Join Date: May 2016
Location: Green Bay WI
Year/Make/Model: 2003 Vulcan VN1600 Classic
Color: Pearl Ivory
You and I have the exact same project coming up, almost. I picked up my 03 Classic with lot of really nice aftermarket goodies, 30,000 miles, starts and runs great, never been down, very clean and solid. But,...no 2nd gear. I rode it 300 miles home to Green Bay from Minneapolis, after paying only $1200 for the bike.
There are definitely some 1500 and 1600 Vulcans that have tranny issues. I was shopping for a cheap Vulcan last fall and found a VN1500 Nomad near Detroit for only $1900, but no 1st gear. I found another 1500 Classic in Indiana, cheap, but no 2nd gear and it had the plastic oil pump gear issue. Luckily the VN1600 has the steel oil pump gear.
For both of us, the choice is either an engine swap (and hope the other tranny has no issues) or pull the engine from the frame, tear it down and split the cases to repair the tranny issues. I too believe it is a shifting fork issue so this winter I'll tear it down and replace the defective parts. 2nd and 3rd gear are both on the same gearset shaft so its common to also replace the gearset shaft assembly if the shifting dogs on the sides of the gears are damaged in addition to a damaged shift fork. Possibly the nub on the shift fork that engages the shifter drum could also be damaged/broken but that stub is pretty sturdy. Also, the 2nd and 3rd gear shift forks are on the same shaft assembly.
Since to me, buying another engine is another crap shoot (since we can't know how the bike was treated/mistreated by the PO) my take on the project is to tear down the engine/tranny I have and repair it with new or good/confirmed salvage parts. I already have a salvage shift drum assembly and a 2nd/3rd shift fork shaft assembly for the project. Lots of ebay shopping coming up this winter.
When life throws you a curve, lean into it!