INTROBy Editor ‘arris
With the ... err, unfortunate incident that saw the beloved Mr. Boss depart the electronic offices of CMG, we suddenly found ourselves one cruiser tester short and Kawasaki’s new VN2000 in need of a test.
But for once the reign of chaos and disorder at CMG was short-lived – enter stage left Harry Freedman (aka bbb).
Harry’s not just a well-known CMG Soapbox personality, but is also ride-leader for the CMGRC Ontario rides and is the perfect cruiser guy – he actually likes them, rides one big distances and comes sans attitude. Hey, his writing’s not bad either …
BEARDED BIG BIKER MEETS BODACIOUS BIG BIKE
When I picked up the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 test bike, my first thought was that this is one big ‘mother’ of a bike. It’s not just big, it’s massive and with its 2,053 cc v-twin motor, large chromed upper forks and unique headlamp – housed in a retro chrome nacelle – the Vulcan 2000 is telling everyone on the road, “Get outta my way ‘cause I’m coming through!”
I had the Vulcan for a little under two weeks, logging some 2,800 kms over a number of curving quiet back-roads as well as using it to commute to work during the morning and evening rush hours through the crowded downtown streets of the Big Smoke.
The “Pearl Glacial Blue” test bike that we got is a real head turner. The first day I had it out, while I was parked outside a coffee shop sipping on an espresso and watching the world go by, several other riders, including a few Harley types, stopped to look at it, and mentioned not only its size and colour but how good the bike looked.
And yes, it is a very good-looking bike from front, rear, and each side. The wide chrome handlebars are a perfect fit for the large front forks, four-bulb chrome nacelle headlamp and flowing 21-litre gas tank. The rear fender covers the largest tire available on a stock v-twin cruiser (a 200/60R16!), while the slash-cut twin over/under tailpipes exude power, and suggest the classic low rumble of a V-twin will be there – even when the bike is parked!
THE GIRL'S GOT GRUNT
My first long ride came when I joined fellow CMGers Stylz and Mr. Seck (on a Honda Aero 750 and a Harley Sportster), spending about 12 hours riding some 675 kms in eastern Ontario on our three CMG test bikes. Sitting in the bucket style saddle that comes with the Kawasaki, for that length of time was not a problem for me, even though it is quite a firm seat. I guess the extra padding I carry around makes up for the minimal padding provided by the manufacturer!
The acceleration it provides in every gear is breathtaking. Unfortunately, I often reached the 5,200 rpm rev limiter far too quickly. In first, second and third gear, the bike felt and sounded as if there was much more available in there before having to change to a higher gear. I suppose if the instrument panel had a tachometer along-side the speedometer, that would not have been a problem.
The large dial on the fuel-tank houses the speedometer, fuel gauge, warning lights, and combined odometer, trip meter and clock, providing easy-to-read information in daylight and at night.
The clutch, together with the heel and toe-shifter, allowed smooth shifts up and down through the transmission. I did not encounter a false neutral while on the Vulcan (a more common occurrence on my Road King), perhaps because I was using the full weight of my left boot to kick the bike into and out of gear (it is a big cruiser after all—no need to be gentle!).
Nevertheless, finding neutral – despite being equipped with Kawasaki's "Positive Neutral Finder" – was sometimes a bit of a chore, particularly when the neutral light decided not to work, although a blip on the throttle made it much easier to accomplish.
From a standing start, twisting the throttle did not lift the front end (no surprise there considering its long wheelbase and great mass) but it sure pressed me back in the saddle – the surging power making the front-end light.
It provided a smooth ride at both low and high speeds with relatively little vibration, all but disappearing at cruising speed. I know, I know, saying that, it’s bound to be relatively little when I’m used to my current 8 year-old Harley! Best of all, there were no tingling sensations coming up my legs from the floorboards or through my hands from the handlebars at any time.
KEEPING UP WITH THE TATE'S
Not only does the Vulcan 2000 respond well to the throttle, its dual-disc four-piston caliper front, and single disc rear brakes provide plenty of stopping power. Using both brakes, the more than 1/2 ton of mass (the bike and me) stopped smoothly and surprising quickly, especially when a traffic light changed sooner than I had anticipated.
While all that weight, power and torque could certainly get someone into trouble; used properly it makes for one helluva a stable ride and I had no difficulty in keeping up with Larry Tate during the CMG-RC Indian Day ride this summer.
Larry, on his Suzuki 1200 Bandit, led the way through some tight corners, long sweepers and a couple of downhill straights where one could see well ahead. It was on one of these straight stretches that I hit the rev limiter again, only this time in 5th! This was probably a good thing because I had not realized just how fast I was going as the Vulcan was deceptively smooth at its top speed … which will go unpublished, at least by me.
(No Harry, you don’t get it. Remember, that was on the CMG private test track – closed course – done at great expense by CMG in order to give our beloved readership what they want to know, etc, etc – Editor 'arris).
The low 680mm seat height helps keep a low centre of gravity and makes the bike a very stable ride. Indeed, going through the sweepers behind Larry, it felt as if the bike was on a rail, particularly when opening the throttle exiting a curve.
While the Vulcan’s torque is a tremendous asset coming out of the corners, it is equally impressive going into them. Downshifting just before the curve eliminates the need for brakes (most of the time), thanks to a significant amount of engine braking. It seems to allow the bike to back down just enough so that I can feel and see my way through the curve and accelerate out. Keeping the bike powered throughout the curve or sweeper provided superb stability … floorboards allowing!
