The early years of the new millennium saw the rise of the big-bore battles amongst many manufacturers. However, we’re not talking sportbikes in this case. Far from it. The big-bore war was waged in the cruiser battlefield, and one of the combatants in this fight was the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. For this week’s Church feature, we go back to 2004, and the MO staff review of this surly beast of a motorcycle. Is bigger really better? Here’s what the old MO staff has to say about that.
2004 Kawasaki Vulcan 2000
Mar. 19, 2004
I had a brief fling with Kawasaki’s Uber Vulcan, when I picked it up from Kawasaki in Irvine and delivered it to MO HQ. in Torrance. My initial impression was that the bike was too wide and a bit cumbersome as I wheeled it down the ramp behind the Kawasaki fleet center. I have a 34+ inch inseam and was just able to flatfoot on the Vulcan. Even though the bike has a low 27″ seat height, its 16+” width eats up a lot of extra inseam.
Once under way however, the big 2000 became very neutral and easy to ride. There’s still no mistaking the fact that you’re astride a bike/rider combo that easily passes the 1/2 ton mark, but Kawasaki did its development homework and produced a bike that actually works quite well, for a gigantic cruiser.
I expected the power delivery to be somewhat brutal, but -no matter how you slice it- a 53 metric ton flywheel + a broad and flat torque curve = a user friendly power delivery. I said friendly, but I didn’t say boring. Oh no, boring isn’t in the Vulcan’s repertoire. It doesn’t look boring and it certainly doesn’t accelerate boring. The hefty curb weight means that it’ll never win a drag race against a sportbike, but it does move out with authority.
I was especially impressed, when I rolled deep into the throttle in top-gear at 70mph. In what seemed like the time a Yamaha Roadstar Warrior takes to accelerate from 70-90mph in top gear, the Vulcan 2000 had effortlessly catapulted me through 115mph. The bike is so stable and relaxed that I thought I’d simply accelerated to 90 as I intended. I only glanced down at the tank mounted speedo, because I wondered why the cars suddenly decided to go so slow.
This brings me to the brakes. They work fine but are understandably taxed by the kinetic energy possessed by a 1,000Lb vehicle traveling at triple digit speeds.
The brakes have decent feel and don’t show any ill effects from the task, but I think a drag chute might not be a bad idea if you intend to hustle this thing along like a sportbike. (Of course if that’s your intent, do us all a favor and stay away from cruisers.) Chassis and suspension are well suited to cruising and freeway droning, though a windscreen and a tad more rebound damping would go a long way toward reducing rider fatigue. Ground clearance is adequate and I was able to take freeway off ramps at a decent clip without making any annoying grinding noises.
A nice feature of the new 2053cc motor, is that even though it’s liquid cooled, the cooling fans don’t come on very often and are very quiet, unlike the Vulcan 1500 that we tested last month, which had frequent noisy fan cycles while riding around town. The belt final drive is a first for Kawasaki and eliminates the shaft-jack effect that made the Vulcan 1500 able to nearly bunny-hop when ridden like a fool. (I know this because Gabe and I rode the 1500 exactly like fools, during our Touring Cruiser Comparo.) It looks like Kawasaki has a winner here. Aside from a headlight cluster that is reminiscent of an arachnid, the bike looks great and the engine finish quality and detailing are second to none. For cruiser types who aren’t short on muscle or parking space, the Vulcan 2000 is worth a second look.
Starting with a heavy-handed push on the right grip with the bars braced to the fullest left-turn position, I upright this beast from its intentionally shortened kickstand. Seemingly a daunting task with 800+lbs. to ride, but Kawasaki has produced a very well balanced and great performing Vulcan 2000.
It’s long, low and more powerful than all the cruisers I’ve ridden to date. I am very fond of this bike. I found it well suited to a guy of 5’10” with regular sized limb length… and the bike sounds just awesome! There are a few fans for cooling – in association with a hidden radiator – all barely perceptible over the sounds emanating from the tailpipes. The aural pleasure is best when engine braking, the compression blasts sound just like that big v-twin that manufacturers try to emulate, it’s great!
As Kawasaki’s Mel Moore said to us at our first introduction to the VN2000, “you have to hear it…”, and I suggest the same to you all. Go find your local dealership and listen. Kawasaki really cleaned up its act on the 2000 in the Harley-esque potato-potato department, it sounds much better than the Vulcan 1500.
