, and with a couple of friends on an old Gold Wing, we visited a road called MacLean Lake Road, with an offshoot on to Wylde Nature Road (more like a wide path through the bush.). I would like to go back one day to get a picture of the Vulcan sitting on a big slab of exposed bedrock, as this road (like most of Canada) is in the “Canadian Shield” area.
I had one more episode of sluggish engine after about 2 minutes of running, again it went away within seconds. Now I'm thinking I need to put some fuel injector cleaner in the gas tank, like I did with my BMW a few years ago.
I was very comfortable with my kidney belt, and the higher handlebars. At the end of the day, there were no sore parts, and I felt ready to go even further. Mary Ann commented on how comfortable the passenger seat on the Vulcan is compared to the BMW K1100LT. Well, I never rode on the passenger seat of that bike, ever. But I know the helmet banging was pretty intense, and I never get my helmet knocked by Mary Ann's on the Vulcan. The passenger height, longer seat, backrest, and less aggressive shifts all contribute.
One more note, Roly was complaining about all the wind, and it was blowing the Gold Wing around, but for some reason the Vulcan was almost unaffected by it. I was thinking maybe the fairing, or top box, or the steering geometry might play a part. I know my BMW K1100LT used to get blown about more by the wind, but this Vulcan seems almost immune.
May 20, 2009 24032 km.
I decided to do an oil change today, 10w-40 oil. I have been out for 4000 km of riding already, including both Friday 13th's to Port Dover (February and March). I am having a lot of trouble sitting on the seat, I'm going to see my doctor about it, it has very little to do with the bike itself. So I have removed my extra foam layers and instead I'm using an old fabric air mattress, rolled up and of course with some air in it. This solves my problem entirely so far anyway. I can ride for hours with no discomfort. But it does feel like riding a jello pudding especially while accelerating or going around corners. Actually kind of fun, at low speeds anyway. And a lot more fun than what I was feeling before.
I was reading the 2008 Kawaski Vulcan promotion literature and I came across a funny comment, on the Vulcan 900 custom, so of course I need to put it out here: “The Vulcan 900 Custom offers a very low seat height of just 685 mm while its hidden rear shock offers the look and feel of a traditional hardtail-type rear end” A hardtail is a bike with a rigid rear suspension. A softail looks like a hardtail, but feels like a normal bike with rear shock absorbers. This magic is accomplished by adding a hidden rear spring and shock. Although some people like the traditional LOOK of a hardtail, most don't want the FEEL.
August 19, 2009 29,070 km.
I have reverted to the stock saddle only again, and now I can sit on it without discomfort. This summer we have had a lot of thunderstorms, but I only got caught once so far. I did tighten the exhaust pipe nuts at the head because I thought I heard some exhaust leaking. I will need to check the steering head bearings soon, I think I feel the bike wandering at low speeds.
December 2, 2009 32445 km Dry roads, no snow 8c
I went for a December ride. One of my goals is to beat the winter by riding my bike at least once each month. November was easy this year, no snow at all, an all time first for the Toronto weather station. Last month Mary Ann and I went to Port Dover for Friday 13, November 2009, she rode her Burgman. Now that it's December I have the handlebar muffs on, but they were not really needed today with a high of 8c. It was another trip to Port Dover and I saw about 10 other bikes either on the road or parked at gas stations or coffee shops.
A few weeks ago, I broke down and purchased an Air Hawk seat cushion. It works well enough, but I can still get numb butt if I don't move at all for over an hour on the bike. This seat pad allows me to remain comfortable with much less moving around. I would have preferred the 14” wide seat, but all they have available around here seems to be the 12” wide seats, so I made do, and this size might even be better if can also use it on my Honda CD175.
