Kawasaki W650

Posted: 25 Mar 2013

Kawasaki pulled out all the retro bike stops when it came to the W650. Not only was it meant to mimic British bikes of the 60s but it was an acknowledgement to the Meguro motorcycle company that Kawasaki took on in its early days and reproduced as a W1 in 1966. The only problem with the W650 during its life span was that it was just a touch too retro for most and subsequently sales weren’t large – they then dipped further than liquorice in an empty sherbet fountain when John Bloor’s Triumph reinvented the Bonneville in 2001.

W650 bikes are now sought after because of their timeless charm and also because they provide a good starting point for creative people who want to reinvent them as cafe racer look-a-likes. This is a shame because in standard trim a W650 is a classy machine in its own right and a lovely, unassuming bike to ride.

The parallel twin engine features historical bevel gear driven overhead camshaft with the addition of a modern balance shaft to smooth the vibes to a level that is acceptable and adds to the W650’s character. W650 is not a rampaging beast by any stretch of the imagination. Think more of the engine as a straightforward piece of propulsion that moves across terra firma at a sedate enough pace to see the world in all its glory. Ok, so a startled blackbird could pull out yards on a W650 from a standing start. But you wouldn’t buy a carburetted W650 for anything else but to enjoy motorcycling in its purest form.

Take the W650 for what it is – old school style with modern running gear – and you’ll never complain about it. Try to tip the W650 into a world of speed and hectic riding and the limitations of weak front disc brake, soft suspension and low footpegs come at you quicker than it takes the sweeping speedometer needle to hit the 70mph mark.

Retro styling is on par with the W650’s performance i.e. both are 1960-based, including the drum rear brake, metal mudguards, high one-piece handlebar et al. For these reasons alone the W650 carries off its looks much better than the modern Triumph. All it needs to totally rubbish the Bonneville is a better soundtrack from the restrictive exhausts and a few more horsepower for the rider to play with.

+ points – gorgeous example of retro creativity – and 100% more reliable than an Enfield

- points – not enough of them about to buy at the right price

Year: 1999-2005
Power: 49.3bhp, 41.3ft lbs
Dry weight: 195kg
Seat height: 800mm
Colours: red, ivory