Comparison test: real Brit bike feeling
BSA A10 Golden Flash, Kawasaki W 650 and Yamaha XS 650
From time to time the Japanese manufacturers tried again and again with certain models to generate that real British bike feeling. How close were the copies to the original?
Small and very small streets in the Black Forest invite you to enjoy undisturbed motorcycle enjoyment at ideal temperatures at the end of September.
While in the 50s and 60s English two-cylinder engines in the upper displacement segment not only set the tone in terms of sound technology and provided the template for many Japanese motorcycles, the Far Eastern motorcycle industry quickly found its own way and set the pace with ever new models and designs. Japanese manufacturers regularly tried to get a piece of the image of the once so traditional British motorcycle industry with large two-cylinder engines. The 1966 Kawasaki W1 was clearly based on the BSA A7. In autumn 1969, Yamaha presented the XS 1 at the Tokyo Motor Show and later made a new attempt with the structurally identical XS 650. Even if the engine, unlike the British competition, already had an overhead camshaft, the synchronous rotor should be reminiscent of the two-cylinder British steam hammers of the AJS, BSA, Norton or Triumph. Not only anglophile motorcycle fans raved about: "The most English motorcycle that the Japanese have ever built."
1In 999, Kawasaki tried again on a retro bike with a Brit look. In the W 650, the crankshaft drove the overhead camshaft via a vertical shaft. After all, it operated four valves per cylinder, and the engine with balancer shaft was also mounted in rubber. However, typical features such as the shape of the engine housing, the balloon-shaped silencers or the narrow 18- and 19-inch wheels demonstrated the clientele Kawasaki had in its sights.
A comparison of the different generations should show how much of that British feeling Far Eastern bikes can actually carry. The benchmark was set by a two-cylinder with all the features of the traditional English school: parallel twin with a camshaft below, bumpers and rocker arms to the valves hanging in the head in pre-unit construction, ie with a separate gearbox, long stroke with 650 cm³ and a carburetor, the BSA A10 Golden Flash. BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) presented its original version in October 1949, optionally as a model with a rigid frame or straight suspension on the rear wheel. The test object is an A 10 built in 1959 with a rear swing arm, as it was on the market from 1954.
For comparison, a Yamaha XS 650 from 1978 and a Kawasaki W 650 from 2004, already in the version with catalytic converter and secondary air system, were allowed to compete. The three bask in the last rays of the autumn sun and are ready for the obligatory seat rehearsal. Very British, as expected, the pilot relaxes on the BSA behind the wide, comfortably cranked handlebars. The knees are slightly bent, giving you a feeling of solid comfort. The Yamaha also offers a comfortably cranked handlebar, but the driver sinks into the soft seat cushion and the knees have to be angled much more strongly thanks to the small distance between the footrests and the bench. The Kawasaki, also with a comfortably cranked handlebar and comfortably low footrests, comes pretty close to the English ideal, but the seating position is not quite as compact as on the bike from the island.
Before the BSA, true to the English cliché, spreads even more small oil stains on the floor, things get serious, the two-cylinder engines have to show their potential. Narrow streets with sharp serpentines await the trio. The start-up procedure is easier than expected. One or two kicks on the kickstarter, and the BSA puffs clearly audibly and moves away on the main stand. Tea Yamaha and Kawasaki have electric starters and kick starters. Purists kick it, laypeople prefer to press the button, and after a short time the two Japanese grumble to themselves, the Yamaha clearly gurgling out of the air filter box, the Kawasaki extremely discreet with a gentle bump. The BSA thunders ahead and initially causes astonishment. Practically from idle speed, the twin pulls out of tight turns with ease that the competition has to work hard on the throttle and gear lever in order not to lose sight of the 50-year-old Briton. The twin pulls like the proverbial tractor. In connection with an outstanding handiness, the A10 cuts a better figure the closer the road is.
Kawasaki W 650 and Yamaha XS 650, BSA A10 Golden Flash.
Shifting to the right – first gear at the top, the remaining three at the bottom – does not require much power, but takes a longer distance and thanks the driver if he takes the time to change gears. As the speed increases, the pitch rises proportionally – a bassy humming turns into a dry blast – and the vibrations remind you to change gears even on moderate turns. At higher speeds, around 5000 rpm, hard vibrations penetrate all contact surfaces with the driver. The rising thunder from the two exhausts then takes on orchestral strength. The chassis behaves good-naturedly and shines with an amazing handiness that clearly outshines that of the Japanese competition. Much more compact and 22 or 37 kilograms lighter than Kawasaki and Yamaha, it can show its strengths in the lower speed range. Even the brakes keep up with the pace, but not with the standard system. In the front wheel, the owner Jürgen Saumer installed the duplex brake of the later two-cylinder BSA and Triumph, and it is tough. Although the brake lever can be pulled all the way through to the handlebars when the vehicle is stationary, in this position it would have long responded with a locking front wheel while driving. The front brake can be easily adjusted and does its job with little manual force.
