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‘01 Kawasaki W650 – Old Empire Motorcycles

Posted on April 3, 2014 by Andrew in Brat, Café Racer. 18 comments


Wales. A rather quiet place, all things considered. Unless coal mining or male choirs are high on your list of wow, it probably doesn’t cross paths with you all that often. But magically zap yourself back in time a few thousand years and Wales would be offering up a whole different set of attractions. And the foremost one amongst a list also featuring dragons, giant Celtic armies and beautiful maidens would be one Mister Myrddin Emrys, a.k.a. Merlin the Magician. So, inspired by Wales’ greatest ever son, our favourite Brit builders have taken inspiration from their wand waving western neighbours and conjured up this little wonder from their alchemic cauldron. Hey presto, meet Old Empire’s magical ‘Merlin’.


“The Merlin is our first attempt at a custom parallel twin and our first Kawasaki W650,” notes Alec Sharp; OEM’s chief knight. “We were approached by a customer who is based in Amsterdam. After some emails and skyping, we had a good idea on where we wanted to go with the build. Although much was sent over using our build idea sheet, it was left to us to ultimately come up with a design to take the W650 somewhere we felt it had not been before.”


“Looking at the stock frame and engine layout, it became clear why it’s favoured for custom builds. It lends itself to a variety of modifications; from café racer to flat tracker to bobber, the bike has the potential of creating many great custom motorcycles. However, we were not after creating just another great motorcycle. What we wanted to conceive needed to be the best custom W650 in terms of design and functionality. We find it’s always best to aim high.”


“The first thing to sort out was the stance, which was achieved by dropping the front of the bike using a set of Ducati USD forks. And although the stock rims are both 18’’, we installed a wider front rim to accommodate the same size Coker tyres front and back. The blunt end was raised 1’’ using a set of  Hagon shocks to achieve that acute angle of attack.”


“Fabrication-wise, there was significant workshop and design time getting that minimal rear cowling just right. The original tank retains its front mounts, but we raised the rear end to get that top line running nicely from the yoke down the tank into the seat and off the rear cowling. Making a custom seat pan and installing some handmade gussets front and back was critical in keeping the bike in proportion. The tank also features indents in which leather scallops have been inserted as well a welded skirt that hides the ugly box section top tube.”


“We managed to keep all the controls stock, but added some hand-dyed leather wrap and a bit of scotching. Front lighting comes in the form of a big bates headlight with peak and the customer asked for mini led indicators which we mounted as discreetly as possible. We also decided to work with our friends at Smiths again to make up an OEM grey-faced metric speedo which, safe to say, looks mighty fine integrated into the custom top yoke.”


“The original state of the engine and frame required us to send them off to be soda blasted by a local firm who did a sterling job of cleaning it all up. The the engine was masked up and the crankcases repainted a high temperature satin silver with the barrels and head going satin black with polished fins. The casings were then fine scotched and the rebuilt carbs with custom air filters were installed to leave the engine looking fantastic.”


“Exhausts were hand made from tubular bends, TIG’d together and wrapped to stop them melting your leg. Mini baffles with a good deal of sound deadening material installed take a little edge of what is a really fantastic sounding engine.

The paintwork deserves a special mention as it has to be seen to be believed. Greg from Black Shuck Kustoms achieved the fantastic dark green, smokey, bare metal high gloss finish with gold pin striping you see here. Amazing stuff. In conclusion, this may be one of the finest OEM builds in terms of aesthetics and functionality. We like to think we are improving continually and we can’t wait for our next opportunity.”


  • Zundap

    Very cool picture of bike and rider, just looks right. ..Z

  • Very cool, but why are so many builders adverse to making nice fenders with trick brackets?

    • Jorgan

      Probably the same reason they’re adverse to putting on rearsets with clubmans or clip-ons. Anyone who has riden a bike like that knows how terrible it is. Other than that it’s a pretty rad looking bike.

      • Davidabl2

        I have often wondered the same thing..since there’s so much fab work going on anyways why not make custom rear sets made to measure to fit the client and their riding preferences ?

        • Easier to do nothing.

  • Davidabl2

    Best yet from OE…’Though I’d want a few minor changes for mine.
    As Mr. Sharp says the W is a very fine platform.

  • Fastgabe

    Best w yet

  • Tyler Stone

    Getting the feeling based on the names of the majority of their bikes (particularly Bulldog and Pup, but also Hurricane and Lightning) that this wasn’t named for the pointy-hat Merlin so much as the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, or the Miles Merlin, both of which were interwar aviation fixtures.
    All names aside though: good looking bike right there. They need to get on making their ‘Lightning’ a reality though.

    • Davidabl2

      ..And the Rolls Merlin was named for the magician of legend who would wake up from the slumber of centuries whenever Britain was in desperate need.

      • Grimble

        The Rolls Royce Merlin engine was named after a bird of prey, other Rolls Royce engines are named after the Eagle, Kestrel, Buzzard, Hawk, Falcon, and Vulture amongst others.

        • Davidabl2

          Hmm. While I’ve got no doubt that you’re actually correct and not I, in a way it’s kind of sad. Because I think mine was a better story ;-(

          • Grimble

            You’re right The Merlin whether named for the bird or the Magician came to the aid of Britain in a time of need.

  • Woodie

    Fabulous bike… Hate the front wheel, looks out of proportion to the rest of the bike. and why oh why can’t people put Mudguards on bikes….. it looks like they got so far and couldn’t be bothered to finish it.
    But I really, really like the rest iof the bike, such high quality,

    • Davidabl2

      The “unfinished” look that you mention is one of the many reasons I’d prefer
      to see one of those curved fork braces instead of no front fender. May not be (most probably ISN’T) an option with the usd Ducati forks on this particular bike.

    • istvan

      I like the wheels, but agree with you .about the fenders , at least where I live.
      Spent too much time dodging that rooster tail in my youth.

  • arnold

    The paint in the tank shot is a cincher for me.
    The leather work on the knee grips, not so much.

  • Looks good!

  • John Weber

    I used to own a 1963 650TT. It was siad you could swap gaskets with a BSA. Great geometry. Mine was a four speed