From Retro Roadster to Adventure Enduro…
Introduced in 1999, the Kawasaki W650 was a modern throwback to the British twins of the 1960s, with classic styling, modern electronics, and a bevel-gear-driven OHC parallel-twin engine. The 360-degree crank made a nice, muscular sound like the Triumph Bonnevilles of old, while a counterbalancer kept the vibrations from numbing the rider’s hands and rump.
“The engine itself is a real peach. An air-cooled parallel-twin…isn’t exactly high-tech, but it performs admirably. It outguns the Moto Guzzi everywhere and never lets the larger-capacity T100 get away.” –MCN
The retro styling fooled many an onlooker into thinking they were seeing a vintage machine on the road, and the bike was praised as feeling light and nimble despite its hefty 430-lb curb weight.
“Kawasaki’s W650 gives us the best of then and now — nostalgia without the hassles of actually having to put up with an old bike and its foibles.” –Cruiser
Recently, we’ve noticed a trend among more and more of our readers and featured builders to modify their retro roadsters, factory scramblers, and other +400-lb multi-cylinder street bikes for fairly serious off-roading. Prime examples include Drew Faulkner’s Triumph Scrambler XC racer, Ruben Cotarelo’s Harley XR1200X enduro, and the Hooligan Enduro Sportsters from Rusty Butcher and Good Times Racing.
Enter our new friend Evgenii, owner of the “Dirty W650” you see here:
“I am not a racer or a stuntman, not a motorcycle mechanic or a customizer, I’m not even a blogger, I’m just an ordinary aerospace engineer infected with a motoenthusiasm.“
Evgenii picked up this 1999 Kawasaki W650 in very poor condition and decided to push the platform as far as he could, creating a motorcycle with as few limitations as possible — a real freedom machine:
“There are special bikes for off-road, for travel, for the track, for nice pictures, and so on and so forth. I am not saying that it’s bad or that I don’t accept it. But one day I just decided to get out of this paradigm and see what happens if I put good suspension on a classic road bike.”
This W650 is now running XLR250R Baja forks with GS650 Dakar springs and a custom fork brace, a 21-inch front wheel with custom disc brake setup, 370mm rear shocks (+50mm from stock), custom engine and headlight guards, and more.
More important than the motorcycle itself is what Evgenii has done with it. He’s covered more than 25,000 km (15,000 miles) on his W650, more than two-thirds of that mileage off-road. Even with the modifications, Evgenii’s “Kawa Enduro” may not be the ideal choice for going off-road, but Evgenii says the challenges themselves are all part of the allure:
“I’ve traveled to other countries, ridden through the desert and dunes, climbed the mountains, drowned it in the fords, participated in winter races, kneaded the mud, and everywhere it was hard for me 🙂
But it is because of these difficulties that I get a real buzz. I remember every journey I’ve made, because it was done despite the hardships :)”
Amen! Below, we talk to Evgenii for the full story on his W650 enduro / scrambler / adventure rig.
Kawasaki W650 Scrambler / Enduro: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Evgenii and for the last couple of years I have been riding a modified W650. I am not a racer or a stuntman, not a motorcycle mechanic or a customizer, I’m not even a blogger, I’m just an ordinary aerospace engineer infected with a motoenthusiasm.
I bought my first motorcycle seven years ago, it was a Suzuki Grasstracker Big Boy, which I rode for three years. Next was a CB400SS and the gradual understanding that ordinary city riding does not give me much pleasure. So, a year later I moved to a Djebel 250 and began to ride off-road, but suffer on the way to it 🙂
It should be noted here, that with all these bikes I did not make any special improvements. I changed the handlebars, mirrors, turn signals and other little things, but this is not customization at all.
At the same time, I always tried to maintain and repair my motorcycles by myself, so when I got the opportunity to buy a W650 in an awfully bad condition, I thought — why not, I can restore it, ride, and even if I sell, I will still be in the black. This is how the story began.
I do all the work with the motorcycle in the garage or at home on the balcony. Some complex things, like CNC, I do through friends who work in factories.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Kawasaki W650 1999.
• Why was this bike built?
When I built my motorcycle, I was guided by a quite simple philosophy — a motorcycle is not something that should restrict.