A month ago, I was going to Toronto on the Vulcan, and it ran on one cylinder almost until I hit the on ramp to the freeway. Running on one cylinder is possible in the city, but not on the freeway, and I was almost ready to turn back and change vehicles when it suddenly cut in again. That was last month. One week ago, I decided to throw some STP fuel injector cleaner in the gas tank . I split the can of cleaner with Mary Ann's Burgman because it's too much for one bike's gas tank. Today the Vulcan started up easily and ran clean. I don't know if Mary Ann and I both got some bad gas this summer, but both bike acted up. Hers refused to start once. Mine ran on one cylinder that one time. I tried fuel injector cleaner once before on my BMW and it cleared up a long standing problem I was having. If it's faith healing, at least it seems to work and it's cheap and easy.
January 25, 2010 32545 km Light rain/snow 5c
I changed the oil this morning, but not the filter. I put in mostly 10W-40, but topped it up with a little 10W-30. I was out for two rides last week, and on the second ride, I heard a worrying sound from the engine when I revved it before it warmed up fully. I had not changed the oil since May 20th, which was about 8,500 km. ago. I don't like changing the oil in the winter, in the unheated and crowded garage, but I thought it was necessary this time. It takes about 15 minutes to pour 3 litres of cold oil through the funnel. In the future, I'm going to be a bit more careful about letting the engine warm up when it's cold. I didn't hear any nasty sounds the first day, when I did let it warm up for about 3 minutes before taking off.
The Vulcan seemed to start easily enough for both rides, so I think that problem went away.
April 19, 2010 36000 km. Sunny 11c
Changing the air filter today, I first called Two-Wheel Motorsports to make sure they carried air filters in stock. I don't like riding all the way to Guelph to find out I need to order something. Yes, they have them, so I got on the bike for a ride. I don't need much of an excuse these days, we are having a run of exceptional weather, and I had a bladder stone removed in February that makes riding much more comfortable. I have managed to ride 3500 km. already this year, without going south to the USA, I guess that's a record for me anyway. I also got at least one ride in each month of winter.
When I got my air filter home, I set about installing it. The schedule calls for replacement at every 18,000 km, so I'm exactly double that. The old filter was so black I could hardly see sunlight through it, yet the bike's performance was unaffected. I appreciate that it only takes five screws and the filter is out. The only problem was that a whole bunch of oil gushed out and had to be wiped off the engine and the garage floor. I guess all that running at 140 kph has blown a bit of oil into the air cleaner. Next time I'll try to catch it in an empty can.
I have a new Scorpion jacket and helmet, and yesterday I bought a new leather storage pouch to mount over the handlebars, behind the windshield. The pouch cost about $50, and to mount it I made a few changes. First I removed the heavy chrome plates that are bolted to the front middle of the windshield. Their only function seems to be to stiffen the windshield and add a lot of chrome to the bike, whereas I am trying to reduce the chrome and weight. Instead, I installed an aluminum tube between the top two mounting bolts, and that seems to stiffen the windshield enough with far less weight. Then I bolted the pouch to the aluminum bar using metal strapping that I had lying around the garage. I like to make mods that involve junk I have on hand. The aluminum tube was originally a towel rack in the bathroom. The mounting looks a bit junky, but I like it that way. I mean I would prefer to be able to machine some beautiful pieces out of aluminum billets like some of my millwright friends can do, but I can also appreciate the look of raw junk, as long as it works. This pouch also helps block the glare off the chrome headlight shell, and it improves the look of the handlebars. I always felt they looked too wide and the pouch in the middle breaks up the width visually. The pouch is easier to open and close than my saddlebags, so I keep the saddlebags closed and use the pouch for my gloves, or cap. It won't hold both, but that's OK, I only wear one or the other while I'm out for a ride.
My towel rack modification was almost perfect, except that part way through, I dropped my aluminum tube and it hit the gas tank and made a pinhead size chip right through the black paint. Today I managed to put a tiny drop of black enamel on it for a touch-up which I think was successful.
July 30, 2010 41441 km. Sunny 24c
I got my new front tire installed today at 41200 km, at Cycle Improvements. Bridgestone Exedra 130/90x16 Tube type, speed rating S, date code 3008. I paid $130 for the tire, and I think that includes a 20% discount. I took the bike to the shop, and waited while they took the wheel off the bike, changed the tire and put the wheel back on. The rear Metzeler M880 tire still looks good, (it has 21,000 km now). The centre part of the tread on the original front Dunlop was completely gone.
