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Review: 2011 Kawasaki W800


Posted on May 21st, by Andrew in Review. 45 comments

Stand down and be counted – meet the new W

My Dad. Knows absolutely nothing about motorbikes bar their mechanical basics and (in his eyes at least) their inherent danger – that and whatever his still-sharp 60 year-old senses tell him. So picture the vista when I roll up to my parent’s farm for Mother’s Day on a brand new Kawasaki W800. Of course he knows that the last bike I reviewed was Zero’s brave but flawed Zero S, and he briefly casts his eyes over this new one as I rev it up to give him a listen to the engine. There’s a moment of deep contemplation, much like a Kung Fu master might do, then he calmly pronounces, “Another electric bike, is it?” I laugh out loud. An electric bike? “Come on! Just look at the thing,” I blurt, pointing out the two massive pipes hanging off the back. “I know it doesn’t look like an electric bike,” he replies. “But it sure does sound like one…”

Please do meet Kawasaki’s all new W800 – a rethink of the popular W650 and their tilt at the ever-expanding “classic” bike segment. As we all know, the W650 was quite a hit with the custom crowd and has produced many superb DIY rides including a few corkers from local Sydney hipsters Deus Ex Machina. The intro blurb on the company website points out the attention to detail and “authentic quality” gained from using a plethora of metal and chrome on the bike – no doubt in an attempt to lure both older riders with a longing for the good ol’ days and younger riders who are possibly looking to get in on the custom bike craze. Kawasaki are also very quick to mention that the bike’s a homage to their original W1 parallel twin of 1967 – but do note that a homage is all that it is, as the W1 has almost nothing in common with the W650 or W800 excepting the parallel twin engine configuration and a 360˙ firing order.

A tip for budding photographers – when shooting a bike with two stands, ensure they are not both down at the same time

Naturally, the engine’s an air-cooled number with a capacity of 773cc. By Kawasaki’s measure, the power produced is around 52Kw (70 hp), up from 37 Kw (50 hp) of the previous model; torque is spun out of the new block at 60Nm (76 ft. lbs.) as compared to the 41Nm (56 ft. lbs.) of the 676cc W650.  All this is happening much lower in the rev range than the old bike, with maximum torque available at 2500 rpm – 2000 rpm lower than the six fiddy. You’ve got a five-speed box to toe through, and a 14 ltr (4 gal) tank to pour the petroleum downwards. The frame is good ol’ tube steel and it all weighs in at 216 kg (476 lbs.), with the seat stopping your bum’s downwards motion at 790mm (31”).  The rest is completely as you’d expect with telescopic front forks (no adjustment), twin rear shockers (pre-load adjustment), disc front and drum rear. It’ll cost you 12 thousand biscuits if you pay recommended retail in Oz.

The bike is impressive on first sighting. All that chrome burns shininess into your retinas and you can’t help but be impressed. When you have recovered your sight, the finer details also please. There’s nothing that jumped out to my fussy eyes as under-done or budget-looking and the chrome is obviously nice and thick – and at that weight it’d want to be. What about the colours? We do hope sir likes dark green, because that’s the sum total of the choices available, though there’s so little surface area on the bike that isn’t chromed I’m not sure that it’d make a whole lot of difference. You can bet your bottom dollar there will be more colours announced soon, too. Jumping on board confirms that it’s not a featherweight. It’s not Harley heavy either, but just substantial enough for you to think twice when doing your first few U-turns.

Somewhat quizzically, it’s been placed in the “Sports” section of the company’s line-up alongside the likes of the Z1000 naked and 1400GTR Hayabusa buster, but once you sight that heart-shaped tank from the rider’s position you can’t help but think there’s more than a little cruiser in the bike’s genes. Of course the weight only adds to that impression. The retro feel of the bike is handled with grace and thankfully not overdone anywhere. I find that a bike’s dials are a decent gauge (pun fully intended) of excessively retro intentions on many bikes in this class and often end up looking more like a prop from an Austin Powers film than something that you’d be happy to look at on a regular basis. These ones pass the test nicely, with only the slightest hint of old school in the font chosen for the numerals. And yes, the bike does pass the Sunday morning smile-on-first-sighting test. It’s a looker, no doubt about it.

