The title of this thread is purposefully misleading, for in this first post I’ll offer a review of my W650 alone, in the light of my first proper ride yesterday. At a later date I will add a long-term review of it. Before that, and very soon, I will add a review of the SR500/400 which is written from the perspective of my long-term ownership of one, and thereafter I will offer a comparison between the SR and the W650. So over time there’ll be a number of reviews offered. In the title I posed this thread as a ‘comparison’ because when people are interested in buying one of these two bikes they are often also considering the other, and so I hope this thread helps their decision-making. So, this first post is a review of my newly acquired 2005 grey import Kawasaki W650, which I picked up Friday last. There are a lot of very good reviews on the internet for the W650 such as this and this and this, and rather than repeat what others have said and give technical and performance information which can be found all over the web, I will offer my own impressions and reflections on riding the thing and why I chose to buy it in the first place (it competed in my heart with a Triumph Bonneville and Harley Sportster). The reviews is therefore idiosyncratic. Yesterday I rode the W for 430km out east of Melbourne, taking in the likes of Chum Creek Road and the Black and Reefton Spurs. For a start I will say the bike is proving itself a great all-rounder. It’s like I was allowed to take the best elements of some of my favourite current and previous motorcycles – the Yamaha SR500, Honda Hornet 600, Suzuki GR650, Kawasaki GT550 – and have them all into one bike. Like the SR it has lots of vibey character, looks beautiful, takes me back in time and attracts a lot of attention; like the Hornet it handles and brakes well and can chew up highway miles; like the GR it has the mixture of smoothness and character that a big torquey parallel twin can offer; and like the GT it is a comfortable touring bike for one or two people. Of course whether a bike is good or not has much to do with one's preferences. What I wanted out of this bike was something on which I could reliably commute, and tour for long distances. I did have had those two qualities in other recent bikes such as the Hornet 600 and Virago 535, but I found myself always choosing the SR to tour on as it is in itself is so charming: when I tour I am committing dedicated time to motorcycling in itself, and I want it to be on something that I’m in love with. However, the SR is such a harried motorcycle on the highway that touring is hard work on it. The W brings to the ride all the aesthetic qualities that I so prize in the SR, while being very relaxed and capable on the highway. What’s so charming about the SR is both what it evokes, and what it has of its own. It evokes for me the motorcycles of the middle of the twentieth century. Riding is for me about being in and moving through places, as an act of appreciating both what is before my eyes, as well as what my imagination hints at which is suggested in the scenery and objects. These imaginings often have a human-centred historical sensibility – I like to ‘feel’ the presence of the people who have made their lives there and imprinted something of themselves on the landscape, and who are no longer there I have a particular attraction to the middle years of the twentieth century, and to ride a motorcycle that evokes the machines of those years is to be more readily drawn into this imaginative sense of these places, to more readily connect with this implicit aspect of them. Just like the SR500, the W650 does this to a degree that few other modern motorcycles do. You only have to look at it to see what I mean. Of course it would be best to ride an old machine from that era, but I could never afford to keep such a machine on the road and do the miles I do. The W allows me to ride without any concern for reliability. And so I chose the W650, designed as it was to evoke the parallel twins of yesterday. In the 1960s Kawasaki manufactured the W1, a 650 twin which looked like a BSA – it started out as a licensed 500cc BSA copy but evolved in Kawasaki’s hands into a mechanically superior machine by the time it became 650cc. Kawasaki pretends that their modern W650 is a remake of that, but we all know it looks more like a Triumph Bonneville. This makes sense: if you were to design a new bike that evoked the great British twins, would you not take inspiration from the model which many consider the most beautiful and exciting? So the W650 is a retrospective motorcycle, a tribute, an evocation. These terms make more sense than those pejoratively-used terms such as ‘copy’, ‘clone’ or ‘imitation’ with which some people criticise the W, apparently because it’s not as ‘authentic’ as their Thai-umph Bonneville. But regarding those people who are annoyed that others are riding around on a modern Japanese ‘clone’, I think they are missing the point in more ways than one. What is valuable about British mid-century motorcycles? Quite a number of things, depending on the eye of the beholder. One