Two years before Triumph relaunched the ‘new’ Bonneville range in 2001, Kawasaki had delivered their W650 to the market. It was a bike that was described years later as being “closer to a ’60s Bonneville than Triumph’s own latter-day replica”. Of course, that line alone will kick off the greatest of debates between purists of the British brand and those who fell in love with the new Kwaka, but what can’t be argued is how good a job Kawasaki did at re-creating a retro machine with plenty of modern-day improvements. While the late ‘90s ushered in the era of the modern race bike for the road with the launch of Superbikes like the Yamaha R1, the W650 gave new bike buyers the option for a much more laid back, classic ride. When German motorcycle enthusiast Uwe Kostrewa first saw one he instantly fell in love and now, years later, he’s been able to create his perfect W650, a ‘99 model come Street Tracker with all the goodies you could ever hope for.
There is something about the Glemseck 101 1/8th mile sprint that brings the best out of so many builders, static competitions are one thing, but when the rubber hits the road everything on the bike is truly tested. The German motorcycle festival draws massive crowds of up to 75,000 people and is billed as “the meeting point for international designers, engineers, developers and their bikes.” For Yann and Manu of Sur Les Chapeaux De Roues in Brittany, North Western France, it was a chance to create a truly unique machine that showed off their full array of skills. But their Project Z Kawasaki is more than just a bike for competition, in the true tradition of Hot Rod Motorcycles it can do it all, win trophies as a static display, give a perfect ride on the beautiful back roads of Brittany and then go to the strip and lay down a great number in competition; our two French friends are simply brilliant at everything they do and this is their creation.
It’s 7pm on a Saturday evening in Portland’s industrial district. The steel train rails glisten in the evening sun and the magic hour is upon us; a perfect time to photograph a perfect bike. The sun is still shining strong as dusk approaches. It’s an unusually quiet time of day in Portland. Normally bustling with people coming and going, the silence is eerie. Even though the location we chose to meet was at the heart of where all the action usually takes place, there’s a sense of calm in the air. Within minutes of talking to Andrew from Little Horse Cycles, I realise that maybe this environment is the perfect setting for him. He is quiet, calm, and collected, but you can tell he is a mastermind that’s really passionate about his work.
Compromise can be a word you just have to deal with in the custom motorcycle scene, functionality often sacrificed in the name of form or go preferenced ahead of show. Until the ’70s many applied the same logic to the very ownership of a motorcycle in that you could have fast or reliable but you couldn’t have both. That all changed with the arrival of the Kawasaki Z sportsbike, the fastest thing on two wheels and you just couldn’t break ‘em! So when Classified Moto’s main man John Ryland picked out a bike to turn into a custom creation that also had to be capable of taking him on a thousand mile journey he hit the proverbial nail on the head with a 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000. That it also features the unmistakable styling and build quality of all the brilliant Classified Moto bikes is testament to the talent of the Richmond, Virginia team.
In the modern renaissance of the custom motorcycle scene the Tracker inspired builds have become a favourite the world over, with the best builders and workshops in the game having produced multiple examples. One of the best built is River Rat Cycle Fab’s Yamaha XS650 screwed together by Heath Reed featured here on Pipeburn last year. Now with this fully fledged AMA Pro Flat Track Racer we can finally appreciate where Heath and his RRCF team get their inspiration for such amazing road based Trackers; They build the real thing, capable of 130mph and some serious sideways action! It’s the sport that Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Troy Bayliss and many of the best riders have taken as their new passion, it’s where King Kenny Roberts first made his name and it’s where Heath and the RRCF Racing team are hoping to do big things with this Ninja 650 powered machine.
We all come to this obsession with motorcycles in different ways, for Matthew Ortiz of Swerve Customs out of Albuquerque, New Mexico it was the realisation that less is more. Two less wheels in fact and Matthew discovered his abilities to heavily customise and modify cars translated perfectly to bikes and the result is this stunning 1980 Kawasaki Kz750 LTD all built in his single car garage. “It wasn’t until my first “vintage bike” that I realised that what I had been doing to cars all these years (restoring, modifying, lifting, fabricating) I could be doing to motorcycles. It was a 1978 Honda cb400 Hawk that I got for $500. The first time I brought it back to life, I did everything in my apartment parking lot. When I was done I was so stoked!! Something had changed in me, I wanted to build another one” Enthuses Matthew.
There was a time when the big manufacturers didn’t wish to be at all associated with the custom scene. Racing? Definitely! But smartarse grease monkeys? No thanks. But so big has the revival of the custom scene become, that global corporations are now turning to the very group they once shunned to lead the marketing of their new models. For Kawasaki, it comes in the form of their Breaking Boundaries Build-Off that tasked four fantastic builders with the challenge of doing something truly unique with their newest Kawasaki Vulcan S model. The manufacturer tapped Steve Howell with Iron & Air Magazine on the shoulder and they called in one of the industries best builders to spin the spanners; none other than Jesse Bassett from Ohio’s The GasBox.
For the last few years French brothers Ben and G have been running Angry Lane, a Hong Kong-based store specialising in bike parts and all manner of low-key riding apparel. Keen to expand their business they’ve moved into modifying motorcycles, hoping their creations will act as a showcase for the products they have on hand. Now 16 bikes in, they’ve produced this unusual Kawasaki W650 dubbed ‘Superrench’ – a slammed down tracker that ticks off the motorcycle axis of evil – polished aluminium, header wrap and Firestones – and still comes out looking fantastic.
Hand built in Colombia by a pair of craftsman who were on a tight deadline to make a big show in the USA, this 1974 Kawasaki KZ400 is anything but rushed and far from factory. Esteban Pasquale and Gustavo Pasquale are the co-owners of Garaje 57 based in Bogotá that specialises in hand-built motorcycles with no discrimination between vintage Vespa’s all the way through to Modern Ducati sports bikes. But give them a 70s Kawasaki and… well, just take a look for yourself.
Delaware-based Speedwerks were in an enviable position. They’d been approached by a long-term customer wanting a balls-to-the-wall café racer that could be ridden hard and ridden every day. The customer, local racer and speed boat enthusiast known only as ‘Richie’, had seen a few Deus café racers and wanted something in a similar vein, but louder and better engineered than anything that had come before. Armed with only a Kawasaki W650 engine stripped of its electric start, Speedwerks surveyed the line-up of modern retro motorcycles for a donor frame and found few that could blend traditional looks with modern geometry and stiffness. So they went about designing one. On the back of a beer-soaked napkin at a local sports bar.