Published on August 8th, 2004 | by Boris
2004 KAWASAKI VN2000 – PURPLE REIGN
One recent Friday, exactly 26 minutes after I levered my arse onto the world’s “biggest” motorcycle, the world’s biggest bastard toothache came to live in my mouth.
And suddenly, as vast, rusty spears of pain gouged their merry way through my head, all I wanted to do was whimper like a teenage girl after her first date. And maybe kill myself.
The dentist was at least a double-pointed long weekend away, and Brother Silverback and his Brutale were keen to cross power outputs and US foreign policy views with me.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t all that keen on living any more. My world was scorching pain and it would have taken a miracle to get me on the road in that state – two-litre bike or no two-litre bike.
Thankfully, just such a miracle came to pass.
Now, please understand I do not advocate or endorse loading yourself up with drugs and looking for the outer limits of tyre-grip as crazed chemical demons whisper naughty things to you. Not unless it’s a special occasion. But because the two-litre Vulcan was the biggest, boofiest, meatiest monster currently available (and the Golden Rhino sets deadlines only the criminally insane can meet) this was just such an occasion. Needs must, as they say in the classics.
That Friday, as I struggled to keep my sanity through indescribable pain, Brother Silverback informed me via email (I’d turned off all my other domestic communication) that we were to attempt the legendary Two Ferries Run on Sunday. This meant that I had about 48 hours to become “pain-free”. This is do-able, I figured, and promptly ate two Mogadons I’d had lying around. An hour later, I was drowsy, but still in pain, so I backed up with some Sudafed (legend has it that methyl-amphetamine and its little cousin pseudoephedrine, boast remarkable pain-killing properties) and a few beers – since alcohol is also known for its beaut effect on things like stab-wounds, broken noses and other cranio-facial damage.
Needless to say, what happened that night wasn’t sleep, but as soon as the chemist opened the next morning I was strong enough to ride down and equip my now rather swamp-headed self with Nurofen Plus (the most amount of codeine, at 12.5mgs, one can get without a prescription), Fiorinal (for night-time use cos it makes you drowsy with doxylamine succinate) and the chemical marvel that is “toothache drops” – a zesty combo of enthanol, phenol and benzocaine.
I then sat outside under a brolly and professionally self-medicated myself for the next 24 hours, washing it all down with cold beer whilst keeping my stress levels manageable with regular touch-ups of The Herb.
Come Sunday morning, I was one of God’s most special creations.
It’s not that my pain was gone. It wasn’t. It was still there, but it just didn’t matter any more. Naturally, very little else mattered right along with it. And banging almost 500kgs of bike and rider along the amateur-killing Two Ferries Run mattered least of all – and I set off with a chemical will of pharmaceutical proportions…
Brother Silverback was suitably impressed.
“You’re fried,” he observed, as I docked the Vulcan beside his Brutale at our meeting spot and stared pointedly at the kill switch for two minutes before finally flicking it off.
“Like a backpacker on Bondi,” I slurred. “But you just look at how purple the bike is while I adjust my toothache.”
I immediately started shoving cotton buds liberally soaked with pain-killing chemicals into my tooth-hole, while Brother Silverback gazed rapturously at the Vulcan’s divine metal-flake paint. It’s known at Kawasaki HQ as “Metallic Dark Purple Prism” and is the only colour the bike comes in.
“A man would have paid $5000 for a paintjob like that when Jimmy Hendrix was making music,” he muttered, harkening back to his salad years. “And check out the cylinder heads. The motor looks an awful lot like a Harley Evo.”
I was busy jiggling them mega-Nurofens out of their cunning bubble-prisons and into my mouth, but each time I looked at the chrome-and-black wrinkle-painted motor I saw fluttering long-fanged bats, so I just nodded.
In my altered state, only the Vulcan’s beautiful uber-modern headlight had any kind of visual interest for me. It’s got three googly-looking low beam projector lights up top, which are always on, and a big triangular-shaped high beam jobbie below. It’s also got a heap of shiny bumps and indents, which to my pilled-up eyes looked like 20 different revolving light-points of madness. The value of the high-beam proved itself at night though, offering one of the best spreads of light to the sides of the road I’ve ever found.
But I couldn’t articulate any of that right then. The chemicals wouldn’t let me. Thank Jebus the switchgear layout is as basic as it gets, or I would have had trouble even getting there that morning.
