Test Ride: Kawasaki Mean Streak

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Words: Barb Piatowski/Andrew Boss   Photos: Richard Seck

The first time I saw the new Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Mean Streak I thought that it was one of the coolest cruisers I’d ever seen. Low slung, drag style handlebars, lots of eye catching chrome bits…and 6-piston front brakes off the ZX9R! Hey, are those Dunlop D207 Sportmax tires as well? What the … ?

The word hybrid definitely came to mind.

Since my first sighting (and riding, many months later), I’ve heard it called everything from a “performance cruiser” to a “street fighter,” and although I’ve softened on my initial opinion of it as a hybrid, it remains one of the coolest cruisers that I’ve ever seen.

VISCERAL APPEAL

Guaranteed to get hobo attention down dark alleys.

Cruisers are head turners. They may or may not be your cup of tea, but it’s been my experience that they garner the most attention from the general population. The Mean Streak is no exception to this rule.

Just sitting by the curb, it draws your look with its drag bike appearance and chromed EVERYTHING. From the inverted 43mm sport bike style forks, to the dual staggered shotgun exhaust pipes, to the headlight and instrument covers, mirrors, handlebars and master cylinder. And just in case someone does pass by without looking, all you have to do is start up the 1470cc engine to grab their attention with the impressive throaty exhaust note that rumbles out of the pipes. No sewing machine sound here.

A tach on a cruiser?

Throw your leg over the very reasonable 701mm seat height and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the rather plush seat that Kawasaki has provided for the rider. It will take a bit of a heave to balance the 637-pound heifer, but that’s the hardest that you’ll have to work to handle this formidable bike.

The handlebars were positioned a bit wide for my taste, but are apparently narrow by cruiser standards, and the chunky grips fit my hands nicely, but may be a bit thick for those that wear small glove sizes. Although, the forward set footpeg position took some getting used to, I eventually became accustomed to it.

Unfortunately, when the seating position, handlebar position and footpeg position were added together, it put an uncomfortable amount of pressure directly on my …er…uh…dare I say poop chute? I had never experienced such a perfectly unfortunate combination before, and was somewhat surprised by the pressure point. By the end of my time with the Mean Streak the shock of this first impression had faded, but talk about an eye opener!

PHYSICAL APPEAL

Once balanced off the—you guessed it—chromed sidestand, handling this Kawasaki beefcake proved to be a relatively pleasurable task. Although the liquid-cooled Vulcan V-twin engine has been considerably retuned to qualify it as a “performance” cruiser, the beefy low and midrange power come on intentionally after you begin to twist the throttle, allowing for both quick and smooth take-offs and accelerations.

There was always ample power left at reasonable highway speeds and not much reason to constantly gear down to pass. The fuel injection and shaft final drive were smooth and unnoticeable, even at low speeds, and the hydraulic clutch and conventional gearshift lever operated smoothly and easily.

USD forks, sport rubber and ZX9R six-piston calipers.

As you may expect on any 600-plus-pound motorcycle, slow speed manoeuvres required their usual amount of attention and respect, but once past a crawl the Mean Streak responded very smoothly to the slightest steering input and was quite a bit of fun to ride. There’s a well-planted feel to the bike, thanks to the 1704mm wheelbase and 43mm inverted forks. Throwing it around did put a smile on my face. Occasionally that smile turned to shock as the (too) low cornering clearance reared its ugly little head and reminded me of its presence through the sound of metal scraping on asphalt—you know you’re dealing with low cornering clearance when you come off the highway at a normal pace and manage to touch down your footpeg on the off-ramp. Overall, however, I found the handling to be comfortable and predictable.

The ZX-9R sourced front brakes worked very well for the weight and power of the Mean Streak and provided me with a sense of comfort that technology is finally catching up to the cruiser. Add them to the noteworthy 272mm rear disc and stopping was effective every time. Given the long wheelbase and style of the Mean Streak, it doesn’t experience a sportbike’s weight transfer to the front, or have the same need to scrub off speed, so maybe doesn’t take full advantage of the ZX-9R brakes, but it’s still reassuring to know they’re there.

POINTS OF NOTE

Passenger seat is a casualty of styling.

Unfortunately, the Mean Streak comes to you sans wind protection, which is not much of an issue until you get on the highway. I found the lack of protection resulted in taking the brunt of the wind force in my torso, which, coupled with the forward footpeg and handgrip position left me feeling a bit tired from the fight at the end of even a short highway blast.