Retro, without being lame-o. Electronic display cycles through odo, trip, and time

One thing that did strike me as odd, though, was the lack of any Kawasaki branding on the bike save for the company moniker on the rear of the nicely padded seat. The tank itself has a simply “W” badge that looks more than a little like the classic Triumph eyebrow. This made me stop and think as to why they would do that; sure they probably want to impress on people the heritage of the brand and all that but I for one couldn’t really think of another example of this kind of badging on a bike. Weird. Picturing myself as an owner, I’d be worried that I would end up being constantly asked, “What kind of bike is a W?” over and over. Say it loud and say it proud, guys. It’s a Kawasaki! There’s nothing to be ashamed of there.

No relation to George, we assume

The engine turns over at the mere whiff of starter (no kick-start option I’m afraid) and settles in a neat and orderly humming belying its modern design, electronic choke and fancy-pants fuel injection. A twist of the throttle or two allows the bevel-drive cam to throw its hand up in the noise classroom and be noticed. Then it strikes me. The metallic whine of bevel gears is all I can hear. Where’s the beautiful retro parallel twin exhaust pop-a-pops in this musical mix? Nowhere – that’s where. I then think that the bike might fiddle with some valves once I get on the road, but alas and alack it never eventuates. Even at highway speeds with a heap of revs showing all I ever hear is the power-station hum of the bevel and an almost indiscernible bass line that just rumbles away in the background without ever developing into something that would rouse the hairs on your neck (or in my case, my back) to any degree. More’s the pity as the pipes are a thing of beauty; all that glorious chrome for such little result. I can only assume that the engineers were paying too much attention to the noisy bike police and not enough to the riders who shell out the dollars on the showroom floor. Of course this was the very conundrum my Dad was commenting on, albeit in his own, “get right to the crux of the matter without really knowing that he’s doing so” kind of way.

Out on the bitumen bits the W starts to reveal it’s true character. The thing is totally buttoned down and as slick as a damn big bucket of freshly polished slick stuff. All very modern, seamless and totally unlike the retro image it fronts. Gear changes are silky, suspension is smooth and it’s rarely troubled by your general assortment of Sydney road acne. As with any mortal parallel twin it’s vibey, but not to a silly degree. You’ll still get a mirror full of tungsten spaghetti at night with the vibes of the engine blurring car headlights, but it’s never enough for you to lose track of what you’re seeing. Good for biking oscilloscope fans, then. I also found a rather amusing point in the rev range around the 3000 rpm mark that made my vision go all blurry and really gave me a pleasant, um, a pleasant… Well, you get the idea. Contact me privately for the Polaroids. As you’d expect from its weight and design it feels well planted and stable at speed, but does suffer slightly from a stick-in-the-mud-ish feel when you are trying to get it to hustle around the bendy bits.

It has a habit of looking tall and lean from some angles, and quite wide from others

Torque is there in spades, and all from about 2 rpm. I’ve ridden a few bikes that are really unhappy to do anything but idle in the lower quarter of their rev range. Not the W; it and it’s nice big flywheel were totally untroubled by low rev riding. Like any decent, torquey engine you can just leave it in gear and punt it around using the bloody great mass of twist the engine generates. Likewise, cruising at high speeds seems just as easy, ticking over at a lazy 4250 rpm at 120 kmh (60 mph) and a crazy-low 2750 at 80 kmh (50 mph). Roll on the throttle and the thing just goes like the high god of tarmac has summoned a surf-able road wave behind you. It never gets hurried or flustered, and although the red line is painted on at a reasonably high 7000 rpm it always seemed to be very at-home-on-the-couch-without-any-pants-on comfortable despite whatever my right hand threw at it.

Yes, the engine looks amazing. Note bevel drive for cams

One thing that did arise from my inner city riding was the tendency for the ‘box to drop into neutral on its way up from first to second. Undoubtedly it was more than a little to do with getting used to the cog-swapping habits of the bike, but it continued more than a few days into my loan and went from generating a slight sigh to a fully-blown helmet-full of toilet language after a few neutral-induced redlines as my left boot found nothing but warm oil on the other end of the gear lever. More than a little embarrassing, too. Hopefully this would remove itself from the picture with a bit more practice and a few more miles on the clocks. Then again, the rather pleasant flipside to this was a very easy neutral selection when rolling to a stop in traffic.