The switch to the Yamaha delivers a tangible surprise. She wants to be moved much more actively in order to follow the BSA in tight bends. From 3000 rpm, it increases speed only hesitantly. If you want to move forward quickly, you need significantly higher revolutions and frequent gear changes. At 4000 rpm there is a decent thrust, it then strives evenly towards the red area without ups and downs. Tea circuit is crisp with short distances, but demands emphasis. With a muffled, roaring intake noise, it delivers a completely different sound than the BSA. It sounds almost like a two-cylinder from the classic racing scene with open air funnels. The vibrations increase proportionally to the speed and in higher regions inform the driver of the free inertia forces of the crank drive through the tank and footrests, apparently unfiltered.
The chassis behaves neutrally, at best the fork reacts stuckily to short bumps, while the rear suspension elements comfortably swallow even rough road bumps. On the one hand, it shines with good driving stability, but in comparison to the BSA also with downright astonishing unwieldiness. Where the English woman tilts almost by herself, the Yamaha demands dedicated steering impulses and feels hundreds of pounds heavier. This property increases at higher speeds. With a full tank of 227 kilograms, it weighs 34 kilograms more than the 193 kilogram BSA, but the extra pounds are not the only reason for the different behavior. Thanks to a mixture of compact design, favorable chassis geometry and center of gravity as well as the narrow tires of the A10, there are worlds between the two opponents. The brakes provide the next surprise. The generously dimensioned double disc in the front wheel shows the typical design of the 1970s. She rewards fixed access with a mediocre delay and poor controllability. The retrofitted drum brake from BSA can do this much better.
Switching to the Kawasaki W 650 creates a new driving experience. From idle, the Japanese two-cylinder doesn’t quite offer the burly acceleration like the Britbike, but starts at 2000 revs and gives the impression of playful lightness. The thrust only subsides towards the red area. Predecessor models without a catalytic converter mastered this discipline even better. Compared to the Yamaha, the Kawasaki has clear advantages up to the middle speed ranges, can easily follow it in the higher gear and confidently stands out. At most in the last third of the speed scale, the Yamaha can flash its three more horsepower. Due to its subtle noise development and the low level of vibration, the Kawa is subjectively rather reserved. Only low, sonorous exhaust hums reach the driver’s ear. Vibrations can only be felt in the range from 3000 to 4000 rpm, the engine then gets into moderate resonance vibrations in its elastic mounting. The gear shifts as smooth as butter, handling is completely problem-free, downright relaxed.
The sound and draft of the BSA could hardly be more English.
The W 650 also scores on the chassis side. Although it does not come up with the amazing maneuverability of the BSA and the stability of the Yamaha, it is much more manageable than its Japanese competition. Playfully she waves through combinations of curves. In this case too, twelve kilograms less mass obviously plays a role, but not the only decisive role. Without a doubt, the Kawasaki developers have put together the better suspension package, and given it a remarkable level of comfort. Like a litter, it floats over any uneven ground, telescopic fork and spring struts also level third-order streets. Only the sporty driver wants a slightly firmer suspension and damping on the rear wheel. And the individual brake discs in the front wheel also document 20 years of progress very effectively. With optimal dosage and delay, it especially puts the Yamaha in place.
When you swap your motorcycle, the BSA always creates a surprise effect. The 60-year-old construction inspires with its step out of the speed basement. Although the acoustic impression increases the subjective perception of the driving performance according to the motto make loud fast, MOTORRAD Classic was also able to gain very similar experiences with other British twins from Triumph or Norton. In contrast to the Yamaha, the Kawasaki can keep up to some extent in these regions. The picture only changes at higher speeds and speeds. Then the BSA gradually falls back, the Kawasaki moves up and the Yamaha can stage itself more and more.
The technical conditions underpin this tendency. The BSA and W 650 are both long-stroke engines with a similar stroke-to-bore ratio. The XS 650, on the other hand, has an almost square design. With its 38 carburetors, it also has by far the largest inlet cross-sections. The Kawasaki relies on a moderate, pulling 34 millimeter diameter. The BSA with its single Amal monobloc carburetor with a diameter of 27 mm is almost considered a throttle engine. But its sister model, the A10 Road Rocket, which appeared in 1954, also only had one carburetor, apparently did not suffer from shortness of breath. After all, it made a solid 45 hp.