major quality is surely their beauty. To me, most motorcycles and cars became beautiful some time around 1920 and ceased being ‘beautiful in the majority’ during the 1970s. But this beauty is not the beauty of being British or historical, it is beauty in itself. It is not unrelated to history – for example the sleek lines of an early motorcycle contain an expression for us of that era’s optimism and thrill at their new-found experience of speed. But in some loose sense the beauty of these machines is also ‘beauty in itself’, distinct from - in the sense of irreducible to - a historical reason for valuing its beauty. The lines, proportions, colours just seem to be right, to be beautiful. This transcends any concerns for the nationality, age or history of the vehicle. To speak like the philosopher Plato I am saying that beauty transcends history, and that the W650 is beautiful, and that this trumps any objections on the basis of history or ‘authenticity’. Partly I am attracted to mid-century British motorcycle because they’re beautiful, and not (or rather less so) the other way around. And I’m attracted to the W650 in the same way. And this gets me to the next point. The W650 is not just a tribute to the 1960s parallel twins. It is its own motorcycle. It has different qualities, different virtues. It is a modern motorcycle. A piece of interesting engineering in itself (take for instance the bevel drive). And so, how does it ride, this motorcycle which is both an evocation of an era and a wonderful machine in its own right? The W650 has two different personalities. For the bike to evoke a mid-century motorcycle it must have vibration, pulsation. ‘Silky-smooth’ and ‘sewing-machine-like’ do not describe those old bikes. Kawasaki did a wonderful job of offering both vibration from its long-stroke engine, as well as smoothness. The smoothness is of two kinds in relation to the pulses. First, the engine pulses are themselves smooth, as opposed to biting or harsh. They are very present, at the centre of the riding experience, which gives the bike a lot of character, but they have a ‘rounded’ quality that makes them pleasant. There is not that hard edge that makes you tense up or lose your fillings. And so the engine feels relaxed even as it’s thumping you up to speed. That is the first kind of smoothness present in the W. Second, those engine pulses are only present within a certain rpm-range, and otherwise the engine is smooth in the sense of being without those strong vibrations. On cue at 3000rpm the pulses start, and hit their climax at 3,500rpm. Then, again on cue, immediately beyond 4000rpm the pulses dramatically smooth out and the engine takes on a calm purr. What this means is that you can choose to ride in thumper-mode, or smooth mode. This is made even easier by the flexible gearing and the very useful torque. At an indicated 100kph the bike sits on 3,500rpm in fifth gear. But this bike could do well even if it had only three gears. To say that means something when coming from somebody who’s always ridden bikes that feel like they need another gear on the highway. The SR, as I will discuss in the next review, is harsh and overworked in fifth at 100kph (where the 500 sits on approximately 4200rpm which feels strained, and the 400 on 4,900rpm which, oddly, feels strained but less so than the 500). The W by comparison feels utterly, unbelievable, beautifully relaxed at 100kph in third, fourth, and fifth gear! Fourth gear is producing 4,100rpm and third 4,900rpm, and in either the bike feels easy – I’d happily ride the Hume to Sydney and back in third. My Hornet 600 would, if I remember correctly, sit just short of 5000rpm on the highway. But the Hornet felt like it had two modes: weak, or hard-revving. To be fair this assessment reflects my tastes – I hate revvy bikes which focus on hp rather than torque. The W by comparison, thanks to its lavish and even spread of torque, which begins just above 2000rpm, feels ‘in the zone’ in any gear at any rpm. There is little need to change gear through the corners or when over-taking: I just open up the throttle, and it pulls away. I don’t even know what hp the W is meant to produce, and neither do I care – hp has nothing to do with what is wonderful about this bike. All this makes for an engine that has character – especially between 3000 and 4000 rpm – and yet is relaxed, a real cruiser; a bike which is more or less smooth depending on your mood, which makes it an excellent long-distance tourer. Add to this that it is utterly beautiful, extremely well-engineered (you can read other reviews to see this), nimble yet stable, and that it evokes those old motorcycles that fire the imagination of so many of us, and you can see what first drew me to the W650 and now leaves me so happy and confident with my choice. I hear the W800 has more of what is great about the W650, although it lacks a kickstart, and has EFI (which might be a good or bad depending on your preferences). But my budget allowed for a 650, not an 800. Not that I care. I couldn’t be happier. The SR review can be found on page 2 of this thread. .