2001 Kawasaki 1500 Nomad & Turbo Nomad Motorcycles Tested in Death Valley

Take a hopped-up touring cruiser motorcycle and a stock version to the wilds of Death Valley. Only one returns. From the April 2001 issue of _ Motorcycle Cruiser _ magazine.

There is no landscape in the United States that competes with Death Valley, no place as vast or utterly vacant...yet at the same time, breathtakingly scenic and emotionally stirring. No matter how many times you travel there, you are never quite prepared for its foreboding enormity. We decided to test Kawasaki's project turbo-equipped Nomad and the newly upgraded fuel-injected Nomad in Death Valley because it seemed rather apropos—Nomads wandering the deepest stretch of desert in the Western Hemisphere. We were also drawn by the (usually) mild winter temperatures and improbability of rain. But mostly, we just wanted to visit the mysterious void again—and scream across the naked Earth on a cruiser that promised to fly.

You Want to Go Where?

Of course, the folks at Kawasaki probably weren't as eager to see their turbo project or 2001 fuel-injected 1500 Nomad flogged about a desert where dusty, hardpan roads and questionable gasoline were certainties. They bid a reluctant farewell, however, after a parking lot lecture on proper care and feeding of turbocharger systems and a promise we'd bottle-feed their baby octane boost. Even the Nomad FI, which is intended to drink only premium unleaded fuel, would benefit from an additive once name-brand gas stations became mirages.

The turbo system on our 2000-model, carbureted Nomad was a joint venture between Terry Kizer (that's Mr. Turbo to you and me) and some performance-cruiser enthusiasts at Kawasaki. It's actually a kit that is already available to both carbureted and fuel-injected Vulcan 1500 owners for something in the neighborhood of $4000, plus installation. A blow-through turbo such as this one can increase horsepower from 30 to 50 percent, and this bike is claimed to generate approximately 85 ponies at the rear wheel. To say we have been curious about this project, underway since early 1999, is an understatement. We have always appreciated the Nomad as a stately and proficient touring cruiser, but the image of a touring rocket ship tickled us silly. At first glance the thing that stands out about the turbo-equipped Nomad is, well...nothing. If it weren't for the Mr. Turbo logos on the side covers most observers would be unaware of the motor's newfound aptitude. The boosting system has been situated neatly within a hollow of the exhaust system, and even the snake-like intake plumbing running down the left side of the motor is easy to miss. Kizer told us one guy looked at the bike and walked away in disgust saying, "That's a cheap way to advertise—putting stickers on a stock bike!"

It's a sleeper, you could say. A Nomad that bites. As we rode off toward the desert in search of adventure, however, the performance capabilities were immediately evident. This 50-degree V-twin has always had a "girl next door" feel, but today, it was a vamp. And the rattlesnake sound of the turbo channel closing and opening provoked a shot of adrenaline with each shift. This is a full-time turbo, so the boost is there as soon as you touch the throttle. The grunt is amazing, and we could hardly wait to meet the top end.

Standard Nomad Along for the Ride

Kawasaki's stock 2001 fuel-injected Nomad was an eager partner on this adventure. The addition of an injection option last year offered Nomad buyers additional power and range. Fuel injection for Kawasaki's second-generation liquid-cooled V-twin was first introduced on the 1500 Drifter in 1999 and involved new cam timing and compression increase, very befitting for this otherwise sedate V-twin. A more evolved system released on the Nomad in 2000 (and later that year on the Classic FI) features a refined 16-bit processor and upgraded mapping.

We've been lucky enough to spend major seat time on all of the Nomads, since the first carbureted version was introduced in 1998 (as a 1999 model). And while the standard version is a fine touring mount by our comfort, performance and appearance standards, it will only go approximately 120 miles on the 4.2 gallons of fuel it carries before hitting reserve. When you're riding cross-country, or through a desert with more ghost towns than real ones, limited range is a particularly serious detriment, so we were very appreciative of the addition of fuel injection on the Nomad last year, which increased its overall limit by more than 20 miles. This year things are even better for those who are slaves to the open road. The Nomad's 4.2-gallon tank has been replaced by a 5.0-gallon receptacle, further increasing range by approximately 27 miles, to a 193-mile average. A completely new electronic speedometer helped increase the capacity of the tank because it does not extend downward into the tank area. An LCD odometer/tripmeter/clock unit was also fitted this year, and boy, for such a seemingly little convenience, having that timepiece viewable while you're riding is a major plus.

High Desert Humping

The trip from Los Angeles to Death Valley proper eats up most of a day. We made our approach on U.S. Highway 14 via Mojave and Red Rock Canyon. For the first 75 miles, the route is infested with state troopers, but between the smattering of conveniences in Mojave and sprawling Ridgecrest (the last docking station in the real world), you can open it up for the first time. Besides, there are plenty of trucks and recreational vehicles to justify an active throttle hand. The turbo moves the Nomad like a cat on a horse's back, and passing the lines of lumbering vehicles was effortless. The fuel-injected Nomad is no slouch either, and it too can make a quick meal of a motorhome, especially when shifted down for the sprint. But when all is said and passed, any turbo-equipped bike worth its additive is going to make horsepower far above cruiser standards. And yeah, we were giggling all the way.

On the other side of the counterbalancer, the stock fuel-injected Nomad's is smoother—silky, in fact. And that kind of luxury is a valuable feature, especially when you're spending long days in the saddle. The addition of a turbo unit on any engine will produce exaggerated vibration, especially at low and midrange rpm. The counterbalancer can only compensate within realistic parameters. However, we've ridden other turbo-assisted V-twin cruisers that would shake your fillings out in exchange for the fun. This Mr. Turbo application, running a moderate 6.5 pounds of boost, was a kitten in comparison.

We whipped through Ridgecrest without stopping for party favors. It was a race against the arching sun now, since we knew too well how cold the desert could be after dark. Trona, a shabby mill town that harvests salt from the local dry lakebed, is the only semi-civilized outpost before you drop into the breathtaking Panamint Valley and the western border of Death Valley. Trona is a ghost town in progress; its buildings seem to cling to the shoulders of the great, decrepit mill like aphids to a dying rose. It's a fascinating pit, but we didn't have time to wonder out loud why any sane person would choose to live here. At the town's only surviving gas station we splashed the turbo's tank with fuel and chased it with the appropriate dose of octane-boosting additive. Turbocharged engines only thrive on premium fuels, and if you run one with more than 10 pounds of boost, you'll probably need to nurse it with racing fuel. Low-octane gasoline will likely cause premature detonation (or ping), which in turbocharged engines can mean sudden death to piston rings, and eventually the pistons and cylinder walls themselves. Detonation involves the fuel/air mixture exploding before it is ignited by the spark plug; the pressure hammers the piston crown and tries to send it downward before it finishes its upward throw. By boosting whatever gas we could find by five or six octane, we expected to remain in the safety zone. The FI only asked for gas at every other stop, and we wished its rowdy cousin could keep up the pace. Turbocharging can affect fuel mileage positively by more efficiently mixing the incoming fuel and air, but this turbocharged carbureted bike was no match for the FI and its new five-gallon tank.

Getting Down

Undeniably, the Panamints are the most beautiful mountains in Death Valley National Park, which encompasses six ranges in its 3.3 million-acre arrangement (approximately the size of Connecticut). As we crested the rim of the hills above Trona on U.S. Highway 178, these gorgeous mountains to the east were lit like a golden chalice in a cave of villains. Everything else was deeply shadowed, and while the darkness crept up the towering range, we sped across the valley below. Soon Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley at 11,049 feet, flickered like a candle as it finally surrendered to the coming of night. We were already cold...and growing colder just thinking about climbing Towne Pass over the Panamints. We put on an extra layer before turning east on U.S. Highway 190 toward the 5000-foot summit where temperatures can be 30 degrees cooler than on The Valley floor, which at its lowest point rests 282 feet below sea level.

We were thankful for the Nomads' generous windshields on this stretch, and even the small wings mounted on the fork legs were appreciated. This protective arrangement can be suffocating in the warmer riding season, and we've often opted to remove the works (an easy, eight-bolt job) from our previous Nomad test bikes during warm spells. (Or when we have a pang for style, since the bike takes on a husky attitude without the shield.) The large windshield is too tall for some short-waisted riders to easily see over, even when positioned at its lowest setting, but in this kind of chill, every inch was cherished.

The portion of highway leading down from the summit has enough dips to make you swoon, and at our pace, our stomachs were doing a limbo dance. Stovepipe Wells is the first village you come to from this direction, offering travelers a modest motel, so-so grub, questionable fuel and a small gift shop. We fueled here; adding octane boost to both the turbo and the FI since 87 octane was the only flavor available. We sprinted the final 25 miles to the more posh village of Furnace Creek, blind to the towering dunes and feathery washes that surrounded us.

**When It Rains **

We were up and on the road early the next morning to witness the light show at Zabriskie Point. From the overlook you can see the salt-encrusted floor of The Valley, which was once the bottom of Lake Manly. The ancient lake is thought to have been 600 feet deep, and a tropical forest grew along its banks. (If you want to see the spectacle of the salty lakebed up close, visit the Devil's Golf Course and Badwater, both off U.S. Highway 178 south.) In the stillness you can sometimes hear the crusted landscape creaking. The hills surrounding Zabriskie Point are called the Badlands—impressive formations created by the recession of Lake Manly thousands of years ago. Different stages of morning light turn these unique structures from lavender-pink to shimmering gold. After our time there, we decided to take a quick sprint to Dante's View in the Black Mountains. It's one of the only sinuous roads in the area, offering many challenging corners as you climb toward the 5475-foot overlook.

Although the Nomads are touted as touring mounts, we've always enjoyed carving twisty roads with them. The suspension system, 41mm stanchions up front and twin air-assisted shocks in back, is well suited for aggressive riding, especially when you carry approximately five psi in the rear, which stiffens the shocks and prevents any bottoming. We like the rebound damping set at number 4 for all situations. For normal, around-town solo riding or highway riding without a load or passenger, we remove all air from the shocks. Brakes on the Nomad—twin 11-inch discs in front and a single 12.5-incher on the back—are very effective, and smoothly control the 732-pound (dry weight) tourer. Ground clearance isn't particularly great, especially if you are loaded and/or carrying a passenger, but the floorboards are first to touch and the initial effect is totally benign. We use the floorboards as feelers, since the mounting hardware can touch when you heel the bike over significantly.

A turbo runs most efficiently at high rpm, and it's actually better for the motor (especially a big twin with long-throw pistons) if the pulses are kept up. If your motor is just lumbering along and you suddenly ask it to stand up and recite the Declaration of Independence it will surely feel punished. Holding adequate revs is a bit difficult on twisty roads, especially since the Nomad's rev limiter imposes such a low ceiling. You have to work the thing constantly while you're in lower gears, and in some situations it actually feels like work.

The stock FI, therefore, was more enjoyable in the tight stuff, and offered enough acceleration to keep our hearts consistently revving. Once at Dante's View we took a few moments to get really good and cold. The view is amazing. Surely one of the most fascinating things about Death Valley is its nakedness. The Earth is exposed and knowable. You can see the layers of rock and sediment for the rings of time that they are. And the indomitable natural forces that move continents are evidenced by the great mountains pushed askew and thrust about like so many chunks of peanut brittle. Death Valley is a geology student's wet dream, and even the most empty-minded spectator cannot help but be awed.

Expect the Unexpected

From the chilly climes of Dante's View we planned our day. A little breakfast and spot of coffee back at the Ranch, then a trek up to Rhyolite, an impressive gold-rush ghost town on the Nevada border reached via State Road 374. From the ruins we'd return to The Valley and head up the northern stretch of U.S. Highway 190 to Scotty's Castle, where we could mingle with the tourists and learn a thing or two about desert lore. The sun was shining and if there were birds, they would have been singing.

Perhaps we should have taken the rolling black clouds as an omen. "Nope, it's not going to rain," the waiter in the caf answered to our query. "It never rains here." Well, it does rain in Death Valley, if only an average 2.28 inches per year. (Seemed by noon we'd soaked up at least that much.) But the rain was nothing. The cloud we didn't expect was the big blue one that ballooned from behind our turbo tourer on the way back from Scotty's Extravaganza. Caflooie—and the party was over. The turbo bike was literally bathed in spent oil. All we could do was get down on our hands and knees and say, "What the hell happened?" It wasn't obvious. The only sure thing was that engine oil had blown with impressive velocity from the bottom of the rear cylinder. Oh yeah, and we were in the middle of nowhere.

A dozen inconveniences later, and we were back in Los Angeles. The turbo was eventually delivered to Kawasaki Motor Corporation in Orange County, California, for study and, hopefully, repairs. We weren't ready to be rid of this hotty yet. After many days spent waiting for a diagnosis, we heard that the bike had cannibalized a piston. This raised many questions.

Good Weather, Bad Gas?

From Terry Kizer's perspective, the EPA-required oxygenators in California gas were most likely the culprit. He felt a load of low-grade California gas could definitely induce detonation, the number-one eater of pistons on any turbo-equipped bike. Kizer insisted the only time he'd ever encountered this kind of problem it also involved gasoline from California or Arizona. The idea of replacing the cast pistons with a stronger, forged steel set was presented, but the problem was, people would certainly want to buy this turbo unit and apply it to their stock bike without an engine rebuild. The second jam was the fact that the Nomad is, after all, a touring bike, and owners should be able to wander in Nomadic splendor without sweating about engine melt-down every time they ride out of the city.

The only good thing about this mishap was it would require a return trip to Death Valley. Terry Kizer would fly out from Texas and refurbish the Nomad's motor using stock pistons. He also planned to adapt a water-injection system. This affordable (approximately $250) bolt-on kit literally sprays a fine stream of water into the intake side of the turbo, through the carburetor and into the motor, which helps regulate cylinder wall temperatures. We would then take the turbo back to the desert and let it run the same roads, and drink from the same founts.

Life Goes On

While we awaited the turbo's revival, life hurried by. Downstairs in our motorcycle shop, the 2001 Nomad FI was taking its rightful place as a preferential mount among our co-workers. We have several motorcycle magazines in our group, and from each come a myriad of Nomad admirers. Editors from Dirt Rider and Sport Rider cued up asking to borrow the Nomad, especially for weekend trips, since significant others are easily enticed by the bike's passenger amenities.

The beautifully-styled saddlebags and comfortable seating arrangement help make the Nomad a perfect choice for every kind of riding. It's a bike you jump on and go...where you're headed, or for how long, doesn't matter. Briefcases are stowed in the side-loading hard bags as commonly as a gourmet picnic lunch or a week's worth of essentials. The dependability we've witnessed with the entire Vulcan line over the years is also nothing to scoff at. And having the turbo down for the count made us appreciate the stock bike's reliability more than ever. There is that to be said about leaving your bike stock. Having a proven mount waiting outside the door encourages spontaneity...something to consider if you're prone to wanderlust.

Death Valley Tour: Take Two

Finally the turbo Nomad's motor was put back together, and we thought the water-injection unit would provide just the right amount of safety. Kizer told us he also had decided to dial the boost down a notch to approximately 5.5 pounds, and we were curious to see if the adjustment would dampen the fun factor. However, when the bike was delivered in the shadow of our printing deadline, the water-injection system was disconnected by Kawasaki factory mechanics. It seems there wasn't enough time to properly dial-in the water pressure. "If there's too much water going through," we were told, "the bike can't get out of it's own way..."

So, a bit reluctantly, we fired up the black turbo bike and headed east once more. From the get-go the heavy-breathing Nomad wasn't running as well as it did the first time. The mixture was too rich, and at low rpm, and especially just off idle, the motor would choke and gasp. However, once the thing was up and spinning at a higher rpm we found the power to be just as exhilarating and wouldn't have known the boost was lower, had we not been told. When you're at speed, and the bike's pulling like a bull, it's easy to justify the inconveniences wrought by introducing performance modifications to your stock motor. Stock setups can be likened to Big Macs. The recipe may be boring, but you know what you're going to get, and you can count on its consistency like an old friend. If you've the taste for something different—more meat, some relish or spicy mustard—you're going to have to experiment. We think a large percentage of touring riders are Big Mac fans. They don't want to sample inconsistencies a thousand miles from the nearest McDonald's...or in the middle of Death Valley, for that matter.

On with the Snow

Death Valley is famous for its furnace-like heat, and 120-degree days are common in mid to late summer. Even in spring and fall—the most popular times to visit—triple digit temperatures are to be expected in the valleys. The winter months, however, usually offer 60- to 80-degree highs. Perfect for riding, right? Yeah, but our timing was evidently off on both forays to the Park. We didn't even see 50 on this last trip, and most of the nippy 800-mile ride was spent romancing the upper 30s. Ah, but wearing the right gear (which means everything we'd packed) bridged the gap between discontentment and mild discomfort.

All the mountains in the park were covered with snow. And while it's not uncommon for the Panamint Range to wear a light layer on its highest peaks, having snow on all the surrounding hills was an unusual treat. The tones of Death Valley and the surrounding high desert are so muted that the roadbeds blend with their sandy edges and the yellow painted lines seem vulgar in their artificial brightness. There is so much to discover here, and some of the richest treasures involve riding unpaved side roads. We jumped off U.S. Highway 178 on the well-graded M-7 for a quick perusal of the ghost town, Ballarat, where some of the crumbling adobe structures still house artifacts from its 1890's heyday.

Smoking Gun

We were feeling pretty confident with the turbo bike after diving over Towne Pass once again, and running through a couple tanks of the suspect fuel. But late in the day, as we turned to retrace our path back to the city, the turbo again showed its discontentment...a smoke signal from the exhaust on deceleration said, "I'm dying here...please be nice, or you'll be riding in the tow truck again." And so, like the emigrants of 1849 who named the area on their way over the mountains after a fateful journey, we said "Goodbye Great Valley of Death... It'll be a long time before you get another victim out of us." (Well, we added the last part.)

So we limped the Mr. Turbo Nomad back to Los Angeles, our Steady Eddie stock FI rode sweep. It wasn't easy telling the bike's handlers their freshly patched up engine was probably fried again.

Nor was it easy coming up with a reason why. We are pretty certain that Kizer's water-injection system would have circumvented both scenarios. The effect of inner cooling provides a good safety net that will cover most detrimental situations—from detonation to user mistreatment. The addition of an advanced ignition system, like the Dynatek 2000 with a retard curve, would also help compensate for the added compression and pressure.

The word we received from Kawasaki once the turbo project Nomad was assessed a second time, was "piston ring damage." Could be the gas, but we were adding octane booster non-stop. Rider error? We don't think so either. The only folks who rode it come from sportbike and/or dirt bike backgrounds where using high revs is second nature. It may be true that the cast pistons in the 1500 V-twin don't like the increased compression a turbo exerts on them. But water-injection and/or ignition upgrade would probably keep even the most sensitive metals subdued. Of course you're adding another system that needs fine-tuning, not to mention constant checking and filling of the water reservoir. Upgrading to forged pistons seems like an extreme alternative, but actually is the best insurance, and not as costly as you might guess ($500 to $1000). Besides, with high-performance pistons you could run an awful lot of boost...

The second mishap might have been avoided if the engine had been allowed a proper break-in after the rebuild. The answer to the questions of why this bike pooped at the party is unobtainable. The questions it generates, however, are very important to potential turbo owners. Do you want to customize your bike and add a turbo for Boulevard thrills? Or do you want the kind of rock-steady reliability shown by our stock 2001 Nomad FI? Do you want to chase the horizon, or stick relatively close to your home (and shop)? Pamper your machine, or get it dirty in the desert? We think you know who you are.

The stock FI and carbureted Nomads will sort out their own loyalists—men and women inclined to wander, who don't want to contemplate reliability while riding off into the sunset. Both versions of the stately tourer are well-proven, gratifying mounts that perform well for all types of riding. On the other hand, because the fun factor is so huge, we know this Mr. Turbo kit will also find eager owners.

If you do go the route of gusto and equip your Vulcan with a Mr. Turbo party pack, one bit of advice: Don't ever ride it to Death Valley...


Riders don't always make the best passengers...this we know for certain. That's why Chalmers and I had to trade off backseat duties when faced with a 300-mile return trip from Death Valley, one Nomad short.

I found the rear accommodations to be very comfortable—the seat was luxurious compared to typical cruiser pillions, while also being large enough and correctly contoured so that I didn't miss having a backrest for security or lounging. The floorboards were roomy and well positioned as far as hip and leg angles were concerned. However, after an hour or more on the back, the crash guards mounted in front of each saddlebag were seriously hurting my lower calves. (If I moved my clodhoppers forward much, they tangled with the rider.)

Chalmers says he actually hooked his feet under these guards, which helped him stay situated on the bike as I whisked him off on an unplanned excursion down a twisty, unpaved canyon.

Sometimes men do make decent passengers...especially when you're wearing earplugs.
—Jamie Elvidge

2001 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Nomad

Designation: VN1500-FI
Suggested base price: $12,999
Standard colors: Gray/silver, red/silver

Type: Liquid-cooled, 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake valves, 2 exhaust valves, operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1470cc, 102 x 90mm
Compression ratio: 8.6:1
Carburetion: Electronic Fuel Injection
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.7 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.619:1

Wet weight: 775 lb.
GVWR: 1193 lb.
Wheelbase: 65.6 in.
Overall length: 98.8 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 7.4 in.
Front tire: 150/80-19 71H Bridgestone Excedra G703 tubeless radial
Rear tire: 150/80-19 71H Bridgestone Excedra G702 tubeless radial
Front brake: 2, single-action, twin-piston calipers, 11-in. disc
Rear brake: Single-action caliper, 12.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.9 in. travel, adjustable for air pressure, rebound damping
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Handlebar width: 32.5 in.
Seat height: 28.3 in.

Charging output: 588 watts
Battery: 12v, 14AH
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, clock, tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turns signals, neutral, coolant temperature, oil pressure

Fuel mileage: 29.5 to 42.0 mpg, 38.6 mpg average
Average range: 193 miles
Rpm at 60 mph, top gear: 2550
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 67.98 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.26 sec., 83.95 mph


Elvidge: The turbo Nomad sure was fun to ride...at least when it was behaving. The whole experience presented a quandary for me. I'm a distance-oriented rider, and wouldn't want any performance enhancement to put limits on my wanderlust. On the other hand, I'm a fan of big horsepower, and was more than a little charmed by the Nomad's borrowed brawn. There's also something about the sleeper effect. Compare it to a blind date with a serious-looking woman in spectacles and a black raincoat...and when you get her alone she tears out of the guise to reveal a glittering showgirl getup and screams, "Let's go baby!" OK, OK, so I loved the turbo. But would I want one on my personal cruiser? Not if it meant constant coddling. Those open windows are there for you to jump through. Something rock solid, like the stock Nomad FI, would be the horse waiting at my hitching post. Party girls are fun as long as the drinks keep coming...but I don't necessarily want to share my luggage space with a sticky jug of octane booster.

Cherney: There I was in Death Valley, with 3.7 quarts of scalding 10W40 etching third degree burns on the right cheek of my butt. Turbo Nomad? More like a hot oil enema.

But when Kawasaki's prototype turbo was actually holding its bodily fluids in check, it behaved like the wickedly fun touring rig I'd hoped it would be. A growling turbocharger kicks this bike down the road with a twist of the wrist, leaving other cruisers choking in its dust.

When the smoky residue cleared though, I found the stock Nomad FI more up my alley. Mainly because it didn't burn my butt so intrusively, but also because the FI's tortoise will beat the turbo's hare in any endurance run—and I like reliability in a bike. Both bikes remain supremely comfortable, with nimble and responsive handling. It's just hard for me to spend that much cash for a temperamental performance modification when the original model hits the spot.

E-mail your colon hydrotherapy suggestions to Cherney at: cherneya@emapusa.com

**Verlin Chalmers: **What a great time for a motorcycle enthusiast to be alive. There are choices to fit every personality. There are cruisers for the turn-the-key-and-go crowd (that's me), and other bikes for those who like to fix and fiddle. I've always expected twins, to sound good but they often lack the acceleration I like. It's time for me to think again. The fuel-injected Nomad definitely brought a smile to my face. It's strong and smooth with capital Ss. Each request was answered with strength and grace. Mr. Turbo's addition to the non-fuel injected Nomad made my smile widen. This bike wants to go. It can confidently blast past those monstrous vacation homes and tractor trailers in tight quarters. That kind of acceleration is important to me. And I can image jaws dropping as this discreet cruiser jumps to the front of the pack. If you're looking for more ummph, and don't mind fiddling, this one has it.

