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Hell On Wheels: ICON 1000’s Kawasaki Vulcan tracker

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
ICON 1000 are the guys we turn to when we need reminding that not every custom should be a 70s throwback. We’ve seen them peddle their special brand of 80s sensibilities on bikes like the Suzuki GSX-R 750 and Kawasaki GPZ900R—with spectacular results.

But Dethgrip is on another level. We can’t figure out if it’s retro or futuristic; gothic horror or sci-fi. We couldn’t even figure out the marque until we read the specs: it’s a 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan 650 S.

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
Yes, a Vulcan 650 S—Kawasaki’s entry-level cruiser. Popular, and reportedly fun to ride, but hardly a suitable donor for a savage dirt tracker.

But ICON’s design director Kurt Walter and his team of mad scientists saw potential. On the one hand, the Vulcan’s packing the same inline twin motor as the Versys and Ninja 650. On the other hand, this one was free.

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
So why a dirt tracker? As it turns out, the gang at Speed Merchant had challenged ICON to a flat track rumble. Naturally, they accepted.

Getting the Vulcan up to par would require, and I quote, “a metric f-ton of work.” But the guys put in the hours—ripping apart and re-engineering the cruiser into a very different machine.

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
At the risk of stating the obvious, all the bodywork—save for the tank—is new and hand-made out of sheet metal. A significant portion of the original frame’s also gone, and there’s a Ninja 650 swing arm out back.

Then there’s the springer-style front end: an engineering puzzle that bounced between three separate fabricators before it was just right. It’s running off two adjustable Nitron piggyback shocks (there’s one at the back too).

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
Those extended bits at the bottom of the forks are custom housings, each containing PIAA LED driving lights. The wheels are 19-inch Harley-Davidson units, now wrapped in Maxxis DTR-1 rubber. ICON threw in a few brake upgrades and Akrapovič mufflers for good measure too.

Dying to know more about Dethgrip, we fired a few questions Kurt’s way. Here’s what he had to say for himself…

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
The Vulcan has got to be the most modern bike you’ve worked on, and the end result is the least retro in looks—is this deliberate? While it’s nice to work on new bikes, the Vulcan was a tough bike to customize. The few Vulcan customs that have been built are quite… unpretty. The ICON design team concepted a couple of different approaches to our build, with ICON Senior Product designer Justin Pyle’s concept being the eventual winner.

Justin wanted to push a tracker-style build, but with aesthetics and components that would set it apart from the usual tracker solutions. At ICON we’re always looking to push the envelope in both our bike builds and gear design. Dethgrip falls in line with this design mentality.

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
How long did it take to build Dethgrip? The overall build length on this project was two years. That’s typical for ICON builds, with about twelve months setting initial direction for the bike and the corresponding gear collection. The remaining twelve months is used for finishing the build, commercializing the gear, and producing all the marketing materials.

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
Tell us a bit more about that front-end… The forks were the main component in the ‘neo’ part of the build. I’ve always wanted to use a springer on an ICON build, but they never really fit our previous concepts. The fork ‘tubes’ are actually repurposed 650 Ninja swing arm components, used for the oval tubing.

Running the dual Nitron shocks seemed appropriate given the performance needs of builds. While the forks work amazingly well, they can feel a bit vague compared to traditional telescopics.

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
How hard was it to get the Harley wheels to fit? The Harley wheels are both front wheels from one of their CVO models. They fit into the Kawa swing arm relatively easy. The biggest issue was creating a sprocket that would bolt to the front rotor bolt pattern. Thankfully Lyndall built us the trick sprocket and lightweight rotors.

It seems strange to fabricate so much bodywork by hand, but keep the stock tank. What was the thinking here? When Kawasaki commissioned us to do the build, the one caveat was that we not modify the tank in any way. So didn’t. But we did cut almost every other piece of the frame away.

Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000
You handed the keys to stunt rider Ernie Vigil to put Dethgrip through its paces. What was his feedback? He said, “Dude, that thing was massive fun! The Vulcan has a ton of low-end grunt and was a surprisingly competitive flat-tracker when I put her up against some 1200 Sportsters.”

Kudos to ICON 1000 for creating a bike that does what the original never could: scare us.

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Dethgrip: A wild Kawasaki Vulcan 650 tracker by ICON 1000