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Wilkinson Bros W650 Cafe Racer

Is that a Norton? What year Triumph is that? That’n old BSA? Just a few of the many first-glance questions I field on this 2000 Kawasaki W650. When it was in stock form, the British looks were already in place, but a few key mods helped create a more racy cafe persona to this Wilkinson Bros daily rider.

Kawasaki will tell you the roots go back to its own 1967 W1, which does bear similarities, but the late-sixties Bonneville vibe is clearly evident. Only a couple years of this model usually surface in the States, the 2000 and 2001. My brother, Casey, and I were on the lookout for one, knowing it’d be a great base for a cafe racer. Luck on our side, we found a stock W650 just a mile down the road with dialed-in jetting and a modified airbox. This W ran smooth as silk.

To start the cafe conversion, I bought 29-dollar ace bars and 15-dollar Gran Turismo-style grips. Easy enough. An online search for hand-built aluminum gas tanks turned up several vendors – mostly overseas. The craftsmanship was beautiful, but I couldn’t bite on the cost and shipping fees. After scrolling through eBay auctions, I ran across what looked like the same Gold Star tank offered by French accessories provider, VD Classic. This one, however, was in North Carolina sitting on the hood of an old pick-up. It had a crude patch in the tunnel, but looked pretty good in its so-so eBay pics. I was highest bidder at $600; fingers remained crossed until it showed up in the mail. The exterior was perfect and the patch would later be fixed by our buddy Cliff at Meyerbuilt Metalworks. He also relocated the mounting brackets and ears to help it fit nicely to the Kawi’s frame.

The tail piece was next on the list. A mass-produced fiberglass option was considered, but the desire to have something more unique prevailed. I called on Cliff Meyer of Meyerbuilt Metalworks to hand-form a tail section that would envelop the W’s ascending subframe and flow right into the alloy tank. It utilizes existing mounting tabs, has a built-in LED taillight bracket, and sits solid as a rock on the bike. The Meyerbuilt touch on this tail is the perfect complement to the polished tank, both of which get their fair share of fingernail tapping and admiration at bike gatherings.

We built and primered a steel seat pan to fit down over the aluminum tail section for an upholsterer to work with. Using photo references and our pencil drawing, Indianapolis-based Kent Auto Upholstery created a top notch custom seat.

After handlebars, tank, tail and seat, the remaining cafe elements needed were rearsets. Creating custom pegs and linkage was tempting, a task that Casey had just completed for his airhead BMW cafe racer. But, on a quest for a simple solution, I opted for the W650-specific Raask rearsets. In one quick garage session, they were on and ready to go.

Many elements remain stock, like the chrome pea shooter exhaust, spoked wheels, headlight, front fender, black hubs, fork gaiters, side pods, and faux Smiths gauges. This wasn’t a major overhaul, just enough to evoke the spirit of a cafe with a bulletproof engine.

Wilkinson Bros is a graphic design studio, but our daily distraction is motorcycles (which led to our creation of Good Spark Garage). If we had more shop equipment and time, perhaps it’d evolve into a full-blown custom bike shop. Who knows. In the meantime, we use the tools we have, take our projects as far as our skill-sets allow, and call on friends/craftsmen when limitations arise. It’s a way we can achieve exactly what our minds and pencils conceptualize rather than stopping short of a goal. We then ride the heck outta the bikes.

© Photos by Wilkinson Brothers, Inc.

This Post Has 34 Comments
  1. She is a beauty. Seen it in person many times. Need to share some road with it sometime on my TT.

    1. Thanks, Sean! If you’ll be at MvR this year, we see you on some Chi-Town roads. If not then, maybe on the mean streets of Indy. 🙂

  2. I have a w1 650 twin motor and tranny. A original one from the 60’s. Make me an offer. I will send u pics. Very rare hard to find motor. I live in portland oregon

  3. I live right down the street from your shop. I made a left to avoid the red light at Main and Rangeline and ended up making a turn around your parking lot to check this bike out. When I saw a Duc parked out front the next day, I knew we are of the same mind. I’m the guy on the root beer Harley bobber.

    1. Hey, Luke. Sounds like you’re moto-minded, too. If you see our bikes out, feel free to stop by and say hello. If our bikes are there and we’re not inside, we’re probably just out for a sec. Take care. -Corey at GSG

  4. I have a stock 2000 and love to cruise the city here in Indy on the N/E side.
    That bike reminds me so much of my 74 Motto Guzzi V7 Sport I had in the 80’s…very nice work!

    1. Hey, Todd. I may have seen you running around town. I love the W650s in stock form as well; getting harder and harder to find. The seating position and ergonomics just make sense. Thanks for tuning into Good Spark! –corey at GSG

  5. Hello,
    I am from Greece and i have a W650 of 2006.
    As you know this model’s bar is 1″ with 7/8 ends.
    So, how did you overcome this issue?