Large indicators enable you to be seen by other motorists and take shelter should it rain unexpectedly

Of course, after I became a little familiar with its looks my mind turned to possible customization options for the bike. Ideally I’d like to ditch as much metal as possible with the intention of getting it out of the 200s and back into the low 190s or high 180s, kilo-wise. The tank would definitely have to go (or at least get the chop) and I’ll have to slap you if you didn’t guess that I’d want to free up the restrictions on those beautiful pipes to let the much-repressed natural songs of the parallel twin out into the open air. I’d also hit eBay for a standard “written” Kawasaki badge (or even an old W650 item) to replace the weird-ass big “W” living there now. Thanks for nothing Kawasaki Marketing Department. Scott tells me that Deus have just wheeled out a mild custom W800 which is now sitting in their Camperdown shop (see iPhone picture below), and a quick search on Google reveals that Kawasaki Japan offer a few sweet aftermarket accessories including a new cowl seat, colour, and bikini fairing. Word is they will be available outside Japan sooner rather than later.

A crappy photo I took in Deus this afternoon of their mildly-modded W800. New pipes? Check. No weird tank badges? Check. Great minds…

I’ve a had a week or two to mull things over with the W800 after it’s return and it struck me that in a lot of ways the bike is to classic motorcycles like a cover version is to the original song. Now don’t take that the wrong way; I’m not taking a shot at the bike but rather trying to express the way the bike looks like the real deal but upon closer inspection it is actually a lot more slick, precise, and modern that it may first appear. Getting this mix is quite the art form, and I think that Kawasaki have done a pretty good job at picking and choosing just what should rock and swagger like Jimi Hendrix and what should glide and bleep like LCD Soundsystem. With the notable exception of that overly fascistic exhaust, the bike has the mix bang-on as far as I’m concerned.

But does it actually do the retro thing? Hell yes!

The W’s true test will be how it fares in the market place against the likes of Triumph’s Bonneville and T100 variant. In Australia the W has the price advantage over the Bonnie along with less chub and roughly the same oomph. Obviously it has tradition against it and as much as Kawasaki would like us to believe the W has a family photo album full of old, yellowing shots of the W1, I think the Triumphs do have it, erm, trumped on this front. We’ve not reviewed any of the Bonneville-based bikes as of yet but I’d sure be interested in doing a back-to-back with the two to see exactly how things stack up. As a solo act, the W800 was a hit with us and I’d happily pop in my own lot as the ride of choice when you’re feeling a little nostalgic but could do without the oil leaks and breakdowns. Nice one team green. Pipeburn recommended.





  • http://silodrome.com/ James McBride

    Love the look of this bike, especially with the after market fairing. Can't wait to see what Deus does with it.

  • Andrew

    @James – you don't have to wait. See second-last image above.

  • tq

    Dig the bike but don't understand why they got rid of the kickstarter with a CC increase. I always loved the W650 for having the kicker and wanted Triumph to do the same with their sport classics.

  • http://papasanphoto.com Papasan

    Very nice!

    Now when will it be available gere in the US???

  • switchum

    I doubt that it will be available in the US.

    When they produced retro style, W650 in 1999, the sales was not quite satisfactory in the US for Kawasaki, so they quit selling them here , though those W650 were popular at other parts of world and was in production till 2007. I would like one if I have extra cash…

  • GAIL

    The look is right but the engine is the weak part, it really needs a fortified (electric) I think your Dad is right.

  • MikeyA

    Funny, when the W650 was available and the new Bonnie came out, I remember a few comparison tests in magazines that concluded that the Kwacker, lighter, noisier and a bit more sparse, had more Brit-bike character than the heavier, smoother Triumph which felt more like a modern jap-bike. I guess either the Triumph name or the more cruiser-like spec won the day and Kawasaki is coming back with a bike that's bigger, heavier, smoother and quieter to try to take on the current Bonnie. Personally I prefer the W650 as it was, but I guess I'm not the buyer they're after.

  • MIck the Yorkshire man

    I Get Mine next week, after months of indecision over getting a Boni T100, I finally decided to go for the best bike and not the best badge afterall £7k is a lot to spend on a badge, the 'W' is Gorg.

