PH2 ridden: Kawasaki W800

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                                           
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

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (43) Join the discussion on the forum

  • kwakazx 21 Feb 2013

    Hi I bought one of the first W800 to arrive here in WA in late jan 2011.
    My opinions of this bike after 15K are.
    If you say the brakes are bad then I suggest you squeeze the lever nearer the handle end. If you do and you apply good pressure you can make the tyre squeal fairly easily. not gettin the full leverage does make them seem a bit underpowered but they're not. well not for the bike they're on. I've got a number of 1200 zrx'z (one tuned to buggery) that have been back and forth across the states a few times (nullabor) and yes six pot calipers are great but those on the W800 suit the bike adequately.
    Fuel injection on what would normally be the choke period can get a little erratic. I suggest you take of the cover and see how it (the choke) or fuel increase system works Then you will find it easy to keep it working fine.
    My bike has no trouble reaching the old Ton and a little beyond that I haven't tried yet. It's really smooth at 110 to 120. Sharpen up the exhaust a bit and it has quite a pleasing Bark at speed or acceleration. Usually wear ear plugs on other bikes but because the w800 is more upright or closer to the position where helmets are usually tested for wind noise I don't need them.
    This is the bike I always choose for shorter rides say up to 200k. Of course it will do the longer rides just the same as my KLR 650 does but when carrying lots of luggage on an interstate trip or a fast ride around the twisties I generally revert to the bigger bikes to get my jollies.
    Tank Mileage using full reserve will get you around 260k with safety and at 125kph or less speeds
    I never have been a lover of fuel injection and specifically the flybywire throttles on more techno machines. Sooner or later whether during first owner. ownership or perhaps on higher mileage second owner models I think the electronic throttle is going to fail. And I dread to think of the consequences in a corner etc.

  • Turn7 14 Oct 2012

    Not for me, dont get the knobbly look at all.

  • sjg 14 Oct 2012

    Rather nice looking one on bikeexif today:

  • gbbird 14 Oct 2012

    Chicken Chaser said:
    Steve Evil said:
    I think the special edition one which replaces most of the chrome with matt parts and gold wheels looks ace:

    That is bloody lovely.

    I've actually considered buying something like this when I sell the KTM. Completely different bike, and different experience.
    That looks lovely. I think i may have just found my first proper bike smile

  • ZesPak 10 Oct 2012

    aeropilot said:
    For impressive W800 antics, check out the W800 Gentlemans Cup, over in Switzerland.

    Kawasaki sponsored flat-tracker style W800's competing on mixed tarmac/loose short circuits (a bit like a motorcycle version of Rallycross).

    eek does speak volumes about the built quality if they're sponsering events like that imho.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment