Born to Run: Long-Term Kawasaki Nomad Motorcycle

Kawasaki's Vulcan 1500 Nomad FI was the Motorcycle Cruiser fleet's most-ridden bike of 2000. From the April 2001 issue. How did it hold up? By Art Friedman.

Our 2000 Kawasaki Nomad FI has accumulated just under 12,000 miles in the eight months it has been with us. That's not a lot until you consider it had to vie with a few dozen other cruisers which must be tested by our five or six regular riders. Other motorcycles have been around longer without collecting a 10th of the mileage.

But the Nomad ran up the miles without any pressure to ride it because staff members and others simply liked riding the thing. No-fuss engine manners, friendly handling, great comfort, convenient saddlebags, strong brakes, head-turning looks and a total absence of bad habits made it worth moving two or three other bikes to get the Nomad FI out of the garage. As a result, the Nomad FI rarely sat idle. If a Motorcycle Cruiser staffer wasn't riding it on a weekend, our sportbike-riding coworkers often armed it to ride with their spouses or sweeties.

We haven't exactly lavished our 1500 Nomad FI with mechanical attention. We changed its oil twice, tightened up some fasteners around a weeping water pump gasket and fitted a set of Metzeler Marathon tires, even though the original rubber still had plenty of miles on it. The Metzelers continue to provide superior traction and appear likely to deliver more miles. However, the tire noise this bike has always had up front became louder with the Marathons.

Although the Nomad is the steadiest handler of the Vulcan 1500 family, it is not because of its suspension, which is calibrated more for comfort than control. Over the last 1000 miles or so, the suspension, especially up front, has become slushier. Since the fork legs still hold the original factory oil, a change of fluid would help, but if the bike were ours, we would ship the legs off to Race Tech (909/279-6655, www.racetech.com) for a complete regrooving. Our experience with Race Tech's Gold Valve cartridge emulators and recalibration on other cruisers convinced us that this is a terrific and cost-effective way to have great control and a comfortable ride. We'd either replace or rebuild the shocks at the same time, although we'd like to retain the air-assist feature of the stock shocks.

This engine used less oil (almost none) than any previous Vulcan 1500 we have spent time with. Whether that is due to some mechanical change, the fuel injection, or the fact that this engine was given the deluxe Motorcycle Cruiser run-in treatment (ride the hell out of it because it isn't ours) from a relatively tender mileage, we can't say, but basically there was no need to add oil between changes. Fuel mileage also improved with the fuel injection to around 37 or 38 mpg (average). Of course, this was more than offset in terms of price by the fact that the FI engine must have premium fuel, an additional 20 cents or so per gallon.

Since the water pump is leaking a bit again, we may have to break down and get a gasket, which would be covered under the bike's 12-month warranty, and spend a few minutes installing it. That's pretty minor though. Everything else feels solid. The original brake pads even have life left in them.

However, something has finally happened that makes us less likely to ride our faithful Nomad FI. There is now a 2001 model with a bigger fuel tank sitting in the garage. But get your request in early...if you wait until Friday afternoon, they may both be spoken for.

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