Kawa's J650 - restyled and refined
It was great to see so many other bikers taking the trouble to greet English TV adventurer, travel writer and actor Charley Boorman when he arrived in Cape Town after his what must have been exhilarating journey around South Africa astride his BMW motorcycle.
The finish line at Signal Hill, overlooking the city, was packed with bikes (not surprisingly mostly BMWs) but nestling among the bike park was a machine that really caught my eye, one I’d never seen in the metal.
If you thought that this was a British bike (possibly a Triumph Bonneville from the 1960s), think again. In fact, this is a bike that’s arguably even more desirable - a very rare Kawasaki J650 and likely the only one in South Africa.
COPYING THE BRITISH
So what’s so special about this Kwacker? Something you need to know is that in the Japanese language the words "learn" and "copy" are the same. As such, the Japanese are masters at taking a European design by the scruff of its neck and improving it mechanically and aesthetically and making it more reliable, if you will – especially when discussing British motorcycles of yesteryear.
The Japanese bike maker, even back in the late 1960s, made a perfect clone of the BSA A10 (the W1) even down to an identical timing cover. In the case of the later J650, it unashamedly still has the good looks of the Bonnie but preferring a single overhead-cam, twin-cylinder engine (driven by a hypoid gear with an offset bevel drive shaft).
Factor in quad-valve technology and a pair of reliable 34mm CV Keihin carbs (the Amals fitted to the Triumph had a reputation for quickly going out of tune), the Japanese 675cc twin is quick with a top speed of 177km/h. Before British enthusiasts write in and tell me their Bonnie was just as quick, the Kwacker wouldn’t have been prone to having cycle parts making a dash for freedom - namely nuts and bolts or possibly worse, strewn along the road behind it!
WOULD I LIKE TO OWN ONE?
Yes, I know the Bonnie had vibration issues, I owned one for several years, but it’s interesting to note the J650 had the exact same 360° firing order (both pistons rising and falling together, albeit in a rubber-mounted engine).
The road tests of the day complimented the Japanese bike on its smoothness and at just about any revs.
In keeping with "copying" British bikes it’s interesting to note the J650 has lookalike rubber fork gaiters, replica Smith’s clocks, rubber tank kneepads, alloy rims (the Bonneville would never have had those), pea-shooter exhausts, electronic ignition and even a working kick-starte. The bike does have an electric starter, just in case the battery should go flat.
To sum up, would I like my old Bonneville back or the chance to own the subject of this story, the J650? The jury’s out on that right now, but feel free to let me know your thoughts in the Reader comments below.
Motor: Parallel twin 675cc, air-cooled
Power: 37kW at 7000 rpm
0-100km/h: 7 seconds
Top Speed: 177 km/h
Tank capacity: 18 litres
Kerb weight: 195kg
Brakes: (F) disc (R) drum
Final drive: O-ring sealed chain