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Classic Tourer Comparo

Roadstar Silverado :: Victory V92TC :: Nomad 1500 :: Road King :: R 1200CL

By MO Staff, Dec. 22, 2003, Photography by Fonzie
4th Place * Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Nomad

Sean: Funny enough, from 30' or more away, the Kawasaki is probably the best looking bike in this test. It has a very pleasing silhouette and super sexy bags. Once you get a little closer however, you start to notice the slightly industrial finish. This utilitarian impression is further reinforced, when you start to ride. For some reason, the engineers at Kawasaki decided that this bike should have a flat / droning exhaust sound. When you want to boot this thing in the ass and scoot down the road, it obliges, but it does it in a way that tends to pacify rather than excite. This isn't always a bad thing though. In fact, when you aren't hopping from bike-to-bike, the Nomad's general user friendliness shines through. When you're tired and just want to get home from work, the Nomad is the bike to pick. That same appliance like personality makes it a friendly and relaxing bike to cover ground on. Just be sure that you cover that ground below 55mph, because if you're over 5'10", the high-speed helmet buffeting can quickly give you a headache. A new or cut-down windscreen is definitely in order for Señor Nomad. Were I able to change the windscreen and put all testosterone aside, the Nomad would be my pick for the daily grind. I wonder if the awesome Vulcan 2000 motor would fit in this chassis.

The Kawasaki is quite possibly the prettiest bike in this test. It even looks good when the light ISN'T magical.

EBass: The art deco styling touches on the hard bags gave the Nomad some personality but otherwise it just came off as being sort of a vanilla bike. Nothing really wrong with it, but nothing exciting either. Ergonomically, the seat was quite comfortable and the backrest was a welcome touch. It would have been nice if they had provided one for the pillion as well. The leg position could have been farther forward for my taste but wasn't bad. Case savers front and rear were a good addition. On the mild downside, acceleration and braking were somewhat sub par although not obnoxious for a tourer. I wasn't crazy about the heel shifter either, as it had a very digital feel to it and occasionally found neutral rather than second. The flip down hard bag design could potentially dump your belongings, although internal bungees are supplied. I'd say that the Nomad would probably make a great choice for a mature rider who is looking for understated styling, quiet engine and pipes, metric feel, and Japanese pricing. It just didn't thrill me.

Fonzie: Low slung seating and a smooth, shaft-driven tranny earn the Kawasaki Nomad my title of "sportiest" of the bunch. Despite being one of the lowest horsepower bikes, the package is complete and tight - more an "appliance" than a "machine" as Sean will tell you.

"Never before was I comfortable using the heel half of on of these things, always choosing to shift like a regular."

My favorite things about the Vulcan Nomad 1500 are, in no particular order, one half of the shift lever, the cool neo-deco styling of the baggage and the smooth ride. Cons include the other half of that shifter arm, the ignition key position is the most awkward being low on the neck of the frame and the mandatory two handed operation of the baggage. With a toe/heel shifter arm that doesn't thoughtlessly fit the toe of a man's big toed boot, the heel is in the perfect position for board riding with beautiful, although inaudible, heel clicking ability. Never before was I comfortable using the heel half of on of these things, always choosing to shift like a regular. Being almost forced to stomp instead of flick, I learned something new on the Kawasaki. Surely the arm is adjustable, though any movement upwards on the front end of the one-piece lever lowers the rear, and it's so nicely level with the rear of the board to begin with I hardly want to mess with it. I did however raise the windscreen to the max after hearing the group's consensus of bad wind buffeting and headaches - better now but not the best.

The Kawasaki Nomad at sunset atop Highway 33 can be a beautiful thing!

Rami: The Kawasaki comes in third and very narrowly beat out the Victory for this spot because it is a Touring bike, where the TC95 is not. The Nomad is a great Touring bike and will suit somebody very well, just not me. The bike has plenty of power though not overwhelming, and the tranny needs to be replaced. I consistently found false neutrals and required a hell of a kick to up shift, not to mention that there was no way of feeling the up shift. The mirrors showed nothing but a blurry mess behind when traveling at speed, but the adjustable windshield was a nice touch. I liked this bike, but took me a while to figure out what it was I didn't like. It finally hit me and that was that the bike had no character to it at all. It is silky smooth and would make somebody a very nice Touring bike, but I like a little character with my motorcycle.

Gabe: "Hey man, I really like your cousin and we had a pretty good time last night, but I don't think I'll call her again."

"Are you nuts? She's fun to be with, looks a lot like Claudia Schiffer, has a PhD in human sexuality and owns a liquor store. How could you do any worse?"

"Oh, don't get me wrong, she's great. We just didn't click-maybe it's me."

That's really how I felt about the Nomad. It's a terrific looking bike, it works very well, and it's a pretty good value. But it tries so hard to be like the Harley that it masks any character it could have on its own.

