Birth of the Bean: A Reimagined Kawasaki W650

What began as a Kawasaki W650 becomes a clean and simple café-style custom.

Revival Cycles W650 "Bean"

Revival Cycles W650 "Bean"

Photo by Alan Stulberg

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Revival Cycles W650 “Bean”
Claimed power: 55hp @ 7,000rpm (est.)
Top speed: 120mph (est.)
Engine: 676cc air-cooled SOHC 8-valve parallel twin, 72mm x 83mm bore and stroke, 8.6:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 382lb (174kg)
Fuel capacity: 6.5gal (24.8ltr)
Price then/now: $6,499/not quite a 10-fold increase …

Disclaimer: This story is about a custom motorcycle, but there will be no discussion of motorcycles as “art” nor will the creators of this bike be compared to any other builders in a futile and inflammatory attempt to establish who’s “The Best” — and other than its use in this overly-long sentence, the word “bespoke” will not occur anywhere in this piece.

Take a good look at the machine featured in this piece. Would you say it‘s:
a) British
b) Italian
c) Japanese
d) American
e) all of the above

If you were clever enough to have picked “e” give yourself a lollipop! It’s a trick question, so don’t feel bad if you guessed “b,” the most popular choice. By the time you finish reading this piece, however, you’ll understand why this machine is a result of multinational influences. And rest assured that the origin of the bike’s “Bean” nickname will also be revealed in due course.

The donor bike: a Kawasaki W650

This story starts in Japan in 1960 when Kawasaki Aircraft Co, Ltd. established a partnership with the Meguro Company, which was licensed by BSA to build a copy of the 500cc A7 model, the K1.

In 1963, Kawasaki and Meguro merged to form Kawasaki Motor Sales Co. (soon to be known as the Kawasaki Motorcycle Co. Ltd.), and in October 1965, Kawasaki released their version of the K1, calling it the W1. It was a 650cc parallel twin with both pistons going up and down together (a 360-degree crank), similar in many ways to the BSA A10, but also different in subtle ways (it didn’t leak oil, for example).

Kawasaki continued to produce motorcycles based on this platform from 1965-1974, with improvements and design changes over the years. The name evolved from W1 to the final version, the W3, after which the “W” lineage went dormant for a quarter century.

In the late 1980s, with the introduction of the single-cylinder GB500, Honda established that there was a market for new bikes that evoked memories of classic machines, but without their shortcomings. Kawasaki jumped into the modern retro-classic market in 1999 with the W650, a throwback to its classic “W” bikes, but brought up to date with such modern features as an engine counter-balancer and an electric starter. Touches like rubber kneepads on the gas tank, peashooter mufflers and accordion gaiters on the front forks enhanced the classic look.

An additional and bold design element was incorporated into the W650: an overhead cam driven by a vertical shaft and bevel gears. Although new for the W bike, it’s a feature that has a long history in motorcycle engines, primarily competition models such as the Manx Norton, K-series Velocettes and others. More recently, it was a prominent feature on the classic bevel-drive Ducati singles and twins produced in the Sixties and Seventies.

Kawasaki had served up their version of a freshly baked steak and kidney pie with Bolognese sauce on top!

The W650 was offered in North America for only two years (2000-2001). Sales were disappointing and, facing competition from other retro machines like the newly introduced Hinckley Triumph Bonneville, Kawasaki pulled the W650 from the U.S. market.

The model has since become a cult bike and has served as the basis for many specials. In 2010, Kawasaki introduced the W800, a fuel-injected, larger displacement version of the W650, which, sadly, is not currently for sale in the U.S.

Bean’s daddy: Revival Cycles

Alan Stulberg and Stefan Hertel met about eight years ago. Alan had a background in technology and sales and Stefan was working as a mechanical engineer in the medical device world. Neither felt particularly happy with their careers, but they shared a passion for classic machines, motorcycles in particular, and wanted to create innovative machines that embodied their vision of bikes that were beautiful and performed well.

