2005 Vulcan Nomad 1600

By Sean Alexander, Mar. 19, 2005, Photography by Kawasaki
 
 

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. Don't be deceived, big changes lurk beneath the familiar bodywork.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 is most handsome in this Metallic Dark Blue & Silver paint scheme.

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 engine's powerband is relatively flat, which means that it offers a smooth, even delivery of torque and requires a minimum of shifting."

The new engine and fuel injection system provided a smooth application of torque, which helped to prevent drama in our snotty test conditions.

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.

The windscreen seems to have been copied from a 75-year-old police bike, so it's no surprise when it buffets at highway speeds.

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.

Late for the masquerade ball? Have no fear; the Vulcan's new motor can easily push it into the triple digits on level ground.

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.

2005 KAWASAKI VULCAN® 1600 NOMAD
MSRP $12,999
Features and Benefits


V-Twin Engine
  • Engine displacement increased to 1,552cc for more torque
  • Digital Fuel Injection is revised to suit the larger engine's needs and enhance performance
  • Dual mufflers allow more clearance for saddlebags

Liquid Cooling
  • Maintains consistent engine temperatures for long engine life and sustained power during hard use
  • Auxiliary fan keeps things cool during all operating conditions

Four Valves per Cylinder
  • Boosts low-end torque
  • Provides maximum valve area for optimum flow
  • Hydraulic valve lash adjusters require no maintenance

Gear-driven Engine Balancer
  • Counter-rotates at engine speed to cancel vibration
  • Allows use of single-pin crankshaft without the heavy vibration

Rubber-mounted Engine
  • All but eliminates engine vibration at all speeds

Five-speed Transmission
  • Great around-town acceleration with relaxed highway cruising

Positive Neutral Finder
  • Just lift the shift pedal from first at a stop to find neutral easily

5.3 Gallon Fuel Tank
  • Rounded-edge finish for clean, upscale look
  • Large capacity for extended touring range

Large, Adjustable Windshield
  • Large windshield gives excellent rider and passenger weather protection
  • Windshield is adjustable up and down two inches
  • Heavy-duty chromed support hardware holds the windshield rock steady

Hard Saddlebags
  • Designed for easy packing, these saddlebags carry an amazing amount of gear
  • Lockable, side-open design for smooth looks and quick access
  • Soft, removable inner bags available as an optional accessory

Passenger Comfort
  • New floorboards, standard backrest and thicker seat provide maximum passenger comfort on long rides

More Chrome for 2005
  • New chrome engine guards help protect the engine

Triple Disc Brakes
  • Dual discs up front for maximum stopping power
  • Large, single rear disc because touring bikes carry so much of the load on the rear wheel

Shaft Drive
  • Reliable, clean and quiet low-maintenance system

Hydraulic Clutch Release
  • Easy to operate, requires virtually no adjustment

Adjustable Control Levers
  • Fits variety of rider sizes and styles

Electronic Speedometer
  • Eliminates conventional cable-drive system

Tubeless Tires
  • Lower operating temperature extends tire life

Air-Adjustable Rear Shocks
  • Rebound damping is 4-way adjustable to tailor fit the ride
Specifications

Engine Four-stroke V-twin, SOHC, 8-valve
Displacement 1,552cc
Bore x stroke 102.0 x 95.0mm
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Cooling Liquid
Carburetion Digital fuel injection with (2) 36mm throttle bodies
Ignition Digital
Transmission Five-speed
Frame High-tensile steel, double cradle
Rake / trail 32 degrees / 7.2 in.
Suspension type, front 43mm hydraulic fork
Suspension type, rear Dual hydraulic shocks
Suspension adjustments, rear Air adjustable twin shocks, 4-way rebound damping
Wheel travel, front 5.9 in.
Wheel travel, rear 3.9 in.
Tire, front 150/80 x 16
Tire, rear 170/70 x 16
Brakes, front / rear Dual hydraulic 300mm discs / single 300mm disc
Overall length NA
Overall width NA
Overall height NA
Ground clearance 5.9 in.
Seat height 28.4 in.
Claimed Dry weight NA
Fuel capacity 5.3 gal.
Wheelbase 66.5 in.
Colors Metallic Dark Blue, Ebony/Galaxy Silver
*Specifications are subject to change. Please visit MO: 2005 Kawasaki Line-up
MO: All Kawasaki Tests
MO: Kawasaki News

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