Being the biggest motor yet for a Kawasaki motorcycle and the biggest OEM V-twin engine on the market – displacing a whopping 2053 cubic centimeters – every reader out there wants to know why. Not an easy question to answer. Maybe it’s to compete with the other power cruisers on the market like the Triumph RocketIII and the Honda Rune. Or maybe Kawasaki has finally come to their senses and realized – as a base platform for their next Nomad touring cruiser or bigger – this is the way to go.
Match the weight to torque output with fists of steel and the next mega cruiser will not only hold a lot of luggage, but it will “haul a lotta ass” as well. The Nomad 1500 had stealthy good looks coupled with decent gusto, but the Vulcan 2000 ups the ante considerably. Many “poseurs” will be proud to ride this bad boy around town. Harley Fatboy beefy good looks and a thumping exhaust system makes this bike a definite alternative to consider when arguing price against the I-wanna-Harley factors on the internet!
The big Vulcan rides on 16-inch wheels with a 150/80 front radial tire and a huge, 200/60 rear radial tire – This is the biggest stock rear tire on a production V-twin cruiser – and it’s built with enough room to stuff a 230 tire in there. Combine the 27.2″ ride height with the wide sweeping bars and you’ve got a cruiser that feels more like a beach cruiser bicycle on steroids. Very clean dashboard – simple and big readout – and a beautifully designed headlight nacelle create a nearly uninterrupted view of the road ahead. Add some darkness and the four-bulb projector-type headlights ensure that nothing should go unseen. With an operating envelope spanning roughly 4,000rpm, quick shifts are necessary to avoid the monster’s rev limiter, have fun with it, but remember it’s a cruiser – with big balls – have fun!
Observed fuel mileage was 36.4MPG, giving a theoretical range of 200 miles from the 5.5-gallon fuel tank. At an MSRP of $14,499, the Kawasaki website calculator says payments will be $398/mo, when financed for 36mos. at 9% interest with a $2,000 down payment.
Striding up to the Vulcan 2K, it appears fairly unremarkable. There are none of the wild styling touches of the Rune, nor the titanic exposed engine of the Rocket III. In fact, it looks like a pedestrian big bore cruiser, just bigger. If you want the drama of backing up to the curb on a Rune or RIII, this isn’t your bike. If you find those creatures gauche, then perhaps it is.
Tugging it up off of the too short kickstand, the exertion of heaving 800 lbs to its balance point is the first clue that you are dealing with one of the new mammoth breed of power cruisers. Rolling on the throttle cinches the deal, as first gear engages and readily accelerates the beast with far more gusto than one would expect from such a bulky ride. If you don’t upshift right away, the rev limiter will punish you (gently), and second and third gear are where the V2K really takes off.
By the time you hit the fourth and fifth gear overdrives you’ll be exceeding any speed limit this side of the autobahn. I missed second gear on a few occasions and found neutral instead, so a firm heel is required (better yet, shift with your toe -Ed), but overall the tranny was very smooth both upshifting and down.
The feedback of the shifter was far better than the Nomad I had ridden just a month before. The sense of acceleration is strong but subtle. Look back in your rear view mirror at the cars that you left at the stoplight and the subtlety goes away fast.
There’s no getting around the fact that when accessorized with my 200+ lbs of aftermarket flab, the V2K’s dual disc brakes have their work cut out for them. Personally, I found them to be well suited to the task. The suspension was surprisingly nimble around curves and sweepers and the bike handled as well or better than some of the smaller cruisers in our recent comparo. The rebound damping was quite unforgiving though and on several occasions I found my not insubstantial derriere catching some air as the V2K passed over an unremarkable bump in the road. For my 5’9″ build, the ergs were well designed. Slightly forward and canted floorboards, moderately wide but pulled back bars that split the difference between the V-Rod’s chopper recline and the Warrior’s crucifixion by wind torture.
Overall, I would say that the V2K is going to be a great choice for a few different categories of rider. A big heavy guy that needs all the cc’s he can get is going to get a new lease on cruising life. Couples that frequently ride two up are also going to love the added power and smooth handling, although a new pillion would need to be the first order of business. Last but not least are the guys like me that love a big cruiser but also get an urge for the exhilaration of acceleration from time to time. That used to necessitate a two-bike garage, but not any longer. I say, check out the V2K. It just might free up some extra space in your carport.
|** SPECS PROVIDED BY KAWASAKI **|
Engine: Four-stroke V-twin, dual cams, 8 valves, pushrod actuation
* Price and specifications subject to change
Dyno Chart – SAE corr.