We’re starting a new series on our favorite custom bike platforms. To kick it off we’ve chosen Kawasaki’s W650, a popular choice among builders since it launched in 1999. Inspired by Kawasaki’s own W1, W2 and W3 models of the 60s and 70s, the W650 could easily be mistaken for a British motorcycle of the same era.
At its heart is an air-cooled, 676cc parallel twin, with a distinctive bevel gear driven overhead cam shaft. It might not be the punchiest motor around, but it delivers ample usable power and is a blast to ride. I know this, because I am fortunate enough to own one. Other, considerably more famous, W650 owners include Billy Joel and Charley Boorman.
Due to ever-evolving emissions regulations the W650 was discontinued in 2008. Thankfully Kawasaki launched its successor—the W800—in 2011, complete with fuel injection, a capacity increase to 773cc and a jaw-dropping dark green paint job.
So here’s a selection of our favourite W650 and W800 custom builds for your inspiration. It was tough narrowing it down to just five, so if you know of any other bikes that you think deserve to be on this list, let us know in the comments.
WRENCHMONKEES W800 The Wrenchmonkees’ brief was to create a low-key scrambler capable of tackling rough roads. As a result the modifications ended up being as practical as they were cosmetic – including upgraded suspension, dual sport rubber, an aluminium skidplate and even a USB port for charging electronics on the go. The final paint scheme is simply inspired – an olive green frame with healthy doses of matte black for the rest of the bike. [More about this bike | Wrenchmonkees]
SKUDDESIGN W650 French graphic artist Nicolas Barthelemy set out to blend various styles with his personal W650. What he ended up with was this charming and uncluttered custom. The tank is from a 1976 Honda CBS125, resprayed in a gray that Ateliers Ruby uses in its helmet line. This, combined with the ¾ seat, high pipes and knobby tyres, give it a distinct vintage trials feel that’s hard to ignore. [More about this bike | Skuddesign]
TON-UP GARAGE W650 ‘GoldDigger’ Portugal’s Ton-Up Garage have a habit of building extremely good-looking bikes, and this street tracker, based on a 2004 W650, is no exception. The slimmer-than-stock tank and unique tail unit create an aggressive line, reiterated by the bespoke number boards and off-road tyres. Especially show-stopping is the luxurious gold paint, finished with lashings of black and pearl white. [More about this bike | Ton-Up Garage]
SPIRIT OF THE SEVENTIES W800 ‘SPIRIT’ It’s always inspiring to see a major manufacturer collaborate with a respected custom shop. In this case it was Kawasaki UK, who commissioned this W800 build from Spirit of the Seventies. Spirit presented Kawasaki UK with 3 different options and then, once they’d settled on the street scrambler concept, created several paint schemes for Kawasaki’s Facebook audience to vote on. The audience chose well—the final paint scheme is brimming with Kawasaki heritage.
Spirit added a mix of custom parts, while also retaining a number of stock items—including the seat, which was shortened, reshaped and recovered. The stainless steel exhaust system is a work of art—it was made by Co-Built as a one-off for this particular bike. [More about this bike | Spirit of the Seventies]
DEUS EX MACHINA USA W650 ‘MOTO GRIGIO’ Deus have built so many beautiful W650 customs that it’s hard to pick a favourite. I chose this one partly because the rest of this selection is filled with scramblers and street trackers, but mostly because it’s such a radical build.
The performance modifications are too many to list, but the most obvious ones are the FCR flat-side carbs and Öhlins upside-down forks. Dig deeper and you’ll find a custom chromoly swingarm, a completely custom brake set-up and an engine upgrade to 800cc, among other things. It’s no slouch in the looks department either, with a sublime dark grey paint scheme adorning the custom seat and tail unit. Simply put: ‘Moto Grigio’ has been built to go fast, handle well, and look good while doing so. [More about this bike | Deus USA]
That’s our pick. what’s yours?