The Kawasaki Nomad at sunset atop Highway 33 can be a beautiful thing!

Every time I got on the bike, all I could think about was how much it was engineered to look and feel like a Harley. The exhaust note, engine feel, suspension, brakes-it all feels old-school, even with such sophisticated touches as four piston calipers, monoshock rear suspension, liquid cooling, four-valve cylinder head and electronic fuel injection.. The locking, stylish hard bags have lots of room and work nicely, although it would be nice if you could open and shut them without using the key.

The motor has a great rumbly sound and feels rougher than the Harley did. The EFI works very nicely as well, with quick warm-up and easy starting. They engineered the motor to feel like the Harley, but unfortunately for them, they tried to make it feel like the older, buzzier ones. So I don't want to say it's slow and buzzy, because it isn't, especially compared to the BMW. But you can tell they took aim at the pre twin-cam motors, and the TC88 motor is a lot nicer than this.

The suspension is the same way. It has pretty nice spring rates- not too soft, not too stiff, but it does feel a little chintzy somehow. The suspension is okay most of the time and feels reasonably steady on the freeway, even on rain grooves, but a twisty road will unhinge this baby in a hurry, so be sure to chill and take your time!

"Speaking of freeway riding, the windscreen buffeted my helmet like it was Tito Puente and my head was a bongo drum." It was a little better after we raised it up all the way to it's highest position. And honestly, as token short guy since Burns left, I didn't really mind the buffeting on any of the bikes. Just be short, wear earplugs and think about college girlfriends and you'll hardly notice it.

In any case after about 120 miles you'll have to pull over for gas anyway. We always had to stop for fuel when the Nomad was thirsty. The other bikes could go further on a tank. Touring bikes should have touring range!

Get it on a canyon road or some nice sweepers and you will now notice the cheaper suspension, minimal ground clearance and shaft drive. It's not the worst bike for ground clearance, and it's not the slowest, nor is it the worst handling. It does everything competently and represents a good value.

So that's the thing with the Kawi. It isn't the best, but it doesn't suck. The Nomad has lots of torque and power when you want it. It surges off the line and has a nice satisfying oomph. It handles nicely, is built very well, has a big aftermarket (this basic model has been around for a while) and comes with really good hard bags. It just doesn't really shine in any one area. If the IRS needed a fleet of cruisers, they'd buy some of these. But I just couldn't get too excited about riding it in this company of cool, shiny rides. And at a price higher than the Yamaha, the value just isn't there. Sorry, Kawi, this Nomad is too much of a loner for me.

3rd Place * Victory V92 TC

Sean: Ask me again in 10 minutes and I might tell you I like the Victory the best. It's a tough call, these top three bikes are really fun to hang-out with. Every time I twist the Victory's throttle open, it shoots to the #1 spot for me. This motor has more area "under the curve" than most family sedans. Though it's air-cooled and tractor looking, Polaris has done a top-notch job with the V92 motor. I liked it a lot in the Vegas and I like it even more in this V92 TC -- 80 bhp and 96 ft-lbs will cover a lot of warts. Fortunatley, this bike doesn't have many to cover up. It is taller and generally styled with a little less flair than the Yamaha, Harley and Kawasaki, but the flamed-out paint and nifty-50 saddle bags go a long way in the "cool" department. Speaking of cool, nothing else in this test can hang with it in a straight line and the TC's excellent Brembo brakes, good ground clearance and almost "standard" riding position make the Victory the second fastest bike -behind the BMW- to hustle through the twisties. Highway comfort is compromised by a bit too much vibration at higher RPMs, but otherwise the Victory is all-day comfortable.

The TC looks slightly dated, but if you make fun of it, it will laugh back and blow your wimpy cruiser into the weeds. EBass: The Victory did some things very well, and others unforgivably badly. The engine pulls hard with great acceleration, and the pipes have been tuned to let its loud, macho voice roar. The brakes are quite good as well. The bike stands tall in the saddle with very high bars as well. Even the windscreen is huge, and quite effective at parting the air ahead. The 92TC offers a good seat with a backrest, and one for the pillion too. The folks in Minnesota were obviously trying to give the bike a custom aesthetic, and succeeded, but in a garage custom sort of way. The 92TC has a very analog, mechanical, homemade feel to it, which I liked (at slow speeds). Visually though, the execution of the flaming paint job and mini- shark fins seemed over the top and cheesy to me. This may sound odd coming from yours truly, but more is not always better. The same principle is at play in the two major complaints I had about the bike. There is lots of engine noise and vibration. Above 3500 RPM, which translates to roughly 80 mph on flat roads, the bike became unbearable to ride, which in my eyes eliminates it from being a viable tourer. The other big issue I had was with the high bars and overly upright riding position, which made canyon carving really hairy. No leverage, high center of gravity, and an awkward body position reduced the excellent power and braking attributes to asterisks in my mind. I'd say that the 92TC would make a great boulevard cruiser, but it ain't a tourer.

