2005 Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Nomad

The Vulcan bagger gets a little bit more of everything

At first glance it looks like Kawasaki's familiar 1500 Nomad--but look again. Most pieces of Kawasaki's 2005-spec Nomad turn out to be new, including the engine, which now displaces 1552cc instead of the old Nomad's 1470cc, the extra cubes arriving via a 5mm-longer stroke. The new Nomad is a better traveler, too, with a longer wheelbase (by about an inch), more fuel capacity, improved passenger accommodations, a new windshield and a number of detail changes.

The new engine is basically the same SOHC, eight-valve, liquid-cooled V-twin that powered the 1500, but the 1600's Vee gets minor refinements and tweaks, including a 16-bit ECU and a fuel injection system--dual 36mm throttle bodies with four nozzles in each--that's been calibrated specifically for the new bike. Kawasaki says the result is more torque. The bigger engine feels stronger and more responsive at low-to-moderate rpm, though not any stronger on top. Like the 1500, the 1600 is remarkably vibration-free due to a similar combination of counterbalancers and rubber engine-mounts. The heel-toe shifting is also smooth, but there is a bit of lash, apparently caused by the shock absorbers in the drivetrain.

The most satisfying changes from the rider's standpoint, however, are chassis-related. The extended wheelbase might have smoothed the ride a bit, but the recalibrated suspension feels much better controlled, which improves both ride quality and stability. Despite reworked fork offset (read: less trail) to lighten steering, the 1600 feels noticeably more planted in corners and steers lightly at a crawl even though we had no real complaints about the 1500 in either respect. Cornering clearance is similar to the1500's; about average for a big cruiser.

The 1500's windshield sometimes caused annoying buffeting, but this has been substantially decreased with the new windshield on the 1600, which retains the height-adjustment feature. It also has extensions at the bottom to cut down on wind blowing past your legs. The Nomad 1500's riding position was just about perfect for my 5-foot-10 frame, and the 1600's seat-floorboard-handlebar relationship is pretty close.

I was disappointed by the seat, though. The 1500's saddle was as comfortable for me as any stock or aftermarket cruiser saddle I've ever experienced. But on the 1600, Kawasaki moved the turn-up at the rear farther forward and narrowed the saddle's nose. With those changes, the 1600's seat simply isn't as comfortable or roomy for me. I expect the aftermarket will quickly produce a saddle to remedy this.

Passengers have a lot to look forward to. They get a bit more space front-to-rear, and the 1600 also brings a nice, wide passenger backrest and sturdy hand-holds. Combined with the shocks' air-pressure adjustability (a feature carried over from the 1500) and the aforementioned suspension changes, the seating changes should make the 1600 much more secure and comfortable for back-seaters.

One complaint about the big Vulcans has been unimpressive mileage and range. Although my one-day ride wasn't enough to learn what sort of mileage you can expect, Kawasaki has increased fuel capacity by a bit more than a quart to 5.3 gallons. The tank also has a new shape and a longer chrome console, with a restyled speedometer face and ignition lock (which allows you to remove the key after it's turned on) within. The ignition switch position is also much more convenient.

One thing that hasn't changed is the Nomad's great side-opening hard bags. You need to use the key to open and close them (which makes sense after you use them for a while), but they are easy to access and pack. There are a number of cosmetic changes, including a switch to seven-spoke wheels from five-spokers, revised airbox covers and new badges on the tank, windshield and backrest.

Despite the added displacement, greater comfort and higher bling-factor, the price is the same as the original 1500's $12,999, making the new Nomad a winner just about any way you look at it. MC

Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Nomad
PRICE MSRP $12,999
Type l-c 50-deg V-twin
Valve arrangement sohc, 8v
Displacement 1552cc
Transmission 5-speed
Weight 772 lb. claimed (350kg)
Fuel capacity 5.3 gal. (20L)
Wheelbase 66.5 in. (1689mm)
Seat height 28.4 in. (721mm)