Harley Davidson V-Rod Vs. Kawasaki Vulcan 2000

It's Metric Versus American And Turbo Versus Nitrous

Big performance is hardly the first thing you think of when you think about cruisers. Even the so-called "performance cruisers" are hard-pressed to crack the 12-second barrier in the quarter-mile in their slow-revving, overweight, factory-tuned state, never mind standard cruisers, most of which have a difficult time outrunning the neighbor kid's poorly muffled Honda Civic. The horror

This doesn't necessarily need to be the case, however. Underneath all that chrome and candy paint there has to be some performance potential in these showboats, right? What would happen if you threw some serious power adders into the mix-a few pounds of turbo boost or a snoot full of nitrous oxide, for example? Could we find some "go" to match all that typical cruiser "show"?

It turns out that we're not the only ones asking this question. Exhibit A comes from drag-racing super-tuner George Bryce (of Star Racing and now G-Squared Motorsports fame), who is offering a bolt-on turbo kit for the Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Developed in conjunction with turbo legend Barry Henson at Velocity Racing in Davie, Florida, this kit is designed for reliable street use and is good for another 50 hp on top of the V-Rod's stock, 110-hp output. Exhibit B is my latest project bike, a nitrous-oxide-equipped Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. When Bryce called and offered a ride on his very own turbo V-Rod test mule at just about the same time I wrapped up my Vulcan, we immediately saw the opportunity for a serious heavyweight cruiser battle. Because Bryce sweetened the deal by offering to bring Chip Ellis, the rider of Bryce's G-Squared Motorsports NHRA Pro Stock Buell and one of the nation's fastest straight-liners, to ride both of the bikes to guarantee us the quickest, most consistent quarter-mile times, we just had to say yes. The Super Cruiser Shootout was on!

It's difficult to call this test a straight-up comparison, since the two base bikes are so different in design and intent. Kawasaki's Vulcan 2000 is a traditional (if hugely exaggerated) cruiser design, with a massive, 2053cc pushrod V-twin engine pumping out 95 rear-wheel hp and a healthy 120 ft.-lbs. of torque near the 5100-rpm redline. The V-Rod, on the other hand, is a much more up-to-date engine design, a high-revving, overhead-cam V-twin that makes 110 hp and 74 ft.-lbs. of torque at low-double-digit revs. The Vulcan is a monster in every way, especially weight, carrying over 800 pounds; the V-Rod, by comparison, is relatively svelte at just 620 pounds. So this is a complete apples and oranges story from the get-go, only further complicated by the different power mods on tap: nitrous versus turbocharging. Who planned this thing, anyway

Not to worry-if nothing else, the dragstrip is a great equalizer. It doesn't matter to a speed trap what country a bike comes from or how it makes its power-just how fast the bike gets from point A to point B, 1320 feet away, and we expected Ellis to answer this question definitively. So without missing a beat, we made plans to meet up with Bryce and company for a showdown at the new South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, Georgia. The plan was to bag a dyno run for both bikes, to establish how much power each motor made, and where it made it. The next step was a handoff to Ellis and the dragstrip, to see exactly how that power translated into forward acceleration. Finally, we would take both bikes out on the street to gather a real-world ride report, to see how each bike performed in more conventional riding circumstances. The game, as they say, was on.

The ContendersIt made sense to begin with the Vulcan, as this bike conforms more closely to the conventional cruiser archetype with a narrow-angle V-twin and full, classic-inspired bodywork. For a few short months following its release in 2004, the 2053cc (125 cubic inch) Vulcan 2000 was the largest-displacement production motorcycle on the planet, and one of the most powerful too, capable of producing 125 ft.-lbs. of torque, enough to turn mid-12-second quarter-mile times out of the box despite its 820-pound wet weight. This, of course, was just the starting point for us-those numbers were fine for a stocker, but we wanted a metric cruiser that could get absolutely medieval on other cruisers when it was necessary to the plot.

We started simply by opening up the motor on both ends, with a great-sounding Vance & Hines Power Shot exhaust system and a Thunder Manufacturing intake to help our Vulcan clear its throat. Thunder also supplied the fuel map for the Dynojet Power Commander ignition module that we used to keep the fuel properly metered-a very important concern in anticipation of our next mod, the "wet" nitrous oxide injection kit from Nitrous Express.

Now it was time for some major horsepower upgrades to the already potent Vulcan and for that we turned to the NX Express setup available from Schnitz Racing (with polished bottles). The understressed, medium-compression Kawasaki motor is a perfect match for a nitrous system, and we planned to take full advantage of this to use the wet kit for what we hoped would be a huge horsepower bump. Contrasted to a "dry" nitrous kit that fogs the airbox with a cloud of nitrous oxide that mixes with the air, a wet kit uses a secondary fuel pump to inject a mix of fuel and nitrous directly into the intake runner, aimed at the intake valves. This setup is slightly more involved on the installation end, but maintains a more precise amalgamation of nitrous and fuel, reducing the risk of a nitrous backfire and allowing us to spray more funny fuel (than a dry system) without the danger of the mixture leaning out and damaging the engine. After careful consultation with Nitrous Express's in-house expert on the proper-sized jets for this monster, we then went one size larger (#24) and braced ourselves.

