Repeating yourself isn’t a bad thing after all
After a blissful two weeks with the Kawasaki W800, I promised myself not to use words like retro, classic, nostalgic or bygone – let alone hipster, bearded or cool – when describing it. It would be a disservice to a beautifully simple machine that has an air of ‘made just right’, and it has stayed right from the mid 1960s when you can trace this 800cc parallel-twin to its W1 650 roots.
While the W800 is as new as any air-cooled simple twin on the market (and there aren’t many left) it looks like it came from a 1960s mould. This year’s rendition is black, real black, and carries the ‘W’ badging. Black everything except the chrome bits and the instrument dial’s facia which reminds me a lot of British motorcycles – funny about that as the precursor to the W1 was a dead ringer for a BSA. The only hint of ‘Kawasaki’ is stamped on the rear of the well-made and comfy seat. The guards and side covers are metal, which along with the quality paintwork helps to justify the $12,499 investment.
If you like smooth and simple, be like me and spend a few days just enjoying life hardly using more than 3000rpm for solo riding – only when you’re travelling two-up might you wish for a little more mumbo. The W800’s twin relies more on torque than outright power, making it ideal for city duties or country byways, rather than the fast lane: pipe and slippers territory. Effortless quiet gear-changes belie the look of another era. In fact, I only ‘opened her up’ to prove she will rev through every gear and hit 150kph smartly. (She does, and surprisingly smartly too.)
The W is thoroughly modern in feel, from the controls to the smooth pick-up; it’s a thing of lightness, ease and predictability. You can swing through any bend no matter how tight or open thanks to the precise steering and Dunlops that match the reasonable ground clearance.
In my opinion this bike delivers compact and stunning looks with just enough performance, and I wouldn’t change a thing. That doesn’t mean a less traditional owner couldn’t go berserk from top to bottom – there is a whole industry capable of converting the renowned W into a Café racer or a Mad Max special. Even a surfer came up and asked where I scored the new Dunlop K81s from, as he needed some for a project.
My route wound from the South Coast to the highlands, but for me it was like travelling in time: old to new and back to old. The Kawasaki made me think of my youth and freedom, yet with my young ones safely on the back I could only think of the future, of pleasant experiences and opportunities that something like the Black Edition could give.
Looks and style
Huge grin factor
Squeeze hard to brake
Attracts the wrong crowd!
TEST RALPH LEAVSEY-MOASE PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY CUNNINGHAM