Kawasaki has long been known for its sport bikes — specifically high horsepower sport bikes. If Kawasaki keeps up this new trend, however, it will be known for retro styling.
Last year’s Vulcan 1500 Drifter, with its huge valanced fenders (reminiscent of the old Indian designs) drew both praise (for courage) and criticism (for copying Indian and creating, in the opinion of some, an ugly bike).
New for the states this year (but introduced last year in Europe) is the parallel twin W650 pictured here. This is a painstakingly styled retro — true to the British tradition and, as Kawasaki points out, Kawasaki’s own 1960’s vintage W-model.
The W650 actually displaces 676cc of air-cooled single overhead cam, eight-valve four-stroke. The pistons rise and fall together (with a 360-degree crank) like some of the British bikes of yore.
Modern touches include four valves per cylinder and constant velocity carburetors equipped with Kawasaki’s integrated ignition control, throttle position sensor (“K-TRIC”). K-TRIC varies ignition timing according to throttle position and engine RPM for “crisp throttle response and better fuel efficiency”, according to Kawasaki.
The 360-degree crank and parallel twin configuration would normally lead to significant vibration, but the W650 also has a balance shaft to help eliminate this.
Electric starting is featured along with a 5-speed transmission and Kawasaki’s patented Positive Neutral Finder.
The W650 features a traditional double-cradle frame with large square-section backbone for a much more rigid chassis than the 1960’s designs.
While the styling is very true to the 60’s era, with twin rear shocks (pre-load adjustable) and a conventional telescopic fork, the W650 does feature a large, 300mm disc brake for braking power that would go beyond any 60’s era bike.
The classically shaped gas tank features rubber knee pads, along with high-quality paint and chrome.
Ride reviews from Europe (where the machine has been available for a year) are generally favorable, but note that the machine should not be expected to match modern day sport bike performance figures (obviously). The motor is surprising flexible and punchy, while the handling is stable and sufficiently nimble.
On the negative side — we can’t understand why a bike like this weighs 430 lbs. dry.
Kawasaki certainly beat Triumph to the punch. While Triumph continues to labor on its parallel twin design (expected sometime next year) the Kawasaki W650 represents an existing choice for parallel twin fans with a taste for accurate 1960’s era styling.