  • http://www.pipeburn.com Andrew

    @Mick – Love to hear what you think of it. Drop us a line…

  • Rex Havoc

    From what I hear, the first batch sold out in Oz and there is now a waiting list. I think Kawasaki have lot to thank Deus for.

    I regularly take my modded W650 on ride days and have fun in the corners with the other bikes. Should be more fun next month when the big bore kit and flat slides are fitted!

  • http://www.pushrodmofo.com/ Steve

    "and as slick as a damn big bucket of freshly polished slick stuff" -har!
    I hope they do offer it in the States (although as pointed out, rather unlikely) because that means in 2 or 3 years there will be bargains on these cropping up on eBay or CraigsList :)
    I'm pretty impressed by the out-of-the-box styling – not many look this good stock.
    A note on the exhaust (ha!) I think they realize most people are going to replace them anyways so I'll bet they made it super-quiet to get by the EPA (or their equiv. in Oz, UK, etc) since that bevel drive adds a bunch of noise that'll need to be overcome.
    And nice to see a bevel! Are there any other modern bikes that are bevel drive? I dunno…

  • Frank

    I'm riding a Triumph Scrambler and could think of it as my polygamic second love. Triumph really has do do something on their classic line if the copy is such a stunner.

  • Kim of Copenhagen

    Thankfully Kawasaki didn't mess with the styling, as the W800 like the W650 before it looks much more like an old Bonneville, than the new Triumph will ever do. I always disliked the looks of the latter, and disliked the bike even more after riding it for quite some distance: The lack of noise I could deal with, but the complete lack of vibes made is as eqiting as the averrage refrigerator/Toyota Corolla.

    BTW, one can hope Pipeburn someday will do a feature on the original 1960s Kawasaki W bikes…

  • http://www.pipeburn.com Andrew

    @KIm – Yes! Nice idea. Anyone with an original Kwaka W in Sydney, please do get in touch…

  • J

    Any chance you'll be bringing this one along on the ride day next month? :)

  • http://www.pipeburn.com Andrew

    @J Interesting idea. You never know your luck…

  • http://www.pipeburn.com Andrew

    Ask and ye shall receive! It looks like I will indeed have the W800 to bring along for the Pipeburn ride day next month. Many thanks to Rudi and the guys at Kawasaki Australia for being so damn helpful. See you all there! :D

  • thiago

    axo q essa eh a moto mais bonita que eu vi por aqui… muito linda ela, tah loco…. perfeita….

  • Andrew

    @thiago If Google translate serves me correctly, "the most beautiful bike I've seen it around here very beautiful, perfect!"

    Glad you like it!

  • Porzif

    ..I fancy also the rear fender!

  • P.F. Flyer

    That is a much better looking engine than Triumph's big blob of metal. If Triumph had that engine architecture it would finally look right!

  • Rennie P

    Lovely-looking bike, I think Kawasaki have definitely ben influenced by the Custom W650's in Japan and Australia…which is to be applauded. Rex Havoc, Could you tell me where you are getting your 'Flat Sides' from please?

  • http://www.behindbarsmotorcycle.com/ Brady

    I've always been a bit sheepish around the Kaws, at least the old ones – I just picked up an 09 Connie. Part of me understands why they ditched the name and opted for the W. if you're going vintage, you want a Triumph or a Norton. If you can get by without admitting Kawasaki, why not? Still, it looks so damned good from a cursory glance, that I'd be more than willing to ride it with any name written on the side. Plus, the motor specs look real nice – way better than the newly fabricated Royal Enfields are chucking out (30bhp from a 500 – is this 1968?)

    This bike has my seal of approval and lust (and I've got vintage Honda blood thick in my veins) The balance of retro and modern are great, and those gauges really top it off.

    I would also immediately change the sound. Good call.

    Brady
    Behind Bars – Motorcycles and Life
    http://www.behindbarsmotorcycle.com/

  • Griff

    Say, does Kawa do things differently in Oz? Cos here (Europe) they quote 48 hp / 37 kw @ 4500 rpm. Their excuse is that increasing the displacement over the W650 — and FI, too! — were necessary to meet the E3 emissions standards at roughly the *same* power.

