When Kawasaki fired the first salvo into the then-new performance-cruiser category late last year, pundits began rejoicing that a new era in cruisers had begun. A hot-rodded Vulcan engine was a good start, but even more impressive was the sportbike bits bolted to the more rigid chassis, such as the inverted fork and 6-piston caliper brakes. It didn’t hurt that the Mean Streak was quite a looker, too.
Shortly thereafter, to Kawasaki’s dismay, came the steroid-injected Honda VTX1800, followed a few months later by the aluminum-framed Yamaha Warrior and outrageous H-D V-Rod. All that talk about the Mean Streak upping the cruiser ante got lost in quarter-mile times and dyno charts. Before long, there were snickers about the Mean Streak’s name, with many writers making snide remarks about how it’s the least mean muscle cruiser of the bunch.
The Mean Streak first caught my eye while milling around the Kawasaki display during the World Superbike races at Laguna Seca. I was immediately impressed by its striking appearance, and my impression became even more favorable once I tried it on for size. We had recently completed a comparison test between the new V-Rod and the Warrior, so I was really interested in finding out how the Mean Streak would stack up. It certainly looks the part of a power cruiser, and at $10,999 it’s the least expensive bike in the emerging performance cruiser class.
As we rolled our candy gold test bike out of the MotorcycleUSA bike transporter, my first thoughts were, “Wow, that’s a good looking bike.” The rest of the staff seemed to have a similar opinion as they clamored to get a good look at it.
The lines are clean and aggressive, the engine looks impressive, there’s plenty of polished and chromed pieces to draw attention from admirers. The bike is set off with a set of polished aluminum wheels that provide the required “factory customized” look, and the rear wheel and hub assembly of the shaft drive look as though they were spun out of a giant chunk of billet.
The 1470cc, fuel-injected V-Twin fires up without using the available fuel-enrichener (yeah, a choke on an FI equipped bike struck me as odd). It comes to life and idles with an exhaust note that is a bit subdued, although better than the sewing-machine sound of some other metric cruisers. Since it comes equipped with Kawasaki’s KLEEN catalytic converter system, it exceeds current emission standards at the expense of sounding bad. That should be music to the ears of Green Party members, if not those with hot-rod hearts.
The Mean Streak’s aesthetics are one of it’s strongest assests. The custom stock look is a big advantage over other metric power cruisers.
I had learned from my time on the other power cruisers that these steeds are expected to handle fairly well while retaining their low-slung, drag-bike appearance. The long, 67-inch wheelbase and healthy 32-degree rake might fool some people into believing that there is no way to have a good time carving up a favorite back road. Fortunately they would be wrong. Not only does it come with Dunlop 207 sportbike-spec radials that are more than capable of providing all the traction it will ever need, but it also has suspension that would make a few race-reps envious. A 43mm inverted fork soaks up road imperfections up front, while a set of air-adjustable shocks with rebound damping clickers pull duty out back.
The front wheel is slowed by a formidable team of Tokico 6-piston calipers gripping huge stainless steel rotors. But the aforementioned plushness results in a fair bit of front suspension dive when rapidly pulling the reigns on the beast. A twin-piston caliper and another big disc provide ample braking power from the rear.
The Meanie isn’t so mean at providing comfort for the rider, but your passenger might not agree, as did mine. She reported after a 200-mile ride that: “You could not pay me to get back on that #@&%ing seat again!” The rear suspension transfers road bumps right through the thinly padded seat and up the spine of your passenger, and I could not alleviate this with any of the adjustments offered by the rear shocks.
Unlike some other cruisers such as the V-Rod and Warrior, the footpegs did not stretch me out awkwardly, and the stock handlebar fit me like a glove. It was wide enough to create the parachute effect when speeds exceeded 70 mph, but provided plenty of leverage while picking your way through a crowd of pedestrians. During extended seat time, the riding position did not warrant any real complaints except the need for some type of wind protection.
Kawasaki endowed the Mean Streak with a proven powerplant that already has a large amount of aftermarket support. Performance shops have plenty of experience ringing additional horsepower out of the Vulcan mill, and that should come in handy for Mean Streak owners looking to stuff more ponies in their corral.
Unfortunately for the Team Green Meanie, the opposition has produced bikes that are equipped with mightier motors right off the showroom floor. The Vulcan-based motor has been around for 15 years and the version in the Mean Streak is its meanest yet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold a candle to the competition, despite the power-boosting mods the engineers threw at it.
Dyno testing confirms the Mean Streak is down 15 ponies to the Warrior and a whopping 44 horses behind the Harley! Torque figures are similar to the V-Rod, but the VTX and Warrior twist out an additional 20 ft.- lbs, or more, leaving the Mean Streak in a lurch no matter how you look at it.
However, you might never miss that power if you are just breaking into the class. With about 75 ft.lbs of torque on tap and a beefy midrange surge, it is by no means a turd. The majority of the four-wheeled opposition will not be able to hang with it off the line, and few stock cruisers will offer any challenge, either. Going through the gears reveals a slick shifting 5-speed transmission, and the hydraulic clutch is about as smooth as they come, with an effortless squeeze on the lever all that is needed for ratio swapping or trolling away from stoplights.
Whether cruising down the boulevard or consuming concrete along your favorite stretch of highway, the Mean Streak really is a capable mount. From the excellent brakes and comfy suspension, to the torquey motor and eye-catching styling, it has almost everything needed to compete for the attention of any cruiser fan. At this point, the Kawasaki Mean Streak is, in its essence, the best entry-level power cruiser available. So where do we go from here? The bike has everything you could want from a power cruiser except, wellâ€¦ big horsepower.
And that’s what we’ll be after as MotorcycleUSA will bring you a full evaluation of the stock Mean Streak before slathering this golden beauty with parts that will make it fly down that shiny road faster, eat up the uncaring road surfaces better and, hopefully, turn it into sweeter tasting eye candy.
Stay tuned for hop-ups, how-to’s, product testing, drag racing and a whole lot more as MCUSA brings you a cost-be-damned, full-bore project bike. Rest assured, we’ll be injecting some mean into the Mean Streak.