We have all heard these pompous words that a motorcycle is freedom, that four wheels carry the body, and two carry the soul or something like that. But in practice we are bounded. There are special bikes for off-road, for travel, for the track, for nice pictures, and so on and so forth.
I am not saying that it’s bad or that I don’t accept it. But one day I just decided to get out of this paradigm and see what happens if I put good suspension on a classic road bike.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I didn’t have a specific “vision”. I did not seek to fall into the framework of any style. I was just wondering what would happen.
Yes, as a newcomer in customization, I took inspiration from the side. Mostly it was vintage Yamaha enduro bikes and of course parallel twin desert sleds.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The starting point for building my motorcycle was the replacement of the fork and wheel, which pulled everything else along with it.
Here is a list of works that can be called custom:
• Bored out yokes for the XR250 Baja fork with GS650 Dakar springs
• Custom brake system for a large disc and 21″ wheel
• Headlight – modified IPF Super Rally
• Headlight Yoke – custom from Djebel 250
• Rear suspension – 370mm shocks instead of stock 320mm
• Exhaust – at first it had an Omega Racer, now it is a Symz Craft
• Engine guard and the third traverse are manufactured with my design
• Side stand – homemade.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Friends call it Enduro Kawa 🙂 I also just call it Kawa. And for Instagram, I chose @dirty.w650.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride?
It is often said that if there is an all-purpose bike, it is equally bad both on and off the road 🙂
A 200 kg weighing motorcycle with an ancient fork and without a progressive monoshock is definitely not the best choice for conquering off-road. Plus, the geometry and ergonomics of the W650 are not made for riding in the dirt. On the other hand, the dirt tires and the heavily lifted front end do not add controllability on the pavement.
That said, I’ve ridden on it for more than 25 thousand km and only 2/3 of that on the asphalt. I traveled to other countries, rode through the desert and dunes, climbed the mountains, drowned it in the fords, participated in winter races, kneaded the mud, and everywhere it was hard for me 🙂
But it is because of these difficulties that I get a real buzz. I remember every journey I’ve made, because it was done despite the hardships 🙂
• Where are some of your favorite places you’ve ridden — any future riding plans or dream rides?
Even not far from home, you can find a worthy adventure if you just use bicycles maps 🙂
But if we choose the most interesting then it will be a trip to Ryn Desert and Big Brother dune and a tour to Kazakhstan, to the second largest canyon after the Grand. The landscapes and spaces are crazy. You can ride hundreds of kilometers and not meet a soul.
Also, I love beaches. The setting sun and fooling around on motorcycles on the sand, the sound of the waves, this is pure sex. It will never get boring.
Where would I like to ride? Of course, this is the original Paris-Dakar route 🙂 Nothing caresses my ears so much as the phrase “motorcycle desert race”.
An inspiring read! I commend the owner/builder for actually riding his creation, not just displaying. His words truly capture what it is to be a motorcyclist. And for those readers who have contemplated, but not yet begun adventure riding (of the off-road variety, not tarmac), those photos should be enough to convince you.
Didn’t the W650 have an overhead camshaft? I saw the reference to the pushrod motor beating the Guzzi and was puzzled. I love the concept. I would have used a different style pipe, think late 60s Triumph, or early 70s Honda. It does not need the high motocross front fender, bring it on down lower like a scrambler.
Too cool. Reminds me of my buddy’s Triumph Trophy from 45 years ago with the high pipes. Looks more like that bike than anything Triumph currently makes. Awesome job putting this sweet machine together.
Love the Scrambler mods. My first bike was a ’67 Honda 305 Superhawk. Met my wife of 48 years on it. (I went to the R&R Hall of Fame a few years back. Only bike (not trike- they had Elvis’, cool) was J.C. Mellencamp! A ’65 305!. 50 years later, I have a Vulcan ’94 and a ’72 Honda 350 Scrambler. More dirt roads to ride, and better at my age, in Vermont than paved!
Another “step ladder” bike.
The builder must be tall.
The original W kawis were BSA copies. Not triumphs.
Although in this case the bike does resemble Eakins desert racer triumphs and the later Triumph TR5