2000-2001 Kawasaki W650: Brit Done Better?

Best bets on tomorrow’s classics: 2000-2001 Kawasaki W650.

  • Ural Solo sT
    The Ural Solo sT is a modern bike with classic style and a two-year unlimited mileage warranty.
    Photo By MC Staff
  • Kawasaki W650
    Was the Kawasaki W650 a better Bonneville tribute bike than Triumph's?
    Photo By MC Staff
  • Triumph Bonneville T100
    The Triumph Bonneville T100 has the bloodline, but it doesn't have the lean lines of the original Bonneville.
    Photo By MC Staff

  • Ural Solo sT
  • Kawasaki W650
  • Triumph Bonneville T100

Kawasaki W650
Claimed power: 50hp @ 7,000rpm 
Top speed: 110mph 
Engine: 676cc air-cooled SOHC 8-valve parallel twin 
Weight: 429lb (dry) 
Price then/now: $6,499 (2000)/$3,500-$6,500 

Two years before John Bloor’s re-born Triumph company finally launched its own Bonneville tribute bike in 2001, Kawasaki introduced the retro-Brit W650. Yet in an interesting twist, while Hinckley had the bloodline, many feel that Big Green’s memory machine aped the original Brit twin much more closely. 

Kawi claimed the 2000 W650 (introduced in late 1999) was intended to recall its own W1 twin of the late 1960s (itself derived from a BSA A7) rather than the Bonnie. Yet the similarities between those two were slight, owing largely to the difference between the W650’s overhead cam engine and the W1’s pushrod mill, which looked as if it had been lifted straight out of a BSA. With the W650, Kawasaki locked in the retro look so perfectly even Triumph fans often need a double-take to distinguish one from a period Meriden bike — down to the Smith’s-look-alike instruments, the Triumph-esque gas tank and badges, cigar-shaped mufflers, drum rear brake, knee pads and rubber fork gaiters. 

With its long-stroke, air-cooled, 360-degree crank 650cc engine (actually 676cc), the Kawi also echoes the Bonneville’s engine spec — although with a bevel-drive overhead cam actuating eight valves instead of Triumph’s four pushrod-actuated valves. There are also five cogs in the W650’s tranny, not four. (The Bonnie finally got five gears in 1972.) With modern electrics, including a push-button starter (a kickstart is also provided), dual 34mm Keihin CV carbs, electronic ignition, engine-balance shaft and rubber mounts, disc front brake, etc., Kawasaki created a classically-styled motorcycle with none of the quirks of Triumph’s classic road burner. And ugly gas tank seam notwithstanding, the Kawi’s fit, finish and level of equipment (including nice little touches like an LCD odometer/clock and handy neutral finder, for example) also beat the period Bonnie. 

So what’s not to like? With barely more power than the 1970 T120R (a claimed 50 horsepower versus the period Bonnie’s 46) and lugging an extra 40 pounds around, the W650 is no tarmac-ripper. Period testers complained of suspension wallows at the front (it was stiffened from 2001-on); the stock fitment Bridgestone Accolade tires track pavement grooves like a trolley; and the single front disc was prone to fade under aggressive use. But that’s about it, according to contemporary reports. 

Riding the W650 also reveals a split personality. A nice, even, 360-crank pitter-patter idle gives way to a gentle burble from the pipes as you pull away. Progress is stately rather than spirited in the middle rev range, though the wide bars and narrow tires help the handling feel nimble. But spinning the engine to its limit at 7,000rpm the exhaust note becomes a roar; the Kawi then reveals how it could maybe take its Sixties progenitor on the strip — but only just! Cycle World recorded a standing-start quarter mile of 14.2 seconds for the W650 versus 14.24 seconds for a 1971 T120R as measured by the same magazine back in 1971.  

Dougie Quick
2/10/2018 7:18:41 PM

Kawi should reintroduce with fuel injection, dual front rotors, and an aluminum tank more cafe racer style....would be AWESOME

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