Installing a nitrous kit on a cruiser can be a challenge because there isn't much bodywork to cloak the necessary pump and solenoids. So, rather than hide anything we simply polished the bits and mounted them out in the open for the whole world to admire. When it came to mounting the twin 2.5-pound bottles (chromed, of course), we contacted Greg Wilmoth at Cycle Werx in Flintstone, Georgia, who designed the custom brackets and cut them out on a water jet cutter. Finally, and just for show, we rigged a remote-controlled nitrous purge that exits from just behind the headlight to give a good shot of nitrous into the air, backlit with blue LED lights, just to blow bystanders away. It won't make the bike go any faster, but cruisers are not just about speed now, are they?

On a similar note, we made a bunch of changes to dress up the looks of the Vulcan. Out back the factory taillight and tag holder was shaved off and replaced with an aftermarket, swingarm-mounted tag carrier/taillight. The factory root beer paint was sanded down and covered over with a beautiful House of Kolor cobalt blue by Matt Nation in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then Liquid Visions in Ringgold, Georgia, sprayed on the ghost flames using a House of Kolor Ice Pearls-a very fine glass that just glows in sunlight. The bike was also treated to several bolt-ons from Cobra, including floorboards, caliper and reservoir covers and a chrome coolant filler cap. Up front a Kawasaki light bar ups the available candlepower (with Clear Alternatives turn-signal lenses) and a Cycle Craft Engineering tach keeps us from overrevving on the juice. Finally, to slow down the bike after a nitrous pass, we opted for upgraded Galfer pads and braided stainless steel lines from www.cyclebrakes.com.

Bryce's V-Rod is relatively plain by comparison, a box-stock motorcycle save for the massive turbocharger hanging off the right side of the bike. Just as the low-revving Vulcan is a good fit for a nitrous system, the high-revving Harley-Davidson V-twin is a perfect candidate for turbocharging. For starters, the V-Rod is one of the quickest cruisers on the market today, delivering around 110 hp off the showroom floor and capable of mid-11-second quartermile passes in stock tune. The G-Squared turbo is a turnkey kit, including everything you need to boost your V-Rod. The turbocharger itself comes from Garrett (a GT-28 model) set to produce a conservative (and reliable) seven pounds of boost, and the turnkey kit retails for $5995 from Bryce's shop. Expect the install to eat around 15 hours depending on your skills and the size of your rolling tool chest. If either of those are lacking, G-Squared will also install the kit for you.

The Dyno Don't LieOur visit to Valdosta corresponded with the opening round of the 2005 AMA/Prostar motorcycle drag-racing series, which was also the venue for the 2005 Dynojet Horsepower Challenge-a national contest sponsored by Dynojet to search for the most powerful motorcycles in the land. Dynojet staff was on hand at the event with two portable dynos to take readings, and of course we took advantage, strapping both bikes to the drum to get a fair read of the ultimate performance potential of the nitrous Vulcan and turbo V-Rod.

With Dynojet's Mike Belcher at the controls to ensure a controlled, impartial result, we tied the monster Vulcan down first. To refresh: in stock form the Vulcan cranks out around 95 rear-wheel horsepower and 120 ft.-lbs. of torque-not shabby but not especially impressive considering the sheer displacement available under the valve covers. To get a more accurate baseline to better assess the gains offered by the nitrous system we first ran the Vulcan off the juice and saw a mild increase to 98.8 hp and 125.94 ft.-lbs. of torque, gains provided courtesy of our previous intake/exhaust mods and also a tank full of VP C-16 race gas, to reduce the risk of detonation on the next run when we added the nitrous. Once a solid baseline was established, we made another pass with the nitrous system armed. Even onlookers could tell the bike was pulling harder than before, and the numbers that flashed on Belcher's computer screen were truly impressive: 129.03 hp (a gain of more than 30 hp) and an incredible 189.66 ft.-lbs. of torque-63.72 ft.-lbs. more than before! Now that's a power cruiser!

Dynoing the V-Rod was a much more straightforward process, since there was no option to run it off-turbo for a comparison. To give an idea, though, remember that a production V-Rod makes 110 hp and 74 ft.-lbs. of torque from the factory. Boosted by Bryce and company, however, the turbo V-Rod shows substantial improvement: 159.8 peak horsepower and 101 ft.-lbs. of torque. As predicted, though, the overhead-cam, liquid-cooled V-Rod's numbers come at much higher revs (horsepower peaks at 9000 rpm, torque peaks at 7250 rpm), which means that the V-Rod prefers to be revved more like a sportbike than lugged along as you would a conventional Harley-Davidson (or Kawasaki) cruiser. Apples and oranges, again.

