Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Nomad - Long-Term Evaluation

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

Oddly enough, it's on a four-lane highway somewhere outside of Danville, Virginia, that it dawns on me. This bike's moniker really fits. A nomad is one who doesn't stay in the same place very long, a wanderer if you will. And while the bike wears that peripatetic badge, whoever obtains the keys to one of these machines may want to adopt the nomadic lifestyle as well.

I'm sure most of you will agree that traveling by motorcycle ranks in a top-five listing of the most rewarding activities one can engage in. This is especially true if the chosen mount is well designed, nicely laid out, comfortable, and user friendly. When it comes to Kawasaki's Vulcan 1600 Nomad, you can go ahead and opt for the easy answer that never seemed to work on the SATs, and check "all of the above." For years, the Vulcan lineup has been known for solid, reliable cruisers that are comfortable to ride. In the case of the Nomad, Team Green has decided to throw a little road-trip worthiness into the mix. Is this 1600 merely a boulevard bomber with some bags hung off the side, or is this "the real thing" for the style-conscious road tripper? After several thousand miles, we have some answers.

All Torque, No Action?
Hardly. The big cans on this Nomad are all about the F word: function. Once fired off, the V-twin settles into a nice steady cadence, rumbling with a calm urgency that is grin inducing even before the tranny is engaged. A couple blips of the throttle and you know you're astride the real deal. Kick it into first, get that customary yet smooth clunk associated with dropping a big V into go, and you know it's time to hit the highway. Once under way, the machine becomes a torque-monster, claiming 94ft-lbs to back it up. Despite tipping the scales at nearly 800 pounds, a crack of the throttle in low gear is all you need to straighten out those arms. You gotta like that.

Out on the road, things get even better. There seems to be no limit to the pull this bike has. In no time the tank-top speedo is indicating that you are in danger of becoming "a person of special interest" to the well-dressed man in mirrored shades driving the Crown Vic. You can't go by engine feel on this one; it's too smooth. Sure, that can be a problem in speed zones, but when the destination lies beyond the horizon, the tame vibes guarantee plenty more miles to come before calling a halt. Thanks go to a gear-driven engine counter balancer for keeping those pesky shakes through the handlebars and floorboards to a minimum. And, not to worry, there's still plenty of that soulful thump that single-pin crank V-twins are known for. As for reliability, the single overhead cams and four valves per side are married with hydraulic valve lash adjusters and an automatic cam chain tensioner to guarantee that the burly mill will require very little maintenance. Having your cake and eating it too is a nice feeling.

Downstairs in the gearbox, things are set up in a customary fashion for a big cruiser with five cogs to keep things turning. Shifting is smooth and precise whether going up or down through the gears. The clutch is very predictable and showed no signs of fade even under fairly heavy abuse in stop-and-go traffic and when rambling along some back-back roads that an 800-pound bike has no business traversing. (Sometimes nomads don't use their best judgment when selecting routes.) Another near maintenance-free feature gracing the Vulcan is a shaft drive. Keep this convenient feature in mind, especially considering the fact that wanderers don't always end up in places offering the convenience of a can of chain lube.

Grind Control
You will probably get used to the sound of floorboards smooching pavement when riding this bike. And you shouldn't be too overly concerned either; this bike can take it if you can. I'll attest to bits of Kawasaki metal shavings gracing several curves in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley as well as in eastern Tennessee, compliments of the Nomad's surprisingly stable chassis and its low-slung floorboards. The company literature states that the steering geometry is designed with low-speed stability in mind. That said, the same math adds up to impressive figures at speed as well. The big ol' Nomad doesn't exactly beg to be thrown into the corners, but certainly it has the means to make a commendable showing when its handling hand is called to account.

Suspension duties are taken care of by 43mm forks up front and twin air-adjustable shocks in the rear. The stock settings worked just fine for my 180-pound frame, so I never played with them. Whether I was on the freeway or some fairly rough back roads, only the nastiest of jolts sent a shock from the bottom up. The availability of said air adjustability and four-way rebound damping should make for a smooth, comfortable ride on any road with any load.

In the stopping department, two twin-piston calipers grabbing 300mm discs up front handle the Nomad's forward braking duties and a single 300mm disc at work with another twin-piston caliper takes care of the rear. Even with the bike packed for a long tour, the binders do a darned good job of hauling this heavyweight down from speed. Both front and rear brakes have a nice, progressive feel, and they respond accordingly to easy slow downs or panic grabs. Both the suspension and braking components are topnotch on this machine. When riding it, just keep the extra size and weight in mind, and you'll have a blast ride after ride.

Long-Haul Truckin'
When you're merely looking at this ride, there's no doubt it has the cruising end of the spectrum well in hand. The Nomad also has bags and a windshield, so the concept of multi-day excursions is one the designers certainly had in mind. On this front, the Nomad has the i's dotted and the t's crossed as well. But remember, this is a cruiser frame. You can't expect the bells and whistles you'll get from a full-bore touring rig, because they're not there. And the price reflects that. Checking in at around $ 6000 less than the luxuro-long-haul mounts, the Nomad is a stylish, tour-ready option. What you do get is a very road-worthy ride capable of comfortably toting two-up while carrying several days' worth of duds. Even if that favorite B&B happens to be a couple of states away, don't hesitate to pack up and go. The well-integrated, streamlined saddlebags aren't the roomiest on the market, but they do get the job done quite nicely. Bag liners aren't standard, but they are available from Kawasaki as an option. Weathering several decent rain events, the bags proved waterproof, always a good thing. The adjustable windshield does an admirable job of keeping the better part of the breeze off the upper body, although hands and knees are left hanging out a bit; but that's not even noticeable until cold air or rain rolls in. Again, keep in mind, full protection would add substantially to the bottom line as well as diminish the visual pleasure of this ride's classic styling.

Should your favorite co-pilot be inclined to come along for the ride, the Nomad is well prepared. A large, cushy pillion and ample floorboards are there, and if you need one more selling point when pitching the Nomad to your significant other, toss out the fact that a backrest comes standard. No more fidgety passengers struggling to stay upright - now they can kick back, relax and enjoy the ride, all at no extra cost. Another nice, long-distance goody is the large 5.3-gallon fuel tank. With the Nomad consumption rate averaging 40 mpg, that 200-mile range guarantees that nearly any stretch of road is within this bike's capabilities.

Shall We Ride?
On the whole, the Vulcan 1600 Nomad is a fine choice for the rider wanting a solid all-around machine. As long as sport riding isn't in your repertoire, the bike is an excellent multi-tool to have in the garage. The powerful yet easy-going V-twin performs remarkably well around town with an especially friendly nod going to the buttery smooth clutch and transmission. Nimble steering guarantees that stop-and-go traffic is an easy proposition, as is maneuvering in low-speed driveway or parking lot situations. The 28-inch seat height and corresponding low center of gravity make the Vulcan an attractive choice for anyone, especially those who aren't cut out for the NBA. The standard hard bags look great and come in real handy for weekend jaunts and for stowing a briefcase or those few items missed during the weekly grocery trip.

As for looks, rest assured the guys at Kawasaki got this one right. I've never ridden a bike that garnered as many compliments, especially from non-riders, as this one has. From little old ladies, to middle-aged guys, to college girls, the Nomad scored high marks. Maybe it's the boatload of chrome catching the sun or the perfect finish of the paint; either way it works. "Nice bike" comments never get old. So, whether you want to be cruising the strip, or having a nice, long wander down country roads, the Vulcan 1600 Nomad ought to be a frontrunner among the candidates vying for that vacant spot in the garage. Then again, as its name implies, this bike isn't going to be sitting there with the mower for long.