Year 2000 Kawasaki W650

Oh, so retro!

story by Motorcycle Online Staff, Created Mar. 17, 2000
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Los Angeles, May 12, 2000 -- Remember your first kiss with Mary Jane whats-her-name under the apple tree?

The innocence. The lust and infatuation while you two were in your teens. Then she started to grow up little by little until she was no longer attracted to dolls, ponys and you. She found herself falling for football players and the bad boys in school.

If you could take Kawasaki's new W650 back to those days, Mary would still be yours. You would pull up on on your chrome horse and with just one wink at daddy's little girl, you could make her go weak in the knees and dream of a life on the road with you, leaving Biff the meat-head behind.

"Oh, he's so dangerous," she'd think. "He's his own man. He's a rebel and I must have him, now."

Yeah, 30-years ago women could easily fall for a man on this bike. It looks just like the Triumph Bonnevilles, Norton Commandos and BSA Hornets of that period that demanded such attention after Marlon Brando queried, "what have you got" to rebel against.

Unfortunately for some of us, times have changed and now that we can finally afford a bike like this, Mary has moved on. Now even her daughter would simply glance at you on the W650 and, without muttering a single word she would think to herself, "dork."

Is it a Triumph? Is it a BSA? A Norton, perhaps?

"Everywhere in between there is sufficient oomph to shove you off corners with enough flair to make things amusing."

Times have definitely changed and mostly for the better, but where does that leave a bike like this? It's neither a race-replica, nor is it big-bore cruiser. It's not really a beginner's bike even though it most certainly could be with its low seat height and classically simple design.

It's a retro classic that draws its styling from bikes of yore and then adds a bit of modern flair in mostly the right places. But some things just weren't meant to be improved upon.

The W650 is reminiscent of Kawasaki's W1 from 1966. Though it only lasted until 1968, the W1 was a four-speed 650cc parallel twin that produced a claimed 50hp at 6,500 rpm. The W1 was Kawasaki's first four-stroke motorcycle and, just like the British bikes of the time, it had the gear change lever for the four speed gearbox on the right side with an inverted (one up, three down) shift pattern.

Meandering local roads are what Kawasaki's W650 lives for.

Kawasaki designed the W650 to capture a large portion of the Japanese niche market which is currently in a retro craze, falling over itself trying to acquire bikes like the original W1. The W650 was never intended to be sold in the US, but the bike has developed such a cult-like following that demand has forced Kawasaki to import the bike to our shores despite reported losses on both the dealer and manufacturer's side. Not good for Kawasaki, but good for those of us who never were conformists in the first place.

One of the focal points on the W650 is the long chrome tube which houses the bevel drive on the right side of the 676cc parallel twin engine.

"It is far superior to anything from the time period that this bike tries to replicate."

The vertical shaft drives a single overhead camshaft through hypoid bevel gears which eliminate the cam chain, the cam chain tensioner and its guides. The crankshaft is a 360-degree design which allows the pistons to rise and fall in unison even though one is on the intake/compression cycle and the other is on the power/exhaust cycle. As the central part of the W650's character, the motor is definitely pleasing to the eye. Even the slot in the cooling fins on the left side of the cylinder are reminiscent of the gap that used to house a spark plug in the old dual-plug head Triumphs of the day.

The valve-train design places the shim atop each valve where sliding a rocker arm to the side allows easy access to a shim, should it need replacement. Four valves feed each 72 x 83mm cylinder the fuel/air mixture from a pair of 34mm carburetors whose movement is monitored via a Kawasaki Throttle Responsive Ignition Control system (K-TRIC). This information is then used by the digital ignition to determine engine load and adjust the ignition accordingly for maximum power.

Bevel drive adds old-school flair to a modern powerplant.