“It’s very big,” I offered instead, waving my arms about by way of intelligent input.
And it is, from whatever angle you look at it. The Vulcan is more than two-and-half metres long (2535mm) and almost a metre wide (985mm). At no time does it ever let you forget that it is a very large and immensely powerful motorcycle – 177Nm of torque at 3000 rpm (inside its handsome liquid-cooled, four-valve-headed, 52 degree V-twin donk) awaits your right fist’s pleasure. And Kawasaki got a little serious about how you get that pleasure – offering you dual throttle valves (the primary is operated by your right hand, while a sub-valve is activated by an electric motor to deal with your inadequacies). This keeps the torque delivery even and smoothes the power output. Even the fuel-injection’s a bit trick – vapourising the fuel into ever smaller microns so its iridium plugs can nuke it good and proper – all of which translates into a most satisfying ride.
Luckily, the seat height is only 680mm, so even the most drug-enriched can find secure purchase for their feet when it comes time for satisfaction to cease.
Feet which I did, amazingly, remember to put up on the footboards as we rode off. And while I’ve never been a fan of footboards, the Kwaka items were so profoundly well crafted, it was a real pleasure to grind their edges off and actually enjoy the vibrations they made when I introduced them to the road. Which, at legal speed limits you really wouldn’t do at all – 135mm of ground clearance puts the Vulcan right up there with the Yamaha Warrior and the V-Rod in terms of “how fast can I get around the corner and how much of my bike will I leave there”.
So how does a two-litre bike go?
Really bloody well, actually.
The Vulcan’s overt giantisity can be an issue if you’re a dwarf, a girl or a weak chicken-bitch – in which case it’ll kill you big-time. But in the hands of your average bloke, it’s excellent. Somehow, and in stark contrast to the “little’ cruisers available, the Vulcan stacks its 32 degrees of rake and 182mm of trail into a well-mannered handling package only the Goldwing and the V-Rod can equal. Perfectly civilised and rideable in slow traffic and intensely stable at cop-bait speeds, cruisers just don’t handle better than this. The brakes are more than up to the task of slowing it all down when the chemicals kick in and the analogue speedo (there’s no tacho and no real need for one) is eagerly showing three figures. They consist of quality Tokico dual four-calipers on a 300mm disc up front, and a twin-caliper champion on a 320mm disc up back. Coincidentally, one of least wooden and most feel-friendly rear brakes I’ve ever stomped on and I noticed little fade even after 60 kays of super-tight twisties. Wheel lock does await, but only if you’re being silly.
The bike’s rear monoshock, buried somewhere in its guts under a double-cradled steel frame, is adjustable eight ways for rebound dampening and fully for pre-load, and manages to deal with all but the deepest bumps without weaving too badly. Still, it could have been adjustable for light and sound for all the difference it made to me that day. As you know, cruiser shocks will forever be biased towards ride comfort rather than sports precision and these are no exception.
Thing is, with heavy, long wheel-based cruisers, you have to keep the power on through the corners, ride the torque curve and not allow the bike’s immense weight to dictate your line. Never has this been more apt than on the Vulcan. Hit a bump mid-bend and instead of giving over to the ensuing wallow, you just throttle on and that motor will have you smoothed out and tracking true in no time. Just don’t let fear and grinding noises stop you.
Its glorious motor is just perfectly set to provide luscious, torque-rich corner exits, excellent engine braking and a serious top-end – all with a rich, thundery note – which would sound even better once you took a length of steam-pipe and a hammer to the baffles.
“It actually sounds like a two-litre bike,” Brother Silverback pointedly advised me over lunch, after observing that while the pain-drugs had played havoc with my speech patterns, they hadn’t actually affected my riding ability all that much. From my chemicaled perspective, I could have ridden astride a six-legged crocodile and thought it natural.
But he’s right about the noise. Like I said, the Vulcan NEVER lets you forget you’re riding two litres of leg-opener. At idle, it throbs like a vast rapid heartbeat – unobtrusive but comforting – ratchet it up and it simply booms its way through the gears and out its handsome slash-cuts with a very unique and pleasing sound. It would have been nice to get more than 70km/h out of first, but the other four gears more than made up for it. I found third to be the gear of choice for tight twisty stuff, enabling me to rocket out of bends so savagely, it rather alarmed Brother Silverback. He only calmed down after I let him ride it and he saw how much fun it was. Even the fat-pig 200/60R16 Bridgestone Battleax on the back was quite calm about it all.