    1. Hi, Kostas. I used 7/8 clubman bars (or “ace” bars), which means the stock throttle, starter assembly and turn signal assembly all fit with no problem. For the risers, front brake control, and clutch control I had to insert bar reducers (or bar “spacers”). You will need two sets, or 8 halves total. If you search eBay for “bar reducers” or “handlebar spacers”, you’ll find examples of these that will make 7/8 bars fit into 1-inch openings. Hope this helps! -Corey at GSG

  6. Corey,

    Beautiful bike, very nice project. How are the rearsets working out? Are the comfortable on long rides? What is the seat to peg distance on those rearsets?


  7. Wow, that bike is somethin’ else! I’m torn between a W650 and a Bonnie at the moment. I just can’t make my mind up. My heart says thew Kawa but my head says the Bonnie, having owned a Bonneville America which had to go to pay off the ex!
    If I could build one like you caff, there would be no question. Love it!

    1. Thanks, Pete. Either Bonnnie or W650 would be a fun, good-lookin’ ride. For this one, I was drawn to the uniqueness of the W in the States, then wanted to tear into it to make even more unique. 🙂 If I lived in a location where the W800 was an option, that’d tempt me as well. Good luck with the decision; either way, you’ll be a happy motorcyclist.

  8. I’d have been really tempted to work some tiny lime green accent in there somewhere to acknowledge the Kawasakiness of it. Maybe switches or instrument faces.

  9. That is a gorgeous motorcycle. Fantastic job. If only mocos would go back to making bikes that looked like this (ie: like motorcycles) instead of their ubuiquitous garishly painted Moto GP, transformer/insect style bikes.

  10. Wondering if you sell the Rearset pegs similar tone ones in the pics? Also interested in tank, side covers and seat/cowl. Thanks for your time.

    1. Kevin, we don’t sell bike parts, but if you google Raask Rearsets you’ll find sources who sell ’em. The side covers are stock. As for the tank and tail, you’ll find origin details in the article above. –corey at GSG

  11. Hello! I have a 2001 W650 and love it… but recently been starting to think about going full CR with it 🙂
    I just been having an issue with the rearsets… Did the raask ones you implemented invalidate the use of the kickstarter? they seem that they are a tough fit.. but they work…

    1. Hi, Joao. I also have a 2001 W650 stock bike in addition to this cafe racer. Great bikes! Yes, the Raask rearsets make it impossible to get a full kick on the kickstarter. They did disclose this info when I bought them, I just knew I’d mainly be using the electric start anyway. There’s a chance one could modify the peg or its mount to create a moveable/foldable system to let the kick arm go past, but I haven’t looked further into the possibility. –corey at GSG

      1. Many thxs…
        This is is really one of the things that are giving me the creeps… I really love the kickstarter, even if I have only used it once or twice 🙂 for testing purposes…

        Congrats on this transform! I just love it! 🙂

  12. Great looking bike, starting a build of one myself. Can you tell me what make the turn signals are? love the sleek look of those.

    1. Those signals are the “Kuryakyn L.E.D. Smooth Mini Bullet Lights.” If you do a google search for that, they’ll pop up in various places. Good luck with the build! -corey@GSG

  13. Congrats Corey, stunniing,,,In my opinion, the best W650 CR example on the net. Inspired me completley. On my next visit to Stonebridge (Ace Cafe (London)) i will pop the final pic from this page up on the photo board.

    Now then…Raask rearsets. ordered a set for my W650 today will fit them over crimbo. Was wondering if you could provide me with a simple ‘how to’ for installation. Having read a couple of forums, folks seem to be having a little difficulty setting them up proper, yet frustratingly i cannot locate an installation guide, and i keep reading that the instructions that come with the rearsets are limited to say the least.

    Thanks ever so…


    1. Thanks, Ads. Much appreciated! As for the Raask rear sets, it’s been a loooong time since fitting those and I don’t remember having any major snags. Perhaps a little trial-n-error is required on the preferred placement and height of the levers. I used the instructions that came with them, which was a rough photocopy of a diagram and some text; not sure I still have that. One issue is the brake stop/tab. Since it’s soft aluminum (aluminium in your neck of the woods), the brake lever eventually pushes up passed it allowing the lever to raise too high. I end up banging the tab back down to ‘reset’ it, but will probably create a better, more rigid option for the tab. -Corey @ GSG

  14. Hi Corey,
    this is the most beatiful CR W650 i’ve ever seen. Just the most important pieces got replaced with so much impact on the look. Wow! Is it possible to order the outstanding alloy tail with the seat?

    Looking forward to your reply.
    Best regards and greetings from Germany

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Joe. Yeah, it’s been so long since i’ve looked up aftermarket tanks that I’m not sure who is the best source these days. The guys at used to sell a similar tank, but their site shows a different ‘look’ it seems. I lucked out by finding this tank on eBay, used. If you search for custom aluminum cafe racer tanks, you may find one out there that can be adjusted to fit the W650. Good luck! -Corey @ GSG

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