The motor is rubber mounted in an old-style tube steel frame with a square tube backbone that's painted black (think, black is bad). The wheelbase is 57 inches between the wire spoke aluminum rims that are wrapped by vintage size (100/90-19 front, 130/80-18 rear) tires. Black rubber gaiters protect the male slider portion of the non-adjustable 39mm conventional telescopic forks that work with the five-way preload adjustable dual shocks in the rear to keep the ride well-damped with a bit of that nostalgic harshness.

It's mushy when you sit on it, sinking down into the travel a fair amount so you expect a Cadillac of a ride. While on the go, the suspension isn't overly soft which is good. But, it isn't Cadi' cushy either. Still, it is far superior to anything from the time period that this bike tries to replicate.

More nostalgia finds its way onto the W650 in the form of a 160mm drum rear brake and, even though the front brake is a single 300mm disk squeezed by a four-piston caliper, the carrier is solid so it looks somewhat drum like.

Fork gaitors, high bars and a simple tube frame scream 1960s.

Performance is adequate for what this machine was designed for (what was it designed for, again?) but is by no means even close to that of a naked 600 or 750cc "standard" as we've come to know them.

There's also a braced chrome front fender residing atop the vintage looking tire that looks more prone to following the myriad rain grooves cut into California's highways than it really is. You'll run out of ground clearance before you run out of tire, so there's no reason to worry about vintage-style traction levels here.

With 57.1 inches between the axles, this bike is by no means a short-coupled sportbike. Weighing in at a claimed 430 lbs (dry), this bike is a good 30 lbs heavier than its vintage counterparts which were about 15% smaller overall.

Around town (we think that's what this bike is made for), it's a nimble enough to toss around intersections and alleyways without feeling flighty.

A sunny spring day, pretty flowers, Levis and a retro machine equal miles of smiles.

Other handling characteristics? Well, if your memory serves you well, you'll recall how the old bikes were commonly referred to as having a "hinge-in-the-middle" feel to them when ridden aggressively. This W650 is so retro, it even has that special feeling engineered right in. Maybe it's the tires and the skinny front forks; or is it the steel tube frame? Doesn't matter what causes it, really. It's there though, and you just chalk it up to part of the experience and motor along, the sausage pipes burbling more than bellowing beneath you as you ride on.

That burbling motor beneath you? She's a little gem, really. Generating 46.6 hp at 6,900 rpm and 39.5 ft/lbs of torque at 5,700 rpm on our dyno, it's enough to propel this newest - and at the same time, oldest - Kawasaki into the low triple digits. The W650 longs to live in speeds from five mph right up to 70 mph where wind blast becomes a problem and vibrations start to find their way into the handlebars.

Everywhere in between there is sufficient oomph to shove you off corners with enough flair to make things amusing. We're quite certain that the sound of the twin echoing out the mufflers adds a good ten mental horsepower, but we'll take it any way we can get it; just ask our drinking buddies.

Minimlaist guage array is spoiled only by cheezy plastic switchgear.

"Let this bike take you back to your forgotten youth - at any price. After all, life's too short to be so damn practical all the time."

The W650 has a 31.5-inch seat height, a four gallon tank and a comfortable reach to the bars with a squishy seat and footpegs set in such a position that man, woman or child could find some seating position acceptable. Still, once you start riding around more than your own block to impress your neighbors, you'll notice that the seat is awkwardly forward-sloping. It doesn't slope forward so much that your tender parts make a home for themselves in the back of the beautifully sculpted tank, but enough that it becomes a nuisance around town or in any situation that calls for constant braking, followed by application of the throttle and back on the brakes again.

At a retail price of $6,499 US Dollars, the dealers are reportedly selling every one of these they can get. One one hand, Mr. Brain asks, "why would you buy a W650 when you can get a Kawasaki ZR-7 for $5,699 US Dollars and get significantly more bang-for-your-buck?" Considering that, we couldn't in good conscience recommend the W650 to anyone.