I found the gear lever throw a touch long going up, but spot-on going down and I just changed gears conventionally because the heel-toe set-up on offer is just plain stupid. It’s not the smoothest box in the world, but it’s also not the clunkiest by a long shot.
The one thing I would instantly change are the handlebars. Tiller bars are now, have always been, and will always be, utter shit. Stop putting them on bikes, you people who make them. They are useless over 80km/h because the wind takes advantage of the crazy angle your hands are at and forces them off the bars. And since human hands do not naturally turn outward at the wrist, energetic brake-and-throttle use during a spirited squirt make it all rather uncomfortable. By all means put wide-ass ’bars on cruisers, but have mercy and make them ergonomically friendly. A major let-down on the Vulcan, which is otherwise an ergonomically excellent cruiser. My 100kg, six-foot-tall organic drug-lab fit on it wonderfully, even though my left leg felt a bit of heat from resting on the clutch-cover when both feet were down. Supermodels with long legs won’t have this problem.
The seat is wide, firm and comfy – as befits a serious mile-eater – though the pillion cops a brutal arse-beating. Still, while Kawasaki does offer a comfier option, any bloke who doesn’t regularly carry a pillion, but still takes “pillion seat comfort” into the equation when buying a bike, needs to have his head opened for inspection.
Everybody else in the market for a cruiser should take a deep and meaningful look at the Kawasaki. There’s a lot to like and very, very little to criticise on such a bold statement of a motorcycle.
Right now, the VN2000 Vulcan is the King Cruiser and the largest-capacity bike ever gifted to the slavering public from a major manufacturer. It’s also, in my humble opinion, quite the most attractive, with all its lines working on any objective aesthetic level – the bike looks “right” even when you’ve swallowed a pharmacy. Within its design parameters, it is better than all other cruisers currently on offer – and while Harley’s V-Rod stomps its Japanese guts out in outright performance, the Kwaka beats it hands down in value for money terms ($23,990 versus almost $30,000) and sheer bragging-rights bigness. And fuel-range. All crap aside, the two-litre Vulcan is a gem of good worth and until Triumph’s Rocket III rewrites the books on bike size and performance, it will reign as the cruiser supreme and, arguably, the best touring and distance-eating V-twin you can buy.
SIZING IT UP
Just so you all have a perfectly clear picture of just how potentially intimidating the 2053cc Kawasaki Vulcan is, let me just offer this dry weight comparison for you to ponder. And bear in mind it’s belt-driven, has a cable-operated clutch and no electrical or luggage add-ons to pad out its weight.
The VN Vulcan as tested, claims a dry weight (that’s before you add fluids and rider) of 340kgs.
The Suzuki Marauder I rode (AMCN Vol53 no18) tips in at 290kgs dry.
The Harley-Davidson Road King pales beside the VN at a mere 327kgs dry.
The Goldwing outweighs it at 363kgs dry, but also gives away 200cc and occupies a good deal more overall space on earth with all its screens, boxes, panniers, shaft-drives and electrical equipment.
Add me, 21 litres of petrol, a few litres of oil, some coolant and about half-a-kilo of chemicals and we’re dancing about the highways with some 500kgs of divine cruiser glory. Hallelujah!
THE TWO FERRIES RUN
One of Sydney’s most astounding ride secrets – which only very few people know about and even fewer attempt more than once – since that first time will absolutely scare the living chunder out of you. I wish I could tell you more precisely where it is and how to get to it, but I can’t because I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the Fellowship of the Ferries and the man who owns the coffee shop. All I can say is that it involves two consecutive ferry-crossings (and no, one of them is not Wisemans), achingly beautiful river views, an immensely varied selection of bends and straights of differing widths, a pit-stop that sells top food and good coffee, with views of young girls in bikinis playing with inflatable balls on sandy beaches, from its shaded wooden deck. And no cops at all – something truly special on a double-demerit-point long weekend. And you want me to tell you about it so’s it can be ruined? Fat chance. Besides, you’ll have more fun finding it for yourself.