2004 Kawasaki Vulcan 2000

Road Test Review

Have you ever ridden a built cruiser? You know, one with a stroker motor and 100 cubic inches or more? If you have, you’ve likely been impressed with how the power hits right now, and how its torque just seems to hammer on forever. Well, friends, if you get the chance to ride Kawasaki’s new-for-2004 Vulcan 2000, the kick in the pants this bike delivers will likely remind you of “Built bikes I Have Known.”

Kawasaki’s stated design objectives with the Vulcan 2000 were to creat the largest-displacement V-twin cruiser in the world, with the highest horsepower and torque, as well as “pulse feel.” So long as you eliminate the small, independent companies that utilize the S&S,TP, Merch and other speicialized motors of up to 145 cubic inches, all hail the new king of mainstream V-twin cruiser performance!

As we’ve always heard, there ain’t no substitute for cubic inches. This new motomonster actually displaces 2,053cc (125.3 cubic inches). Each cylinder displaces more than the entire engine in a four-cylinder Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10!

At 96 rear-wheel horsepower the Vulcan 2000 is also the most powerful standard mainstream V-twin cruiser on the market, and it cranks out a monstrous 119.4 lb-ft of torque at 3,350 rpm. For comparison, the 2003 Honda VTX1800 (the bike formerly known as the most powerful cruiser) that we tested in our September issue delivered 87.2 horsepower, and 97 lb-ft of torque. The Vulcan 2000 will motor you like you’d been strapped to a solid rocket booster. All this despite the bike’s considerable 814 pounds of wet avoirdupois.

To build this friendly brute, Kawasaki started with a liquid-cooled, 52-degree undersquare motor with a 103mm bore and 123mm stroke. The long stroke guarantees a lot of low-end pushing power, or torque. Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1600 has a bore and stroke of 102 x 95mm, for example, which makes it by comparison more of a revver than a torque monster.

The problem with long-stroke motors is that they can be quite tall, which plays havoc with the cruiser’s traditional low seat height and basement-level center of gravity. To minimize engine height, Kawasaki utilized twin cams in the crankcase, and sent the motion skyward via pushrods that actuate (via dual rocker arms with no-maintenance valve lash adjusters) four valves per cylinder, 40mm intakes and 36mm exhausts. The broad 35-degree valve angle also helps keep cylinder height low. The result is an engine that is only 2mm taller than that in the Vulcan 1500, despite the fact it has a 33mm longer stroke.

Carry your helmet out to the Vulcan 2000 for the first time and you’ll realize that it is huge, and has a real presence. The wide tank has that popular stretched look, with no unsightly seam along the bottom; the iridescent Pearl Glacial Blue of our test bike offers an attractive shimmery look that changes in the sunlight. It’s also available in Metallic Sorcerer Purple Prism and Metallic Majestic Red. There’s a steel fender at each end, and though liquid cooled the engine has a very classic, attractive air-cooled look, blacked-out with polished fin edges and chrome pushrod tubes.

Kawasaki states that only the top quarter of the engine is liquid-cooled; the rest is cooled by air. The radiator has been partially concealed between the frame tubes rather than stuck on front. Despite what appears to be a separate gearbox, that’s a large, one-piece engine case with an attractive black-matte finish.

The engine hangs as a stressed member in a box-section and tubular-steel backbone frame with cast pieces at the steering stem and swingarm. It has a steel tube swingarm with 3.9 inches of rear suspension travel.

Wrestle the bike level and you realize the sidestand is way too short, which accentuates the bike’s already serious weight. Settle in, and you notice how firm the broad, flat seat is, and how little the suspension compresses under your weight. Seat height is a knuckle-dragging 26.8 inches.

Because of its fuel-injection system there’s no need for a choke or even fast-idle control. The key sits in the middle of that huge chromed headlight nacelle. Hit the starter and an electronic control unit/solenoid-controlled compression release raises the exhaust valves slightly for easier starting; that ECU also controls the fuel injection, timing, radiator fan and fuel pump. Upon starting, the bike immediately launches into a throaty rumble.

This beast inhales through dual 46mm throttle-body injectors. Forged slipper pistons are pushed down those huge plated cylinders by the 9.5:1 compression ratio as lightweight steel connecting rods spin the huge single-pin crankshaft. Paired 220mm flywheels provide the inertia. Three oil pumps, two of which scavenge the crankcase and transmission, and one that provides the pressure feed, live inside.