Tubeless or Tube Type Tires?
The Vulcan 900 Classic needs an inner tube inside the tire, because of the spokes in the rim, which cannot be sealed to prevent air leaking out. But when ordering a new tire, you will notice both tubeless and tube type tires are available for this model, and they both will work with the inner tube.
Aside from the obvious, that tubeless tires have no tubes, what are the differences and how does it affect the Vulcan 900 Classic? The main difference in the tire is that the rubber in the tubeless type tire has a sealing layer inside to prevent air from slowly escaping through the rubber of the tire. There is another difference, not in the tire itself, but in the wheel rim profile. On the tubeless wheel rim, there is a ridge running around inside the bead of the tire, to help keep the bead pushed against the outer rim, and to help prevent the bead from losing contact with the outer rim (say going over a pothole), which would cause a flat tire with sudden air loss.
The Vulcan 900 Classic wheels, although they use an inner tube, also have these ridges that are required for tubeless tires. The purpose of the ridge is to help keep the bead seated on the rim in case of a blowout. On some wheels this is called a “Safety Bead”. This is a safety feature for the Vulcan, because as long as you have the bead on the rim, you will not have a sudden blowout. If the air leak is slow, and the tires stay on the rims, you may be able to stop before it loses all its air.
I was wondering: Does this “Safety Bead” need a tubeless type tire to work properly? Is there any difference between a tubeless tire and a tube type tire in the design of the bead to make it work properly with a safety bead?
The only answer I could find to my question was to check the original tire, the Dunlop D404, and it did say “T/T” which means tube type. So I guess the safety bead doesn't need a tubeless tire to work properly. I don't have the tire any more, so I checked this website
When it comes to the safety of the “Safety Bead” it actually only works if the rider can detect loss of air before the bead comes off the rim. If you puncture the tube, you will lose all your air in a short amount of time even with the safety bead (maybe a minute? I don't know because it has not happened to me). The bead will come off the rim eventually though, and if you are still moving at over 100 kph, you will probably crash. It is not easy to detect low tire pressure, but hopefully, when it gets to under 10 psi you will notice and slow down to see what is wrong. If you don't slow down until the pressure is zero, at some point the tire is going to come off the rim, and the bike will be all but uncontrollable.
It's a bit better than the old style, where a punctured tube could often mean very sudden air loss, and almost immediate separation of the bead from the rim. But it only works if the driver can detect the air loss before the bead separates, and that is not a sure thing.
September 9, 2010 43,000 km.
I did an oil change, Quaker State 10W-40, and a new oil filter. I also had to reset the clock, a week ago it jumped about 1 and a half hours ahead for no reason.
I noticed in the owners manual “Do not rev the engine before the oil has a chance to circulate”. I wonder if that had anything to do with the funny noises last winter when I would start the engine and rev it up in extreme cold before it had a chance to warm up?
June 4, 2011 50,000 km.
Did an early oil change, Castrol GTX 10W-40, and a new oil filter. after only 7,000 km. I got the filter from the local Suzuki/Yamaha dealer, Tri-City Cycle, as they had them in stock for about $15, and it's right across the road from Canadian Tire, where I got the oil.
The back tire is still hanging in there at 31,400 km. That is a new record for long lasting rear tire on any of my motorcycles. It's looking a little squared off, but still handles OK, still has tread on the sides (the middle of the tread was always smooth rubber). But I probably should get a new one sometime soon.
