1998 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic Motorcycle with Honda's Trophies

This custom Vulcan keeps winning top honors at the Honda Hoot.

You'd think after taking home first place brass in the Metric Cruiser class at the 2001 Honda Hoot, our man from Selma, Alabama, would've had the good graces to sit out the class or at least customize a bike from the Nicest People for the '02 get-together. Nah, old Holland Powell decided that what goes around ought to come around. So he took his 1998 Kawasaki 1500 Vulcan Classic right on back to the Honda's event and cleaned everybody's clock a second time. Now Holland doesn't seem to be a malicious man, so I'm certain he had no particular ax to grind with the big H. But he is the determined sort, and he likes to approach things with a certain seriousness. And from what little I know of him, I can tell he takes winning very seriously.

Holland started riding when he was all of eight years old. What with one thing and another, mainly family-related, bikes got replaced by go-faster-type cars.

Men reaching middle age often develop a need for some distraction; we'll call it man-o-pause. These distractions take many forms -- some benign, and some that will land you in divorce court (followed shortly by a visit to bankruptcy court). Holland decided that a return to motorcycling was a more attractive distraction.

To that end, he soon found himself combing the local motorcycle shops. He looked at "everything" without finding anything that really blew his skirt up. One fine day he walked into Lee Kawasaki in Selma, where he found a sweet 1998 Vulcan 1500. The bike had been used as a dealer demo. It was clean, well-broken-in and exactly what he wanted.

Everyone knows the hardest part of owning a cruiser is keeping it stock. Initially, Holland played it cool. His first act was to add a windshield (later removed). Of course that was just the beginning. He wanted to make the back seat a little more comfortable for his wife, Carolyn, so a new seat was soon added, along with rear floorboards and a passenger backrest. Some minor stenciling followed, and shortly thereafter came the bike's first foray onto the show circuit. Much to Holland's chagrin, his bike finished in the runner-up spot. To add insult to injury, the winner was none other than the parts manager from Lee Kawasaki. Fortunately, Holland and the parts manager, Bob Culpepper, along with the shop's owner, Tony Lee, had become good friends by then, so the dueling pistols stayed holstered.

At that stage of the game, Holland saw the future, and its name was custom. Holland went through the Kawasaki Fire & Steel accessory book with a vengeance, ordering up, in his words, "everything they made." Once that source was exhausted he started converting Harley items to fit, as well as anything else that caught his eye.

Unusual for a custom of this caliber, all of the sheetmetal has remained stock except for some minor work needed to mount the taillight and turn signals. The rest of the stuff, and there is a lot of stuff, was more or less bolt-on -- meaning that if it didn't bolt on, it was massaged until it did. Even the solid-looking wheels are actually bolted-on covers, although a new set of billet wheels just recently arrived.

Modifying any bike, especially the kind of extensive modifications needed to build a show winner, exposes the owners to trial and tribulations that would try the patience of Job. For instance, there is the saga of the paint. Holland had a very definite paint scheme in mind, one incorporating skulls, flames and the Confederate flag. Accordingly, he got together with Burt Ballowe of Ballowe Artistry, located in Danridge, Tennessee. The design was drawn up and approved, and the parts were shipped to Burt, who laid on a flawless paint job. Everything looked very good indeed until Airborne Express decided to do a little impromptu customizing of its own. The freshly painted tank arrived looking like something that had been through a war -- and lost. Fortunately, Mr. Powell is a prudent man, and the tank had been insured for its full replacement value. A new tank was soon painted and returned to Holland, this time without incident.

No one disputes that a stock Vulcan 1500 has enough poke to get you into trouble. But frankly, enough is never really enough. In fact, too much is usually almost adequate, especially if your last toy had a big-ass turbo feeding it. For the first couple of years, Holland kept the Vulcan mill dead stock, the only power-inducing modifications being a set of BUB pipes and an air filter and jet kit from Factory Pro Tuning. But you know how it is -- he hankered for just a wee bit more grunt, especially on the big end. He could have torn down the engine and employed the usual hot-rod tricks -- big cams, high compression and so on. Maybe he would have got what he wanted, or maybe he would have ended up with a finicky, hard-to-maintain and tough-to-ride sonuvabitch that wasn't much fun. No, what he wanted was a bike that kept all the attributes of a stock mill yet jumped like its ass was on fire and its head was catching when he gave it a little stick.

Check out those cylinders tucked behind the saddlebags, the ones labeled "NOS." The juice is activated by a throttle switch. When the throttle opening is at 90 percent or better and the system turned on, the shot provides Holland with an additional 35 horsepower, with another 40 on tap if he really gets to feeling frisky. Mr. Powell did mention that the clutch already slips a bit when the nitrous hits, so an upgrade is on the to-do list for this winter. The system was installed by John Brinhale at his shop, appropriately named Automotive Excitement.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and this bike abounds with them. My personal favorite is the chrome skeleton perched on top of the headlight. I also like the flame motif, carried throughout the bike from the tank panel to the mirrors.

As with many customs, Holland's bike is an ever-evolving work. It went through several incarnations before arriving in its current showstopping state. Holland and Carolyn try to display their masterpiece at as many shows as possible, and more often than not they take top honors. As it sits now, the bike does get ridden between shows, although it's just as often displayed on the showroom floor down at Lee Kawasaki. And yes, Holland does have another bike to ride, an '03 Electra Glide.

Will Holland three-peat by winning at the 2003 Honda Hoot custom bike show? That's anybody's guess, but if he doesn't, it won't be for lack of trying. If he does pull off a hat trick, jeez, that would have to hurt, wouldn't it? In fact, if he does, and I were working for Honda, I'd hand him the keys to a new VTX and tell him to have at it -- at least that way they could keep all those trophies in the family.


(800) 990-9392
Flame-cut mirrors

Arlen Ness Enterprises
(510) 276-3395
Tail light and turn signals

Ballowe Artistry
(888) 285-7222

BUB Enterprises
(800) 934-9739
Exhaust system

Custom World International
(450) 974-7699
Wheel Covers

Factory Pro Tuning
(303) 775-4387
Air filter and jet kit

(626) 792-7384

(800) 347-8664
Mini floorboards

Kawasaki Motor Corporation
(800) 661-RIDE
Fire & Steel accessories

(715) 247-5008
Grips and pegs

(909) 445-0900
Chrome covers, license plate cover, braided cables

Thunder Manufacturing
(602) 269-5033
Tank panel

For more articles on custom bikes and articles about how to customize and modify your motorcycle, see the Custom Section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.