2007 Power Cruisers Shootout


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Kawasaki 1600 Mean Streak
Mean Streak or Mildly Annoyed?

Kawasaki's Vulcan line of cruisers has long been a part of their motorcycle history. With the introduction of the Vulcan 750 in 1984, Kawi entered the battle to win the hearts of the American cruiser rider. Today Kawasaki's cruiser line-up consists of 15 models, 14 of which proudly carry the Vulcan name. From the Vulcan 500 LTD all the way up to the mighty Vulcan 2000, Kawasaki offers a formidable line to suit just about everyone's needs.

If cost were the only issue in this test, the Mean Streak would easily be at the top of the heap. This bike represents a very good value, giving the rider a lot of bike for the price. But if we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: motorcycling is an emotional experience (for most anyway). When it comes time for a motorcyclist to purchase his or her bike, lust often takes over the steering wheel of your emotional car.

And lust doesn't merely force your Economic Sensibilities into the back seat, it beats them to near unconsciousness and stuffs 'em in the trunk. Things like a slick paint and chrome combination or a fire-breathing exhaust system promise more long-term satisfaction than does a 5.8 percent savings over the amortized life of your loan. "Dude! That thing costs an extra four grand with the S & S stroker kit and billet high-flow heads!" says the Economic Sensibilities. "Yeah but...but...it's got an S & S stroker kit and billet high-flow heads!", retorts Lust, bitch-slapping Economic Sensibilities across the face.

The styling of the Mean Streak may be somewhat understated in this group, but we prefer to think of it as classically refined. From the front fender to the rear fender, and everywhere in between, the bike's profile displays one smooth, sweeping line. Just the right amount of chrome accents does a good job of giving the Mean Streak enough flare without being gaudy. Nevertheless, we're whiners and can always find something to complain about. Of the styling in general Buzz found it to be "generic" and noted, as did Gabe, that "attention to detail is so-so, with exposed wires, radiator fans, etc. punctuating the bargain Power Cruiser look", but considering the bargain price of $10,999 (2006 model) "these nits are easy to forgive."

The perfect setting for the Mean Streak?

Saddle up on the Vulcan and one thing that becomes readily apparent is that Kawasaki definitely had comfort in mind when crafting this bike. Both Gabe and Buzz said that the seat was very comfy, "even for longer distances." Pete observed, unscientifically, that the Meanie seemingly had the shortest reach to the bars. That may well be why Gabe found it to be "the perfect size for me." The seat, footpeg and bar relation are well proportioned, giving the rider a very friendly and cruising-oriented environment, perhaps to a fault.

"How could you use the word "mean" when you're so darn cozy?"

The Vulcan's engine displacement of 1,552cc is respectable, yet it provides the lowest horsepower results (61.41hp) by far in this pack. And it's second from the bottom in torque (79.00 ft. lbs.), besting the Street Rod by just under eight ft. lbs, despite its 421cc advantage. Perhaps this general deficiency in power led our testers to say things like, "[the] motor is user-friendly, but hardly "power cruiser" material." Pete also mentioned that he found a discernible flat spot in the fueling somewhere around 1,500 rpm and felt that acceleration was soft. At the very least the Kawi provides a smooth and quiet power plant, "even near redline" that stays in good tune thanks, in part, to hydraulic valve adjusters.

Thankfully some of the bike's other attributes are noteworthy so as not to cause the relatively limp motor to overshadow the entire bike. Pete found the clutch action to be light and easy to pull. He also quipped that the transmission was (Heaven help us with his clichés) "silky smooth." Gear ratios were shorter than most, with the 'Streak spinning somewhere around 3,600 rpm at roughly 80 MPH.

All of the testers found that this machine was "easy to control and fun to toss around", thanks to its quick and light steering. Unfortunately, just about the time you get into a flowing rhythm in the back country reveling in the light steering, a loud, metallic sound grinds its way up from your feet, a perfect indicator of one of the Mean Streak's short comings. Indeed, most of the machines here suffer such limitations, but it seemed that this bike had us digging furrows in the asphalt sooner in the arc of many turns than did the others.

But just contain your carving prowess, forget about outrunning everyone else and remember that this is a cruiser.

The 'Streak (as Buzglyd liked to call it) was pretty well sorted in the suspension category considering the nature of the beasts. Gabe found the rear to be soft, although he quickly points out that the twin rear shocks are adjustable for damping and spring pre-load. An unexpected benefit of the overall good suspenders was their ability to "mask shaft-jack", according to Gabe.

If there is one area where this bike really shines, it's in the brake department.

Everyone who rode the Meanie was really impressed with them and bandied about with accolades like "Excellent brakes!" and "maybe too much for a cruiser?" The twin four-piston, radial-mounted binders are superb at bringing the cruising or carving to a halt quickly. With plenty of power and good feel at the lever, we were very happy with them.