Now the fuel level meter is broken, sitting at empty all the time. The fuel warning light is still OK and I use that (plus setting the trip odometer) to know when to gas up. The service manual has instructions on how to check the fuel meter. It's easy to find the two-prong plug, that connects the float level sender in the gas tank to the dial on the instrument panel. Just take off the chrome cover around the speedometer. According to the manual, if you short out the plug toward the instrument, and turn on the ignition, the instrument will read full. I did that, and immediately saw the needle start to climb. That means the instrument itself is OK. Next you need a multimeter to check the resistance on the float level sender side of the plug. My multimeter said there was no connection (or infinite resistance). That means one of the wires is broken, or worse, the sending unit is broken. Either way, I would need to take off the tank to check it out, and I might need a new sending unit too (with it's gasket, because you can't take the float out out without replacing the gasket.) I'm not really sure I want to do this or need to do it, as the fuel level guage was never much use in the first place. It would read empty too early every time. On the other hand, a little bending of the float arm could make the needle more informative when the tank gets low.
November 4, 2011 57,401 km.
My rear tire is now replaced with a second Metzeler ME880 Marathon, with about 39,500 km of wear on the last one. That is officially my new record for rear tire wear. I had it done at Zdeno's, where I can watch the work being done if I want to. I'm not allowed to stand right in the work area, but I can get a clear view from the doorway. I got there early on a day when it was -2c in the morning, and I was first in line to get my tire changed. Actually the only one getting a tire changed. I also got the rear brake pads replaced. Then I went out for a ride, and I can appreciate how worn down the old tire was by how stable the new one feels. The bike stopped wiggling around on tar strips, and it is much more steady in the curves and at higher speeds.
December 25, 2011 57,600 km.
My last ride for 2011 was Christmas day. It was about 3c, and cloudy. Last month I rode out to “Two Wheel Motorsports” to get my recall notice cleared. I originally got the notice about a year ago (actually I just checked: March 2008!!) , and forgot about it until I got a reminder that I had not been in to check out the bike yet. So at 11 AM I set up a 3 PM appointment, and they did it in less than a half hour.
When its 3c, my hands get cold, even in my heavy riding gloves. I have several solutions for cold hands, but the easiest is usually to put on my winter mittens. They are leather and have a thermal liner. I stopped beside the road to change from the gloves to the mitts after riding about 30 minutes, and my hands immediately started to warm up, and stayed warm for then next 40 minutes until I got home. I have some other solutions: put my hands on the engine (quite dangerous at times), attach handlebar muffs to the bike, or turn on my electric vest, which indirectly warms the hands.
The rest of me was quite warm, but there is one other problem – face shield fogging up. I have a face shield with an anti-fog coating, but I don't know if it works because my eyeglasses fog up first. And eyeglasses are far more dangerous when they fog up than the faceshield. For the last couple of years, I have been working on a breathing apparatus for my helmet, to expell warm breath from the helmet before anything fogs up. My first hose was too small and I could not breathe adequately. The second hose was so thick it prevented me from turning my head. This last hose is not attached to my jacket, it is just on the hemet. I drilled a hole through the chinguard where my mouth is, and inserted a short length of garden hose. It can be slid in and out depending on if I need to use it. And it works reasonably well, but looks a little funny. In cold weather it can look like I'm smoking a cigar through the chinbar. (A green cigar).
February 25, 2012 58,100 km.
Last June, the fuel gauge stopped working. I figured out back then that the fuel level sensor had failed, but let it go until now. I am planning a 10,000 km trip this summer, and would like it to be fixed. So a few days ago I ordered the fuel level sensor for $80 and a new gasket for $14. It came in yesterday.
One problem I have is that the gauge reads empty much too early. I have seen discussion on Vulcan forums about adding electrical resistors into the circuit to change the calibration of the fuel gauge.
Calibrating the fuel level gauge is going to need some luck and guesswork. I was considering bending the float arm on the new gauge, but if Kawasaki already fixed the problem, I need to leave the new arm alone. I have seen pictures of 2006 sensors with the arm bent up at the end – apparently that's the way they came from the factory. The new gauge does not have the arm bent up at the end, so maybe Kawasaki has already fixed the problem.
