Used bike guide: Japanese Middleweight Cruisers
30 August 2013 05:00
1995 – 2004 – Kawasaki VN800 Classic
Price for a good one: £2,000 to £4,500
Engine: 8v sohc, 805cc air-cooled V-twin
Power: 54bhp @ 7,000rpm
Torque: 47ftlb @ 3,300rpm
Seat Height: 705mm
Top speed: 103mph
What was it like then?
Replacing the VN750 Vulcan, which was launched in 1985 and was Kawasaki’s first cruiser-styled bike, the VN800 was introduced in 1995 as a traditional bobber styled cruiser with a 21-inch front wheel and 16-inch rear. Using a modified and larger capacity 805cc version of the Vulcan’s sohc V-twin engine, the VN800 delivered more drive while still replicating the look of its predecessor. A year later the VN800 was joined in the range by the VN800 Classic, a 1950s styled bike with larger mudguards, 16-inch wheels and altered gear ratios.
Always a physically larger bike than the competition, the VN800 developed a reputation as having the best engine out of all of the Japanese cruisers. Unlike the Honda and Yamaha the Kawasaki relied on a conventional four valve head with a single overhead cam, something that alongside its larger capacity gave it more grunt than its rivals. With the peak torque arriving at just over 3,000rpm riders soon discovered that there was no need to rush the VN and it happily thudded along with the motor hardly ticking over, making for a relaxed ride. Although it wasn’t without its faults. Strangely for this style of bike Kawasaki gave the VN a chain drive, going against the general view of making cruisers as maintenance free as possible.
With a large and roomy riding position the VN proved the choice for larger riders who viewed the Drag Star as possibly lacking in capacity. Spotting this trend Kawasaki launched a range of VN models which culminated in the spectacularly large VN2000 with its mighty 2053cc V-twin motor.
What is it like now?
There is a certain charm to the VN800 that you don’t get with the smaller capacity bikes. Cruising is all about taking it easy and the extra power delivered by the VN’s motor certainly helps make it the most relaxed ride out of the Japanese middleweight machines. The look is cool, the riding position very comfortable and the level of finish high, especially on the chrome areas. Even the brakes are reasonable, although certainly not spectacular…
In second hand showrooms VNs tend to be rarer than other Japanese cruisers, however this could be to do with its prices being so low. A good condition VN800 or VN800 Classic from the late 1990s or early 2000s can easily be had for less than £3,000 and if you don’t mind a few miles on its clock this figure can drop to less than £2,500. Average mileages tend to be under 10,000, but this hasn’t stopped a few owners topping 25,000 without any reported issues.
Riders who are looking at taking a pillion regularly or maybe are a little larger themselves the VN800 is a classically styled cruiser with impressive grunt and iconic looks. Kawasaki may not be the first brand you think of when it comes to cruisers, however the VN is one of the best of the bunch.
The general finish is excellent on the VN800 however the fork legs are known to pit and some of the fasteners can look a bit rough if not well cared for.
If you want more capacity the VN900 was launched in 2006 and prices start at £3,500. The 1988 VN1500 is around £3,000 while its replacement, the 2005 VN1600, is closer to £5,000. A 2010 VN1700 costs £8,000 while the big daddy 2004 VN2000 is £4,500.
Be wary of any electrical add ons such as extra lights etc as they tend to upset the bike’s wiring, leading to annoying electrical issues.
The VN800 needs its valve clearances checked at 7,500 mile (owners usually round this up to 8,000 miles), which can be a costly service and is worth factoring in when buying second hand.
If the carbs aren’t properly balanced the VN800 can become a poor starter and run very rough at low revs. Check to see the last time they were properly set-up.