Then on the other hand we have Mr. Emotion. This rat bastard is the same miscreant who got us started riding all these years ago, and is the cause behind countless hours spent in dimly lit garages crawling around on a concrete slab floor, looking under workbenches and moth balls to find some c-clip that just flew off a piston pin that was all we needed (we thought) to get some old "fixer-upper" back together again.

The W650 finds its racing roots rather easily.

Who do you listen to, then? We've always been careful not to mix emotion and logic in large doses because what you always end up with is unhappiness somewhere and a generally empty feeling inside. When you look at W650, it makes you smile since it looks so cool. That's emotion. When the monkey on your back (or your wife) reminds you of the monthly payment, just do what you always do and ignore the nagging; you haven't got time for the details.

Hear the sound of the motor burbling as you roll along? See the way people stare at you on this bike? Notice how good you feel? That's all emotion, too. Run with it, baby. Let this bike take you back to your forgotten youth - at any price. After all, life's too short to be so damn practical all the time.

Rider Impressions:
1. Brent "minime" Avis, Editorial Something-or-Other

I'm too fresh off the farm to have had any personal experience with the vintage bikes that were the predecessor for this Kawi. From the first time I saw it though, I thought it looked pretty cool. It reminded me of photos I saw of my dad racing his old Triumphs across the desert. Now that took balls. That was cool. Chicks dug you, then.

Nowadays, it's a little harder to convince chicks that you're cool when you ride past on this W650. Still, it's not impossible to turn their heads. Despite a lack of comfort, I rode 35-plus freeway miles to do some "field research" on this matter and came back sore, but impressed.

Tooling around town on this bike, dressed in my black leather jacket, Levis and lineman boots, I did my best to pay homage to days gone by and ended up on the receiving end of many a thumbs-up. Not bad, I thought.

If I'm going to be miserable, I want to at least look cool. It's that whole "sacrificing comfort for fashion" thing I always read about in my girlfriend's magazines. And this bike is all about being cool.

2. Philip Strauss, MO's new CEO

Nice retro bike to tool around on. Wouldn't use it to commute on, but I would like to have one in the garage for those nice sunny days when I don't want to ride my Fat Boy. The W650 is light, has a nice power band for around town and it looks way cool.

I'm a long time Triumph fan, having owned a 1972 Daytona for over 11 years. It's nice to see a return to a simpler look. I'd own one if my wife would let me. It's much smoother than the original and, wow, it doesn't leak!

3. Calvin Kim, Associate Editor

My idea of a cruiser. Not exactly recliner-comfort levels, but comfortable enough for strolls through shady-lane roads, and tree-canopied avenues. More than enough power for freeway cruising and possibly peg-scratching.

It makes you feel like a dweeb when you're sitting at a light and an 18-year old kid pulls up next to you on the latest and greatest 600 race-replica. But, nothing's cooler than swinging out the kick starter and firin' it up old-school style!

4. Jeff Rheaume, MO's Fleet Manager

The time: Every Friday and Saturday during the summer of 1965.
The place: Main Street in Lenox, Massachusets.
The event: The Green Hornet, an early 60's Bonnie painted British Racing green, with "Green Hornet" emblazoned across the tank in gold-leaf lettering, would blast through town on the rear wheel at a great rate of speed.

My friends and I rarely missed this, and it was that moment that triggered my life-long emotional attachment to motorcycles.

Right now in the corner of the shop, with the addition of some lower bars and paint, sits the Green Hornet. This bike is made for us Boomers who always wanted or used to have a Triumph, Norton or BSA. Imagine the mystique of a 60's motorcycle mixed with the technology of the year 2000 and you get a bike you can ride anywhere at anytime. It's no wonder dealers can't keep them on the sales floor.

My short test ride confirmed my thoughts on this bike. The ride is comfortable with plenty of power to handle the rigors of L.A. traffic coupled with the mobility to avoid the oblivious masses. I could see adding this bike to my stable, well after I pay off the Triumph anyway.

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