In terms of chassis technology, the BSA amazes with a handiness that puts even that of the Kawasaki in the shade and distances the Yamaha by a long way. In the end, the sound remains: The BSA could no longer exist acoustically in the eyes of the law today. Nevertheless, the typical, pressed exhaust tone could be realized with the latest sound engineering at a lower volume. The attempt to copy typical characteristics such as pulling power, handiness and the sound of English two-cylinder engines has only partially succeeded Yamaha. The Kawasaki engineers could do better. Well done, even if more sound, of course within the legal limits, would not have harmed the W 650. Obviously, imitating the virtues of British twins is not easy today either.
BSA A10 Golden Flash (1950-1962)
BSA A10 Golden Flash.
The design of the BSA A10 originally goes back to the designer Herbert Perkins, who had already launched the parallel model, the 500-A7, with the same features in 1946. Bert Hopwood created the A 10 on this basis. Typically English is the parallel twin, with a crankshaft forged from one piece with a 360 degree crankpin offset and a centrifugally bolted flywheel. The split connecting rod feet move in plain bearings. A duplex chain transfers the engine torque to the four-speed transmission. Both designs have a cast iron cylinder and cylinder head with an integrated suction pipe that splits in the head. That is why even the sporty offshoots of the A10, such as the Super Rocket, could only be fitted with one carburetor. In terms of chassis technology, BSA converted in 1955 from straight suspension to a swing arm with two struts.
A weak point of the A 10 is the right-hand plain bearing of the crankshaft, which in an emergency can already be felt by rattling when idling. Its repair is relatively costly as the entire engine has to be dismantled. The electrical 6-volt system is, as with other British people, another weak point. Many BSA are therefore converted to 12 volts with new alternators and electronic regulators from the aftermarket. Otherwise, the A10 technology is considered robust.
There is a vital scene around the two-cylinder models from the A 7 to the A 65, which specializes in English in general and BSA in particular. Almost all parts are reproduced, so that the parts supply works better today than when the machines were built. The prices for a BSA A 10 are between 3500 and 8000 to 10000 euros, depending on the condition and model.
Clubs and forums
BSA Owners Club Germany e.V .: www.bsa-oc.de
BSA OLC: www.bsa-olc.de
England: BSA Owners-Club www.bsaownersclub.co.uk
B.M.C. Achim Ertel
Im Steinacker 51
Tegernseer Landstrasse 22
British Bike Weigelt
Alte Darmstädter Landstrasse 22
single & Twins
Data (model 1959)
Air-cooled two-cylinder four-stroke in-line engine, an underlying camshaft, two valves per cylinder, operated via bumpers and rocker arms, displacement 647 cm³, output 26 kW (35 HP) at 5800 rpm
Multi-disc dry clutch, four-speed gearbox, chain drive
Double loop frame made of tubular steel, telescopic fork at the front, two-arm swing arm, two spring struts, spoke wheels, tires 3.25-19 at the front, 3.50-19 at the rear, duplex drum brake at the front, Ø180 mm, drum brake at the rear
Mass and weight:
Wheelbase 1380 mm, weight with a full tank 193 kg
Top speed 160 km / h
Yamaha XS 650 (1974-1984)
Yamaha XS 650.
Price 1980: 6150 marks
When the forerunners of the Yamaha XS 650, the XS 1 and XS 2, came onto the market, their engine with the overhead camshaft was more state-of-the-art than its English counterparts. The camshaft operated two valves per cylinder via rocker arms. The Mikuni constant pressure carburetors were also more function than tradition. The crankshaft including connecting rods was completely roller-bearing. The XS1 from 1970 still relied on a duplex drum brake in the front wheel. The successor model from 1972, the XS 2, already decelerated by means of a disc brake. In 1975 the TX 750 came onto the market as a temporary solution, which was only able to last for a year due to severe teething problems. As early as 1976, the heavily revised XS 650 replaced the TX in Germany. Compared to the XS 2, it now had a double disc brake in the front wheel, aluminum high-shoulder rims, a new exhaust system and tank / seat combination. And the chassis has also been heavily revised. From now on there were no longer any complaints about the unstable driving behavior of the XS 1 and XS 2. In 1980, Yamaha added the XS 650 Special and XS 650 SE soft chopper to the XS. Both models remained in the range until 1984.
