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First test of Kawasaki’s VN1500 Meanstreak

Published: 23 September 2001

Updated: 19 November 2014

Kawasaki’s MeanStreak isn’t just an excuse for another exercise in chrome. It’s a performance cruiser and a real blast.

On an arrow-straight motorway in the Netherlands with my chin on the tank and the throttle wound back to its stop the rider up ahead is being gradually reeled in.

This is odd. On a cruiser you’re supposed to sit back, slow down and watch the scenery drift by. Not on this one. And not on quite a number of others in an emerging performance cruiser class.

It’s a grouping which includes machines such as Honda’s VTX, Yamaha’s Road Star Warrior and Harley’s new V-Rod.

The format, from Kawasaki’s point of view at least, was simple. Take an existing big V-twin cruiser in the form of the VN1500 and tune its motor to give more power. Restyle the bike to look longer, lower and more muscular, adjust the riding position and increase ground clearance. While you’re at it, bolt on firmer suspension, better brakes and stickier tyres. Oh, and give it lashings of chrome.

After all that, it certainly looks pretty mean. But when you fire the engine up, it feels about as aggressive as the Andrex puppy, thanks to the balancer shaft and rubber mounting, and an ultra-efficient exhaust system.

The Kawasaki doesn’t get much more intimidating when you accelerate away, either, delivering lots of smooth, low-rev torque and a pleasantly relaxed feel.

My ride began on some narrow lanes near Amsterdam, where the fuel injection impressed with its crisp response right through the range. The big motor happily thrummed along with just 1500rpm showing on the tacho in top gear, and pulled without complaint from below 40mph. Maximum torque is produced at just 3000rpm, so there’s always plenty of grunt on tap.

There was never any question of anything nasty in the power delivery. The bike simply kept gaining speed until it started running out of breath near its 6000rpm red line, at which point Harley’s rival V-Rod would have been getting into its stride with 3000rpm to come. Yes, it’s true – a Kawasaki stuffed on top end by a Harley.

But there was still plenty of straight-line stomp to be had. Revving it to the red line in third gear quickly put 100mph on the speedo. With a couple of flicks through the excellent five-speed box, I could maintain that speed in top gear in a leisurely fashion. On that motorway blast, the bike crept up to an indicated 120mph.

The engine mods haven’t turned a cruiser into a sports bike, but the chassis differences are more pronounced. From the moment I climbed aboard, the MeanStreak felt notably lighter and sportier than the three existing versions of the VN1500, even though it weighs only 13kg (29lb) less and its handlebars are only slightly lower and narrower. The new bike had a distinctly firmer, better-controlled feel to it. It was also easier to steer and could be cranked into turns with fairly light pressure on the bars. That was useful when the road got twisty.

The Streak’s fat Dunlops gave heaps of grip and, by cruiser standards, there was a generous amount of ground clearance before the replaceable footrest blobs went down. There was never any doubt that this bike was a cruiser first and performance bike second, and solid bits did crunch down soon after. But the Streak was definitely fun rather than scary in bends.

Much of the credit for that goes to its suspension. Though those thick forks are kicked out at a chopper-esque angle, they work pretty well and are firm enough to give good feedback. Likewise, the rear shocks do a fair job of keeping the bike and its heavy drive shaft under control. High-speed stability was also fine, not that you’d expect anything less of a machine with such stretched-out geometry.

The front brake, lifted straight from the ZX-9R, is superbly powerful and quite capable of locking the front Dunlop on most surfaces. They also give plenty of feel.

The MeanStreak is a stylish, refined, torquey bike that has a fair turn of speed and handles and stops better than a machine of this size and shape has a right to.

Better still, it’s likely to be only slightly more expensive than the basic VN1500 models (currently £7995), making it a small fortune cheaper than the Harley V-Rod at £14,000.

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