I would like to determine whether the new sensor is working. The way to test it is to hook up a multitester ohm meter (to measure resistance) to the plug, and then move the arm from full to empty, and see how the resistance changes on the meter. On the new sensor, the resistance went from about 10 (at the bottom of the travel) to about 100 (at the top of the travel). When I get the old part out, I will test the resistance, and also check the exact height of the float bulb at the bottom of the travel.
Finally, with the tank off, I will check the valve clearances. Apparently there are no special tools needed. Also there's a good video or two on Youtube. The only hard part for me will be driving to the dealer to exchange or buy new shims. This will be the first time I have checked the valve clearances, and I'm more than double the recommended mileage. (recommended 24,000 km intervals) .
The recommended spark plug replacement interval according to the manual is 12,000 km. I guess that means my plugs are almost 5 times their recommended limit, apparently running OK. Why do cars have recommended intervals of 160,000 km for spark plug replacement and the Vulcan is limited to 12,000 km ?
March 1, 2012 58,100 km.
Some Maintenance Will Be Done
I have most of the parts I need to do the maintenance on the bike. Two new spark plugs, a new fuel level sensor unit and gasket, and a new “Safety Siphon Hose”. First I reviewed the instructions in the shop manual, then checked to see if there were better instructions on the internet, and then I went out around noon hour to the garage to get started removing the gas tank.
The first sub-task of gas tank removal is get the gas out of the tank. Or at least most of the gas. I only have a 10 litre container, so I'm hoping I don't have too much gas to remove. I don't know because the fuel gauge is busted. I encountered my first problem while inserting the siphon into the tank. OK that's real early for my first problem, but the new siphon had a metal fitting on the end that would not go through the fuel filler baffle in the Kawasaki tank. In frustration, I turned the hose backwards and sucked the gas out of the tank, putting the metal fitting into the gas can. Unfortunately, the fitting was a one way valve going the other way. But on the bright side, it didn't seem to slow the gas down very much, so after ten minutes and some gasoline spillage (naturally), I had the ten litre container almost full. But the tank still had some gas in it.
With my first task done in such a half-assed way, I was a bit discouraged about continuing on, but after a bit more looking on the internet for hints and tips, I decided to try some other easy things and see how they turned out.
-Disconnect the battery: Sounds like B.S. to me. Probably just to stop a spark in case there is a lot of fuel spillage. I will be more careful. But I will leave the battery connected. (remember I am not giving advice, just telling what I did or failed to do)
-Remove the seat: Hey, there's one I can actually do. I remove the seat and place it in the next room. No chance I will forget to reinstall it, is there? Unlike most of the other things.
-Remove chrome thingie around speedometer: I've done this before, one screw comes out and push forward, it's off.
-Pull off the main electrical connector behind the speedometer. There are always lock tabs on these connectors, which you have to figure out yourself by looking at them. Some are tricky, this one is pretty easy. One tab at the front. Push it in and struggle to get the plug out, and voila. I'm getting some momentum.
-Pull off the other small connector (goes to the fuel gauge actually). One tab to push in and it comes off, but I'm definitely getting hot and tired with all the pulling and pushing.
-Pull off the vent hose. Looks easy enough, move the clip down, and get a wooden stick and push on the end of the rubber. The stick slips off and I scrape my knuckles, but back to work soon and I get the hose off.
I still have enough energy
left for the next challenge, the
right left side big
shiny cover over the ignition coils. One screw and it's off. But now
I'm getting into unfamiliar territory, and it's too dark to see. I
get out a trouble light, which helps a lot. I need to remove the fuel
pump electrical connector. It seems to have at least three lock tabs
that I can see, and no way to easily depress them. I push and pull
with no luck at all. I take a look for the “Fuel Hose Joint”, as
seen in a black and white picture in the manual. There are two
possible joints, that look sort of like what I'm seeing here, but the
manual is inside the house, so I need to get it and compare.
At this point I decide to call a coffee break, and maybe engage this problem tomorrow after I have rested up and thought about it some more.
