Bob Heywood has owned his 1982 Kawasaki Z650 F3 from brand new – and he’s covered nearly 230,000 miles in the 40 years since. Here’s the story of a man’s lifelong passion for his bike.
Words: Alan Dowds
Pics: John Goodman
Douglas Adams spoke about this in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: “Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.”
Now, the trip to the Moon is a bit like a walk to the chemist in intergalactic terms. But it’s an awfully long way to go on a 1982 Kawasaki Z650… That, however, is about how far Bob Heywood has ridden on his Zed (the distance between the Moon and Earth varies from 225,000 to 250,000 miles). And while the average miles per year isn’t outlandish (around 5750 miles a year), it’s unusual to spend all those miles on the one bike.
Bob does more miles than that actually: he also owns a Suzuki GSX1400 and has had other bikes over the years, but the Z650 is his real partner in crime, and the retired print worker has spent nearly two-thirds of his life riding it.
We heard about Bob after ace snapper John Goodman bumped into him at Box Hill. You don’t see too many old Z650s on the road these days, so it caught the eye, and Bob’s story soon emerged over a cuppa. Now, a few weeks later, I’m at Box Hill, too, and Bob takes me through his bike, telling me the story of how it all came about.
“I had four Puch Maxis first – that’s a long story why I had four,” he muses. “Then, aged 19, I had a Kawasaki Z200 in September 1977 which was my first proper bike; it was an S-reg. Next I swapped to a Suzuki GS425E, then in February 1981 I bought a black Suzuki GSX400 off Alec Jay. I kept that for one year exactly and then traded it in at Portman Motorcycles for old faithful here!”
What was it about the Z650 that first attracted him? “It was the looks that caught me, I love the shape. It’s a proper motorbike. The proportions are right, the smooth, rounded tank, like a Z1. If I’d got into bikes a bit earlier, I’d have maybe got one of those instead.”
The Z650 styling is a definite winner, especially back in the early 1980s, but there must have been more to it than that to keep him in the saddle all these years? “Yes – it’s so comfy. It was heading towards 50,000 miles, and I was getting a bit worried. My mates used to say Japanese bikes were like razor blades, great when brand new, but only lasted five minutes then you had to throw them away! Then when the Zephyrs came out – the 550, 750 – the dealer was saying what about one of those, and I just said no. Then when it went round the clock the first time I couldn’t believe it.”
What has Bob used the Zed for? “For the first five years I didn’t have a car,” he says. “So I used it for everything – though work was only two miles away so it didn’t do too many miles commuting. I’ve used it for pleasure riding and going on holiday to Scotland. When I first had it I did around 10-11k a year, but the first year was the most mileage ever. On its first birthday in February 1983 it had 15,900 miles on the clock, it was freezing and I didn’t want to go, but I went out to see 16,000 miles on it! Now I do 7-9000 miles a year if I go to Scotland, or around 2500 miles if I don’t go. I’ve been to Scotland loads of times on it, but never been abroad, I’ve always stayed in the UK. The year 2018 was the last time I went up; there were all these big adventure bikes and there’s me on old faithful with my panniers! It didn’t even use any oil, never missed a beat.”
He adds: “I go all over Scotland, usually staying near Inverness. I had a favourite B&B in Daviot, just south of the city. I go up the A9 and stay at B&Bs and go out all over the place every day..., John o’Groats, etc. In 1983 I did Land’s End to John o’Groats on it, not the shortest way either! I started at the Lizard in Cornwall then went down to Land’s End, then up through Wales, stopped overnight, then up and through the Lake District, then along the Scottish west coast. I used to go with my cousin Alan, on his Suzuki GS750.”
How does the Z650 feel these days compared with back then? “It's the same as it always was, apart from the change from a 4-into-2 to a 4-into-1, with the old Motad system on there. I fitted that because they said you didn’t need to change any jetting. The original chain did 30,000 miles, it was well cream-crackered! But now I lube with gear oil every 300 miles and that one is on 52k and still has plenty of miles on it. It’s probably about the sixth chain now.”
The 650 hasn’t been Bob’s only bike down the years, though. He says: “When I’d had the Z650 10 years, I bought a Zephyr 1100 – that was nice. I had that about a decade. When I had the Zephyr I didn’t do many miles on the 650 because I had a new toy. Then I saw an ad for the GSX1400 so I sold the Zephyr and bought that. I’ve had that for 19 years now and it’s done 60k miles, all original.
