The Mean Streak has been the high-performance model of Kawasaki’s cruiser range since its launch in 2001.
While the firm´s other cruisers provided laid-back looks, touring comfort or retro features, the Mean Streak was built to do battle in the ’performance cruiser’ sector of the market, up against the likes of Yamaha´s Warrior and Harley´s V-Rod.
But can the Kawasaki cut it in the horsepower war? Insidebikes reports from the launch in France.
There was only one slight problem with the original 2001 Mean Streak 1500; it wasn´t very mean. Sure, the Kawasaki looked pretty aggressive and nasty. It had a V-twin engine with the required large capacity. It also had a long, low chassis incorporating some distinctly sporty cycle parts borrowed from the ZX-9R: thick, upside-down front forks, 17-inch wheels and twin front discs gripped by six-piston calipers.
But although the Streak´s 1470cc, sohc liquid-cooled motor was a tuned version of the standard VN1500 unit, the 72bhp unit didn´t exactly make the earth shake with either low-rev grunt or outright horsepower. And with rival cruisers´ engine capacities seemingly increasing with every passing year, the Kawasaki was in danger of being left behind.
Enter the Mean Streak 1600, introduced by Kawasaki as being ‘Meaner than Ever’ on the bike´s launch in the south of France. Calling the revamped Streak a new model is exaggerating the issue just a little. Essentially this bike is the original Mean Streak, uprated with a suitably tuned version of the 1552cc engine from last year´s VN1600. There are also a handful of chassis and styling updates, although the overall shape remains the same.
The bigger eight-valve motor gains its added capacity from a 5mm longer stroke (giving dimensions of 102 x 95mm), and is tuned in similar fashion to the original Mean Streak unit. That means reworked cams and pistons, plus valves increased in size from 33 to 37mm (intakes) and 30 to 33mm (exhaust). Fuel-injection system is revised with larger, 40mm throttle bodies; intake ports are reshaped; and the exhaust system has larger diameter pipes.
The result of all that is that peak output goes up from the VN1600´s 66bhp to 72bhp at 5300rpm. That gives an increase over the Mean Streak 1500 of exactly… er, nothing at all, actually. But Kawasaki says that torque output is increased through most of the range, and the maximum of 125N.m at just 2800rpm is almost ten per cent up on the old model´s figure.
Other engine-related changes included gearbox cogs that are shot-peened for extra strength. The two-into-one-into-two exhaust gains a Euro 2 catalyser. Cosmetic mods include black-faced cylinders with machined fins, plus larger valve covers and re-routed oil lines.
Song remains the same
Sadly the Streak´s chassis update didn´t include ZX-10R style radial brake calipers and wavy discs, as almost everything is unchanged. The front brake retains its blend of 320mm discs and six-piston Tokico calipers; front forks are non-adjustable 43mm upside-down units. Wheels are cast 17-inchers fitted with Dunlop Sportmax rubber, the rear a 170/60 radial that looks pretty fat until it´s compared with the huge 200-section boot worn by Kawasaki´s new VN2000.
Kawasaki ´s pair of cruisers were launched together on the winding roads around Beziers in the south of France, where it was strange to discover that after stepping off the giant VN2000, the Mean Streak felt almost small. This is a bike with a 1552cc engine, a 1705mm wheelbase and a dry weight figure of 290kg – big figures all of them. But in comparison with the two-litre behemoth, which is 50kg heavier still, the Streak seemed almost light and sporty, with its dragster-style handlebars on chromed raisers, and its normal footpegs instead of boards.
That mildly aggressive feel was enhanced by the white faced speedo and tacho visible from the low seat, but not by the position of the footrests, which are set well forward even by cruiser standards. The laid-back impression was enhanced when the engine fired up with a muted chuff through its staggered twin pipes, feeling very smooth and refined thanks to its balancer shaft and rubber mounting.
This revamped Streak is still a big softie with a flexible, gentle power delivery. There was a bit more low-rev and midrange grunt than I recall from the original model, and a tweak of my right wrist sent the Kawasaki scuttling smoothly forward with enough force to push me back into the kicked-up seat. For a big cruiser the Kawasaki was reasonably keen to rev, and pulled enthusiastically to its 6000rpm redline through the lower gears.
