My father was fond of the saying, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” And that’s the first thought that popped into my head when I saw this sublime Kawasaki W650 desert sled from England.
It comes from London-based Rick Hannah, who builds under the amusing moniker of Dirty Dick’s Motos.
Rick is the perfect example of a self-taught man. He used to live in Johannesburg, South Africa, and hang out with Marnitz Venter—whose lovely vintage Triumph bobber we featured a year ago.
But Rick moved back to London in 2016, disillusioned after his restored BMW 635CSi was stolen. “I have always been restoring and modding cars and bikes, but decided to take the plunge and start doing full nut and bolt builds when I got to London,” he tells us.
“I had two bikes built by a (now defunct) Joburg shop, and was never happy with the quality. So I decided to get some skills and do it myself.”
Rick is obviously a fast learner, as the finishing on this W650 proves. “I have always been mechanically savvy, but needed some fabrication skills,” he admits. “So I learnt the English Wheel from an Ex-Aston Martin bodywork wizard in darkest Cornwall, and enrolled in Richmond College to learn to weld. I still have a lot to learn though!”
It’s an interesting counterpoint to Rick’s day job—he works remotely for a Californian tech start-up, and until recently, traveled all over the world. “It’s quite different from building motorcycles, but also requires painstaking attention to detail and quality project management.”
Rick picked up a couple of Kawasaki W650s for a song; one was a runner, and the other one wasn’t. So while riding the runner all over the UK, he decided to resurrect the dud.
“I wanted to remain as true as possible to the original idea and soul of the W650. The first step was to address the failings of the bike, and I say this with love: there is very little wrong with the W650 from stock.”
The goal was to build a reliable and fast desert sled with modern handling, comfort and performance. “I wanted to maintain the 60s style and have a clean and polished finish to it,” says Rick. “It took me a year and everything was done slowly and meticulously. Every nut and bolt was agonized over and there were a few changes in direction but in the end, I think I achieved my goal.”
The two main things that need sorting on a factory W650 are the brakes and the suspension. (“The standard suspension is acceptable at best, but the brakes are dire.”) So Rick has developed a Big Brake Kit for the W650 and big brother W800, with a custom offset, 300mm floating disc. Rick has even machined the fins on the caliper to match the master cylinder.
The caliper is a custom-built 6-piston billet piece from Harrison, and the master cylinder is a 14mm K-Tech unit. “The change in braking feel and performance is phenomenal. I usually use a 17mm Nissin radial master on kits I sell—they match the bikes and are plug and play—but the K-Tech suited this bike much better.”
W650 builders usually fix the front suspension with progressive springs and a change in oil weight, but Rick wanted to go further. “I didn’t want to just graft a GSX-R front end on and call it a day,” he says. “So I shaved and polished the fork lowers and installed an Andreani cartridge kit, adjustable for rebound and compression, and sprung correctly for the bike and rider’s weight.”
The forks have been dropped 25mm with a machined top and bottom triple set from Fastec, with a Motogadget speedo integrated into the top yoke. The rear suspension was a much simpler job—Hagon made custom shocks that are 25mm longer than standard.
The bike had to feel ‘solid,’ so Rick has installed 25mm Western handlebars that he cut two inches off. “I think they were meant for a Harley, so were way too wide, but after being trimmed, they look the part perfectly.
To keep the slim looks that a desert sled should have, all the wiring is internal, with micro-switches to make things neat and tidy. For the headlight, Rick’s chosen an egg-shaped Motodemic unit that complements the lines of the tank and fenders.
Next up was the tank. “Most of the retro bikes have these horrible tank seams: that had to go.” The fuel cap was cut out and patched and replaced with a flush fitting aero cap to keep the lines clean. When you look at the bike from above, the seat and tank narrow into a waspish waist in the middle.
Lines are everything, so the frame was stripped, chopped and de-bracketed, and a luggage rack welded in. Then it was polished, copper-plated and finally nickel-plated. “I’ve always loved the look of the Rickman Metisse scramblers with their nickel frames, so decided to do something similar.”
The swingarm is machined billet, with a triangle pattern that echoes the shapes created by the shock, swingarm and frame. (“I might be slightly obsessed with symmetry/asymmetry!”)
The wheel hubs have been blasted and polished and re-laced with aluminum Morad rims; 19×3.00 for the front and 18×4.25 for the rear. The tires are Continental TKC80, one size larger than standard, with a 110/80R19 in the front and a 140/80R18 for the rear. “I could have gone wider on the tires, but prefer the handling to be light. And with the over-sized rims the wheels look fantastic.”
Rick has cleaned and polished the engine, and grafted on Keihin CR Special carbs. Polished stainless steel shotgun pipes suit the sled vibe. “The pipes are straight through and yes, it’s loud, but it sounds glorious with the 360-degree cranked twin of the W650,” he says.
“There’s a loping, popping idle which turns into a roar at full chat and a rasp on the over-run. With the CR Special carbs the throttle response is instant and the bike just wants to go. I had considered punching the engine out to 854cc but these engines are just so brilliant as is…all you need to do is let them breathe.”
Rick used stainless for the exhaust because it turns gold with the heat from the engine, which complements the warm tone of the nickel frame and the brass highlights on the bike.
He called in help for the paint and electrics, and his friends at P&D Customs built the exhaust and chopped the tank. “It’s been tricky and I’ve burnt my fingers, but once you start making contacts, you start to find all the specialists that the big name workshops use—and doing scratch builds becomes a little easier. (I don’t think anyone is supposed to talk about this!)”
The result is incredible, especially for a guy who works out of a small garage packed to the brim with bikes, tools and parts. “I will be moving into the countryside at some point, and will get a proper workshop when the world calms down a bit!”
That’s a goal that probably appeals to quite a lot of people right now. Especially if there’s cool W650 in the garage too, ready for a spot of light off-roading at the weekend.