If you had the opportunity to leave the cold Chicago winter behind to do a little canyon blasting on some great southern California roads, and you’d get to do it on Kawasaki’s newly updated Mean Streak, what would you say? It had been three months since I had thrown a leg over a motorcycle, so I didn’t need to think about it for more than a nanosecond. Get me on a big silver bird; I was stoked and ready to roll.
I saddled up the new Mean Streak at the Kawasaki headquarters in Irvine, and my faithful guide led me on a brief highway sprint down I-5 to San Juan Capistrano. And while my guide was giving me a little history lesson on the city’s famous Spanish mission’s grounds, I must admit that my brain was saying, “Yeah, yeah, just get me to the twisty roads.” A few minutes later we were heading east into the mountains on the Ortega Highway to put the Mean Streak through its paces before lunching in Lake Elsinore which sits in the valley on the other side.
Back when Kawasaki’s 1500cc Mean Streak first bowed in as a 2002 model, it landed right smack in the middle of the emerging performance cruiser wars. Honda had introduced its big, powerful VTX1800, Yamaha weighed in with its 1670cc Road Star Warrior, and Harley had just launched its V-Rod. After testing all of them that year, it was my opinion that the Mean Streak was the best overall package of the bunch. True, it lacked the raw horsepower to keep up with the other machines in a drag race, but it won me over with its combination of quick handling, smooth ride quality, outstanding brakes, and civilized manners. It did everything well, except peel your eyelids back when leaving a stoplight.
Now for 2004, Kawasaki has bumped up the performance and made an excellent motorcycle even better. The liquid-cooled, four valves per cylinder, 50-degree V-Twin motor has been bored out from 1470cc to 1552cc, and the cam’s lift and valve timing were also revised to help the motor breathe. Digital fuel injection provides excellent engine response, with no surging or hiccups, because two different systems are used according to engine load, and are monitored by a faster electronic Engine Control Unit. Fuel is fed through larger 40mm dual throttle bodies, while 4 nozzles at the tip of each injector help to atomize the fuel more efficiently. Dual spark plugs cut detonation for added durability. By using rubber engine mounts, no-maintenance hydraulic valve lash adjusters, and a gear-driven engine balancer, the single-pin crankshaft engine runs smoothly without annoying vibrations, yet still retains the character of a V-Twin powerplant. And for good measure, new valve covers, and polished cooling fins make the engine look better as well.
In Candy Lime Green, the Mean Streak 1600 looks fast. The sport bike derived inverted fork and pair of six-piston Tokico calipers up front keeps the bike under control when searching for its limits on the road.
All these improvements add up to a very noticeable increase in low to mid-range horsepower and torque. The motor now boasts a claimed 73 horsepower at 5300 rpm, and 94 lb.-ft. at 2500 rpm, which now gives the Mean Streak all the grunt you need ride it like you stole it. And the low grumble from the dual exhaust is authoritative without being overbearing or unpleasant.
A powerful engine is always at the core of a good motorcycle, but it’s the totality of the piece that can make it a great motorcycle. Having satisfied the “go” part of the equation, Kawasaki addressed the “whoa” part as well. They dipped into the parts bin from their ZX line of sportbikes, and fitted 293mm dual floating discs with opposed 6-piston calipers up front, and a 272mm single disc with 2-piston caliper on the rear. Both provide exceptional stopping power. The front brake requires a light pull to haul the Mean Streak down from speed in a hurry, with good modulation and excellent feel. That’s important when you are motoring downhill on the Ortega Highway, and entering a tight blind turn.
Also important is how the high-tensile-steel double cradle frame and suspension work together to attack challenging roads. The non-adjustable fork has 5.9 inches of travel, and offers good control and feel. If you only rode this bike on smooth, tight twisties, it could use a bit higher spring rate. However, it’s still a cruiser, so it has to be compliant enough to handle all road conditions. The dual rear shocks are adjustable for rebound damping and air pressure, but furnish only 3.4 inches of travel, so some pavement irregularities are transmitted up through the spine.