TERRY KIZER: Meet Mr. Turbo

The names Terry Kizer and "Mr. Turbo" aren't household words in the world of cruiser riders. At least not yet. But if you reside in the dragracing or modified sportbike sectors of our two-wheeled fraternity, you've probably heard of the guy. He's usually mentioned in sentences that include phrases like mind-blowing horsepower or breakneck speed.

Implementing big V-twin cruisers was probably the last thing on Kizer's to-do list the day he was approached by Kawasaki during Daytona Bike Week about designing a turbo unit for the Vulcan motor. Kizer was skeptical, but when he took a look under one of the bikes, he noticed a big hollow in the exhaust system under the swingarm. "I looked at that and thought it was too good to be true," says Kizer. He took a Classic home that weekend, pulled off the pipes and sure enough, it revealed the perfect stash space to house the blow-through turbo unit he had in mind. Kizer reinvented pipes for the bike, which run in and out of the turbo behind the stock heat shield, further camouflaging the enhancement. The only giveaways are the aftermarket exhaust tips and the intake plumbing on the left side of the motor. "It has turned out to be one of the sneakiest things we've ever done," he says.

Kizer maintains that the Vulcan's turbo unit itself is "extremely reliable and low maintenance," in part because it's self-contained and doesn't share common oil with the engine. "It uses a synthetic oil you only change every 700 hours," he explains, "so depending on what speed you ride, you're talking 40 to 50,000 miles." The only thing about the Vulcan project that concerns Mr. Turbo at the moment is the problem our prototype was having. "We need to find out what it takes to make them live out there with that gasoline," he says. "That's why I wanted to put it together just like it was. The water injection should keep temperatures from getting high enough to cause detonation."

Kizer feels strongly that our problems were due to local fuel, and bases his assumption on the fact that oxygenators in California-bound gasoline make it burn more quickly, therefore increasing the likelihood of detonation. Needless to say he was disappointed the bike went out a second time without the water-injection working.

He also believes that keeping a turbo-enhanced engine happy requires a certain amount of owner education, especially when it comes to some cruiser pilots. "The riders will sometimes shift into fourth or fifth gear and stay there, even at low speeds. To be honest with you, it's a riding style we're not used to. You need to use the transmission and keep the rpm up." He has a point here. Lugging any motor, or giving it big throttle when it's lumbering along in a long gear is potentially damaging, forced induction or not.

When Mr. Turbo isn't busy designing a special water-injection tank to fit inside Kawasaki side covers, Kizer is messing around with the same Vulcan Classic he swiped from the Daytona Beach display a couple years back. It's currently running 12 pounds of boost since the addition of high-compression pistons, and is dishing out a dazzling 120 horsepower to the rear wheel and 130 foot-pounds of torque. It runs low 11s at Kizer's local drag strip, and constantly shocks the crowd...and competitors. "You just don't expect it out of one of these things," he says.

It's also the bike Kizer finds himself riding more often for pleasure. "The fact is, this is something your wife will get on the back of to go out riding. It's got that sensation of fun to it—the fun factor. My wife and I have ridden more in the last year than we've ridden in the last 10. She'd never get on the back [of] one of those other things."

So Mr. Turbo has found a new niche, and the cruiser world has a new option. Judging by his track record, we're certain Terry Kizer will find a way to make the Vulcan turbo kit run wild in every state, regardless to the availability of premium fuels. It's a "fun factor" that's worthy of fine-tuning.

Mr. Turbo
(281) 442-7113

Additional motorcycle road tests and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

2001 Kawasaki Nomad EngineMotorcycle Cruiser
2001 Kawasaki Nomad and Nomad TurboMotorcycle Cruiser
Kawasaki Nomads on the roadMotorcycle Cruiser
Protected from the sun.Motorcycle Cruiser
The only visual difference of note between a stock Nomad and this turbo-equipped unit (shown) is the intake plumbing snaking up the left side of the motor. One guy approached us and asked if the Mr. Turbo stickers were on there "just for fun." How did he guess?