Fonzie: "Old Viccy" as I've taken to calling MO's long-term Victory V92 Classic, was a familiar bike to this rider and a personal favorite MO bike. Although familiar, this comparo included a different V92 model, still an '03, but the "TC" Touring Cruiser model with a longer wheelbase, lockable hard baggage, a taller windscreen, higher ride height, taller handle bars and that happy happy power punch, thanks to the 92 cubic inch Freedom V-twin motor. Second only to the Harley for sound, the 'ol girl rumbles a nice tale and definitely has what it take to split the lanes when necessary.

The TC... a great boulevard cruiser, and bar-hopper.

"A word about that luggage; A side trip sent this rider on a motocross journey and to my surprise, I was able to pack a pair of MX boots, chest protector and a pair of riding pants in one saddle bag!"

Rami: Speaking of character, this bike has it and loads of it. The engine is powerful and has plenty of go at all times. The Harley has a nice vibration at idle and smoothes out as it gets underway, but the Victory just seems to get more buzzy with the increasing RPMs. It is a bit high which makes for great handling in the corners, yet difficult for slow speed maneuvering, but makes a great bike overall. This bike lost to the Kaw because it really was more of a bar hopper or show bike, rather than a long distance Tourer. It did get looks everywhere we went.

Gabe: Snowmobiles look like a lot of fun. They have a very science-fiction look to them with their tracked rear drive and big skids coming out. They look like the speeders from the famous forest chase scene in Return of the Jedi.

The TC's look is snowmobilish -- big and chunky, and kind of disproportionate, like Metric cruisers looked during the 80's. I liked the flame paint job, though, and fit and finish seem top notch.

With the snowmobile heritage, the V92's hulking, blocky, aggressive styling should surprise no one. But unlike Japanese motorcycles which are often designed to look tough and handle like pussycats, the Victory has a rough and crude feeling that is pretty nice for a cruiser. Cruisers should stroke the ego, making you feel hairy-chested and lumberjack-like, wrestling and subduing a raucous and dangerous machine with your skills and brawn, right?

Well, this thing does that in spades. The aggressive styling and beautiful attention to detail in things like the "V" shaped air cleaner and massive motor let you know this is a real motorcycle built to last. When you fire it up, it has a great exhaust note and a engine feel that's both thumpy and smooth, like sitting on tiny jack hammers damped in velvet. The jackhammers get stronger but not objectionably so as the revs climb the dial. And when they do, hang on! The Polaris is one of the strongest motors in the test. It beat most of the other bikes in roll-on tests and is fun and responsive on a twisty road.

BMW R 1200CL: 38.8Mpg
Harley Road King: 39.4Mpg
Kawasaki Nomad: 32.6Mpg
Victory V92 TC: 31.5Mpg
Yamaha Silverado: 37.9Mpg
*Note: Mileage was taken on a group test ride, with all bikes rotated through 5 test riders, over 300+ miles of mixed freeway, surface street, canyon and country roads. This is a very fair and accurate "Real World" situation, with all bikes measured at the same time.

But this is a cruiser, after all. Sure, it can get up over 100 mph, and it even feels fairly stable, but maybe you better slow down, huh? Rain grooves make the front end hunt a little, and you can feel wind inputs through the handlebars via the jumbo windscreen. Autobahn materiel it's not.

So when you do need to slow down, grab yourself some four-pot Brembos with the steel braided line! Stoppie time, right? Wrong! The brakes were a bit of a letdown for me. I expected better feel and power from such expensive components. The feel was pretty average, not the \'halt!\' you get from similar components on the BMW (the BMW is servo-assisted *ed.). I guess cruiser customers have low expectations, so brakes don't get the attention that the motor or styling gets. It's a shame, cause I love me some good brakes!

Well, at least the suspension and handling didn't disappoint. The springs are a tad soft out back, but the bike didn't wallow too badly chasing Maximum MOron Alexander up and down his favorite canyon road. It also didn't scrape it's floorboards like the other bikes. Some cruiser guys might not like the higher and more rearward position of the boards, but as a stumpy little sportbike pilot, I liked them just fine. Similarly, I didn't care for the higher bar position, which could make my arms ache after a while.

The Victory is a very nicely built and performing motorcycle that won't disappoint. But in this company, with so many really good bikes to choose from, I'd want a bike with cleaner styling and a smoother motor for touring. I like different, which the Victory definitely is, but at this price I'd want something more refined and comfortable out of the box, placing the V92 in the middle of this comparison.

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