Back in the early 2000s, the motorcycle world was kinda weird. Before the Great Recession of ’08, everyone wanted a chopper, thanks to reality TV about custom “builders.” If you couldn’t afford a chopper, the next best thing was a radical production bike. In this mad, desperate era, Kawasaki launched the Mean Streak 1500, a bike that was very much a symptom of its times.
The heart of the Mean Streak 1500 was a large V-twin, with its roots in the late ’80s. Back then, the Japanese OEMs were mostly abandoning their original cruiser platforms, which were often based on parallel twins or inline fours, and building cruisers that looked a lot more like American-made V-twins. Enter this 1,470 cc liquid-cooled engine with a single-pin crankshaft, for that rattly made-in-the-USA feel. Kawasaki first used it to power the Vulcan cruiser in 1987, and then its variants. By 2002, that line included the Mean Streak 1500, a beefed-up version of Kawi’s big cruiser.
Of course, it wouldn’t do to stuff a doughty 15-year-old design into a muscle bike. By ’02, the engine had been updated with a five-speed gearbox, hydraulic valve lifters, and hydraulic clutch. Kawasaki hot-rodded that 1500 engine, boosting compression and dropping in hot cams and oversized valves. The EFI system (which replaced the original carburetor configuration) got larger throttle bodies, too. The result: More jam. The Mean Streak 1500 had about 30 percent more horsepower than the Vulcan 1500 EFI Classic, making about 75 pound-feet of torque and 64 horsepower.
Wait—that doesn’t sound very muscular at all! For perspective’s sake, the just-announced Harley-Davidson Sportster S makes just about twice that horsepower. Even a bone-stock Milwaukee Eight 107 engine makes about 77 horsepower now, and that’s the wimpiest Big Twin you can buy these days.
Indeed, at the time of the Mean Streak 1500’s production, some contemporary reports also bemoaned its modest output, wishing Kawasaki had put the bike on the Charles Atlas program, so to speak. Back in 2003, Yamaha was getting 140 horsepower out of the V-Max, after all.
Ah well. It’s true that back in the early 2000s, production V-twins weren’t as stonky as they are today, which made it all the easier for aftermarket retailers to sell dodgy air cleaners and straight-through exhausts—customers didn’t just want these parts, they needed them!
Or so they thought, anyway. Anyhow, while the Mean Streak wasn’t as muscled-up as it should have been, it did benefit from other upgrades to the running gear. Kawasaki put massive superbike-style six-piston front brake calipers on the Mean Streak. The Mean Streak was a big bike (637 pounds dry, with a 4.5-gallon fuel tank!), but you could haul it to a stop with two fingers. Nice.
Then, you had the updated suspension. Instead of conventional telescopic forks, the Mean Streak got a USD front end. A rarity on cruisers today, basically unheard-of back in ’02. The cartridge-style forks were adjustable, too. The Mean Streak also had 17-inch wheels, with proper radial tires for the twisties.
As a result, the Mean Streak became a kind of crossover model. It wasn’t a sportbike, but it was a cruiser that sportbike riders might show a bit of interest in. Even if you didn’t want a sharp-handling bike (many cruiser riders don’t seem to be too worried by this), the USD front end, oversized brakes and highly-tuned engine all served to augment the generous coating of chrome bling that Kawi threw at the Mean Streak. This machine made a visual statement on its kickstand, without even firing up the engine.
Kawasaki seemed to put a bit of extra care into the Mean Streak’s fit and finish, and you’ll note the bike in these photos also has a flamed-out paint job, which would have been highly important to any self-respecting cruiseratti in the early ’00s. The seat was a super-low 27.5 inches, also important in that era. Passenger accommodations were … minimal, but that’s the way, with bikes made for either posing or performance, and this bike filled both roles.
The Mean Streak today
The Mean Streak 1500 was sold in ’02 and ’03; the model here, for sale in Alabama, is an ’03. In 2004, Kawasaki went to the 1600 engine.
The biggest drawback for the Mean Streak 1500 today is probably the same as it was during the original production run: Most people who buy a muscle bike want more muscle.
The lower horsepower might not be such a bad deal, though. It means the engine is understressed, and should last a while. Maybe that’s why there are still fan forums for the Kawasaki 1500 platform online—they’re taking a while to wear out?
The bike for sale here is listed on Cycle Trader, with 9,320 miles on the odometer. It comes with a boatload of aftermarket parts (Jardine forward controls, Kuryakyn grips, Cobra swingarm cover, Stebel Horn, Danny Gray seat, and so on. Most of it’s bling, not performance-improving, but maybe you’re into that. We don’t judge here … but if you buy it, maybe don’t brag about your purchase down in Jo Momma.