The mechanics of the motor of the XS 650 are considered to be less prone to failure. Due to the design, the weak point is the starter, the freewheeling of which repeatedly causes problems. In extreme cases, even greater consequential damage can occur in the engine. Purists therefore expand its entire periphery and start with a kick. In this way, a properly adjusted engine will start without any problems. The electrical system can also cause trouble, even in well-maintained machines with defective alternators and rectifiers. But in this case specialists can help with modifications to modern components. Because of the vibrations, the XS also kills all pears. A change to LEDs can help. The supply of spare parts is difficult, especially for engine parts and the exhaust system. For parts that are no longer available, the American Ebay usually even helps with new parts, as the XS models were widespread in the USA. All wearing parts, on the other hand, are available as original or reproductions. The maintenance of an XS 650 is therefore completely problem-free.
The offer ranges from converted models for 2000 euros to copies with a few kilometers in the original condition for 4000 to 4500 euros. Prices have been stagnating for a number of years, so no major changes are to be expected in the next few years.
Yamaha classic parts
Wormser Strasse 50
XS 650 Shop Kiel
Reesenberg 66 A
86925 Fuchstal / Asch
Clubs and forums
Air-cooled two-cylinder four-stroke in-line engine, one overhead camshaft, two valves per cylinder, operated via rocker arms, displacement 654 cm³, output 37 kW (50 HP) at 6500 rpm
Multi-disc oil bath clutch, five-speed gearbox, chain drive
Double loop frame made of tubular steel, telescopic fork at the front, Ø 35 mm, two-arm swing arm, two spring struts, spoked wheels with aluminum high shoulder rims, tires 3.50-19 at the front, 4.00-18 at the rear , double disc brake at the front, Ø 250 mm, two-piston fixed calipers, drum brake at the rear
Mass and weight:
Wheelbase 1465 mm, weight 227 kg with a full tank
Top speed 180 km / h
Kawasaki W 650 (1999-2006)
Kawasaki W 650.
Price 1999: 11,990 marks
We just wanted to do something different – that’s how simple the Kawasaki developers justified their decision in 1999 for the complex drive of the overhead camshaft via a vertical shaft. The engineers at Langhuber put a lot of effort into achieving this. The two lower bevel gears are housed in their own housing to enable the crankshaft, which is mounted on plain bearings, to have the necessary axial play. One is connected to the crankshaft via splines. The two-part vertical shaft also has a splined shaft. This allows differences in length to be compensated. The upper pair of bevel gears connects the vertical shaft with the camshaft. After repairs, the contact pattern must be determined and the backlash of the bevel gears adjusted by placing spacers. Fork rocker arms operate the two inlet valves of the four-valve engine. In contrast, individual rocker arms open the exhaust valves.
The W 650 is honest skin. What quirks it has as a used one can usually be seen with the naked eye. Rotten chrome, screws and hidden corners, for example, if the previous owner did not take it too carefully with the maintenance. Even steamed up instruments can be seen at a glance. Mechanically, however, the W 650 is considered very healthy. Even mileage of more than 100,000 kilometers is possible with regular maintenance – without engine overhaul, of course. Passionate screwdrivers can let off steam on the underdamped spring elements.
Anyone who thinks that the W 800, which has been available since spring 2011, would make the high used prices of the 650s tumble, is (so far) disappointed. Well-kept first-hand copies with a mileage of up to 10,000 kilometers still cost between 4,500 and 5,000 euros. The most popular are the facelift models from 2001, recognizable by the quilted and slightly stepped bench and the flat handlebars. There were only 1047 enthusiasts in total in the garage. Prospective buyers have a better chance of negotiating a copy of the first series. The Japanese sold 3339 of these.
Clubs and forums
Highly recommended and lively forum of a committed community. With links to other websites.
Data (Type EJ650-C6P, model year 2004 with U-Kat)
Air-cooled two-cylinder four-stroke in-line engine, an overhead camshaft driven by a vertical shaft, four valves per cylinder, displacement 676 cm³, output 35 kW (47 hp) at 6500 rpm
Multi-disc oil bath clutch, five-speed gearbox, chain drive
Double loop frame made of tubular steel, telescopic fork at the front, Ø 39 mm, two-arm swing arm made of tubular steel, two spring struts, wire-spoke wheels, tires 100/90 H 19 front, 130/80 H 18 rear, front disc brake, Ø 300 mm, double-piston caliper, rear drum brake
Mass and weight:
Wheelbase 1455 mm, weight with a full tank of 215 kg
Top speed 174 km / h
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