2:45 P.M. The coffee seems to have taken effect, I have also re-researched the Internet, and I am sure it is the red coloured fuel joint that needs to be disconnected, and no other hoses. I reached under the red plastic joint lock tab with a flat tipped screwdriver and levered it up. I actually pulled the red tab it completely off the fuel line (not sure I was supposed to do that, maybe I shouldn't have had so much coffee)**, and the fuel line was still stuck. So I removed the back two bolts holding the fuel tank on, and lifted the back of the tank and slid a block of wood under it. Then the fuel joint was in the clear, and came off easily, with almost no spilling. Good thing, because I forgot the rag.
**UPDATE FROM TWO DAYS IN THE FUTURE: No, I was definitely NOT supposed to pull the red locking tab off the fuel hose. Just pull it up about 1 cm. as shown in the picture on p. 3-123 of the manual. That tab, and the fires sometimes resulting from screwing with the tab, is the reason Kawasaki issued a recall notice for all the Vulcan 900's. In fact, I am supposed to replace the entire fuel hose every 4 years or 48,000 km. With some effort I did manage to reinstall the red tab onto the end of the fuel hose, and I don't think anything is broken. It's hard to test, as the fuel pressure will not build up in there until the ignition switch is turned on and the fuel pump runs. When reinstalling, pay attention to the instructions on page 3-123 about “Pull (A) the hose joint (B) back and forth a few times to make sure it is locked and it doesn't come off”.
One more electrical connector to undo, this time the one near the fuel line coupler. I first got the connector off it's metal bracket so that I could look at it properly – there is a little tab that needs to be jimmied with a screwdriver before it comes off the bracket. With the connector off it's bracket, I could turn it over and examine the other locking tabs carefully. It appears to have three locking tabs, but actually the two side ones are fake – the only locking tab that is holding it together is the centre one, and there is a little lever that you need to stick a tiny screwdriver under before the coupling comes apart.
Once that last connector was off, I simply lifted the tank off its brackets much like every other motorcycle I have ever had. The manual says put it on a flat surface, but because I need to remove the fuel level sensor, I have to lean it on it's side so that I can remove the four screws and base plate that the fuel sensor is mounted on.
At this point it was starting to get really interesting, because I wanted to see the old fuel level sensor and compare it to the new one – especially the position of the float at “Empty”. The new float is actually 1/2” lower to the bottom of the tank at “Empty” than the new one. That's just about what I thought might happen, because the old unit always read “Empty” with about 150 km left before it ran out of gas. Also, the new float is longer (don't know why), and the arm is shorter (probably because it would hit the front of the fuel tank if it wasn't shortened when it was lowered.) So Kawasaki must have quietly fixed this design error at one point during the production run.
So now it should be a simple matter of putting the new fuel level sensor in the tank – just one gasket and four screws, right? Wrong. The gasket, which appears square, is not. There are some marks on one corner of the gasket, and the corner of the gasket that is marked must be pointing forward and to the middle of the bike, or the holes will not line up.
March 2, 2012 58,100 km.
Some Maintenance Will Be Done (Pt II)
I have now installed the fuel level sensor. And it seems to not be leaking, which is important because it screws to the bottom of the tank. I was supposed to Loctite the screws, but I didn't have loctite so I put a dab of carpenter's glue. Next time the gauge breaks, we'll see if the carpenter's glue was a good idea or not. The new gauge will definitely be more accurate near the bottom of the tank, because the float ball on the new gauge sits 1/2” lower than the original, at the lowest point. The failure in the old gauge was a break in the filament where the electrical terminal is soldering of the rheostat wire.
Next I removed the decorative plastic covers over the cylinder heads – not too tricky I guess, but it took me a while to figure it out. While doing it, I dropped a socket into a spark plug well (plug still in place). I found a magnetic pick-up tool for about $15. It got the socket out easily, first try. I also need it for removing and replacing the shims.
And last, because I was getting tired, I stopped after I removed the plugs and took off the left side engine cover, and took off the cover to access the engine crank and firing marks.
Even though I have quite a few spark plug sockets in my toolbox, I needed the spark plug socket from the tool kit that came with the bike to remove the plugs.