    However, a knowledgeable German tuner (Penner) thought it a shame that the W800's FI computer limits the engine to 7000 rpm, saying that it could easily rev to 7500 and produce 55 hp @ 7000. That's still a bit south of what you quoted, but it kinda made me think.

  • Rex Havoc

    @ Rennie – I got mine from http://japan.webike.net (NOT cheap!)

    @ Griff – Those are the quoted figures from Kawasaki which should be taken with a grain of salt. Dyno's don't lie and the dyno numbers for the W650 were 10% down on quoted figures

  • http://luscacustomdesign.blogspot.com/ luSca custom design

    very nice bike to create a special!

  • Hardman

    Did a little bit of snooping after I saw this post and found this on MCN (Aug.2010):
    http://www.motorcyclenews.com/upload/271634/images/W800.jpg

    Why didn't they stick w/ that original paint scheme? Brand that sh*t properly!

  • not budding.

    another tip for budding photographers: don't shoot from so low down.

  • Griff

    Here's a clip …

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCJ8iXRfPTo

    … of a W800 on the dyno (in Germany). And they even give you a squint at the curves!

    The measured peak performance actually exceeds the manufacturer's quotes for Europe: 52 hp and 64 Nm as against 48 and 60, respectively.

    The point of my original post was my wonder at the Oz performance quoted in the review above: 52 kw (70 hp). Now, that's quite a stretch and there might be several explanations, including: a) This is what Kawa can get out of the engine when unfettered by the Euro 3 emissions restrictions in force here; b) Performance was measured at the copywriter's brain stem; or c) it's a simple error in the review.

    Before sending the first post, I checked http://www.kawasaki.au but didn't come up with any performance data at all.

    Griff

  • Griff

    Oops, sorry, 50 hp measured on the dyno, not 52.

    Griff

  • Andrew

    @Griff – I'm not silly enough to get dragged into an endless HP argument. They are a waste of time and subject to so many variables that there's never a definitive answer that will satisfy everyone.

    What I do know is that the Guzzi V7 can't do "the ton", and the W800 can. Don't ask me how I know that, but trust me when I say it'll do the ton and then some. Easy. I'll leave you to draw yr own HP conclusions…

  • Griff

    Hey, who's arguing? What we have here is a pure quest for knowledge — uh, horsepower.

    I pick up my new W800 in about ten days, and then: let the fun begin!

    Question is:

    Is 70 hp a realistic goal for that engine, because Kawa is bringing that in every bone stock copy they sell in Oz?

    or

    Is 70 hp an impossible dream conjured up by a simple typo committed half a world away?

    Now, I'm inclined to think that the 70 hp figure is an error, whoever made it. Sure, the W800 motor has tuning potential, as did the W650 — but THAT much?

    On the other hand, an extra 22 hp (or even 15 if, like Rex Havoc, you discount the manufacturer claim by 10%) would be sweet — sweet enough to ease the pain of being totally wrong.

    Griff

  • Speedo66

    I've never felt my '01 W650 was lame as far as power, but another 20 HP (or whatever) would certainly be welcome.

    The pipes on the the 650 have a nice sound, maybe they can be retro fitted on the 800.

    Hoping there's still a chance we get the 800 in the States.

  • Gregor Erdmann

    Note that Staintune has just released pipes for the w800. I am hoping they fit on my w650.

    As for the ton.. my W650 does the ton and pretty easily really… but then it pretty much just stops there… too bloody windy at that speed anyway.

    I used to have a thruxton, and the W 'feels' to have more power… I think its just how its delivered, and the upright seating position that makes it feel that way.

    Moving from the thruxton.. the W650 definitely had more vibes than the Thruxton, but over all I am happier with it as it fits me (size wise) better.

  • chomp

    beautiful bike. beautiful engine. triumph should have hired the W800 designers as they obviously have an affinity for retro details sorely missing on the bonnie.

