Kawasaki W650 And Triumph Legend TT - Retro-Activity

Kawasaki W650 And Triumph Legend TT: One Recalls History, The Other Refuses To Be Held Captive By It

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

Good manners, and smooth, too. Kawasaki fitted a gear-driven counterbalancer in front of the crank and, for good measure, mounted the engine in rubber. A few tingles reach the rider through the seat and handgrips, but on the whole the W650 is smooth enough to consider for touring duty. And it's packaged well. The cylinder barrels seem authentic enough in isolation from a real Bonnie, and the triangular right-side main case is fairly convincing. Yes, the spark plugs poking out of the cam cover in front look out of place, as does the bevel drive on the right; we suppose real case-mounted cams and limber pushrods were out of the question.

Kawasaki places this engine into a chassis that could, from certain angles, pass for the genuine item. A collection of steel tubes and box-section pieces connect the front and rear tires through suspension components that feel positively primitive. Softly sprung and lightly damped, both ends of the W650 bounce and chatter and protest anything resembling a large bump. Bridgestone even created retro-look tires-called Accolades in 19-inch front and 18-inch rear-for the bike, and they follow every rain groove and longitudinal pavement scar. Grab a big handful of the single disc front brake and the ribbed tire howls as the fork tubes twist themselves sideways. Together with limited cornering clearance, you've got a retro cruiser that really does not want to be ridden hard.

And yet it really doesn't matter. The W650 is so charming, so eminently likeable that you'll rarely be put off by the bike's dynamic shortcomings. In a way that's hard to describe but easy to notice, the W650 transcends conventional road-test rigors. After a few miles, you begin to relax and take the road at the pace dictated by the bike. With a subdued chuff-chuff in your wake, you ride the W650 like the leader of a parade-slow, straight-up and grinning every mile.

Triumph Legend TT
For the moment, Triumph has no interest in producing a dedication to its own history. The rumored 2001 Bonneville is said to have an emphasis on performance and modern handling while taking up traditional styling cues much more so than the current bikes. This will no doubt prove a successful tack for Triumph.

Even as a remnant of the previous-generation Triumphs, the Legend TT is every bit a modern motorcycle. The inline-triple is descended from the first modular powerplants from Hinckley, fitted with refreshed cosmetics and refined over the years. For 885cc, the triple is not among the most powerful engines-at 67.4 horsepower, it lags most 600s-but look at that torque curve. You've got 50 foot-pounds on tap at 2000 rpm and more than 45 foot-pounds available all the way to 7750 rpm.

On the road, the engine feels just as the dyno suggests: fat with torque and absolutely unstrained. Also a bit dull, particularly if you depend on powerband artifacts to supply your thrills; don't jump onto the TT from one of the 955cc Triumph triples unless you want to be disappointed. But you've got power to jet into traffic or overtake dawdling trucks with contemptuous ease. Field experience also suggests these first-generation Triumph triples are so overbuilt and conservatively tuned, it would take extreme mechanical torture to break one.

In the TT (as in the Adventurer) Triumph fits a five-speed transmission. Our test bike's unit was typically notchy and seems quite low-geared overall, but thanks to a counterbalancer, the engine remains unperturbed at highway speeds and the short gearing provides excellent roll-on performance. (In contrast, the W650 needs a downshift or two to get moving.) Triumph aims the TT at entry (and re-entry) riders so the clutch's progressive action and broad takeup range are welcome. It's priced to entice buyers into the European fold, too: With the exception of the MuZ singles and the Ducati 750 Monster Dark, the TT is the least-expensive hunk of Euro kit you can buy.

Thankfully, the Triumph doesn't feel cheap. Chrome-steel-spoke rims look just right on this bike and the single front disc brake offers superb feel and power. The paint is deep and shiny. Although a bit plainly styled, the TT comes off as handsome rather than bland, with high-quality materials in evidence. (We're not so impressed with the horn hanging out in space on the left side of the engine.) Part of Triumph's cost-cutting tactics includes simply leaving stuff off the bike-items like the centerstand and adjustable-damping suspension. The stand is an option, one of many from the accessories catalog, but the suspension upgrade would be an expensive proposition.

Next to the W650, the TT feels incredibly well-composed, with reasonably compliant suspension. It is, nonetheless, lightly sprung, so riders with Jamie Whitham fantasies need to be extremely smooth to keep the bike from bobbing and weaving down the road. We'll interject that this is a cruiser, after all, so the fact that the TT is no Daytona is hardly worrisome.

In its cruiser role, the TT makes the right noises and strikes the right pose. Sharing a lowered rear subframe and thinner-but still comfortable-seat with the Adventurer, the TT obtains a 28.5-inch seat height without tour-crippling ergonomics. Footpegs positioned moderately forward and a bar with modest pullback put you in the requisite slouch; at least you're not set saillike into highway-speed wind as on some other cruisers. And if you don't like the bar, don't worry. Triumph has a retrofit kit to put the Thunderbird Sport's short handlebar into the TT's perches. (This is why we love tubular bars.) Shared with the T-bird Sport are the TT's 17-inch wheels and modern-radial tires.

If anything, the Legend TT suffers from a lack of personality. It's too plain to be a flash cruiser, yet not quite up to sport-touring snuff. Perhaps it's closer to being a British standard, the kind of bike longtime riders (and overexposed journalists) love, but one that makes consumers yawn and move down the line in the showroom. Ultimately, the Legend TT fails to fall into the traditional Brit bike role of being either defiantly individual or a huge hunk of junk. We like it better this way.

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