Strangely, I can't find the spark plug gap in the shop manual, but the owners manual says .032 ~ .036”. I measured the plugs I removed at .033 and .035, so they are still within spec. The new plugs are NGK-CPR7EA-9, with a gap of .033 each, preset at the factory. The old spark plugs lasted 58,000 km, still have almost the same gap, and the colour looks good. I guess they could have gone all the way to BC and back easily, but since it's so difficult to remove the tank, I'll just change them now. My 1970 vintage bikes could have the tank off in seconds, and come to think of it, you didn't need to take off the tank to get to the spark plugs in those days.
March 6, 2012 58,800 km.
I had to leave the bike alone for a few days, but now I'm almost finished the maintenance. Now I have new spark plugs installed, a new fuel level sensor, and I have measured the valve gaps. The valve gaps were all within spec. The valve measurements were strange, and made me think I must be dreaming. The minimum gap for exhaust valves is supposed to be .008”, and the maximum for inlet valves is .006”. So all the exhausts valves were .008” and all the inlets were .006”. I removed all the shims on the front cylinder, and found that the tighter valves had the smaller shims, so no swapping was possible. I replaced the shims where I found them. My fancy magnetic pickup tool was perfect for getting the shims out and back in, and for recovering the one shim that almost got away. I did not bother to remove the rear cylinder shims to see what their thickness was.
Getting the bike back together was not difficult, as most of the puzzles of assembly had been solved in the disassembly phase. So now I'm almost set to go, just the side cover, the instrument cover and the seat need to be installed.
The temperature tomorrow is forecast to be 11c, and sunny. It will be time to get the bike out for a little test run.
March 11, 2012 59,199 km.
Major Screw-Up Happened
I found an engine oil leak, that I suspect is coming from the rear cylinder spark plug tube. If so, the two O-rings are supposed to be 27.7 mm x 1.9 mm, part # 92055-0096. I'll need to take off the tank again to check. I thought the rear valve cover was difficult to force together, but I guess I was in too much of a hurry to finish the job. The shop manual says “apply grease to the O-rings”.
March 12, 2012 59,199 km.
I fixed the leak this morning. It only took an hour to get the valve cover off. Amazing how much faster you go when you know what you're doing, It took three days last time. The bottom O-ring of the rear spark plug tube was mangled beyond repair, cut in two places. I should have known better than to force the valve cover down that last quarter inch by tightening the cover bolts.
I had to drive to the Kawasaki dealer, Two Wheel Motorsports in Guelph to get the replacement O-ring for about $3, and I was probably lucky they had one in stock. I stopped at Zdeno's on the way there, just in case they had one, but Al recommended that I get the OEM instead of an aftermarket part. Because it holds the engine oil in, it's a critical part.
I actually found the drain hole, where the oil was coming out. It comes out the left side of the rear cylinder, about half way up, between two fins. I assume that the front hole is on the right, but I didn't check.
April 19, 2012
The temperature outside is 20c. In July we are taking our motorcycles (Burgman 400 and Vulcan 900) to the west coast and back through Yellowstone and the Beartooth pass. Because of the long mountain grades, I will be changing the Burgman's brake pads and fluid. But first I changed the brake fluid on the Vulcan.
This is the first time for the Vulcan, and changing the rear brake fluid was typical of my other bikes, except that the rear caliper has 2 bleed outlets, I have no idea why. Apparently you are supposed to bleed both of them. I did them one after the other, as I only had one hose.
I made a mistake on the front brake, though. I let the fluid get too low in the reservoir, and it started sucking air. The hole that sucks air is actually at the lowest point of the reservoir, but because of the shape of the reservoir, there can still be fluid in there while the hole is pulling in air instead of brake fluid. It took two reservoir refills and about 200 squeezes of the lever before the bubbles stopped coming up from the plunger. Then I saw masses of bubbles coming out the bleed hole down at the caliper! I tried one more refill, and figured maybe the bubbles coming out the bleed hole didn't mean anything. So I put everything back together. A brake test in the driveway seemed normal, but I need a road test to really decide if its OK.