  • http://groups.google.com/group/Kawasaki_W800 Peter

    Hi, I have just started a new Google Group for W800. If you are interested you can find it here:
    http://groups.google.com/group/Kawasaki_W800

  • SR85

    BEFORE

  • keith

    I have bought a W it is well made and rides well gives you a good retro vibe but also has a surprising amount of power when needed. I also used to have aw650 in 2004 i loved it but all my mates said i should buy a Triumph bonniville get the real deal ,big mistake! when out riding if it rained the bonnie would break down without fail! The bonnie made me lose faith in retros but my new W800 HAS RESTORED THE PLEASURE OF SIMPLE MOTORCYCLE FUN TIMES AND RELIABILITY.AS KAWASAKI SAY LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL! If you buy a bonnie also buy a brolly!!

  • Dennis Newland

    Bought one of the first W800 to arrive in west australia. I love it it feels so cool around town. Did a naughty thing to the Zorst pipe added two small ventilator holes with a pointy 8mm stick. (don't over do it otherwise you will dpoil it) It sounds great under throttle and not bad on tickover either. Stuck a strip of curved body bling along what would be a Bonnie tank seam Looks excellent but don't put it under the cap. Have done just over four grand and it runs magic, even the bevel is quieter. Made my own rear carrier using a small pipe bender and my TIG and it looks real professional. Maybe get it chromed but black is fine. Moto Dry do an excellent small tank bag that doubles as the perfect Bum bag. Might make my own chrome guard for fuel injectors on left side. I have seen an after market cover but think I might do better, Average fuel consumption for local country rides is around 270k per tank but I have yet to run it dry. Reserve is unknown bit should be about 3+ litres. Much as I love the finish the bike is meant to be used so I might try some moderate knobbly's on it soon and tackle some light off road stuff. Might even consider a sidecar one day.
    I can sit and look at this for hours because being an oldie it reminds me so much of a Green BSA Shooting Star I used to own. Err with a sidecar and all, so you get my drift. I was also wondering if slightly larger (diameter) fork gators might make it look a bit more chunky but then they might flap in the breeze. The unfortunate thing about all this is that my KLR (a good light off roader) and the ZRX1200S ( a smooth and powerful long distance tourer) have been sidelined for quite a while and I'll have to make it up to them soon.

    Dennis

  • Rusty

    Picked up my W800 today having been on the retro trail for some time. Sold a '99 Triumph Thunderbird for a new EFI Bullet (big mistake) and got rid of the Enfield a few months back. After being very close to buying a 1970 A65 loaded with the SRM catalogue I tried the new Bonneville & Kawasaki just to be sure. I'm a die hard old brit twin fan but there's no doubt in my mind that the W800 is a much better bet, the new Bonnie is closer but the proportions are all wrong.

    The link to the W1 is tenuous but don't forget that Kawasaki did produce the Z400 & Z750 during the seventies so they do have some vertical twin heritage (although they hadn't quite got the hang of it back then). Make no mistake the W800 is a future classic in its own right, to think of it as a brit rip off is doing it a massive disservice, it's much more than that.

    You might have gathered that I quite like it

  • Brian Anderson

    I agree with what Dennis said above. Just took both the Triumph T 100 and The Kawasaki W 800 for test rides today with a view to buy……………..It was no contest…………………….I bought the Kawasaki and pick it up in a couple of days……………..can't wait.
    It out did the Bonnie in nearly every dept especially the overall finish and is $2000 less here in Australia. I heartily agree that this machine will be a future classic and although the available accessories are limited at the moment (which I am sure will change sson) the ones they have are top quality and I'm sure we will all see many a tricked up version on all our roads soon.

    Ultra smooth cool retro machine………………..Love it

  • http://luscacustomdesign.blogspot.com luSca custom design

    Ciao Brian,
    manycomplimento for your bike,
    if U want visit
    http://luscacustomdesign.blogspot.com/search/label/Kawasaki%20W800%20Special
    to see my works on the w800

    cheers
    lu

  • Brian Anderson

    Thanks Lu

    Lovely, lovely bikes…………I'm drooling
    Cheers
    Brian

  • http://garageprojectmotorcycles.tumblr.com/ rex havoc

    Brian, for every part available for the Triumph there would be three available for the Kwaka. The internet is your friend, head over to http://japan.webike.net/ . Most parts that fit the W650 will fit the W800. Cheers

  • Brian Anderson

    Hey Rex,
    Thanks for the link
    Cheers Brian