Downhill turns: The advice is always, "slow down more so you can accelerate through the turn". In my neck of the woods, there are extended, twisty downhills where this is simply impossible. These are roads where I downshift even my little 4 banger hatchback. What's the best strategy? Engine braking, smooth throttle control and careful front/rear braking?
Yes. All of the above! Note that sometimes the advice for best cornering is for 'best performance'. If you were wanting to take those corners at maximum lean angle you'd want to straighten the bike up, brake hard, lean (using counter steering) hard, accelerate hard, repeat. However such techniques are less necessary at lower speeds lazily lumbering around the curves. You'll find your bike will engine brake really well.
Uphill turns: Uphill curves are supposed to be easier, but there are some rather steep, hairpin turns not too far from my home. For now I intend to outright avoid them, but I wonder if they're even possible. Think uphill, hairpin switchbacks pick-up trucks have serious problems with on a sunny, dry day.
Same idea. The reason you accelerate is to shift weight to the back of the bike. The back tire needs to most traction to prevent the bike from lowsiding, AND, it'll lift your pegs up an inch or so giving you more ground clearance. Just roll on the throttle through the curve. Make SURE you are in the right gear on an uphill curve, don't be afraid to enter a curve like that at 5k RPMs! You have a smaller displacement inline fast revving sportbike engine on that bike. It needs to spin in order to have roll on power!
Also, on curves like that I tend to pretend that the left 1/3 of the lane doesn't exist. In other words divide the area between the yellow line and the white line into thirds and ignore the leftmost third. Means cornering less aggressively, but it also means not meeting up with a pickup truck or distracted sedan straddling the yellow line around a corner. Or a big truck whose GPS thought it found a shortcut but that he can't handle!
Road feel: In most cars and even bicycles, one can feel the tires starting to scrub before they let loose. I'm not planning on pushing the envelope, but will a small cruiser like the '500 give clues as it gets close to the limit or is it a case where the tires suddenly telegraph, "I'm done" and arrange an intimate meeting between the rider and pavement?
Yes and yes. Some riders have reported going down without warning. Other times you can feel it. It really comes down to weight. The most common lowside is a person going around a corner who gets scared and uses the rear brake. Well when you DECELERATE around a corner you take a bunch of weight off the rear tire, a rear tire that's already holding the bike in line. Your rear tire really is doing all the work in a curve. Add brakes and suddenly, boom, no traction, you're down (again, that's why they tell you to accelerate through a curve, keep weight on that rear tire always)
Generally it's not an issue of pushing it until you feel it, it's an issue of doing it RIGHT and you'll never have that problem!
Mini edge traps: How tall does a curb have to be before it becomes a problem? With the city budget on life support, there are *big*, shallow potholes where a layer of the pavement has disintegrated leaving inch (or so) high "curbs" in the road at weird angles all over the place.
The issue isn't the height it's the edge. If it's a straight edge, like when paving a new lane, it's an issue. My policy is to skip if it at possible and just go on down until I can change lanes easily. Otherwise, slow down, come at a 45 degree angle!
Managing power and braking: I'm *assuming* that because of its weight, wheel base and power, the Vulcan 500 can't lift the front wheel without serious clutch/throttle stupidity and similarly, traction limits will be reached before a stoppie/Endo can occur. Is this correct? I have no desire to discover the answer to this on my own.
Yup. It won't do it 'accidentally' like some guys find themselves on big sportbikes. It could probably do it with a lot of work and some modification, but despite it's sportbike engine, it's a fat lazy cruiser in the end!
Ferries: There are some really great roads across the river and the best, nicest way to get to them is by ferry. Transitioning from steep, gnarly pavement to a moving steel plate (and the reverse) seems a little daunting. Is there any more technique beyond "Cross the deck plate as perpendicular as possible and don't dally there"?
Nope. Just make sure to keep moving, and go easy on the brakes. Steel is slippery, especially when wet (like on a ferry!). Same with gravel, just keep moving. Don't stop suddenly, don't brake hard. Give yourself plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you so if they stop hard you can ease into a stop.
Good questions! Good luck, Doug!