If you’re looking for a super-sized custom in the classic cruiser idiom, Kawasaki’s Vulcan 2000 is it. It’s both classy and obnoxious, a combination that we often like.
Kawasaki Vulcan 2000
It’s a weird comment on the current state of motorcycling when a rider of the largest V-Twin engine in production feels almost ordinary in this crowd. But that would be to ignore what is a really well-engineered cruiser that boasts exemplary fit and finish, the best suspension of this group, and steroid-injected classic cruiser styling.
As is typical of recent years, Kawasaki has done an excellent job with styling and attention to detail. Its metallic green paint is deep and lustrous, showing off the seamless tank’s broad-shouldered contours, and its massive baloney-cut exhaust pipes look menacing enough for a hitman. It’s also the only bike here that has self-canceling turnsignals and a clock – nice. The V2K’s only real styling challenge is the huge goiters on each side of the engine that serve as large airboxes for the gulping 1026.5cc cylinders.
One particularly clever engineering solution to a typical metric-cruiser styling problem is the use of liquid-cooled heads with air-cooled cylinders. A large-displacement motor such as this has difficulty dissipating heat by air-cooling alone, but a fully liquid-cooled motor negates the use of attractive cylinder finning and then there’s the quandary of how to hide a large-capacity radiator. In the V2K, Kawi’s small and unobtrusive liquid system sheds heat away from the hot combustion chamber and valve area while the cylinders use good old-fashioned fins to radiate heat to the air.
As with the other bikes in this group, having deep reserves of power is never in question. Its torque curve looks like Australia’s Ayers Rock, with an ever-so-slight hump in the middle of 116 lb-ft that gives a rider a hint of a powerband. Its mountain of torque provides instant snap for squirting through traffic. The V2K shows its 221cc displacement advantage over the Rune by running up 14 lb-ft more torque while recording just a couple of ponies shy of the Honda’s peak-not bad for a Twin against a Six, which might show there’s some horses to be uncorked from the Rune.
Kawasaki’s use of a single-pin crankshaft produces the requisite cool-sounding lope at idle, and the vibes produced by the fist-sized 4-inch pistons are smoothed nicely by counterbalancers and rubber engine mounts. We were impressed and a little surprised to hear such an enjoyable exhaust note from the bazooka-sized slash-cut pipes. It’s much louder than expected from an EPA-approved system, sounding like a healthy inboard powerboat motor during acceleration and giving nice pops on the overrun.
The biggest Vulcan’s first gear is quite short, offering excellent low-speed cruising tractability for parading down Main Street at Daytona. But that short gearing comes at the expense of a hurried 1-2 shift when accelerating quickly from a stop, which the slow-shifting gearbox doesn’t like. However, there is so much torque available at idle that a rider can pull away from a stop in second gear, if so desired, thanks to an easily modulated clutch.
Kawi has really stepped up its level of fit and finish with the V2K. The chrome is deep, the paint is rich and lustrous, and it makes a high-end statement unique to most metric cruisers.
The Vulcan’s ergonomics fit larger riders best. We were all in agreement in preferring a lower bar with less pull-back, as the wide bar stretches short arms during tight turning maneuvers. The large saddle gives a fair amount of room to move around on, so a rider can alter his position to accommodate long stints of seat time. Korf, at 6’0″ 190 lbs, complained only about the high position of its handlebar, and he liked the roomy placement of its floorboards. Conversely, the 2000’s nicely sculpted tank is wider than my narrow boyish hips, forcing my legs uncomfortably outward, and wind pressure at highway speeds grabbed my legs and pushed my feet rearward on the flat floorboards.
The V2K performed better on the freeway than expected, despite a handlebar that induces a wind-catching arm position. Its motor is exceedingly smooth for a big Twin, and the only hindrance to cruising at 90-95 mph is the force of the wind. We were happy to have a backpack strapped to the rear seat to hold us upright during our highway stints. Overall suspension action is at the top of this group, with a generous 5.9 inches of front travel and the plushest action from the rear damper.
The big Kaw handles better than expected of such a lanky machine, thanks to a beefy steering head, burly triple-clamps and a thick 49mm fork. Its floorboards touch the earliest when leaned over, but their large sliders skim smoothly over the pavement as opposed to the Triumph’s grabbier pegs. Four-piston front brake calipers clamping on 310mm rotors feel a bit wooden but offer a decent amount of braking power.
Chrome bits: The wrenches in the Vulcan’s toolkit have a little extra bling thanks to the shiny coating, which is a nice touch for this range-topping cruiser. The chrome sidestand, however, is too short and makes the bike feel even more of a pig than it actually is when hefting it upright.
Perhaps the Vulcan 2000’s biggest challenge will be in carving out its own niche among big-bore cruisers. At $14,499, it’s the least expensive of this group but is treading into Motor Company territory, which can be a tough nut to crack for a metric V-Twin cruiser. A fuel stop on the way to Phoenix illustrated what Spock is up against.
“Hey, that’s a sweet looking bike,” said Mrs. Middle America when she spied the Vulcan when exiting her car. “That’s one hot Harley.”
“Actually, it’s not a Harley,” said I, “It’s a Kawasaki-a Vulcan 2000.”
That was all she needed to hear before scoffing and turning her back at what she once thought was a gorgeous machine, proving there’s more to the cruising thing than just profiling.