Keen to prove that we’re not just simple petrol-heads at Shepsters, we’ve often left playing with motorcycles for a few minutes on a cool, dark evening to stare at the stars and contemplate all manner of things: can we be a diesel-heads as well? Will Mrs Shepster let us move into the garage full-time? And amongst those myriads of twinkling stars and constellations, which one is Zeus on a motorbike, again?
We’re unsure why there aren’t more motorcycles with colour schemes called Galaxy Silver and Luminous Boralis Blue, but assume Kawasaki implemented strict rules around visiting Sake bars during work hours soon afterwards. However, a liquid lunch may well have helped the styling: the W650 is elegant and extremely handsome machine, with vast sweeping twin-exhausts and multitudes of chrome hanging off of the engine and fenders. The Kawasaki W650 makes no secret of its homage to the British motorcycles of the 1960s such as the Triumph Bonneville, but the linkage goes back further to when the Japanese Meguro motorcycle company acquired a license to produce a copy of the BSA A7 (predecessor to the A10 Super Rocket). Kawasaki bought Meguro, along came the engine, and then Kawasaki made their usual improvements.
At almost 200kg the W650 isn’t exactly sprightly, but neither were the British motorcycles they were emulating. The 676 cc W engine offered only 50bhp and 180kph, but then again, that’s not what this motorcycle is about - it’s essentially a hark-back to Sunday afternoon driving and relaxing on the weekend, pootling in no great hurry along country lanes, blinding pedestrians and drivers alike as the sun dazzles off of the chrome. There are some lovely touches in the design too such as fork gaiters and rubber knee pads on the tank. It’s the little things. As with any classic bike, braking didn’t seem to be something overly concerning as the single front brake-disc and rear-drum brakes will attest. Kawasaki did though fix the constant vibration problems that plagued the British heraldry, which was extremely welcome. There’s only so much riding-a-washing-machine-at-tilt the body can take.
A version in great condition can reach a tidy $8k which seems an awful lot for a fifteen-year-old that hardly set the world alight and didn’t meet US emissions regulations. Would you take one over a Bonneville? Probably not, yet because they sold in such small numbers, they’re turning out to be quite collectable. Kawasaki may simply have been a victim of its own pre-cognition. They saw the future, but just not when that future would be ready: the W650 brought out their updated retro-version before even Triumph realised the potential, following suit two years later in 2001. There’s a break-away faction in the office insisting that the W650 is actually prettier than the Bonneville, but it’s a tough call: will see what Zeus is riding next time we’re star-gazing to reach a decision.