Kawasaki Super Vulcan Redux

This early style Vulcan 1500 custom has more lives than a charmed cat

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500A
This is the latest incarnation of Cliff Randall's evolving Kawasaki Vulcan 1500A.Andy Cherney

"The only guys who know the edge are the ones that have gone over it." - Hunter S. Thompson

Luckily, former racer and current bike nut Cliff Randall can get away with such colorful maxims when describing his handiwork --even if someone else said it first. And although we've featured his masterful custom creation in this magazine several years ago (Motorcycle Cruiser, August 1997), Randall's bike has evolved so much in that time that we decided to revisit it.

In conversation, it's hard not to get swept up in Randall's passion for two wheels; the affable Canuck peppers his speech with anecdotes from a lifelong love affair with motorcycles. "Next to my wife, who I love most, my life gravitates around bikes," he says. "As a child, I would take toasters apart just to see how they were built," adds Randall, who has since graduated to rebuilding bikes as an adult motorhead. A brief stint as a struggling amateur roadracer indirectly led to his first showbike - the then-freshly-released V-Max - and Randall knew he'd found his groove. He currently dotes over a stable of four vastly different but considerably enhanced bikes, worth almost $200k Canadian. Talk about having your cake and eating it...

Turning Water Into Wine

Randall's Super Vulcan is an exquisite custom, especially when you consider what the bike looked like when it was purchased in 1994. At the time, Kawasaki's Vulcan Classic 1500A wasn't exactly an aesthetic paragon - if ever there was a motorcycle that represented a dearth of visual style, the 1500A was it. Its tremendous motor however, prompted wife, Maralyn, to purchase the Vulcan for Randall as a birthday present. After a year of happily riding on back of the stock bike, Maralyn decided to get her own ride. Randall couldn't have asked for a better scenario. "It gave me the freedom to make the Vulcan totally mine," says Randall, and he ripped into his bike with abandon, spending three years and some $50k rebuilding the erstwhile hot rod. He was determined to transform the troll into a treasure, no matter how many obstacles he encountered. And there were many.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500A
From the troll purchased in 1994 to a custom treasure, Randall's Super Vulcan is an exquisite custom.Andy Cherney

Into the Breech

Randall has always aimed for performance and style on his projects, which resulted in many late nights reconfiguring designs to fit the Super Vulcan just so. "Everything on that bike is a one-off - there were no aftermarket parts available in 1994," says Randall. He had to design and test whole systems, from the high-compression pistons built for him by Patrick Racing to the one-off exhaust system made by Jardine to his specs. "If it's ever crashed, it's gone," he remarks.

The bike's air-pump system is impressive. Randall says the revised airflow sucked in so much atmosphere, he had to cut the top of the K&N; filter to accommodate the system's effectiveness. Other concepts pioneered on the Vulcan were the exhaust heat shield protectors, which appear to be floating, but are held up behind the shields with a trick Allen key mount and welded to the pipe Randall fabricated. The rear 9.8-inch shocks, weighing only three pounds each, were spun from billet aluminum by Performance Works. The steering head cover plates and fenders were painstakingly hammered from sheet metal by Voo-Doo in Toronto. And take a peek at the gas cap - it's from a Kawasaki ZX11 and was welded into the original tank to help maintain the clean lines of the bike.

For performance, you could say Randall really did go over the edge. The stock carburetor main jets originally required 112/115 sizes, while the Super Vulcan was reworked to run 170/175 jets. It took our man a year just to figure out the jetting. A special Dyna ignition box was installed and retarded to the max just to handle the huge compression requirements; we're talking a ratio of 12:1. With those numbers, the motor wouldn't run on pump gas; it detonated so badly that it needed at least 97 octane to get around the block. But Randall's a born tinkerer, and with some very unorthodox work on the ignition pick-up coils, he was able to further retard the ignition some eight degrees to match the burn rate of 92 octane pump gas while maintaining upwards of 80 hp (corrected; see dyno chart). Uh, Toto? I don't think we're in Saskatchewan anymore.

The hundreds of hours spent dialing in the Super Vulcan's performance is a testament to his tinkering skills. The former racer explains his mechanical manipulations: "When you're broke and racing just one bike, every crash is potentially devastating. You have to make that thing run no matter what. So you learn how to fix every single part and to make it faster." He says he wasn't a good enough racer to get sponsorship, which forced him to learn everything himself. "Lots of guys ask me how I know how to do a certain engine modification," he adds. "It's usually the result of having already done it the wrong way once. I got it right the second or third time!"

It Takes a Village

Old-school at its core, the Super Vulcan retains its original four-speed transmission, which is fine with Randall. "The thing reaches 85-plus in second gear anyway, so I really don't need to push my luck!" The motor has always spoken volumes, even in stock form, but now it screams out truly nutty numbers, like 80 rear-wheel horses and 97 foot-pounds of torque delivered to the 180-series Metzeler rubber. It's almost a foreign language for an old cruiser.

There's also a ton of high-end components on all of Randall's bikes. Surely he didn't pay for them all? Randall says he usually designs the snot out of the stock components, describes his ideas to aftermarket companies, and then tweaks the finished products on his bikes. "I tell people I'm working on a wild new project and describe it to them. They say, 'Hey nobody's ever done that before. Tell us what you need!' I don't have the skill or the tools to fabricate much of this stuff, but I have the innate ability to visualize the finished parts. So I have others make stuff for me. They all want to be in on something unusual that really works. We both benefit."

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500A
All show and no go make Cliff a dull boy, so the engine was tweaked.Motorcycle Cruiser

Because I Can

The Super Vulcan finally rolled out in its second custom incarnation in 1999 to rave reviews, due in no small part to its stunning visuals. For the exterior coating, Randall enlisted longtime contributor, Voo-Doo in Toronto, known for the eye-popping designs gracing many a hockey professional's mask.

But does it go? You bet. Randall emphasizes the fact that all his bikes are ridden, and the Super Vulcan is no exception. "It's an absolute blast. It's so light and has so much torque, it's a riot!" Randall often takes the long way out of town in search of twisty roads (of which there are few in his part of the world). "We'll go to the Icehouse, a kind of funky gas station/restaurant. It's got a sizable sportbike contingent, but they all gawk at my bike nonetheless."

Which reminds us, Cliff is an equal-opportunity motorcyclist. You'll also find Maralyn's 1999 Harley Fat Boy and the now-infamous 200 hp Muzzy Kawasaki ZX1270RR tucked away in his garage. Oh, and the world's first BMW R1000SS, a prime example of Randall's customizing genius.

How can he afford all this stuff? "I'm lucky to own my own business, and it's lucrative enough to afford me the luxury of indulging my full-time passion. These bikes make me feel good, and I'm proud of every single one," says Randall. "They all run and I love them all." Some guys have all the luck.

Competition Systems (Canada), Mike Compton, (905) 474-952

CycleWorld East (Canada, (416)291-9858, www.cycleworld.org

Dyna Performance Electronics (USA),(626)963-1669, www.dynaonline.com

Jardine (USA), (909)371-1744, www.jardineproducts.com

Kawasaki Canada, (416)445-7775, www.kawasaki.ca

Muzzys Performance Products (USA), (541)385-0706, www.muzzys.com

Patrick Racing (USA), (714)554-RACE, www.patrick-racing.com

The Plating House (Canada), (416)661-3964

Voo-Doo Airbrushing (Canada), (905)686-7554, www.voodooair.com

Works Performance (USA), (818)701-1010, www.worksperformance.com