Power is fed through a chain primary drive with damper to a wet multiplate clutch with five-speed transmission, which also serves as an oil tank for the semi-dry sump engine. Shifting action through the heel-and-toe linkage is precise and businesslike, with the proper gravity due a bike of this size; Kawasaki says that both fifth and fourth gears are overdrives. It all ends in a belt final drive, which Kawasaki last utilized on its 1980 440 LTD twin. All that power interfaces with the ground via a 200-series rear tire, the largest currently carried by a mainstream machine, though the Triumph Rocket III-due shortly-carries a 240, and 300s are used by some of the specialty builders.

Kawi’s Vulcan 2000 offers big, man-sized levers and requires a man-sized pull on the clutch. An hour’s worth of miles in heavy traffic, or backroads where frequent shifting is required, and your left hand will eventually tire-unless you have a grip like California’s new Governator.

The engine is a marvelous house of torque. So long as it’s carrying a certain minimum number of revs, the rider can whack the throttle and get launched right here, right now! Let out the clutch in first gear and the 2000 whisks you away with very little slippage required. Roll it on in overdrive fourth gear at 60 mph-wham-it feels like it wants to come out from under you! Fifth gear at 80-Holy Mother of Pearl, you’ll be at triple digits in moments! To prevent unwise throttle whacking, sub-throttle valves (also controlled by the ECU) moderate how much force is actually transmitted to the throttle shafts.

Performance is of little consequence if a bike isn’t civil, but civility is the 2000’s middle name. Despite having two coffee can-sized pistons slogging around inside, paired counterbalancers and front rubber engine mounts assure that no annoying vibration reaches the rider. As Kawasaki wished, it does retain that desirable “pulse feel,” but stops well short of annoying vibration. The bike also releases a healthy bark from its dual exhausts with honeycomb catalyzers.

The rider sits slightly bent into the wind astride a firm, wide seat, grasping wide beach bars, feet on floorboards, facing a huge chromed speedometer but no tach. The huge 49mm fork is a nice blend, acceptably compliant while offering good resistance to dive under braking. Unbolting the rider’s seat reveals the single rear shock with its stepless rebound damping and spring preload adjusters. While it offers plenty of useful rebound damping range, what the shock really needs is less compression damping so that its 3.9 inches of travel can be utilized more readily and smooth the ride.

On a day-long trip the shock with the aforementioned seat eventually became painful, a combination of excess compression damping passing too many of the road shocks through a too-firm seat, especially in the rear portion where its cupped shape limits the rider’s ability to stretch out. After a hundred miles I was sliding up to the passenger seat to ease the pressure.

With a 68.3-inch wheelbase and lazy rake/trail figures of 32 degrees/7.2 inches, the 2000 is as agile in the twisties as a Kawasaki oil tanker negotiating the Straits of Hormuz. It appreciates sweepers and pre-planning, but abhors tight roads. When treated with the respect due its size and weight, the 2000 will bring a grin to your face in the sweepers, right until the predictable point when its floorboards begin to drag the pavement.

Kawasaki has fitted this new performance cruiser with brakes that are worthy of its size, weight and prodigious capabilities. Dual 300mm front discs with four-piston Tokico calipers team with a single 320mm rear disc and two-piston caliper to provide good power with decent sensitivity. With those huge 150/80-16 front and 200/60-16 rear Bridgestone Battlax BT020 radials there’s plenty of rubber on the road to ward off locking the wheels.

The tank holds 5.5 gallons of 90-plus octane fuel, which our test Vulcan ripped through at the rate of 35.9 miles per gallon. It might have been more economical had we not so enjoyed twisting the throttle, yet it still provides a range of close to 200 miles.

If the tendon-stretching torque of this stroker ace isn’t enough for you, well, there’s also that classic styling, excellent brakes…and did I mention that massive torque? Sure, it could use a better seat, a longer sidestand and a more compliant shock absorber, but those are all bolt-on items. And as long as we’re bolting, Kawasaki plans a range of accessories including a backrest, passenger seat, lightbar, engine guards, saddlebags and three sizes of windshields.

Built-bike lovers who don’t want to go to the trouble of building it themselves now have a new choice. In the world of big-inch performance cruisers, the Vulcan 2000 is clearly the new champion.