Dirty Dick’s Motos builds a fast & reliable modern desert sled…
Produced from 1999 to 2007, the Kawasaki W650 was a retro throwback to the British twins of the 1960s, featuring a 50-hp parallel twin with a shaft-driven bevel-gear overhead cam reminiscent of a 70s Ducati Scrambler. The bike remains one of the prettiest retro-inspired factory machines of the 21st century, combining vintage aesthetics and modern performance:
“Modern handling, engine and reliability means all the joy of a classic with none of the grief. Relaxed performance unlike the Bonneville of the 1960s.” —MCN
Enter our new friend Rick Hannah of London’s Dirty Dick’s Motos, a semi-pro shed builder who says he gets paid more often in beer than pounds sterling — though if there’s any justice in the world, he’s sure to start garnering more commissions and acclaim from this staggering W650 build, nicknamed the “Posh Sled.”
“My goal was to build a Desert Sled with modern handling for comfort and performance, it needed to be reliable and fast.”
The donor was a “restored” 2004 non-runner, in terrible condition beneath a fresh coat of black paint. Fortunately, this was not Rick’s first time around the W650 platform:
“This is my 3rd W650 and having learnt a lot from the first two, I decided I was going to give this bike the best of everything while still remaining as true as possible to the original idea and soul of the W650.”
First he addressed the bike’s brakes and suspension, two of the model’s known weak points. In fact, he even developed a W650 big brake kit in the process, utilizing an offset 300mm floating disc, custom 6-piston billet Harrison caliper, and aftermarket master cylinder — good for one or two-finger braking.
As for the suspension, he went with some Hagon units in the rear. Up front, he shaved and polished the fork lowers and installed an Andreani cartridge kit — adjustable for rebound and compression, sprung correctly for the bike and rider’s weight. All in all, a vast improvement in performance while retaining the classic looks.
The frame is another gorgeous element of the bike, complete with a custom subframe and luggage rack:
“The frame was stripped, chopped, de-bracketed and then polished, copper-plated and finally nickel-plated. I’ve always loved the look of the Rickman Meitesse scramblers with their nickel frames, so decided to do something similar.”
The engine has been allowed to breathe with a set of Keihin CR Special carbs and stainless custom shotgun pipes, which will turn a lovely gold to match the subtle brass accents scattered throughout the build:
“The pipes are straight through and yes, it’s loud, but sounds glorious with the 360-degree cranked twin of the W650. There’s a lopey popping idle which turns into a roar at full chat and a rasp on the over-run.”
Below, we get the full story on this gorgeous desert sled from Rick himself, along with more stunning shots from photographer Mihail Jershov (@mjstudio_uk).
Kawasaki W650 Desert Sled
I’m a semi-pro shed builder, I build under the name Dirty Dick’s Motos — I say semi-pro because I’ve only sold two bikes and usually get paid in beer for any other work I do!
Anyway, about two years ago I picked up 2x W650s for a really good price — one was ratty but running and the other was “restored” but not running. I tuned up the first and it became my go-to bike. I did the Great Mile on it, Scotland to Cornwall, rode the TT Race Course at IOM on it and just generally used it hard. It’s been tuned and upgraded and is a thoroughly lovely bike to ride, if a bit scruffy.
The second bike, although looking great, had been restored with a paint brush and was in a terrible condition under the new black paint. I decided to give it a new lease on life as it had obviously served someone well. This is my 3rd W650 and having learnt a lot from the first two, I decided I was going to give this bike the best of everything while still remaining as true as possible to the original idea and soul of the W650.
The first step was to address the failings of the bike, and I say this with love, there is very little wrong with the W650 from stock. I believe the two things that need sorting on the W from the factory are the brakes and the suspension. The standard suspension is acceptable at best and the brakes are dire. As part of this project I developed a Big Brake Kit for the W800/W650, the mule did the graft and the Sled got the results.
