We’ve written about Kawasaki’s W650 before, but we haven’t ridden the bike. We thought you might be interested in a short ride review from one of our more articulate readers. By the way, in case you thought bikes like this couldn’t appeal to sport bike riders, Wayman Dunlap has owned a Ducati 916, and a Yamaha R1 (and he knows the fast way around Willow Springs Race Track here in Southern California). Enjoy!
“A brief report on the Kawasaki W650, which I rode Saturday (in an out of the rain). At first, perched on the firm seat and grasping the wide handlebars, you don’t feel “connected” to the bike — rather “on” it than “in” it. The 676 c.c. motor is humming along and from a distance resonates with a kind of muted growl but from the cockpit you barely hear it. I used the kickstarter rather than the electrics just for the hell of it and it fired on first kick. If you doubt there’s compression, try it. Pulling in the featherlight clutch (the lightest I’ve ever come across) and snicking into first, I noticed how butter smooth the gearshift is, a feature that remained true throughout the range of the 5 speeds. I pulled away from the dealer and into a rainstorm cell, drove around the block like I was on eggs (the bike had zero miles on the odometer) and parked until the rain had passed. “Go on back out,” he suggested, so I did, kickstarting it again. Hey, that’s kind of satisfying, like I actually have a partnership with this thing somehow. According to the manual, I was supposed to stay at or below 4000 rpm for the first 500 miles (and no more than 6K until 1000 or so miles had piled up) so I didn’t expect much but I was able to easily stay in front of traffic. The next impression was of lightness. Even though the specs say the bike weighs 430 lbs dry the W650 felt like it weighed half that. With now dry streets, it was fun to toss it around round-abouts and steep little corners. Up on the freeway, keeping to 4K, I was still able to hold 65 mph. The two pistons provided some entertainment with more of a low frequency buzz than a vibration, sensed more than felt. It wasn’t unpleasant and not nearly as pronounced as my 1966 500 c.c. T100C had been (anything over 65 and your eyeballs would begin to uncage). Occasionally I slipped and let it edge past 4000 rpm and felt that there was some useable power there that was going to be fun when I could open it up. “This is going to be a perfect summer bike,” I thought to myself. Jeans, an Ace Cafe T-shirt and an open face helmet, touring along the back roads of San Diego. A race bike. Absolutely not. A long-distance tourer? Nope. A fun, lightweight, easily handled on and off road (with some semi-knobbies) playbike — for sure. And the more I rode it, the more I felt connected with it. Let’s see, some different bars, the tire change, remove some of the state mandated crap (the big ugly box on the front downtubes, probably emissions crap), a small taillight, yeah, that’s the ticket. This is like motorcycles used to be … one bike does all. And it doesn’t leak oil and always starts. Anyway, I bought it.” Wayman Dunlap, 02/14/00