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Friday 5th October 2012


PH2 RIDDEN: KAWASAKI W800

Biking like wot it used to be, only without the oil leaks


Nostalgia may not be what it used to be, but that hasn’t stopped more than a few riders looking towards bikes that hark back to a time when men were men, leather was greasy and bikes left black deposits on your driveway.

Or to put it another way, the 1960s and 1970s.

Go over 70 and you can use the mirrors
Go over 70 and you can use the mirrors
Bikes such as the Triumph Bonneville range, new Nortons, Guzzis and Royal Enfields are all styled to resemble great bikes from past years, although in the case of Enfield most of the technology is also from the 1960s (ok, yes I know they now have an electric start, fuel injection and ‘correct’ side gear change…).

For 2012, Kawasaki has rejoined the nostalgia drive with the W800 – a retro bike with modern touches, like an ability to retain oil.

What have we got?
A few years ago Kawasaki’s model range included the W650, a bike that is a bit of a hidden gem and actually had a load more character than the modern Bonnevilles it was up against.

For whatever reasons (most likely emissions laws) the W650 was dropped from the range in 2006, something that was a bit of a shame as it had quickly developed a cult following thanks to its easygoing nature and cool styling.

Now Kawasaki re-invented the W in best Mr Kipling stylee. With its air-cooled parallel twin engine (with bevel-driven cams that look like pushrods) the W800 certainly looks the part. You have to give it to Kawasaki’s styling department: the chrome mudguards, fork gaiters, twin peashooter pipes, drum rear brake and long saddle make the W800 look superb.

You may not immediately spot it as a Kawasaki though. They've replaced the Kawasaki tank logo with a ‘W’ badge, and printed the factory name on the back of the seat – which I reckon looks ace.

Parallel twins: were they ever any good?
Parallel twins: were they ever any good?
Break out the goggles…
Push the starter (no kickstart here) and the W800 rumbles into life. As with most modern bikes, the exhaust note is nothing more than a pathetic whisper (would smashing a metal bar up the pipe knock out a bit of noise deadening?) but the W vibrates with a pleasing ‘old bike’ feel as its parallel twin ticks away.

Looking at the clocks I have to say I’m not a huge fan of the styling or font used for the numbers. It seems a bit modern to me, though the use of cream rather than white as a backing colour is nice. In with the light clutch and away we go…

The W650 was never the fastest bike out there, so the increased capacity has given the W800 some welcome extra poke. This style of bike isn’t about top speeds, but the 800 can now happily cruise at ... motorway speeds. No doubt though that it is far happier on smaller roads where the punchy engine can be enjoyed.

Pottering around the back roads on the W800 is a very pleasant experience. The handling isn’t bad and the vibrations from the engine are just enough to give it character without getting annoying.

Speaking as an owner of a classic British bike I can say that the hefty vibration of a big single can really start to get annoying after a while. However, there is a slight issue with the W800’s ‘character buzz’. The vibrations from the motor make the mirrors virtually useless as they only display a blur of colour at most speeds. Oddly enough I found they cleared above 80mph (on private land, etc) which isn’t exactly the speed this bike is likely to live at.

Also, the single front brake is a little pathetic in its action, providing the bare minimum of stopping power at best. Having said that, it's certainly better than a drum brake…

They should offer Triumph overstickers
They should offer Triumph overstickers
Who will buy it?
The W800 will certainly appeal to a certain type of buyer, who I always think of as my Dad! The old boy has ridden bikes all his life, but as he is now touching 70 he has given up on his 1960 Velocette as the kickstart is a bit tricky to fire over. He'd love the Kawasaki (although he probably wouldn’t want it, as it's Japanese and not British) because it has a relaxed ride, good steering lock, electric start and looks the part.

A modern classic gives you total reliability in a retro-looking bike that can be taken out and enjoyed whatever the weather. The W800’s main competitor is probably the Bonneville and I reckon it would run the Triumph close in a comparative test. It's priced competitively, looks as cool and handles as well.

The only issue the Kawasaki has is the name badge that (isn’t) on the tank. A Kawasaki is never as cool as a Triumph – which is a shame as, snobbery aside, the W800 is a lovely bike for sunny Sunday rides.


Specs:Kawasaki W800                                           
Engine:
773cc, air-cooled, parallel-twin, fuel injection
Power: 70hp (claimed)
Torque: 76ft lb (claimed)
Top speed: 110mph (est)
Weight: 216kg
MPG: 50 (est)
Price: £6,799

Author: Jon Urry