I've owned a lot of motorcycles in the last few years, from Harley Davidson, to the new Triumph, old Triumph and BSA, a Royal Enfield Bullet, A BMW to a Honda sport bike, and several Japanese cruisers. I've loved them all. Each bike has its own strengths and weaknesses, as does each rider. Each bike generates passionate feelings in its owners and in its onlookers. One only has to peruse such forums as Canadian Motorcycle Guide Online's Soapbox to read the feelings each rider has towards his or her machines, towards riding styles, towards mechanics and dealers - to be a motorcyclist is to be enthusiastic, opinionated and outspoken.
For me, the vintage and classic motorcycles generate the most affection. I love the lines, their style, their grace, and their history. To read the tales of British motorcycling from its beginnings more than 110 years ago is to read the story of popular culture, of invention, of the drive to reach and break through mechanical boundaries, and of course the goal of speed and performance. It's a fascinating, gripping tale.
However, although I've owned some wonderful classic bikes, I'm not a mechanic, and didn't do justice by them. I don't have the time, the skills or the tools to become one. That might change, if I won a lottery, but until then, my relationship with classic motorcycles will remain one of enamoured observer. That doesn't stop me from wanting one. And I will, again, some day (maybe even a Vincent Black Shadow...or at least a Norton Commando).
I first encountered the W650 in magazine briefs in late 1999. I was intrigued by the idea of a modern retro bike, an oxymoron perhaps, but a reflection of current cultural trends. I had owned a beautiful 'new' Enfield India Bullet a few years ago and enjoyed the machine immensely. However, it proved less than satisfactory on the busy highways where my work and travels often took me. And it demanded more mechanical skills than I could muster at the time. When I saw the W on the floor of the 2000 International Motorcycle Show in Toronto, I was smitten. It looked like the bikes I loved: a vertical, parallel twin that could easily be mistaken for a Triumph Bonneville at first glance. It had surpassed the original Kawasaki W series by maturing to unit construction (Kawasaki stubbornly refused to graduate to the combined engine-and-transmission a decade after its British mentors had done so!).
The production quality on the W was marvellous. I liked the way it felt under me, the smiles it bought to onlookers who couldn't resist giving it a second glance as they wandered the displays. But I didn't plan on buying a new bike quite yet - I had purchased a 1999 Kawasaki Drifter in the fall and expected to ride it for at least another year before considering a trade.
Things change. I ended up selling my Drifter to a local rider who convinced me it was the bike of his dreams. Since there were no W650s available from Kawasaki at the time, I ended up with a Honda VFR800 Interceptor, a fast, sleek and powerful machine that was the essence of modern technology and design. Somehow I never warmed to it. It performed beautifully on the highway, but it wasn't the best bike for around-town riding, where low speeds and low revs are the norm. I never bonded with it as I had my other bikes.
One day, I simply decided to trade it in. I took the VFR to a nearby dealer who had a W languishing on the shop floor. We made a straight swap - somewhat of a financial loss for me, but the return on investment in sheer pleasure has been worth it. I have enjoyed every day on this bike, every kilometer ridden. No regrets.
Having the W has given me the opportunity to reconsider what I like about motorcycling, why I like this style and to defend my choices online. I've had to ponder what it is I like and don't like about various types of bike and riding styles. I've also had a chance to think about small, capable bikes versus large and/or powerful machines - and to wonder how we were so gullible we actually bought into all the advertising and marketing hype over certain styles and fashions. The W seems untarnished by the hype.
Why do we ride (my essay: click here)? Well, for me, my motorcycle is primarily transportation. I ride to and from work daily whenever possible, I ride to run errands, to deliver and pick up items for business. Not always a great distance, but always on two wheels. My riding season is late winter-late fall, sometimes from late February to mid-December, hampered only by winter snow and ice. I ride in the cold, the rain and the heat. So I need something dependable, sturdy, easy to manage in all sorts of conditions and traffic. I also ride for pleasure, so my mount has to be comfortable, fun, capable and easy to maintain. And, of course, I ride because I like the lifestyle. So my bike must reflect me, my tastes, quirks and attitude. Riding is about who we are. And our motorcycles have to reflect our self-image. The W does all of this and more.
Riding is also about status. Motorcyclists are a breed apart. Our machines are the yardstick for personal tastes and style. They tell the world who we are, they separate us from the cookie-cutter world of minivans and SUVs. We can customize our bikes and our clothing to further refine our image, making a statement on wheels. The W says retro, classic. It doesn't intimidate, it doesn't threaten or frighten. It purrs along quietly in the style and fashion of the not-too-distant past.
The bike brings back memories of the Sixties. Good memories of rich, complex and emotional times. These were passionate days, intellectually stimulating days, times to explore and learn. I remember the love-ins, Timothy Leary, the concerts, the music, the communes, the poetry, the protests, the fashions, the literature and films, the people and the places. The Beatles were still together. Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and Jim Morrison were still alive. The war in Viet Nam raged on while the Monkees were on TV and police bloodied protestors in Chicago. Hare Krishna danced in the streets. Timothy Leary preached spiritual liberation through LSD. Music and culture hadn't yet been entirely co-opted by big commercial industries as they are today. It's not just some retro phase that attracts me to that era; it's nostalgia for an exciting, vibrant culture I lived in. It was my time, the time I grew up in and learned to be who I am, when I matured. I still listen to the music from those days (there hasn't been any new music since the White Album anyway!). The W complements my vinyl collection and brings back the memory of those days.
In the following pages, you'll be able to read about the W, its history, the current retro fad, my review of the bike, readers' comments, plus find links to other related sites. I hope you enjoy the visit and will add your comments to the feedback page.
UPDATE! I no longer ride a W650 - since this was written I've owned a few other bikes, including the new Triumph Bonneville. Since Kawasaki stopped importing W650s into North America, service and support has faded considerably. Sadly, this wonderful bike and its ardent fans was abandoned by the manufacturer. While I can't help with sources of accessories or the like, perhaps others can if you post your question on my forum...