The brakes were sorted with a custom offset, 300mm floating disc. The caliper is a custom built 6-piston billet piece from Harrison. The master cylinder is a 14mm K-Tech unit. The change in braking feel and performance is phenomenal, one or two fingers and a fantastic progressive feel to the braking. I usually use a 17mm Nissin Radial Master on kits I sell as these match the bikes and are plug and play, but the K-Tech suited this bike much better. You can see the fins I had machined in the caliper to match the master cylinder.
The front suspension is normally fixed with progressive springs and a change in oil weight but I wanted to go further. I didn’t want to just graft a GSXR front end on and call it a day, I wanted to do it right. I shaved and polished the fork lowers and installed an Andreani cartridge kit, adjustable for rebound, compression and sprung correctly for the bike and rider’s weight. The top caps were re-anodised silver to match the rest of the front end as the Andreani ones are grey/yellow.
The rear suspension was a much simpler option, Hagon made me some custom length shocks with billet tops to suit the bike. The shocks are 25mm longer than standard and the forks have been dropped 25mm with a machined top and bottom triple set from Fastec. This has the obligatory Motogadget speedo integrated into it.
The bike had to feel solid. Having ridden a few Triumph scramblers, I have always thought they felt a little “spindly” with the 22m handlebars. To avoid that and give the bike a sturdier feel, I used a set of 25mm Western handlebars that I cut 2 inches off. I think they were meant for a Harley so were way too wide, but after being trimmed, they look the part perfectly.
To keep the slim looks that a Sled should have, all the wiring is internal and some fancy micro-switches keep it all neat and tidy. The headlight is a perfectly egg-shaped Motodemic unit which complements the lines of the tank and mudguards.
Next up was the tank. Most of the retro bikes have these horrible tank seams, that had to go. I was going to cut and weld it, but decided on weld-filling the seam to retain the straight tank and seat line. The fuel cap was cut out and patched and replaced with a flush-fitting aero cap to keep the lines clean.
I’m quite pleased how the tank came out, with the knee pads removed and the gold stripes against the blue, it really does cut a lovely and lean shape. When you look at the bike from above the seat and tank narrow into a waspish waist in the middle.
The frame was stripped, chopped, de-bracketed and then polished, copper-plated and finally nickel-plated. I’ve always loved the look of the Rickman Meitesse scramblers with their nickel frames, so decided to do something similar. The rear subframe was chopped and an integrated luggage rack welded on.
I wanted the vertical subframe to follow into the luggage rack, because lines are everything. The same goes for the machined billet swingarm, the triangular shapes that have been machined out match with the triangle formed by the shock, swingarm and frame. I might be slightly obsessed with symmetry/asymmetry!
Wheels were straightforward, hubs blasted and polished and re-laced Aluminium Morad rims in 19×3.00 for the front and 18×4.25 for the rear. The tyres are Continental TKC80, one size larger than standard, 110/80R19 in the front and 140/80R18 for the rear. I could have gone wider on the tyres, but prefer the handling to be light and with the over-sized rims the wheels look fantastic.
I used stainless steel for the exhaust pipes as it turns gold with the heat from the engine. This compliments the warm tone of the nickel frame and the brass highlights on the bike. I believe less is more when it comes to brass on a bike so I kept it simple, brass clutch register, brass kickstart lever and brass exhaust tips. Just enough.
Lastly, the engine was cleaned and polished. Some Keihin CR Special carbs grafted on and some polished stainless shotgun pipes to suit the Sled ethos. The pipes are straight through and yes, it’s loud, but sounds glorious with the 360-degree cranked twin of the W650. There’s a lopey popping idle which turns into a roar at full chat and a rasp on the over-run.
With the CR Special carbs the throttle response is instant and the bike just wants to go. I had considered punching the engine out to 854cc but these engines are just so brilliant as is, all you need to do is let them breathe.
My goal was to build a Desert Sled with modern handling for comfort and performance, it needed to be reliable and fast. I wanted to do this while maintaining the 60’s style and have a clean and polished finish to it. It took me a year and everything was done slowly and meticulously, every nut and bolt was agonised over and there were a few changes in direction but in the end, I think I achieved my goal — a close to perfect modern Sled.
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