It’s got so much torque; in third it’s doing the same revs per mile as the 650 in top. And boy does it go! But even though it goes so fast, I still love the 650 because it’s so light and more nimble.”
It feels like a stupid question, but I have to ask Bob if he’d ever think of selling the Z650? I get a big grin and a shake of the head in response. “I want to see if I can wear it out before I wear out! I’ve no interest in selling, oh no, they’ll probably bury it with me! People are quite impressed when I say I’ve had it from new, because most people have bought theirs or they came from America or something.”
Will Bob manage to get a Moon ‘round trip’ clocked up on his Z650 before hanging up his riding boots? It’s a tall order, but if anyone could manage it, this retired gentleman, with a love for the road and a passion for his bike, is surely in with a shout…
Bob’s motor has hit 230,000 miles, with fairly modest servicing and one major rebuild. It had one overhaul at 104,000 miles, with a complete strip-down to the crank, and got a 1mm over rebore, new cam and primary drive chains, valve springs and bearing shells. “It was going alright,” said Bob. “but the cylinder base gasket was leaking oil. Touch wood, it’s been dry as a bone ever since.”
“At 125,000 miles, the shocks still passed the MoT but were getting a bit bouncy so I swapped them for some Konis, and they’re still on there now. The front fork bushes needed doing about 87,000 miles ago.”
“The rear drum brake shoes last about 100,000 miles. I like to use Dunlopad brake pads on the front.”
When you keep a bike for this length of time, unusual things start to wear out. Amongst them on Bob’s bike are the starter clutch at 198,500 miles; the filler cap rubber seal at 228,000 miles; ignition switch at 219,200 miles; horn button at 166,700 miles; and the starter motor brushes at 165,700 miles!
“Wheel bearings have always passed the MoT but last year when I got a new rear tyre, the bearing felt a bit lumpy so I changed them (after 228,000 miles). However, the front wheel bearings are still original! I try and push a little bit of grease in there when it’s out, they’re not sealed. It’s had steering head bearings; I changed to taper rollers at 43,000 miles, then they wore out so I’m on the third set now. Swingarm bearings went at around 125k, it failed the MoT and when the mechanic fitted them, he said he could fit two on the thrust side so he did that, which makes a difference.”
“I can’t praise the Z650 enough,” said Bob. “Its only Achilles heel is the vacuum fuel tap, I am always having to replace the diaphragm! They start leaking after a couple of years. I buy spares two or three at a time now.”
“Up to the rebuild at 104,000 miles it had a few shims here and there, but since then it’s not needed one shim. I think it’s all settled in now.”
“When I started it was mineral oil, and I used to change it ever 2000 miles with filter every other change. But with semi-synthetic oil now, I do every 3000 miles.”
Kawasaki Z650 history
Bob’s Z650 is an unusual beastie, and not just because of the mileage, the condition and the one-owner-only V5. It’s a rare F3 model, which is one of the last versions that Kawasaki built before production ended in 1983.
You can see the hints of modernity creeping into the design: it has the later switchgear borrowed from the GPz range which was coming into production, rather than the old-school Z1 style controls, and the front brake master cylinder has the later rectangular reservoir instead of a round part. The carburettors are 32mm CV MIkunis rather than the rather dated 28mm round slide parts fitted to the original 650s, and there were detail updates to clocks and bodywork.
By 1982 when Bob bought his Z650, Kawasaki was moving on from the basic naked roadster. The 650 motor had been uprated to a 750, and used in the Z750 fours, then tweaked to produce the GPz750, then the rocket-ship 750 Turbo. With the beefy, big air-cooled GPz 550, 750 and 1100 models on sale, the 650 faded away a bit, and Kawasaki was already planning the water-cooled revolution: the GPZ600R and 900R were only two or three years away.
The 650’s influence lived on, though. The air-cooled DOHC engine would appear in 738cc form in the 1992 Zephyr 750 and it would have a final hurrah in the 1999 ZR-7 and later ZR-7S. By then though, its 75bhp power output was seriously down on the class. It was up against the likes of the Suzuki Bandit 600, Honda Hornet 600 and Yamaha Fazer 600 – all with much sharper performance, despite their smaller capacity.