The Perfect British Desert Sled … is a Kawasaki W650

This Kawasaki W650 is the Perfect British Desert Sled
If you want to build a pukka desert sled but don’t have a Meriden-era Triumph lying around, the Kawasaki W650 is the next best thing. Sure, you could pick one of Triumph’s modern classics—but with a more compact frame and a smaller 649cc mill, the W650 is a good-value option on the secondhand market.

Ask any owner, and they’ll recount the many times their W650 has been mistaken for a vintage British machine (despite the fact that Triumph never used a bevel drive on their twins in the 60s). Karles Vives and his crew at Fuel Bespoke Motorcycles know this well—which is exactly why they based their latest project on a 1999 Kawasaki W650.

This Kawasaki W650 is the Perfect British Desert Sled
“This is the Fuel Catalina GP,” says Karles. “It’s a real desert sled motorcycle, like the Triumphs people used to ride in the American deserts—or on Catalina Island in the 60s.”

“Our choice of the Kawasaki W650 was not accidental. Kawasaki locked in the retro look so perfectly, even Triumph fans do a double-take trying to distinguish one from a period Meriden bike!”

This Kawasaki W650 is the Perfect British Desert Sled
With a vintage ad for Ted’s Triumph providing guidance, Fuel figured out what they needed to change on the W650. Back in the day, desert sleds were built with functionality in mind, rather than flawless lines—and that ethos is still intact here.

Fuel have wisely decided to keep the stock Kawasaki tank, along with its rubber knee pads. But they’ve crafted a generous, period-correct leather seat to sit atop the uncut frame, with plenty of padding and room to move.

This Kawasaki W650 is the Perfect British Desert Sled
The Kawasaki’s also sporting a new pair of aluminum fenders, and a new taillight and headlight. A Daytona speedo and tiny LEDs turn signals at both ends round out the electrical package.

To get that vintage sled look just right, the guys also fabricated a pair of mid-height, shotgun-style exhausts, complete with internal dB killers. For ergonomics, they installed high and wide enduro handlebars, and a pair of hand-made off-road foot pegs.

This Kawasaki W650 is the Perfect British Desert Sled
This scrambler was destined for actual desert use, so practicality was key. To that end, Fuel have kept the original side covers, air box and centre stand, but added a stainless steel skid plate to keep the bike’s underside safe from rocks. They’ve also whipped up a small frame to support a saddle bag on the non-exhaust side.

The Kawasaki comes with wheel sizes ideal for off-road rubber—19” up front, and 18” out back. So the team threw on a Heidenau K67 (front), and a Michelin T63 (back). But they knew it’d take more than the right tires to improve off-road performance—so they turned their attention to the suspension.

There’s a new pair of YSS shocks out back now, but it’s up front where things get interesting, with a new adjustable system developed by HFS (Hybrid Fork Suspension). Karles describes it as “A progressive suspension system that combines the actions of springs and air, with the possibility of adjusting the pressure according to the weight of the rider.”

With all the right desert sled cues dialed in, Fuel needed a livery to help trick onlookers into thinking they were seeing a true vintage bike. So they built some ‘patina’ into the paint job, adding stickers to the side covers to drive the point home.

This Kawasaki W650 is the Perfect British Desert Sled
When we said the Kawasaki was slated for actual desert use, we weren’t kidding. Once it was ready, Fuel took it on their annual, 2,500km Scram Africa tour, where it tackled everything from mountain roads to sandy stages without complaint.

It’s for sale too… so if you’re after an old-school desert sled built on a modern Japanese platform, get that credit card out.

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This Kawasaki W650 is the Perfect British Desert Sled