Kawasaki's Mean Streak and Motorcycle Cruiser have a long romance dating right back to when we first met. When Kawasaki rolled out the original Vulcan 1500 Mean Streak six years ago, it may not have been love at first sight (we weren't so knocked out by its looks), but it definitely was love at first ride.
We were already fans of the Vulcan 1500 Classic, and Kawasaki instilled the Mean Streak with most of the Classic's endearing qualities. It shared the same responsive power and uncanny smoothness of the other 1,470cc Kawasaki big twins, with the same seamless drivetrain. The briefer Mean Streak saddle, though liveable, wasn't quite as plush as the Classic's, but most of us liked the Streak's riding position even better, especially the more aggressive handlebar. We were delighted that the Mean Streak wore its instruments up where we could consult them without taking our eyes far off the road ahead.
Most of all, we were charmed by the Meanie's chassis, which rearranged steering geometry to bring both quicker and more precise response and greater stability. It backed that up with performance-oriented radial tires mounted on 17-inch wheels, an inverted fork, air-pressure and rebound-damping adjustability for the dual shocks, and dual disc brakes up front. Suddenly, Kawasaki's docile Vulcan seemed to grow an attitude. Even if the footpegs that replaced the Classic's floorboards didn't add significant cornering clearance, the rest of the chassis upgrades made it a more capable ride when the road began to meander. Kawasaki also pumped up the power a bit, though that didn't actually turn the Vulcan into the musclebike the Mean Streak aspired to be.
Nonetheless, the newest Vulcan 1500 certainly got our attention. It offered most of the attractions of the popular 1500 Classic, but with a more sophisticated chassis and a smidgen more power. Its only drawbacks were about 10 percent less fuel capacity (4.5 instead of 5.0 gallons) and passenger accommodations that made more than one potential back-seater balk. However, replacing the saddle with an aftermarket item (we recommend a Mustang) is a two-minute job.
Not surprisingly, the Mean Streak emerged atop the rankings in our 11-bike 2002 Big Twins Comparison. Even though it finished dead last in our seven-bike Musclebike Comparison (where straight-line performance was the only criteria) later that year, it continued to find a favored berth in the Motorcycle Cruiser garage.
With the accelerating trend toward ever-bigger big twins, for 2004 Kawasaki boosted the Mean Streak's displacement to 1,552cc, allowing it to nominally claim 1600 status. Fortunately, with the new engine, Kawasaki resisted any impulse to diddle with the chassis, thereby leaving well enough alone. While the rest of the Vulcan 1500s suffered ergonomic setbacks (in our view) when they were retooled as 1600s, sitting on the Mean Streak was like returning to an old friend, though one with more punch.
So, with one of our favorite chassis setups preserved and even receiving a boost in much-needed power, what happened to the Mean Streak? Sad to say, it immediately disappeared from our road-test roster. That's right: We have never printed a test of the 1600 Mean Streak. Well, not exactly.
Back in 2004, Kawasaki and Suzuki, per an agreement of a few years previous, shared a streetbike built by one company but sold under both brands. That was the Kawasaki Mean Streak, which also showed up in Suzuki dealers with cosmetic alterations as the Marauder 1600. It was built by Kawasaki.
That year, in our "Little Big Twins" comparison, which pitted against one another four twins that weren't pushing the new two-liter mark, we decided to include the Suzuki Marauder rather than the virtually identical Mean Streak. They were essentially the same bike, and the Marauder was a novelty because of its odd parentage. When the smoke had cleared, Suzuki had won its first Cruiser big-twin test, even though it had to do it with a bike built by Kawasaki.
The next year, the Marauder was gone, and no one much wanted to talk about it. The Kawasaki-Suzuki co-branding venture was over, leaving some Marauder owners feeling abandoned (although they now own what's probably going to be a collectible). Fortunately for those riders, their motorcycles weren't orphans. Kawasaki is still making them in the form of the Mean Streak, and we still rank the Meanie at the top of its class-even if we never actually said so.
Maybe we were wrong to neglect the sweet-handling Mean Streak these last few years, but frankly there wasn't much to say...until this year.