What A DragSo there you have it-high revs and high horsepower or low revs and big torque-which would get us from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time? To answer this question definitively we turned to Bryce's star rider, Chip Ellis, to dial in some quick times. If you don't follow straight-line racing closely, you might not know that Ellis is one of the quickest wrists in the country. A former AMA/Prostar Rookie of the Year (2000) and Funny Bike (2002), Formula Bike (2003) and 600 SuperSport (2004) class champion, Ellis now busies himself pulling the trigger on Bryce's G-Squared Motorsports V-twin Buell NHRA Pro Stock bike. Today his job was to pull the trigger on V-twins of a different sort, however.

Just for comparison's sake, Ellis started on the Vulcan with an all-motor pass, keeping off the nitrous button, which resulted in a best pass of 12 seconds flat at 109.65 mph (all quarter-miles times are uncorrected). Agreeing that this was the best we'd see without juice, Ellis headed back out with the nitrous system armed. After burning the rear tire down to within a millimeter of its life, Ellis pulled off a picture-perfect launch and tripped the lights 11.423 seconds later, at 117.65 mph: .577 seconds quicker and 8 mph faster thanks to the shot of giggle gas. Good times.

Satisfied with his times on the Vulcan, Ellis sidled up to the warmed-up V-Rod next. Since there is no such thing as an on/off switch for a turbo, we can only report the boosted results on this bike-but they're good. After a few cursory warm-up passes to get used to the bike, Ellis threw down a 10.816-second pass at 125.53 mph, a healthy improvement of .494 seconds and 10.53 mph over a stock V-Rod (using previous sister publication Motorcyclist's V-Rod times for comparison). Note that the top-speed differences between the stock and boosted V-Rod are even bigger than those of the stock and juiced Vulcan-this is a good indication of just how much horsepower the turbo V-Rod makes compared to the Vulcan (159.8 compared to 129.03).

Ellis turned in nearly identical reaction times on each bike (.276 on the V-Rod versus .274 on the Vulcan), so we know the rider was not a factor when we compared the difference in times between the two bikes. The Vulcan was the easier of the two bikes to launch; the much larger rear tire and greater weight made tire slippage virtually a non-issue on the Vulcan, and allowed Ellis to feed the bike more throttle sooner. But even though the V-Rod required a defter touch with the clutch and throttle to get it out of the hole, its lighter overall weight ultimately proved advantageous. Remember, the Vulcan outweighs the V-Rod by a full 130 pounds-we'd have to toss a passenger on the back of the Harley to even that score. At the 60-foot mark the V-Rod had a razor-thin lead of .003 seconds (1.684 seconds versus 1.714), and by the 300-foot mark that advantage opened up to .253 seconds. At the 1000-foot mark the turbo V-Rod was .496 seconds ahead and at the finish line the ultimate difference was .607 seconds, with the G-Squared V-Rod taking the win.

Street LevelAfter the drag racing was completed, for one final comparison we took the two bikes out on the back roads of Cook County, Georgia, for a little spin. These were, after all, streetbikes, so we were curious to see how the turbo and nitrous compared on the open road, as typical riders would use them. In other words, let the roll-ons begin. We started with both bikes cruising side by side in top gear at 45 mph. On signal, both riders nailed the throttle (plus nitrous button on the Vulcan). In top gear the torquier Vulcan walked all over the V-Rod, working up a yawning, eight or 10 bike-length lead that would hold all the way up to around 115 mph, at which time the V-Rod's turbo would have had time to spool up and it would blow by the Vulcan with a 10-15 mph advantage. Fourth-gear roll-ons yielded a similar result except that the initial jump by the Vulcan was smaller due to the fact that the V-Rod was higher in the rev range for this test and closer to its power peak. Repeating this test in third gear (with the V-Rod this is the meat of its high-revving powerband), the turbo Harley would easily leave the lumbering Vulcan in its dust.

Both of these cruisers are fast and fun, but in very different ways. The nitrous Vulcan pounds you with torque and effortlessly leaps away from stoplights in a way that makes the rider feel invincible. The V-Rod, on the other hand, takes a tick to spool into its power, but then it's lights out to any and all cruising competition. Either bike is a riot in its own right, and definitely closer (in both spirit and numbers) to the power cruiser ideal. Which you prefer depends on whether you're an old-school, meat-and-potatoes muscle head who appreciates the nitrous-fed brutality of the big-inch Vulcan on juice, or are a more futuristic Mad Max type who prefers the more athletic and high-tech spirit of the turbo-charged V-Rod. Either way, your shaggy-haired neighbor's Civic doesn't stand a chance.