A classic, they say, never goes out of style. It is with this mindset that I approached the 2016 Kawasaki W800, a retro-roadster molded from classic British motorcycles of the 60’s. In fairness to the Kawasaki, the predecessor of the W800 dates back to 1966 when they introduced the W1 as a Japanese reinterpretation of the popular British vertical-twin engine design. The W1 is powered by a 650cc air-cooled vertical-twin motor based on the BSA A7 that inevitably formed the basis for future W series motorcycles. Popular and reliable as they may be, the W1 and succeeding W2 and W3 models were sadly superseded by faster and more sophisticated multi-cylinder motorcycles of the era, so with declining sales, Kawasaki finally decided to discontinue production of the W series in 1974, only to revive it in 1989 when demand for retro style motorcycles became popular again. In 2011, the W800 replaced the W650, featuring a balance shaft, fuel injection and a novel bevel-driven overhead camshaft.
Kawasaki Philippines finally received the first shipment of W800s last November 2016, and through the good graces of our friends in Wheeltek, we were given first dibs on the media test unit. Now, call me old-fashioned, but for some odd reasons I somehow found a liking to the W800. I mean, there’s really nothing special about it to send your heart racing to overdrive. It is basically an oversized business model style motorcycle with an extra cylinder and a front disc brake. But I guess it’s the promise of a pure riding experience that makes me gravitate toward bikes like this. Riding it magically transports me to a bygone era when everything was pure and simple. No throttle-by-wire, no selectable riding modes, no traction-control, not even anti-lock braking system. Just pure old-school motorcycle goodness.
I especially love the blackout treatment of the W800 Special Edition test unit we had with just the right amount of chrome, giving it a custom look. Perhaps making up for its lack of electronic gizmos, it is in the small details where the W800 truly impresses. Like the way the bevel-drive juts out of the crankcase up to the camshaft, or how the front disc brake carrier was designed to look like a drum brake, even the heatsink for the exhaust headers and the classic typeface used on the instrument gauges adds to the authenticity. I can imagine myself staring at the W800 interestingly while sipping a hot beverage at a roadside coffee shop somewhere in the mountains and feeling good about it, or stealing a quick glimpse of my reflection on store windows I pass by. If you do that, then you know you’ve bought the right bike. And for me, those are the simple joys of riding a motorcycle.
Now, if you love riding fast bikes, attending trackdays and canyon carving, better look somewhere else because the W800 prefers putting around town than teleporting you to your destination at light speed. It’s no slouch, mind. The W800 can accelerate to 100 km/h in just under 6 seconds, and reaching its top speed of 177 km/h is a only a question of if you can withstand the windblast at elevated speeds for it doesn’t offer any wind protection whatsoever. It’s just that the power characteristics of the vertical twin cylinder motor is more conducive to short shifting at low rpm because the maximum 44 lb ft of torque is readily available at only 2,500 rpm. While the motor can eagerly spin to 7,000rpm, the 5-speed gearbox could probably use another gear if only to increase the highway cruising speed without summoning the vibrations, albeit very subtle, that lurks at higher engine speeds.
Riding the W800 could best be described as plush. The non-adjustable front forks and twin rear shock absorbers handle bumps and rough roads very well, but unfortunately the front forks are easily overwhelmed under hard braking. Obviously, the front spring rates are tuned for all-day riding comfort rather than for brisk canyon carving. To counter front-end diving when using the front brake, I learned to utilize engine braking more by rolling off the throttle smoothly to scrub off excess speed when entering a corner before using the front disc brake. Then again, the W800 is not all about blistering speed and attacking corners but for easygoing riding. So if you like cruising around town but don’t like riding a cruiser style motorcycle, the W800 presents an alternative with far superior handling characteristics and a more natural riding position in a classy package.
It’s been said many times before that the W800 is the Japanese version of the popular British roadster the Triumph Bonneville and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The W800 possess most of the characteristics of the Bonneville that makes it the favorite amongst modern-retro bike enthusiasts but without the hefty price tag of admission. If you could live not having the Triumph badge on your fuel tank, then the W800 is the Bonneville lookalike bike you’ve been waiting for.
Engine: 4-stroke, air-cooled, 2-cylinder
Max Power: 48 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 44 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
Fuel Capacity: 14 liters
Seat Height: 790mm
Curb Weight: 216 Kg.
Top Speed: 177 Km/h
Price: PhP 447,000
+ Styling, superb build quality and touring comfort
- Soft-ish front spring rate, could use a 6th gear
W2W Editor’s rating: 9 / 10