The problem with exceptionally tidy café racers is that they often belie the amount of work that’s gone into them. Just look at this Kawasaki Z650 café racer from the UK’s Foundry Motorcycle. On the surface, it shows the sort of considered craftsmanship that we’ve come to expect from Foundry’s Tom Simpson—but it took a lot of work to get to this point.
For starters, Tom didn’t have a whole lot to work with when the project kicked off. “Having seen our previous Kawasaki café racer, our customer got his build slot booked with us,” says Tom. “On schedule, he delivered the barest set of bones of any donor bike to date; a Z650 frame, forks, wheels, and a tank.”
Tom didn’t even get an engine with the bike, because the client had chosen to rebuild it himself. So Tom borrowed an ’empty’ motor from his previous Kawasaki Z650 café racer customer and mounted it in the frame as a placeholder. “With that, I had pretty much everything I needed to make a start,” he adds.
Working from a simple concept sketch, Tom managed to get the client to buy into the overall design. But the brief included some big asks. Foundry would have to fabricate a custom swingarm, an entirely new subframe, and a full stainless steel exhaust system.
Tom was a blacksmith before he built custom motorcycles for a living—so whether he’s casting parts or beating them into shape, metalwork is his jam. He dropped the dummy engine into the donor frame and set to work creating a bespoke aluminum swingarm. “Even though I’ve built frames and bodywork several times before, I always underestimate how much time these follies soak up,” he quips.
“That said, I’m very pleased with the result. Along with the YSS shocks, it meant that I was able to get the exact stance I wanted.”
Moving to the subframe, Tom decided to avoid the typical cut-‘n’-loop style that so many café racers sport. Instead, he designed a tail hump that would integrate neatly with the rear frame rails. A set of custom brackets and bosses ensures that everything fits together well.
The tail section’s bodywork is divided into two sections. The traditional café racer hump forms the top half, while the bottom serves to blank off the underside of the tail, while also acting as an electronics tray. The overall effect is delightfully cohesive.
A Lithium-ion battery now hides under the tail bump, with a Motogadget mo.unit control box stashed under the seat. You can’t tell unless you get up close, but the front bit of the seat support also includes brackets to brace the new Keihin CR Special carbs. (Too often custom builders remove a bike’s airbox, only to leave the carbs, quite literally, hanging.)
Tom kept the OEM fuel tank but tidied it up significantly. It now wears a Monza-style filler cap and a ‘Click-Slick’ fuel petcock from Golan. Hiding under the tank are a Dyna S ignition and fresh Dyna coils.
Next on the list was the 1978-model Z650’s aging running gear. Tom refurbished the stock forks and brakes, and added a second OEM disc brake to the front for added peace of mind. The original hubs were refurbished, but the stainless steel spokes, alloy rims, and Avon tires are all fresh items.
“The lack of front mudguard is a conscious design decision made with the customer,” Tom points out. “But just in case your readers are firing up their keyboards, I have deliberately left all the lugs on the fork lowers, so a mudguard can be fitted if ever desired. The number plate and tail unit act as a very effective rear guard, along with the aluminum baffle plate that stops the carbs and air filters from being in the firing line.”
Up top, Tom installed a set of clip-ons complete with Biltwell Inc. grips, Motone switches, and levers that he scalped from an early-2000s Honda CBR600RR. With no more need for the stock handlebar clamps, Tom shaved those off. Finishing off the cockpit is a Motogadget Chronoclassic tacho and speedo, mounted on a handmade bracket.
A 7” headlight sits out front, sitting on custom mounts that also house a pair of Kellermann turn signals. Multi-purpose Kellermann units take care of taillight and turn signal duties out back.
Tom’s signature is splashed all over this build, as long as you know where to look. The four-into-two exhaust system is an obvious touch; subtler details include parts like the rotating adjusters that hold the Tarozzi rear-set pegs. From the foot control linkages to the rear axle adjusters, there’s hardly anything that doesn’t bear a Foundry Motorcycle stamp.
The only tasks that happened outside of Foundry’s workshop—other than the engine build—were the paint and upholstery. S.Jago Designs laid down the stylish paint job, and Trim Deluxe added a touch of class to the seat.
Between its restrained finishes and its flawless stance, this Kawasaki Z650 café racer is good taste personified. If anyone has an old Z650 basket case taking up space, we’re now accepting donations.