June 25, 2012 62,849 km
I did the last oil change before leaving on our trip to BC. Oil and filter, 10W40. I also forgot to note a few weeks ago I put in a new (genuine Kawasaki) air filter which costs about $59.
September 13, 2012 74,956 km
Trip to BC
The trip to BC is finished now, without an incident. Mary Ann and I took six weeks in all, me on my Vulcan 900, her on the Suzuki Burgman 400. There is a link to the blog at the bottom of the page. It added 11,000 km to the Vulcan.
I got a flat tire last night. The rear tire picked up a 2.5” long wood screw, that went completely through the tread into the inner tube. The bike was suprisingly stable with the flat tire, and I was able to drive it about 4 km back to a gas station. The bead never came off the rim.
This morning I got it replaced at Zdeno's Cycle with a new Metzeler ME 880 tire, same as last time. And a new tube. There was only 16,600 km on the tire, and I was hoping it would go at least 30,000 km. Sorry about the luck.
THE BRAKE PAD MYSTERY
I was surprised to find out that the rear brake pads are almost worn down. The original set lasted 57,000 km, and the last set, which I got from Zdeno's, only have 16,600 km on them. Next time I may try to order Kawasaki pads, though I'm sure they will be a lot more expensive.
I'm especially annoyed about the worn out brake pads because I didn't do the job myself. I believe in doing the job myself if I can, partly because if there are problems later, I can figure out what went wrong more easily. For example, did the mechanic forget to install the new pads? What kind of pads were they? Is the caliper seized and dragging the pads? I feel an obsessive need to figure out what happened, but because I didn't do it myself its like a crime scene investigation.
I just did a visual inspection of the front pads, and they look much less worn down than the rear pads. Yesterday, after I got home, I felt the temperature of the rear caliper was a little bit warmer than the front, possibly indicating some dragging.
September 17, 2012 74,956 km
I went for an overnight camping trip with the new tire on the weekend, being careful to not go too fast on corners, because I was warned twice about the release compound on new tires. The only air leak I had on the trip was my air mattress.
Solving the Mystery of the Disappearing Brake Pads
But now I am worried about the brake pads, so this afternoon I took out the rear brake pads to take a look. There is about 2mm of thickness left in the pads, but there may be a little less in some places. The pads are EBC organic, FA231, as I suspected. The original total thickness of those pads is supposedly 8.3mm, but the backing plate is 4 mm, so the original pads were only 4.3 mm thick when new – and the Kawasaki pads are 7 mm thick. So that explains some of the short life of the EBC organic pads. Another reason is that they are made of softer kevlar, which only gives about half the life of sintered copper pads.
According to the shop manual, the pad standard thickness for new front pads is 4.5 mm, and the new pad thickness for rear pads is almost double that at 7 mm. But the wear limit is the same for both: 1 mm. (or 4/100 of an inch)
Now to do the arithmetic to calculate how long each type of pad will last. The wear on my organic pads is 2.3 mm, the wear on the original pads was 5 mm. (calculated from original thickness minus remaining pad thickness.) So due to the different original thickness, there was about half as much material worn off my organic pad as the Kawasaki pad. Then the organic pad wears twice as fast, so now that gives us four times the wear using the original Kawasaki pad (twice as hard multiplied by twice as thick). I got 16,000 km with the kevlar organic pads, multiplied by four is 64,000 km. So if the EBC organic pads go 16,000 km, the OEM Kawasaki pads should go 64,000 km. (16,000 x 4). And that is actually close to what happened. Mystery solved, I guess.
Mary Ann and I took the Vulcan and the Burgman to Vancouver Island in the summer of 2012. I started a blog named “Lost and Burgie Go West” about the preparations and trip You can find it HERE. (click on the underlined word)
I have been writing another blog named “The Lost Motorcyclist” since 2009. You can find my motorcycling blogs HERE. (click on the underlined word)