They pooled their resources (a bit more than $5,000) and founded Revival Cycles in a nondescript building in East Austin, Texas. The company currently employs about 10 people, four or five of whom are actively engaged in creating Revival’s custom machines. They spend about half their time on repair/restoration work and half on custom builds. Business is good and they’re expanding their operations.

The Revival team embodies a wide range of skills, from CAD-CAM design and fabrication work to old-school techniques like hand beating aluminum body sections on wooden bucks. There’s not much they can’t do.

They believe strongly in promoting the use and visibility of classic machinery and, toward that end, they’re involved in a variety of “special” projects such as building and riding a Brough-Superior in the 2014 Cannonball ride across the U.S., and constructing bikes for vintage racing. Revival is preparing to open two additional locations in Austin next spring to showcase their creations, market their wares and allow even more folks to appreciate fine two-wheeled machinery.

Revival also organized the 2014 Handbuilt Motorcycle Show held in Austin this past April in conjunction with the MotoGP weekend. The show brought together an impressive collection of classic bikes and custom builds and was a resounding success. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the show’s participants and attendees was immensely gratifying to Alan and the Revival team.

Revival feels the engine is the heart of the motorcycle, and all their builds have been based on machines that “have good bones” (i.e., inherently attractive powerplants). Their creations have been based on Moto Guzzis, Ducatis, Kawasakis, Harleys and others, without allegiance to a particular engine architecture or national origin. The only qualification is the aesthetic appeal of the core bike.

The Matchmaker: Harry

In 2013, Harry Leuzinger became aware of the work being done at Revival Cycles. He liked the look of the stock Kawasaki W650 and, after acquiring a low mileage 2001 example on eBay, he had it delivered directly to Revival. Harry wanted a café-style bike that was “clean and simple” and gave Revival free rein regarding design decisions for the build. He took a short ride on it before teardown began and left the bike with Revival with instructions to “do what you do … ”

The Bean is born

Revival took their styling cues from the bevel drive and ran with it. Yes, it’s a parallel twin, and yes, it does sound like a BSA/Triumph/Norton, but the Bean looks like it originated in the Mediterranean, rather than the British Isles or Japan. Take a look at a Ducati Elite single from the 1960s with its “Jelly Bean” gas tank and you’ll see how the machine featured here acquired its nickname.

The W650’s stock frame was de-tabbed and the rear sub-frame removed and replaced with a custom chrome-moly steel section. The stock forks were replaced with re-worked fully-adjustable Yamaha R6 units which are much beefier and stiffer. Like many of the other pieces on the bike, the fork sliders were stripped, sanded and polished. The rear shocks are Progressive units. The beautiful hand-sculpted upper and lower alloy triple clamps tweak the front end geometry slightly and were designed to work with the new rear suspension to sharpen the bike’s handling.

A shapely, custom-made polished alloy shroud and bezel surround the LED headlight. The front and rear alloy fenders and brackets are also custom-made, as was the meticulously fabricated stainless steel high level two-into-one exhaust system, which incorporates an internal baffle. The two header pipes are equal length and take a tight, convoluted path. It is, to steal an expression from my friend and ex-Velocette works mechanic Hedley Cox, “a nice bit of snake charming.” From the headers back, the exhaust nicely parallels the line of the rear subframe. A one-off alloy heat shield prevents blisters.

The lovely front brake is a replica of the ventilated 260mm Yamaha TZ350 four-leading-shoe drum, which was state-of-the-art Grand Prix technology in 1974. The rear brake is the factory single-leading-shoe drum; stripped, sanded and polished. Both spoked wheels were built with shouldered alloy 19-inch rims (the stock rear rim was 18 inches) and are shod with Bridgestone AC03s front and rear.

The curvaceous aluminum gas tank, seat base and rear cowling were hand-formed on wooden bucks and then painted in a luscious gray and blue, a color scheme influenced by the dustbin fairing of the 1957 Mondial GP bike (see the Motorcycle Classics July/August 2014 issue). Three other Italian machines inspired the complex shape of the tank. The overall form is reminiscent of the “Jelly Bean” Ducati mentioned earlier. The raised “spoiler” section in front of the filler cap was inspired by the tank on a small displacement Gilera hanging on the wall at Revival, while the Bean’s distinctive side flares are derived from the MV Agusta 175cc Disco Volante.

