A Custom Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 by Rhonda Hoffman

A visit with the Vulcanator

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500
Rhonda Hoffman's rolling showroom is more than just your standard Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 with bolt-ons.Dean Groover

This article was originally published in the February 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Many manufacturers of aftermarket parts for cruisers will build bikes as two-wheeled advertisements for their products. Often these bikes wear fancy paint and a heaping helping of that company's billet and chrome. Rhonda Hoffman, being both a builder of custom bikes and the driving force behind Planet Cruiser, takes a slightly different approach. Thanks to her experience building bikes for paying customers, Hoffman's rolling showroom is more than a bolt-on special. The Vulcanator displays a careful blending of accessories imported from four countries, some American-made standard additions, and one person's creative vision in the form of her own line of billet accessories and the overall concept.

Hoffman’s goals for this project were simple. First, she wanted to take the Vulcan 1500 completely away from its classic style. While doing this, she wanted to introduce American cruisers to some of the European custom styles she’d seen on her many purchasing trips overseas for Planet Cruiser. Also, she didn’t want to make the Vulcanator such an over-the-top custom that the average cruiser would look at her creation and think it was out of his league. The Vulcanator exists to spark the imagination.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 barracuda parts
The DPM Moon mirrors fit well with the Barracuda grips, levers, and reservoir covers. The billet grips are surprisingly comfortable on the road.Dean Groover

To achieve the long, low, fat profile she wanted on the Vulcanator, Hoffman removed the big ol' Classic fenders and replaced them with a pair from HM Chopperparts Deluxe. The Dutch fenders impart the Kawasaki with a racier look. The Diablo rear fender replaces the stock seat and fender, bolting onto the sub-frame with no modifications. The fiberglass bodywork allows the use of a 190-series tire without any modification to the rolling gear. If a fat 200 is to be run on the bike, some minor mods must be performed to the frame. The front Race fender compliments the bobbed rear.

One unusual path Hoffman took on this project was to keep a fat tire on the front. The 130 Avon wraps around a 16-inch German prototype billet wheel. The wheels’ brawny looks aren’t all fashion—they passed tough European TUV safety standards. The Avons were chosen because Hoffman liked the tread pattern.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 front end
Barracuda Billet’s Wide Glide front end increase the breadth of the fork from nine and a half inches to a whopping 14, but that’s nothing compared to the 46-inch handlebar! The switch gear wiring hides neatly inside the bar and risers. The DPM dual billet headlights and headlight bracket crown this impressive front end.Dean Groover

Since she decided to pursue a brawny style for the front end, Hoffman turned to the Barracuda Billet accessory line she designed. The stock triple clamps were tossed in favor of a Barracuda Wide Glide kit. With the new axle and spacers in place, the stock fork legs spread to one foot from center-to-center! The billet sleeves between the upper and lower triple clamps are a snazzy option. Although the lower billet sleeves were mounted to the bike for the photos, Hoffman removed them, feeling that not being able to see the stanchions below the triple clamp made the front too fat and detracted from the sporty look she wanted. The Italian-made dual DPM headlights are each machined—visor and all—from one piece of billet. The lens, the electrics, and the lens-retaining ring are the only non-billet portions of the lights. A dual billet headlight mounting bracket attaches to the lower triple clamp and sports a keen blue light in the center.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 aluminum wheel
The Sundance billet aluminum wheel is one of the most striking features of Vulcanator. The DPM rear turn signals are styled exactly the same as the billet headlights. Progressive Suspension helps tuck the fat Avon under the bobbed fender.Dean Groover

While some riders who have sampled the Vulcanator said they didn’t like the way the 46-inch-wide bar spread them in the wind, Hoffman simply replies, “It’s the widest bar I’ve ever seen, so I had to put it on there.” Most people notice the clean lines of the bar, thanks in part to the fact that switch wiring runs inside it. Keeping the bar in contact with the triple clamp, a pair of Barracuda “wireless” risers hide the wires in their hollow centers. The machining on these hidden bolt risers is so accurate that they look like they aren’t clamps at all—but solid billet. Barracuda Billet grips, levers, and reservoir covers round out this ultra-clean handlebar setup. Only the black rubber hydraulic lines detract from its look—a problem Hoffman has since remedied with braided stainless steel.

When we asked Hoffman how long the Vulcanator took to build, she said that the bike itself didn't take long to bolt together, but the painting added three weeks to the process. "You always have to wait for the painter," she joked since she is a painter by trade and had to take time off from running Planet Cruiser to get the Vulcanator gussied up. To go with the sporty look of this Classic, she selected colors from the Kawasaki Racing pallet: candy blue, pearl white, (most importantly) Kawasaki lime green, black, "and a little bit of silver accenty stuff."

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 floorboard
The DPM billet floorboard inserts slip right inside the stock floorboards. Tucked beside the Vance and Hines straight pipe, the black rubber OE brake pedal pad would look out of place. Therefore, a billet pedal pad was slipped on.Dean Groover

Hoffman says she thinks the bike succeeded in bringing European flavor stateside. At Daytona, two French bikers, who didn’t speak English, approached Hoffman and— through the universal language of hand gestures—asked to have their picture taken with the Vulcanator. Wherever the inspiration came from, we think Hoffman’s created another beauty. Look for it in Planet Cruiser’s rolling showroom at some of the major motorcycle events to see what else Hoffman has up her sleeve.