So, with the third largest engine of the five, nice styling, a comfortable riding environment, light handling, great brakes and the tiniest price tag, how is it that the Mean Streak winds up one tick off the bottom? Buzglyd summarizes it best when he said, "We all marveled at what a good all-around motorcycle it was and it's clearly the most inexpensive in the test. If you're a 40 year-old virgin looking to be a bad ass this might be your machine. But this [category] is about being bold and dangerous; not virtuous. As nice as it is, I voted it Miss Congeniality."

2007 Vulcan 1600 Mean Streak
** Specifications Courtesy of Kawasaki **
MSRP $11,999
Engine Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, SOHC, four valves per cylinder, 50-degree V-twin
Displacement 1,552cc / 95ci
Bore x stroke 102.0mm x 95.0mm
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Cooling Liquid
Induction Digital fuel injection with dual 40mm throttle bodies
Ignition Dual Plug TCBI with digital advance
Transmission Five-speed
Frame High-tensile steel, double cradle
Rake / trail 32 degrees/ 5.7 in.
Front Suspension / wheel travel 43mm inverted cartridge fork / 5.9 in.
Rear Suspension / wheel travel Dual air-assisted shocks with four-way rebound damping / 3.4 in.
Tire, front 130/90x16
Tire, rear 170/60x17
Brakes, front / rear Dual 320mm hydraulic discs with four-piston calipers / 300mm disc
Overall length 94.9 in.
Overall width 33.5 in.
Overall height 43.3 in.
Seat height 27.6 in.
*Claimed* Dry weight 640 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal.
Wheelbase 67.1 in.
Colors Ebony, Two-Tone: Metallic Flat Spark Black / Frame Persimmon Red
Warranty 12 months
Good Times™ Protection Plan 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
* Note: Specifications and pricing are subject to change.

Star V-Max
Max is mad!

Long before anyone ever thought of the term "power cruiser", Yamaha had already made one. Set your wayback machine for 1984 when the bike was unveiled at Yamaha's October dealer show. The designers had one general theme for the V4: American hotrod. Job well done, boys. At the time, no other bike looked like or performed like the 1,198cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16 valve, 70 degree V4 monster.

Darn that Duke Danger!

Couple that beef-eater of an engine with Yamaha's unique V-Boost -- in essence, a servo operated valve in the manifold that begins to open around 6,500 rpm allowing two of the four carbs full access to all four cylinders -- and it's easy to see why the Max has lasted as an icon of power for over twenty years.

Spawing countless web resources and obtaining cult-like status, the V-Max -- now a product of the Star brand of motorcycles -- deserves all the glory ever heaped upon it.

Along with its enduring and powerful engine, the mighty Max has stayed stylish all these years. Recognizable from afar, anyone who has the slightest interest in motorcycles knows the V-Max when they see it.

The strongest impression is made from its muscular profile. The once-upon-a-time-fatty 15 inch rear wheel, the 18-incher up front and the low, stepped saddle combine perfectly to instantly create the sense that you're in the presence of something very powerful. Right in the middle of that powerful image is, well, the power itself.


This is Gabe's idea of watersking.

Looking like a menacing robot with little concern for anything or anyone, the engine is the center piece and Max's reason for being. Redirecting your eye, if just for a moment, the faux wind scoops also have a forceful presence and further add to the domineering air surrounding the bike.

Though it has held up well over the years, the V-Max's design is aging rapidly. One can't help but think of "skullets and acid wash jeans", says Buzglyd. So too, does Gabe find himself lost in the Regan era when looking at it, stating that "the fake air scoops and other plastic bits are as cheesy now as they were when the Bangles were topping the charts." Growing up and learning to drive a car -- but far more fascinated with motorbikes -- not long after Max's birth, Pete still lives in the past and admited the bike's influence on him at an early age when he blurted out, "Yeahhh. The V-Max is cool."

Given its age, overall build quality is still pretty good. It's not plagued with a bunch of wiring or important bits carelessly screwed on at the last possible design minute, like some bikes we know. However, something that both Gabe and Pete noticed was the still-silly instrumentation.

"This thing sounds deadly even before the throttle is twisted."

Though it's easy to appreciate the speedometer taking center stage, the tiny tachometer, fuel gauge -- though you'll be glad you've got one to watch, because the bike has about a 100 mile range -- and idiot lights that are nestled atop the false petrol tank take some effort to observe. The mirrors are classic Yamaha quality, and a neat feature found on the right switch gear is the reserve fuel switch.

Swing a leg over this time machine and the stepped seat provides a soft mount. But beyond the saddle the Max looses ground just about every where else to the other the bikes in the ergos department. Were we still getting our news from a youngish Tom Brokaw and keeping dry from the Purple Rain, the riding position would make a little more sense. But time marches on and our expectations grow with the advent of more sensible and efficient dimensions. Of the relatively narrow handlebars Gabe conjures an image only he can when he remarks, "it feels like being one of those trained squirrels on water skis." Even though he thinks the silly riding position "must cramp taller riders" he admits the V-Max wouldn't be a bad place to spend the day. While trolling the streets for a fight, er...uh drag race Buzglyd couldn't deny the odd ergos, but he just told himself to "shut up and hang on!"