On a fairly long straight the Streak trundled to an indicated 115mph in fourth gear, and would possibly have gone a bit faster given more room. But another time it ran out of breath at just over 110mph in top, into a slight headwind, so there was not a lot more speed left. Not that most owners will bother with such speeds often, if at all. But the Streak´s relatively narrow bars allow the rider to tuck in reasonably well, and made cruising at a steady 80mph fairly comfortable.
More importantly, the Kawasaki´s extra midrange torque made roll-on acceleration more punchy, helped by the reliable delivery of the fuel-injection system. Whether pulling away from a standstill or surging past a line of traffic, the Streak responded crisply from 2500rpm or below. The gearchange was pretty good, too, although the shaft final drive system made itself known with a slightly jarring when the throttle was shut.
Given the high specification of several of its key chassis components, it´s no surprise that the Mean Streak has always handled well by cruiser standards. This version was just as efficient, with those fat front forks and four-way damping-adjustable twin shocks giving a reasonably firm ride. The steel frame coped well with the bike´s length and weight, possibly aided by the 1600´s main chassis update, a braced and slightly more rigid steel swing-arm.
With its rake and trail figures of 32 degrees and 144mm, unchanged from the previous model, the steering was reasonably light and neutral, so the Streak could be aimed into a turn with a fairly gentle nudge of its bars. But having ridden the previous model mainly on straight roads, and found its ground clearance adequate, I was less impressed and more frustrated this time, mainly due to the abundance of twisty, well-surfaced French roads.
When following a VN2000, I couldn´t help noticing that the Mean Streak seemed to scrape its footrest blobs even before the huge two-litre machine´s footboards touched down. The Streak´s solid bits were not far behind, which is potentially more serious. Given the quality of its suspension, and its grippy Dunlop Sportmax rubber, it´s a shame Kawasaki couldn´t have found a way to let the Mean Streak lean over a bit further.
There was no faulting the power or feel of the big front brake with its six-pot Tokico calipers, so at least I didn´t have a problem slowing down sufficiently before cruising gently round yet another corner with a scrape of metal on Tarmac. Most dedicated cruiser riders won´t be bothered, and many owners won´t ride hard enough to ground the pegs at all. But if the manufacturers are aiming to attract more riders to cruisers, ground clearance is an area they could easily improve, at least on machines with upmarket suspension parts.
The Mean Streak has the name, the aggressive style and the chassis specification to be a serious player in the performance cruiser category, and its enlarged motor´s extra midrange performance gives a welcome boost. But this is the mildest of make-overs. In the horsepower stakes the Kawasaki is well behind its new 102bhp stablemate the VN2000, as well as down on rival firms´ machines including the Honda VTX1800 and Harley V-Rod.
On the other hand, there are doubtless some riders who like the Streak´s style and prefer gentle, flexible engine performance to having their arms wrenched out of their sockets. At £8690 on the road the Kawasaki is reasonably competitively priced, too (£2400 cheaper than the VN2000). If you like the look, you won´t be disappointed – provided you don´t expect the Mean Streak to live up to its aggressive name and image.
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Engine Type Liquid-cooled 50-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement SOHC, eight valves
Bore x Stroke 102 x 95mm
Compression ratio 9:1
Carburation Digital fuel-injection
Clutch Wet multiplate
Transmission 5-speed, shaft final drive
Front suspension 43mm usd telescopic, 150mm wheel travel
Rear suspension Twin air shocks, 87mm wheel travel, adjustments for rebound damping
Front brake Six-piston calipers, twin 320mm discs
Rear brake Twin-piston caliper, single 300mm disc
Front wheel 17in, cast aluminium
Rear wheel 17in, cast aluminium
Front tyre 130/70 x 17in Dunlop Sportmax
Rear tyre 170/60 x 17in Dunlop Sportmax
Rake/trail 32 degrees/144mm
Seat height 700mm
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Dry weight 290kg
Instruments Speedometer, tachometer, lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, low oil pressure, low fuel level, fuel injection failure, coolant temperature