The Kawasaki VN 1500 Mean Streak is sleek, stylish and curvaceous, but how does it perform? CAR magazine’s Peter Palm went cruising.

What could be better than a mean-looking Harley Davidson Vee Rod? How about something similar, but at half the price? Enter the Kawasaki VN 1500 Mean Streak, a sexier variation on the Classic and Drifter models, both of which are seriously retro, while the Mean Streak is sleek, stylish and curvaceous.

It appeals more to the sports rider as it has twin instruments. The speedo and rev counter are up front above the headlamp, with the fuel filler cap in the centre of the tank where most cruisers’ speedos would be mounted. The bars are at chest height and fairly wide, while the headlamp and instruments seem miles away, such is the stretched out length of the bike.

With a wheelbase of just over 1 700 mm and a 32-degree front fork rake, the result is a very stable ride at higher speeds at the expense of heavy low-speed steering. Although the all-up mass is a hernia-inducing 290 kg, the low centre of gravity makes it fairly easy to manoeuvre once above crawling speeds. Chrome is everything on this machine, from the headlamp via the pancake air filter that nudges your left knee, through to the long dual exhaust pipes. The rest is mainly cast or machined aluminium, apart from the frame and swing arm which is fabricated from painted steel.

This is the first motor cycle tested by us where, should you look down at the speedo, you are likely to find that you are travelling slower than expected. While the norm is to find yourself breaking the speed limit regularly without being aware of it, with a cruiser most of the fun is in riding slowly. Let the offbeat exhaust rhythm play its tune while you enjoy a gentle massage from the lowdown vibes or, more descriptively, shakes. Just let the cars go by and take in the scenery.

However, it seems ironic that a motorcycle that is fun to ride at slow speeds happens to have one of the biggest engines imaginable! At 1 470 cm3 this competes with car powerplants, although there seems to be competition among Japanese motorcycle manufacturers to prove: “mine’s bigger than yours”.

Yamaha’s Road Star Warrior has a 1 670 cm3 engine and Honda’s VTX 1800 speaks for itself. While the size is there, power outputs are modest, the Kawasaki pushes out 53 kW at 5 500 r/min (with the red line at 6 000 r/min) and 115 N.m of torque at 3 000 r/min. Liquid cooling, one s-o-h-c per cylinder and four valves per cylinder are tricky enough, even overkill, seeing as the Road Star Warrior makes do with old-fashioned air-cooling and pushrods! Warning lights include low oil pressure, low fuel, high beam and turn indicators.

The riding position is good with the exception of the gearlever, being mounted a bit too high. This is fine for changing down, but a bit awkward to get your foot under the lever for hooking upward changes. This results in a couple of stray neutrals hindering acceleration. It’s just as well that laidback riding is the order of the day, since heading into corners with too much gusto will have the forward mounted pegs scraping in no time. Two-up riding would be even worse. Night riding though showed up a mediocre headlight.

High speed is not what the Mean Streak is about. Having said that, cruising along at 120 km/h is quite acceptable, anything more requires an ability to hang on. Idling is a sedate 700 r/min rumble. Shaft drive keeps the cast aluminium rear wheel clean and shiny and produces no on-the-road ill effects.

Seating is not only super low and sleek but comfortable as well, with sufficient padding to keep the aches away for a few hours. The pillion seat is rather small, but to fit a larger cushion would spoil the looks completely. A manual choke is fitted but is seldom needed. If you try to pull away with the side stand down, the engine cuts out, something we discovered after a few attempts at moving it into the photographic studio.

In conclusion, we have here a mother of a motorcycle that enables you to keep both feet on the ground and reach for the… okay lets be more realistic, head for the hills!

Specifications:

Engine: Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve V-twin

Bore x stroke: 102 x 90 mm

Capacity: 1 470 cm3

Comp. Ratio: 9,0:1

Fuel supply: digital fuel injection

Transmission: 5 speed

Final drive: shaft

Power: 53 kW at 5 500 rpm

Torque: 115 N.m at 3 000 rpm

Brakes front: dual disc, Tokico 3 piston caliper

Brakes rear: single disc, Tokico 3-piston caliper

Suspension, front: 43 mm upside down telescopic forks

Suspension, rear: dual shocks, four way preload adjust.

Front tyre: Dunlop D220 F ST 130/70 R 17

Rear Tyre: Dunlop D220 ST 170/60 R 17

Seat height: 698 mm

Fuel tank: 20 litres

Dry weight: 290 kg

Price: R116 995

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