With respect to his ride on the icon, Pete was a little more weirded out by the relation of the saddle to foot pegs, saying "They were just too close and only seemed to accentuate the odd feeling the whole package offers." He also lamented that "it's reluctant to accept quick steering inputs." But in the end he felt he could spend just as much time -- or more -- on the V-Max as on the others; noting that "if you just pop on one of those higher quality, small windshields the Max could make a great distance rider."

The V-Max: Not a bad place to spend the day.

Once we all adjusted to the funkiness that is the cockpit of this bike it was time to hold and unleash all 115 horsepower. That's right kiddies, even though this bike is old enough to drink, it's still the horsepower king here! Immediately after starting the bike, or rather after you've choked the carbs long enough to get the bike to warm to proper operating temps, an intimidating rumble emanates from beneath you. Buzglyd was frightened to his soul saying, "This thing sounds deadly even before the throttle is twisted." This is what made the V-Max legendary.

Slam the throttle open from a standing start and the bike jets off the line with force. Enough force to keep you intently focused on keeping the front end under control, as precious little contact is made between the front tire and tarmac. If you've enough resolve to keep rowing through the gears, hold on even tighter as the V-Boost really sets in around 8,000 rpm. At this point you'll have lost track of the world around you and have developed tunnel vision as you pray for a clear path ahead. V-Boost aside, Pete said that "Carburetion is rough around 4,000rpm and it falls on its face from around 5,000rpm until about 6,500rpm or so." Gabe brings it all together: "It's like getting two bikes in one! Smooth, tractable and friendly under seven grand, and then it turns into a snarling beast. Everything anybody ever said or wrote about that V-Boost is true."

Believe it or not there are other parts of the engine beyond the upper half; most important to us are the clutch and transmission. Both perform well enough, again considering the age of the design, but Gabe claimed to have had a false neutral or two during his stint on the beast.

So says the Max to all the others...

If you purchased the Max strictly for drag strip antics or you live in Florida, then handling won't be of much concern to you. But for the rest of us, the occasional corner creeps into our rides and it's here where you'll find the true weakness of this bike.

With a bendy tubular steel cradle-type frame holding that massive mill, the bike can do little but flex and wallow if the rider tries to be too sporty whilst sprinting through the twists. Pete found, as with other bikes from the '80s, that the "tall center of gravity really causes the bike to fall into the turn."

That sensation isn't very reassuring considering the heft of this old man of a bike; thankfully the fuel sits low in the chassis, hidden under the rider's seat. Good luck finding the filler neck if you've never been shown where it is.

Combine the high COG with the bias-ply tires and your confidence can be sapped quickly. But once you overcome your fear of the bike tipping out from under you, you soon realize, as Gabe did, that "compared to a lot of cruisers you can hustle it around pretty well, as it has a semi-sporting riding position and adequate ground clearance."

Despite the forks having 43mm tubes, they still seem spindly and the "air assisted" tuning speaks volumes on its age. Rear suspension is handled by the seemingly ubiquitous twin shocks that have spring pre-load and rebound damping; as delivered the overall suspension package couldn't hide the fact that you get a "see-saw" effect from the drive shaft.

Braking also leaves much to be desired by today's standards. Feel at the lever was a bit too spongy and of the solid-mount rotors Gabe commented that "with 115 HP on tap and such a wiggly chassis, I'd want better brakes." Overall they're functional enough but this is yet another area that needs much improvement. When we take into account the fact that almost no changes to this bike since its inception have been implemented, tying with the Vulcan 1600 Mean Streak is no small feat. At the very least, if Mad Max had been updated over the years with better suspension it may have garnered a much better result in this test than it did.

2006 Yamaha V-Max
** Specifications Courtesy of Yamaha **
MSRP* $11,099 (Onyx w/Shift Red Flames)
Type 1198cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, 70-degree V-4
Bore x Stroke 76 X 66mm
Compression Ratio 10.5:1
Carburetion (4) 35mm Mikuni downdraft-type w/V-Boost
Ignition Digital TCI
Transmission 5-speed w/hydraulically activated diaphragm-type clutch
Final Drive Shaft
Suspension/Front 43mm Telescopic fork w/air-assist; 5.5" travel
Suspension/Rear Dual shocks w/adjustable spring preload and rebound damping; 3.94" travel
Brakes/Front Dual 298mm Discs
Brakes/Rear 282mm Disc
Tires/Front 110/90-V18
Tires/Rear 150/90-V15
Length 90.6"
Width 31.3"
Height 45.7"
Seat Height 30.1"
Wheelbase 62.6"
*Claimed* Dry Weight 580 lb.
Fuel Capacity 4.0 gal.
Warranty 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)

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