Ten years ago, Kawasaki had a touring cruiser priced at $13,000. It had a 1552cc V-Twin with plenty of accouterments and power to take its rider to voyages unknown. It was called the Vulcan Nomad 1600, and even ten years later we still think it’s a good bike. However, let’s go back to its introduction in 2005 and Sean Alexander’s first impressions of a cruiser that is more than simply an old model with a bigger engine. As Kawasaki proved, a simple refresh can have a big impact. Now, don’t forget to check out the photo gallery for even more images of the Nomad 1600.
2005 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1600
Loyal MO readers might remember our Classic Tourer Comparo, where we proclaimed the 1500 Nomad to be a decent, though not terribly exciting motorcycle. So when I was invited to the press intro for the new 1600 Nomad, I was interested to see how Kawasaki might have improved their product in this important market segment.
The new Vulcan 1600 Nomad retains the elegant style of last year’s 1500, but features an 82cc displacement boost to 1,552cc. In addition to the added muscle, Kawasaki also says the Nomad received revised steering geometry, enhanced passenger comfort and additional chrome.
However, after riding the new bike, it is patently obvious that there is more at work here than a few minor changes, as the 1600 feels like a vastly superior motorcycle.
Kawasaki downplays the updates for 2005, but if you examine the 1600 next to last year’s 1500, you’ll quickly notice that almost every detail is slightly different. From the front axle through the passenger seating, everything is similar, but slightly revised and I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be as little as 50% parts commonality between the two bikes. Further snooping reveals the addition of an engine counter-balancer, revised “crash bar” mounting, revised cylinder heads, revised fuel injection & ECU and innumerable esoteric differences. Fortunately, these updates don’t affect the bikes $12,999 MSRP.
The Nomad 1600 features additional chrome and comfort features, including new engine guards, polished fork tubes, a thicker passenger seat, new backrest, grab bars and new passenger floorboards. It also includes adjustable levers, self-canceling turn signals, and a five-gallon fuel tank. In addition to the updated features on the new Nomad, Kawasaki also offers a range of accessories through their dealer network and directly through the internet. At normal cruising speeds, the lighter steering and more direct response allows for nice transitional maneuvers without requiring large steering inputs or straining your arms. In a parking lot, the Nomad is reasonably light on its feet, although the wide bars do require a long reach, while executing tight U-turns.
The bigger jugs breathe through a revised Mitsubishi digital fuel injection system, using dual 36mm throttle bodies mounted on separate intake tracts with four nozzle injectors sending two streams of fuel to each intake valve. The 16-bit ECU features specific programming for the new fuel injection system and does an excellent job of interpreting the rider’s throttle inputs. In other words, there were no hiccups, lurches or flat-spots as I modulated the throttle through our snotty test conditions.
Great, everybody appreciates a well-behaved engine, but who cares… right? You really want to know if the bigger engine is faster? Yes, it is faster and more flexible everywhere in the rev range. I wouldn’t mistake this powerplant for a Vulcan 2000, but its now in the thick of the classic tourer hunt, where last year’s bike hung around at the back of the pack. Even with that barn door windscreen, the new Nomad is more than happy to accelerate itself into triple digits on level ground.
The engine’s powerband is relatively flat, which means that it offers a smooth, even delivery of torque and requires a minimum of shifting. Even on very tight mountain roads, shifting is purely optional once 4th or 5th is engaged. Like most big twins there isn’t really a top-end rush per se. Instead, the motor simply pulls strongly through the midrange, and then tapers off like a lamb.
Speaking of the windscreen, the Nomad’s large old-fashioned screen seems to have been copied from a 75-year-old police bike. The problem is that 1930s cruising speeds were in the 35mph range, so it’s not surprising that the Nomad’s screen is nice and calm, offering great protection and smooth airflow up to 50mph.
Unfortunately, you can’t really stay below 50 on most of today’s highways and byways, and once speeds creep close to 60, the Nomad is in full-helmet-buffeting mode. I tried the adjustable screen in every position from full-up to full-down and was unable to find relief. After a half day of this, I was ready to get a hole saw and start cutting pressure relief vents in the pretty Plexiglas.
I know the Nomads emphasis is on classic style, but a few modern aerodynamic tricks would do wonders for its long haul comfort. Much like last year’s bike, the Nomad 1600 offers excellent rider and passenger accommodations, plus some of the prettiest and most functional saddlebags on the road. Those locking art deco hard bags are a distinct advantage for the Nomad, but the seat might be its best asset. If you can deal with the buffeting (or fit a shorter windscreen) long enough to notice, you will find that the Nomad has what might be the single most comfortable riders seat in all of motorcycling.
When you first sit on it, you think “no way is this soft fluffy thing going to be comfortable for an extended stay.” However, after multiple hours in the saddle, the Nomad’s seat remains perfectly comfortable. Why can’t every bike come with a seat of this quality?
After my time on the Nomad, I’m convinced that Kawasaki has significantly improved the bikes functionality and blessed it with a bit more character than last year’s “appliance-like” 1500. If Kawasaki would fix the aerodynamics, the Nomad could easily contend for best-in-class honors. If you’re in the market for a large touring cruiser, you’d be well advised to take a spin on this new Nomad. While you’re out test riding and comparison-shopping, keep in mind that the stylish Nomad remains the least expensive bike in its class at $12,999.
Four Valves per Cylinder
Gear-driven Engine Balancer
Positive Neutral Finder
5.3 Gallon Fuel Tank
Large, Adjustable Windshield
More Chrome for 2005
Triple Disc Brakes
Hydraulic Clutch Release
Adjustable Control Levers
Air-Adjustable Rear Shocks
*Specifications are subject to change. Please visit MO: 2005 Kawasaki Line-up