Two-up riding is also a bit of a challenge. It’s a challenge to get your passenger back on the seat after you stop to give them a rest! I found the rider’s portion of the seat to be plush and generous, so much so that I sought out bumps to ride over just so that I could experience the softness of the seat and the pogoing effect of the twin rear shocks. My passenger, however, did not share this amusement. Their seat portion is much smaller, less padded, and could arguably be called a pile driver over the bumps—you will hear their protests quite audibly.

Although the 1500cc motor puts out a reported 75.1 foot pounds of torque and produces a max reported 64.1 horsepower at 5500 rpm, I still found myself hoping for more from the retuned old Vulcan engine. It will pull you along quite respectably, and given the lack of wind protection may be all you really want; but in the performance cruiser category, its power output statistics make it one of the lightweights.

CONCLUSION

Overall styling was a hit with our testers.

Despite its minor shortcomings, Kawasaki did do a great job on the styling, fit and finish of the Mean Streak. They managed to produce a big cruiser with excellent vibration control, noticeable not only in rider comfort, but also in the very clear mirror images that come to you via well placed chrome rectangular mirrors.

You also get a well-positioned ignition switch at the top of the gas tank (the key can be removed once started, and the bike can be shut down without it, but not restarted), a clean-faced speedometer and tachometer (that’s right, a tach on a cruiser), and an easily viewable signal, neutral and high beam lights.

The styling on this bike is also complemented with strong, clean sweptback lines, and nice additions like the emblem and pin striping on the tank, in your colour choice of gold, black or red.

If only it could be offered in Kawasaki lime green. Now THAT would be a Mean Streak!


Second View – Andrew Boss

Lotsa perfomrance goodies are available for the ‘Streak.

Who would have thought in the power cruiser category that the most Harley-like feel would come from a Kawasaki? That’s what the 1500 Vulcan Mean Streak delivers.

My tester came equipped with a Dyna-flow kit that helped matters a bit with, among other things, freer breathing pipes that were louder than most stockers, but thankfully quieter than shotguns. In addition, it feels substantial. Is that a polite way of saying heavy? Yes it is, but it’s not a criticism.

Of the four power cruisers CMG has tested in the last year, this bike is by far the most “old timey.” No high tech German engine, no fancy-pants styling or giant pipes. Kawasaki built a traditional cruiser with some extra clout in the engine to keep things interesting.

While able to entertain the bored masses on morning Hwy#401 commutes with rolling burnouts, the 1500 is underpowered in comparison to the Road Warrior, VTX and V-Rod. If you’re not comparing them, it’s still fun. Lots of torque that hits early and hard, and shuts down at 6500 rpm.

The gearbox is probably the bike’s best feature, and it is far smoother than the competition. The bike can be shifted hard under load, sloppily while farting around town or anything in between without a clunk or misstep. Shifting shouldn’t require thought and this box is thoughtless.

The fit and finish is the best I’ve seen on a Kawasaki cruiser. Great paint and chrome quality. Nice details like adjustable clutch and brake levers too.On the down side, seeing rust on hardware that has had a tool applied to it still bothers me. Also, the gas cap lock was fromage.

Finally, the additional markings on the side covers looked like they came off a 1981 LTD440. Leave it clean and let the tank speak for itself. Maybe this is petty, but the competition is fierce and the little things are important, however, the bike is attractive. My favourite part being the rear wheel, drive shaft hub and fender view.

Overall, it’s a decent package that does everything well and shifts better than all other comers. It may not be sexy to have the best shifting bike on your block but decent power, handling and stopping is never bad for the libido, especially on a cruiser.



 

Bike

Kawasaki Vulcan Mean Streak

MSL

$15,599.00

Displacement

1470 cc

Engine type

sohc v-twin, liquid-cooled

Carburetion

Digital Fuel Injection with dual 40mm throttle bodies

Final drive

Five speed, shaft drive

Tires, front

130/70R-17

Tires, rear

170/60R-17

Brakes, front

Dual 320 mm discs with six-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 300 mm disc with four-piston caliper

Seat height

701 mm (27.6 inches)

Wheelbase

1704 mm (67.1 inches)

Dry weight

289 kg (637 pounds) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Black Pearl or Passion Red or Metallic Phantom Silver

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