Then for 2007, Kawasaki quietly rolled out a special edition of the Mean Streak, and suddenly there is news in the form of the most head-turning graphics ever to grace a cruiser at this price point. Kawasaki painted the frame and wheels a tasty metallic red, then colored the bodywork flat black and overlaid a red, silver and black flame motif that demands attention. Most of the usual bright-metal pieces have gone dark with black chrome or black paint. Even the fork legs and exhaust system are black.
Overall, the new Special Edition is stunning and very un-Kawasaki. You don't need to take our word for it. Ease it to the curb at any urban burger emporium and hear the questions fly.
The graphics and dark look totally transform the visual character of the motorcycle, and, even parked next to a standard 2007 Vulcan 1600 Mean Streak, the Special Edition might be mistaken as a different motorcycle altogether.
Fortunately, the Special Edition treatment doesn't alter its behavior. The SE is still the smooth-riding, hard-stopping Mean Streak that seduced us in 2001. Few true cruisers are as confident on demanding roads, and none of those can match its comfort on extended rides. Light, predictable steering also makes it a breeze in busy urban traffic.
Although the menacing graphics may make the Meanie SE appear more belligerent, it's still the same mild-mannered Vulcan we've always liked. The 1,552cc engine adds a modicum of punch, but we aren't talking powerhouse here. It starts readily, and power flows evenly and predictably when you need it, but this is no hot rod, no matter what the paint tells you.
Despite bragging rights for more displacement and added propulsion, we aren't convinced that the 1600 engine was a step forward for the Vulcans. It lost that glassy smoothness of the 1500, and it's married to a clutch that we complained about the first time around. It's an average clutch with a reasonable pull when cool, but when you warm it up with two or three high-rpm starts, it gets grabby, which could be dangerous in some situations, where a sudden lurch forward during take-off could catch the rider by surprise and propel him into unanticipated danger. We hoped it would be improved for 2004, but four years after its introduction, we're still waiting. If we owned one, we'd consider aftermarket components to remedy this.
With its intense graphic element, the saddle of the Special Edition would be harder to replace with an aftermarket item, unless that piece comes up with a design that offers a real pillion as well as matching graphics. Even then, a plusher saddle would clash with the tough-guy statement of the SE. If you rarely invite a friend to ride with you, though, the sparse rider's section is actually pretty comfortable for a variety of shapes and sizes.
Though we're sometimes put off by the added cost of limited-edition versions of cruisers, in the case of the Mean Streak Special Edition, we think the additional $200 is worth every penny, whether you measure it by compliments received or from that little rush of pleasure you get every time you look at the motorcycle. While the $11,099 standard Mean Streak will fully match the high of piloting the Special Edition down a twisting road, the SE outperforms the base model spectacularly when parked. The Mean Streak could always make us smile, but now it can do it without even thumbing the starter button.
MSRP: $11,299 (Special Edition)
Warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Standard colors: Black, metallic flat black/red frame and wheels
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: 1552cc, liquid-cooled, 50-degree tandem V-twin
Bore x stroke: 102 x 95mmValve train: SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, hydraulic adjusters
Compression ratio: 9.0:1Fuel system: EFI, 40mm throttle bodies
Transmission/Final drive: Wet clutch, 5-speed/Shaft
43mm inverted fork, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, adjustable for air pressure, rebound damping, 3.4 in. travel
Front wheel/tire: Cast, 17 x 3.5 in.,130/70R-17 Dunlop Sportmax D220F tubeless radial
Rear wheel/tire: Cast, 17 x 5.9 in., 170/60R-17 Dunlop Sportmax D220ST tubeless radial
Front brake: Dual 320mm discs with 4-piston calipers
Rear brake: 300 mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Rake/trail: 32 degrees/5.7 in.
Wheelbase: 67.1 in.
Wet weight: 697 lbs.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Handlebar: 30.6 in., 1.0-in.
Seat height: 27.6 in.
Speedometer, tachometer, LCD
fuel gauge, oil-pressure failure,
odometer/tripmeter/clock; warning lights for high-beam, turn signals,
neutral and oil pressure
Fuel mileage: 31-41 mpg,
Average range: 164 miles
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.580 sec. @ 98.4 mph
Hot new style
Great, confidence-inspiring handling
Strong, controllable braking
Passenger won't want to ride far
Clutch gets grabby when hot