As so often happens, I'm sitting in this huge plane getting ready to fly between Charlotte and L.A., and I'm wondering: When did they build the first of these Jumbos? More then 30 years ago. It's 2005 and this bird looks the same. Well, of course, there are the more modern electronics and the seats have been changed a few times, but if it had developed along the lines of the computer, say, this steel bird would probably look more like "Star Trek" Voyager or at least have a delta shape utilizing carbon fiber and other advanced space-age materials. The trip from Charlotte to L.A. would be doable in an hour and the seat rows wouldn't be so narrow that you can't help looking like a seal begging with its flippers for a herring during meals. We take off. My destination is Irvine, CA, the American headquarters of Kawasaki, where I will test the new Kawasaki 1600 Nomad.
Eighteen years ago, Kawasaki introduced the Vulcan® 1500 and for a long time the bike was the largest regularly produced two-wheeler in the world. I owned a 1500, and I'm quite curious to see how they've advanced. Russ Brenan, Kawasaki's Media Supervisor, provides some of that information during a briefing we receive before hitting the road. "The new Vulcan 1600 Nomad retains the elegant style of the Vulcan 1500," he says, "but it features more chrome, enhanced passenger comfort, and the big V-twin engine's displacement has been boosted to 1,522cc to give it an even keener power band."
I follow Russ out of the drive and realize the steering at low speed is way easier than it was on my old one. Kawa's technicians reduced the offset of the front fork from 20 to 15mm, and now the motorcycle feels more neutral at low speeds, when maneuvering in parking lots for example.
I barely feel the vibrations when the engine is cold and once it's warmed up, it runs even smoother. The awards for this outstanding performance go to the hydraulic valve lash adjusters and the Mitsubishi digital fuel injection. The adjusters automatically maintain valve clearance for smooth engine performance with the nice side effect of reducing noise and maintenance. The digital fuel injection system feeds each cylinder the appropriate fuel mixture through dual 36mm throttle bodies.
On I-5, I open the throttle and the touring cruiser carries me comfortably over the bumps. We leave the crowded road and turn on Hwy 76, where I can see what Russ has planned for me: Palomar Mountain. That's the playground for sport bikes, and I only brought my cruiser outfit. My two-piece leather suit hangs at home in the closet. Anyway, after a few corners I'm still a little awestruck about how easily the Nomad's weight is thrown through the curves - approximately 11 miles of them up to Mother's Kitchen. "Man! If it had a little bit more ground clearance, I'd have to create some more space in my garage," I tell Russ. Something the Kawa technicians should consider when they start tinkering again.
Down Palomar Mountain I have plenty of chances to test the brakes, and it's a scary moment when a deer crosses the road. An emergency stop supported by the dual disc brake in the front and the large single disc in the rear prevent a collision with our furry friend. And though the Kayaba fork goes a little weak in the knees during the hard brake maneuver, overall, the general impression left is one that's stiff and stable. Chasing through the sweepers and tighter corners down on S7 and sticking to the chosen line, the Nomad feels extremely safe. A wheelbase of 66.5 inches creates a certain stability, but the bike is also quite nimble.
Later, on Hwy 79, the road invites me to open the throttle. The engine responds powerfully throughout the rpm range. A five-gear high-speed cruise begins. I really would like daring to ride in "hanging off" style - the bike has so much power it almost invites it - but the prospect of ripped jeans and the scolding I'd get deter me.
The combination of geometry, sitting position, and chassis is well done. And although the bike's limitations are evident at times, I almost forget that I'm sitting on a heavy cruiser given the fun factor. The road surfaces on the entire trip were excellent, but unfortunately the floorboards, with only 5.9 inches of clearance, scraped too early for me to wring all the fun I wanted from the ride.
Since Christa has said "no" to anyone else sharing the pillow, I didn't even bother to ask Jan, Agata, Amy, or Katie to leave Kawasaki's headquarters for a while to help me test the bike's passenger-friendly improvements: a new sissy bar, seat, and floorboards. It all looks good, and I'm sure that sooner or later Christa and I will ride the Nomad on a long-term test. That's when I'll lean on her for an objective appraisal.
The new Vulcan is much improved, and the new goodies (air-adjustable rear shocks, adjustable control levers, windshield, tubeless tires and a five-gallon fuel tank) make the Kawasaki Vulcan® 1600 Nomad™ a very desirable bike. After 300 miles of saddle time, I'm inclined to think Kawasaki's tagline has it right. It's easy to "let the good times roll"™ when the Kawasaki Vulcan® 1600 Nomad™ is your companion.
Kawasaki Vulcan® 1600 Nomad™
+ comfort, handling, luggage
- ground clearance
Engine 4-stroke V-twin, SOHC, 8-valve
Bore x Stroke 102 x 95mm
Carburetion digital fuel injection with (2) 36mm throttle bodies
Power 67 hp @ 4700/min
Frame high-tensile steel, double cradle
Front Suspension 43mm hydraulic fork
Rear Suspension dual hydraulic shocks, air adjustable, 4-way rebound damping
Rake/Trail 32°/7.2in. (18.29cm)
front dual hydraulic 300mm discs
rear single 300mm disc
front 150/80 x 16
rear 170/70 x 16
Dry Weight app. 823lbs (374kg)
Wheelbase 66.5in (1689cm)
Seat height 28.4in (72cm)
Fuel Copacity 5.3 gal. (20 liters)
Fuel Consumption n/a
Colors metallic dark blue ebony/galaxy silver
MSRP $ 12,999
Distributor Kawasaki Motors Corp.,U.S.A