So what the hell happened to my Kawasaki Vulcan?

It started out as a kick-ass, rockin’ trip – Toronto to NYC to Roanoke VA to Rome GA to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to Memphis to Dayton OH to Toronto. Averaging 500 miles a day with breaks in NYC and New Orleans to be a tourist and hitting various notorious motorcycle routes on the way.  But 1000 miles in something went horribly wrong …

First day was OK – we rode around Lake Ontario to Kingston to cross the border at Hill Island. As soon as we crossed in to the USA it started to rain on us, and continued to do so all the way in to New York City. An omen?

New York City was great – Buck’s family were all to kind putting us up and feeding us for two days. Buck gave us a ‘Do Everything in New York in One Day’ tour – 11 miles hiking through the city that included crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero, Wall Street, China Town, Little Italy, SoHo, Union Square, FAO Schwarz, The Apple Store, The Plaza, 30 Rock, Empire State, Grand Central, Chrysler Building, Central Park, Museum of Natural History, Times Square, and Good Enough to Eat!

The next day we packed up and headed to Roanoke VA, passing through 5 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. We took Skyline Drive down through the Shanendoah Mountains – a beautiful 110 mile drive, winding up and down through the mountains, reaching an elevation of 3000+ meters. We were going to continue on to the Blue Ridge Parkway but the sun was setting and we were getting tired so we decided to save it for another day. I might add that all this time the bike was running great, no signs of trouble, and no warning lights.

We reached Roanoke just after dark and checked in to our hotel just off the Interstate. We broke in to our whisky, discussed the day and the rest of the trip. The next day we were to hit the Tail of the Dragon in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina – we were all looking forward to this ride!

Next morning, got up good and early, filled up on the continental breakfast, checked out and packed up the bikes. We just hit the interstate going south and started to accelerate. Once I hit fifth gear I knew something was wrong. At first the engine kind of chugged, like it was running low on gas, so I reached down and switched to the reserve tank. The bike continued to chug, so I pulled in the clutch and made my way over to the shoulder. Once I hopped off the bike I knew I was in a bad spot – there was oil coming out of the air filter. We were 1 mile out of Salem and didn’t know what to do – so we tried to start it up again. After a couple chugs, it did start but was spewing a little white smoke out of a vent tube from the air filter. This was not good.

We decided it best to get it towed to the nearest shop to have them look at it and hopefully repair it quickly so we could get back on the road. Buck rode ahead and found someone to tow it to a Kawasaki dealer not far from our hotel – it being a Sunday everything was closed so we had to leave it at the dealer and drown our sorrows in Canadian Whisky. We checked back in to the hotel and reassessed the trip.

The next morning we were at the dealer bright and early. They took all my info and said they’d try to look at it and get it fixed as soon as possible. We headed back to the hotel and waited and waited and waited. Finally they called and said they thought it might be a valve problem but they’d have to go ahead and pull the engine to figure it all out. We gave the go-ahead for the work and went to see ‘Inception’ in town. If the bike was not fixed the next day Buck would have to ride on to stay on his schedule and Pam and I would be stuck in Roanoke indefinitely.

The next morning the word came – bad news. Valves were fine, looks like cylinder/piston problem. It would take until at least wednesday to get fixed. So we had to say our goodbyes, and Buck headed on his way to New Orleans. Pam and I went in to town to explore and get our mind off things – this news had meant our plans for New Orleans were unattainable and we’d be going back as soon as the bike was fixed with a serious dent in our wallet.

The next day the news got worse – looks like there was a failure with the oil delivery and the rear cylinder had almost seized. The cylinder was scored and the piston was ruined. On top of that, the parts were all on back order indefinitely. The estimate if they could even get the parts was $3500+ US! My heart sank – the bike just became a parts bike. Not sure what to do except that we wanted to get out of Roanoke, we rented a U-Haul, loaded the bike up, and headed home – a 12 hour drive.


The mechanic called me later and explained he suspected either the oil filter was faulty or the oil pump failed. He suggested not using a Fram filter but instead buying the OEM oil filter. I WILL NEVER EVER PURCHASE A FRAM PRODUCT AGAIN AND HIGHLY RECOMMEND AGAINST ANY ONE ELSE USING THEM FOR ANY KIND OF FILTER. I did send an e-mail and regular mail to the company asking if they had any comments on the issue and at the time of writing they have not replied.

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