Overall, the handling is excellent. Lay the Mean Streak into a turn and it tracks well, and isn’t upset even when mid-corner adjustments are necessary because the turn tightens up unexpectedly. The performance radial tires provide a lot of grip, and there is plenty of lean angle available before the pegs touch down. The pulled-back drag-style bars offer good leverage to work the bike from side to side when transitioning from one turn to the next. And even with a long 67.1 inch wheelbase, a rake of 32 degrees, and a wet weight just over 700 pounds, handling is crisp and fairly light. And with all the low and mid-range torque at your right wrist, powering out of a turn is smooth and immediate in any gear.
The Mean Streak also does it job well for relaxed cruising or highway duties. The ride quality is comfortable, and at a steady 60 miles per hour, the engine is only turning at 2700 rpm, and only 3100 rpm at 70 mph. That means, with a redline of 6000rpm, the engine never feels strained or overtaxed for long stints on a superslab. And without a windshield, the narrow handlebars won’t turn your body into a sail at speed, either. The accessory windshield MCUSA fitted to its Mean Streak project bike is a smart addition for any long-haul rider.
Shifts are crisp and well damped in the 5-speed transmission, and Kawasaki’s Positive Neutral Finder is a good feature for the less dexterous of left feet. Clutch effort is light with a wide engagement range. The shaft final drive works well, with little jacking effect from on/off throttle inputs.
The Mean Streak certainly looks the part of a drag bike but it was a bit underpowered in the past. Now, with an extra 82cc squeezed into the liquid cooled power plant it should post more respectable times at the strip.
It’s apparent that Kawasaki spends a good deal of time working on ergonomics. The Mean Streak is a comfortable bike, especially for an inseam-challenged rider like me. Seat height is a low 27.6 inches. The foot controls are placed forward enough so the drop to the pavement is unimpeded, yet doesn’t require a stretch for short legs to operate the controls easily. Taller riders shouldn’t feel cramped, either. And there are no engine parts poking into the rider’s knees or thighs. That gunfighter style seat is very comfortable for the rider, but won’t make any friends with a passenger, especially since it angles back towards the rear fender. Your guest will be holding onto your waist tighter than your own belt to keep from sliding off.
The bars are comfortably placed, and the smoothly operating switch gear is where you’d expect it to be. The mirrors could use another inch on each stalk, however, as you see too much of your own shoulders when looking rearward. The dual gauges for the speedometer and tachometer are placed above the headlight, so they are easy to see without taking your eyes off the road. The neutral, high beam, and turn signal lights are located in a handsome chrome tank top panel, along with the removable ignition key.
There are a lot of amenities on the Mean Streak. The speedometer has an LED screen that toggles between the odometer, tripmeter, and clock. There are two helmet locks on the rear fender braces. Both the brake and clutch levers feature a thumb wheel to adjust for reach, which is very handy when switching from lightweight to heavy gloves. The turn signals are self-canceling. Another thing you don’t find on many bikes these days is a locking box for the tool kit. On the downside, the horn is anemic and sounds like something out of a Road Runner cartoon.
Style-wise, the Mean Streak gets an A. Its long low profile is handsome. The seamless stretched gas tank flows into the lines of the seat and rear fender. Chrome slider guards protect the male slider fork. The wheels are 17″ polished aluminum, shod with a 130/70 front and a 170/60 rear radial tire. There is plenty of chrome to catch the eye, from the tank top console to the round air cleaner cover, drive shaft cover, and on to the rear shocks and fender trim. The engine is blacked out, but the covers and edges of the cooling fins are chromed to provide visual contrast. The dual shotgun pipes look menacing too. Fit and finish is also first rate.
After spending a couple of hundred miles on the Mean Streak, I can restate my opinion from the last time I rode it; it is an outstanding motorcycle that does everything well. And with the increase in horsepower and torque, it is a much more enjoyable ride than the previous model. In fact, a quick trip to Kawasaki’s accessory catalogue to mount a set of leather saddlebags, a windshield, and a luggage rack can transform this bike into a sporty touring cruiser. It will be comfortable to spend hours droning along the interstate, yet you’ll still have a very sporting motorcycle to tackle the back roads around your destination when you arrive. And, as always, Kawasaki gives you a lot of bang for your buck. The new and improved Mean Streak carries the same list price of $10,999 as the 2002 model.
Love it or hate it? Share your thoughts on the ’04 Kawasaki Mean Streak in the MCUSA Forum. Click Here