It does sit low to the ground – the factory specifications say its ground clearance is 135 mm (approximately 5 inches) – so it will scrape when riding over some nasty bumps or carving some corners. As a result, both floorboards on my test bike were worn down somewhat. Mr. Seck had noticed this several times and said there was a trail of sparks behind me – especially when taking highway ramps at speed. I’m sure the bike would happily lean even further on some curves, but for the floorboards scratching a line on the pavement!
However, for a bike that weighs more and has a longer wheelbase than my 1997 Harley Road King, I was surprised at how well it handled in most situations. However, at low speeds the front wheel did have a tendency to fall to either, and going in and out of my parking garage required me to hang on hard to the handlebar just to keep the front wheel straight.
TROUBLE IN bbb WORLD
The chrome upper forks, handlebar and headlamp nacelle provide a polished, rich look to the bike. Unfortunately, those clean lines of the top of the nacelle are broken with the ignition switch being on the nacelle rather than on the tank where the instrument panel is. As a result, that polished chrome of the nacelle facing the rider has what looks like a crater in the middle of it, with the ignition switch sitting at its centre.
The test bike I rode had a temperamental neutral light. On occasion, the bike was in neutral but the neutral indicator light was not illuminated. Unfortunately, in this state it will not start, even with the clutch pulled in. It took me a while to figure that one out!
Checking the oil level is also a bit awkward. According to the Kawasaki technicians who showed me the bike’s features at pick-up, you have to let the bike idle for a minimum of three minutes, shut off the engine and wait five minutes for all the oil to drain into the reservoir (thanks to the semi-dry sump design). Then, while ensuring the bike is on a level surface (upright, not on its kickstand), unscrew the oil dipstick and take a reading.
What a process!
If the oil is checked while the bike is sitting on the kickstand, too soon after it is turned off or when it’s cold, it will show the level to be too low. No wonder Kawasaki gets calls from new owners complaining about oil spraying out of their bikes, thanks to over-filling.
And, don’t get me started on the controls for the signals and horn. The switches both felt flimsy to the touch. Indeed, on occasion, if I applied any pressure to the signal switch while trying to move it left or right, the signal would not activate (although they are self-canceling… once started). Given the size and feel of the bike, more substantial switches would have been a far better match for the bike.
In its defence, I’ve been riding the same Harley Davidson Road King for almost eight years/248,000 kms, while I’ve only been on the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 for two weeks and some 2,800 kms, so it’s a little unfair to make straight comparisons.
While I’ve described some admittedly minor irritations, they are not significant enough to outweigh the very positive experience I’ve had riding that Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. I admit I am partial to the Harley Davidson brand of motorcycle. Nevertheless, I have to confess that I found that the Vulcan grew on me each day I rode it.
It looks great, sounds pretty good and for a large bike, handles surprising well. I used to think my Road King was a big bike, but it felt significantly smaller when I got back on it after giving up the Kawasaki.
So to the big question at hand – am I going to run out tomorrow and trade in my Road King for a Vulcan 2000? No, but I will say that if I was in the market for a heavy cruiser, the Vulcan 2000 (with a list price of 19 grand) could certainly drag me off my Harley.
THE TECHNICAL BITS
by Editor ‘arris
I can remember when Kawasaki announced the VN2000 last year. It was obvious that they were hoping to grab the “biggest production bike ever” title – with a capacity of 2,053cc – only to have Triumph announce their new 2.3 litre Rocket III at the same time. Still, the Rocket III is an inline triple, so they still had the “biggest production v-twin ever” title.
The motor is a 52 degree v-twin with cooling provided by a mix of fins for the air, and internal pockets around the cylinder head for liquid cooling where it needs it most. In order to get this motor to breathe, Kawasaki have fitted four valves per cylinder (operated by maintenance-free hydraulic tappets), although there’s only one plug in each cylinder to try and get that flame front started.
With huge pistons (the bore is an unfeasible 103 mms across) and lengthy stroke, engine rpms have to be limited to cope with the piston mass and high mid-stroke speed. The rev limiter’s set at a lowly 5,200 rpm, but this motor’s built for grunt, with a massive 141 ft-lbs on tap (claimed), most of it available at just off-idle speeds. There’s a relatively high compression ratio for a cruiser of 9.5:1, which requires an automatic decompressor (a solenoid – activated by the starter button – opens the exhaust valves slightly) in order to get the thing cranking.
Following the Yamaha Road Star trend of going back to push-rod operated valves, the VN2000 combines them with wide valve angles and a semi-dry sump lubrication system in order to keep the overall height of the motor down. Don’t underestimate the importance of this, as the VN’s stroke is 33 mm longer than its sibling VN1500, yet the motor is only 2mm taller. This keeps the engine and overall centre of gravity low for better handling (although ground clearance can then become an issue – eh Harry?)
Both con-rods connect to a single crank-pin – which gives classic v-twin power characteristics – with Kawasaki opting to fit a damper on the end of the crank to help smooth power pulses. There’s also twin balance-shafts to keep the primary vibration at bay.
Carburation is provided by fuel injection, using 43 mm throttle bodies with the increasingly common set-up of dual butterfly valves for smoother throttle transition.
Power is transmitted to the wheel via a five-speed box and belt final drive.
Although the frame is a double cradle design, the motor is solidly mounted to increase the overly rigidity of the chassis. 49 mm telescopic forks (non-adjustable) up front and a single hidden rear shock (adjustable for preload and damping) have to cope with the VN2000’s huge mass of 340 Kg (dry, claimed) – that’s about 750lbs!
I still remember when I used to be a motorcycle mechanic back in England (a while ago now), and having to give a VN1500 a pre-delivery test ride around the ‘hood. Shit, I thought, a 1500cc motorcycle. How big can you go? It looks like we’re still finding out.