The Underdog – Essenza Kawasaki Vulcan S

Earlier this month the first series of the Essenza 1/8th mile sprint challenge was completed at the Glemseck festival in Leonberg, Germany. Manufacturers and custom builders went head to head in a knock out style race schedule to decide the victors. Racers were limited to 2 cylinders and a capacity no larger than 1200cc using bikes supplied by big named manufacturers. The 16 bike grid was filled with motorcycles that sat on the cusp of the engine capacity limit including Harley Sportsters, BMW R9Ts, T120 Bonnevilles and a Ducati 1200R Monster. However tucked in amongst them, sat a quietly confident rider on a 649cc Kawasaki cafe racer.

“Pure bikes. No dragsters. Two wheels. Two cylinders. Maximum 1200 cc. These are the key facts of the most exciting sprint challenge in 2016.”

The bike was a heavily modified Kawasaki Vulcan S cruiser, amusingly named “The Underdog”. Its pilot, Francesca Gasperi (pictured above), a seasoned Glemseck 101 entrant and professional test rider for Kawasaki Germany for the past decade. Unfazed by the fact that her Vulcan had half the capacity of many of the bikes in the grid, Francesca battled her into the finals to finish the event in an impressive 2nd place.

Backed by Kawasaki Germany, The Underdog build was undertaken by racing tuner Dieter Briese of Motorcycle Höly and Kawasaki dealer and Warm Up Custom Bikes workshop owner, Tommy Holzner. To many the decision to base their entry into the sprints on the cruiser styled Vulcan S may seem like an odd choice, but Holzner and Briese both knew the bike presented the perfect platform. A long footprint and low stance would help to keep the bikes front end in check under hard acceleration and Briese had a few tricks up his sleeve that would give the bikes ER6N engine an almost 100% increase in power.

While it’s the work done to the bike that you can’t see that ultimately lead to its success, it’s the external appearance of the bike that is most striking. The cafe racer styled Underdog wears a custom fairing and tail section designed by Holzner using 3D computer modelling to achieve the perfect fit and improve aerodynamics. The factory forward controls have been swapped for  LSL rear set foot pegs and mounted to the custom Ohlins front end are clip on handlebars also from LSL.

For a more fitting, classic look the cast wheels were replaced with lightweight spoked rims finished in Kawasaki green to match the bikes bodywork. To ensure the bike could be slowed down upon the completion of each 1/8th mile sprint the bike also wears a Spiegler brake system that bites down on Galfer carbon/stainless rotors. The combination of all the changes to the Vulcans appearance have transformed it into a wild cafe racer along with helping to reduce the bikes weight from 228kg to a svelte 185kg.

When it came to modifying the bikes engine Briese wasn’t leaving anything to chance. Fully aware that the bikes they were lining up against were starting out with much higher capacity and power figures, he would need to perform some rather drastic work on the 649cc engine. Internally he modified the cams, cylinder heads, rods and generator rotor and balanced the crankshaft. Compression was upped to 13.5:1 and 43mm Ninja ZX10-R injectors were mounted into his custom intake system, using 2 per cylinder. A Power Commander manages the engines performance and a custom exhaust system by Moto-life completes the combustion cycle.

As if all of this wasn’t enough Briese had one more ace up his sleeve. Power had already been increased from 61bhp to 90, but it was the addition of a nitrous system that saw the bike reach a final power figure of 150bhp at the rear wheel, a number that they agreed would put them in the running to come home with trophy.

The second stage of the sprints is fast approaching and will be held in Cologne as part of the  Intermot “Customized” exhibition. Here Francesca, Dieter and Tommy hope to increase their placing by one to take out the prize as overall winner.

Once the sprints have been completed all 16 entrants will then be relocated into the ‘Intermot Customized’ arena where a peoples choice award will take place. The award will be for the best custom modification, which I have no doubt “The Underdog” may very well have a good chance of winning.