A single custom-made half-turn fastener retains the tank, seat and rear cowling, allowing the entire assembly to be quickly and easily removed without tools. The black leather seat was made by New Church Moto in Portland, Oregon. The stock twin Keihin carbs are retained, although re-jetted to accommodate the free-flowing custom exhaust system. A pair of retro Amal-style air filters replaced the bulky stock airbox. The electrical system was completely rewired and incorporates several elegant components from Motogadget, including a tiny single “Motoscope” multifunctional gauge, M-Blaze “Disc” LED turn signals at the end of each handlebar and an M-unit controller that eliminates the need for individual fuses and relays.

The rear turn signals and brake light are custom LED units made by Revival. A lightweight lithium iron phosphate battery from Antigravity resides under the rear cowling.

The gearshift and rear brake controls are also custom made by Revival. In order to enable use of the kickstarter (in case your right thumb gets tired), the rear brake lever incorporates a spring-loaded pin that allows the brake lever to swing up and back, out of the way of the kickstart lever. Trick!

The gestation period for the build was about six months, and Revival put around 400 hours in the bike in addition to $5,000-$6,000 in parts. Photos of the build progress can be seen on the Revival website.

How the Bean rolls

The riding position is café-style with rearsets and clip-ons. The engine is torquey and the counter balancer does a good job of squelching the buzz.

The high pipes sound great, pumping up the basso profundo of that classic 360-degree parallel twin cadence.

Thanks to the upgraded front forks, the bike holds the road really well and takes the bumpy bits in stride. The hand controls appear a bit abbreviated but provide plenty of leverage, and that big four-leading-shoe front brake is progressive, not grabby, hauling the bike down from speed in a way that inspires confidence.

The bike shed about 50 pounds during the transformation and the weight loss certainly contributes to the markedly improved acceleration, handling and braking performance.

The clip-ons and rearsets were set up for Harry and the machine fits him like a glove. He loves riding the bike on the twisty roads surrounding his Texas Hill Country home and says the improvement in handling is the most impressive change, while also noting the TZ front drum is better than the stock single-disc that came on the bike. The bike has adequate power, but an 800cc upgrade and a few other engine tweaks are options that are still on the table.

Final bits

The guys at Revival don’t merely embellish a machine with lots of bolt-on goodies. They pare a machine down to its essence and then rebuild it, bringing out its untapped aesthetic and performance potential, much like artisan coachbuilders used to do, creating unique expressions of exotic automobiles. Think Zagato, Bertone or Pininfarina.

Revival doesn’t build “spec” bikes in the hopes of finding a buyer. Their projects arise from clients approaching them with the goal of having something unique created from their motorcycle. Revival also doesn’t put their name anywhere on their builds, preferring to let their creations speak for themselves. Talking about their projects, Alan says: “We like someone bringing us something that we’ve never worked on before because it’s a whole new challenge.”

Revival is also not interested in building sculpture to be displayed statically; they want their creations to be ridden. Modifications are intended to enhance performance as well as beauty.

Alan’s keen eye for aesthetics and form and Stefan’s engineering knowledge and fabrication skills enable Revival Cycles to envision and create machines that make bold design statements while outperforming the bikes that serve as starting points.

Alan shot the wonderful indoor images of the Bean bike for this piece with a 1970s vintage medium-format Hasselblad camera. The 2-1/4-inch square negatives were scanned to yield the digital pictures reproduced here. This alliance of fine classic mechanisms and modern technologies typifies Revival’s synergistic approach.

By now, it should be obvious why (e) was the correct answer to the quiz at the beginning of this piece: descended from British ancestors, originated in Japan but speaking with an Italian accent acquired in Texas. When people see the Bean, they usually ask Harry: “What year is your Ducati?” The question is simple. The answer? Not so much … MC