God of Fire
by Neale Bayly
In the magical light that blesses California moments before sunset, I am rolling along a quiet mountain back road in perfect unison and harmony with the lazy, thumping cruiser beneath me. Loping along at a pace that allows time to absorb the burning brilliance of the sun’s last rays on the golden terrain, the current craze of using the bogus term “reality” to describe television shows suddenly brings a huge inner smile. Here in the saddle of the new 2005 Kawasaki Vulcan 1600, life is about as real as it gets: No deadlines, no hassles, just me, a near empty road and a comfortable machine beneath me. There is no one shouting, yelling, or overacting being themselves, just the magic ingredients we all strive for as motorcyclists.
As a new model for Kawasaki this year, the 1600 Nomad is really more a refinement of the well-established Vulcan 1500 than a ground up re-do like its bigger brother the Vulcan 2000. Based on this venerable platform, the new Nomad 1600 has a few tricks up its sleeve though that are guaranteed to make for an even more enjoyable ride.
Paying attention to the sitting arrangements for the better half’s derrière, the passenger seat has additional padding, and a nice, comfortable looking back rest, as well as a tasty looking set of aluminum grab bars. Also, the original foot pegs are gone, replaced with a wide, comfortable looking set of floorboards, which will allow the pillion some choice of leg position on a long journey. The new Nomad also comes with some very stylish hard bags this year, which look big enough, and hopefully waterproof enough, for the hair dryer, war paint and various chemicals the fairer sex seem to travel with. I actually think they really enhance the look of the new cruiser, and along with the windshield give it a serious, purposeful look at rest, or on the move. Being color matched to the gas tank, side panels and front fender helps, and the quality of the paint is just first class. And, in the event of a tip over, they are going to be protected by the sensible chrome crash guards’ front and rear.
As with all cruisers these days, a plethora of aftermarket accessories are already available for the Nomad to personalize your ride to your own taste, with some of these being extremely practical. For instance, there is an adjustable windshield, adjustable levers and for even more brownie points with the better half, air adjustable shocks. All of these items, and more, are available at your local dealer or online at www.kawasaki.com.
With more comfort achieved, Kawasaki’s engineers went looking for extra power for hauling the souvenirs home after a long trip. Enlarging the engine to 1,552cc from 1470cc has given the bike a pleasant additional increase, and this was done by the use of larger pistons. To offset any changes this has caused, the electronic fuel injection has been modified to deal with the larger cylinder volume. Resulting in a liquid smooth power delivery anywhere in the rev range, the Nomad’s fueling is about as perfect as it can be. The bike is rather tall geared, and will reach 70mph in second gear right as the rev-limiter kicks in. This makes for a very relaxed ride at this speed in top gear, and the Vulcan will cruise a good bit faster if needed. The engine sure is smooth at these speeds, and a new gear-driven engine counter balancer no doubt aids this. Translated into real world speak, you are not going to end up with numb digits or feet, as you just don’t feel a thing through the handlebars or footboards. This doesn’t mean the engine sounds anemic, as it still has a pretty throaty rumble. Well as throaty as it can be with its emission passing twin pipes.
More nice features exist within the Nomads power plant, the engine retaining the 1500’s hydraulically adjusted valves and automatic cam chain tensioner. Not only does this make for very long service intervals, which translates into money saved at maintenance time, but it also makes for less noise, which adds to your comfort on long distance rides.
Power is taken to the rear wheel in time honored Kawasaki Vulcan style, via shaft drive and, as I always mention, it is one of the least attractive systems available in cruiserdom to me. The good news on the 1600 Nomad is that the bags and passenger footboards go a long way to cover it up. There is nothing wrong with its function though, and it most certainly doesn’t upset the handling or exhibit any weird jacking feelings under hard acceleration.
Gear ratios remain the same, the five-speeder shifting with a heel-toe system. No surprises here, just good solid gear changes whenever you want them. I personally like that the controls are not too far out in front as I find the reach on some custom bikes uncomfortable. The floorboards are comfortable and unlike a certain American manufacturer, you can get your right foot nice and flat as the air cleaner isn’t forcing your leg away from the bike. A situation that gets a little uncomfortable on the long haul.
With the Nomad being geared more toward the open road, than around town cruising, the five-gallon gas tank is going to be a good friend. I wasn’t able to get any fuel consumption figures, but would imagine 40mpg would not be unreasonable as the bike makes great haste on the smallest of throttle openings. Once up to speed though, there is a certain amount of buffeting from the windshield at 70mph, but hitting you squarely in the chops, this is minimized greatly with a good full-face helmet. Beanie helmet types might want to look into the adjustable version. The wide bars fall naturally into your hands and work well with the contoured seat. I liked that this allowed me to sit up straight, which not only keeps my mother happy, but also is good for my old back after a long day in the saddle.
Another area of the bike that has been improved with the new 1600 is the steering. Featuring a sharper steering angle, reduced 5mm to 15mm, less movement is required from the wide bars on turn in. Now, sportbike sharp it is not, but in the tighter, more technical parts of our test the difference makes itself known in a positive way. Braking on the Nomad is good, with a strong set of 300mm discs up front. These get four piston calipers and aside from the usual vague patch cruisers seem to have at the beginning of the lever travel, they do a great job of slowing heavy masses of man and machine. Fork dive under hard braking is also cruiser typical, but the plus side to this is an extremely compliant ride from the front 43mm conventional fork. It doesn’t offer any adjustment options, although the rear shocks do have air adjustable pre-load and four positions of rebound damping. With the bike geared for varying weight differences between solo riding and two-up touring, this is a standard feature.
As with last year’s model, the big Nomad rolls on sixteen-inch wheels, a nice fat 170 profile Bridgestone out back, and a suitable chunky 150 up front. These afford plenty of grip as the road temperature dropped approaching 5,000 feet, and look as if they should give some good road mileage. Wheels are chunky alloy units and allow the Nomad to run tubeless tires.
Priced at $12,999, the Vulcan 1600 Nomad looks like a comparative bargain when compared to the price of a lot of other large displacement cruisers on the market. Coming in a choice of Metallic Dark Blue or Ebony/Galaxy Silver (as tested) there might be a little too much reality involved in that for the easily led masses. But with Kawasaki’s legendary reliability and warranty plan, the savvy rider is going to be far too busy out discovering “the real world” to be bothered with any of that anyway.
Editor’s First Reaction: “No, I haven’t been drinking.”
•Fat 1600cc motor is rock solid.
•Passenger gets a real seat.
• Hard bags included.
•Gearing too tall in town.
•Buffeting from windsheild at speed.
•Brake just okay.
Harley Davidson Road King, Honda VTX1800, Moto Guzzi California EV Touring, Suzuki Boulevard C90T, Victory V92 TC Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe.