Looking at the Kawasaki Motorcycles of the 2002 Big Twin Comparison

A closer glance at the Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic FI, Vulcan 1500 Mean Streak, and Vulcan 1500 Drifter

The three Kawasakis take their stances on the desert floor.James Brown

This article was originally published in the April 2002 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Kawasaki rolled out the first of its current line of 1500 V-twins in 1996. The single-carb Vulcan 1500 Classic was derived from a now-discontinued twin-carb Vulcan 1500 V-twin. It brought traditional American style with an entirely new twin-shock chassis and fresh lines and bodywork. It immediately became Kawasaki's best-seller. The company then built upon it, introducing the Nomad bagger for '98, the very retro Drifter for '99, a substantially revised version of the Nomad, the FI, for 2000, an almost entirely new Classic FI model for 2001, and most recently, the Mean Streak, a street-rod-style extension of the line.

With each new Vulcan 1500 model, Kawasaki introduced improvements and innovations, some of which were then incorporated across the line, so that even the original carbureted 1500 Classic, which remains in the line (for $9999), has been improved noticeably along the way. However, the carbureted model is significantly different than the Classic FI ($10,599), which has a stiffer frame with a longer wheelbase and revised steering geometry, a larger 5.0-gallon seamless fuel tank with updated instrumentation atop it, a more powerful fuel-injected engine, adjustable shocks, and many detail changes and improvements. However, the resemblance is clear, since both Classics have full fenders over wire-spoke wheels each with a single disc brake, covered fork tubes, floorboards, wide teardrop fuel tanks, deep and wide saddles and staggered dual exhausts on the right side. We included the FI but not the carb-sucker.

Kawasaki's 1500 motor
Kawasaki's 1500 motor, Mean Streak style.James Brown

Some of the changes on the FI, including the fuel injection itself, were introduced on the Drifter. Styled along the lines of some of the luxurious American big twins of the late 1930s and early 1940s (Indian being the best known), the Drifter ($11,799) has deeply valenced fenders, a large solo saddle, floorboards, and a sort of 1930s streamlined look, stretching from the long shell for the reflector-type headlight to the fishtail on the muffler for the two-into-one exhaust that evokes that era. It was originally introduced with a blacked-out style to closely match the bikes that inspired it, but customer demand changed most of those parts to chrome. For 2002, it has also gotten the seamless 5.0-gallon tank of the Classic FI. The dual-shock chassis is stopped by a single disc brake at each end.

The Mean Streak ($10.999) takes the Vulcan 1500 in yet another direction with a performance orientation. Up front, the cast wheel has two discs with six-piston calipers. An inverted cartridge fork and dual shocks that adjust for air pressure and damping combine with revised steering geometry and 17-inch radial tires to invite aggressive cornering. The abbreviated fenders, sleek and seamless 4.5-gallon tank, drag bar on pulled-back risers, tachometer, low-cut saddle with an abbreviated passenger pad, and the dual straight-through-style pipes (which actually share a large collector chamber under the bike) all suggest a bike that is happy to be ridden hard.

All 1500 Vulcans share the same basic liquid-cooled single-overhead-cam 50-degree counterbalanced 1470cc V-twin rubber-mounted to their frames. The power gets to the shaft final drive through five-speed gearboxes with automatic neutral finder. The engines with the digital fuel-injection have more compression (requiring premium fuel), revised timing for the four hydraulically adjusted valves in each cylinder, and more intake area, thanks to dual throats instead of a single 40mm carb. Beyond that, Kawasaki gave the Mean Streak even more compression, bigger valves, more aggressive cam profiles and a revised routine for the fuel-injection system, which has 40mm throats instead of the 36mm throats on the other injected models.