We take the modern retro, highly updated, 2019 model Kawasaki W800 for a week and put it to the test. With lots of improvements over the previous model, there were smiles every ride...
With proper old-school retro styling, no cheap plastic bodywork and lovely chrome exhausts the W800 Café looks the business. Of course jumping on this bike I wasn’t expecting some crazy all or nothing café racer, if anything it felt to me like a modern Norton Commando, at least based on my memories of my Dad and Grandfather rolling the one they restored out of the garage for classic bike events.
My first impression of the front headlight cowl is that it’s mismatched to the bike, even though it does match the silver side panel further back to be honest I think that’s going to be a common reaction.
Fire the W800 Café up and you are rewarded by a beautiful burble at idle, once it settles back down to about 1000rpm. The EFI has the bike warming up at the 2000rpm mark which is too high, and even with the bike warm it’ll start up in warm up mode well above 1300rpm until it figures out what’s going on. Whether this fast idle was an issue with our press bike alone or not I’m not sure…
Jumping on board the W800 Café is probably best described in one word… comfy. Despite the café racer styled seat, wide and bulbous tank and clubman ‘bars, everything just felt right to me at 180cm, with just the rear brake lever uncomfortably on the high side. You’re definitely on the bike, not in it, however that aligns with my expectations.
Setting off the bike also feels long, but stable and well balanced, with a relatively upright seating position all things considered, with no weight on my wrists, and again this in my mind harkens back to the old classic images of Nortons and the like, with the rider goggled up, with the outfit completed by a white scarf. Footpegs are also pretty much straight down from the seat, without the more rearset traditional café racer placement.
The W800 Café isn’t a lightweight , it’s best described as solid and heavy, however, on the move it carries that weight well, whether you’re cutting a swathe through traffic, barrelling along a highway or hooking into the sweepers.
The air-cooled vertical-twin powerplant offers mild performance, with a smooth throttle response and torque peaking just below 5000rpm, which contrasts with the 2018 model where it peaked at 2500rpm. This makes for a relatively soft initial delivery of torque, which develops into a forward urge that’s ideal for cruising through the local twisties and does a commendable job on the freeway, despite being limited to five gears.
Brakes are now disc items both front and rear, with exceptional power and bite for a rear brake on that massive rear rotor – previously a drum item – with ABS also found on the 2019 model Café thanks to this update. There’s enough power at the front, with a single rotor on the 18in spoke front wheel. Obviously this isn’t sportsbike type performance, but for this style of machine it’s enough, with it being all about the level of power and modulation, instead of outright bite.
Suspension is plush but well enough controlled, there was the occasional stiff kick from the rear over the really sharp big bumps, but essentially everything else it swallowed up with ease, in a way that really belied the basic system fitted. Any riding above mildly spirited overpowers the soft set-up at both ends, particularly hard braking when the forks will bottom without progressive stopping.
I did the local run through the Old Road and to be honest, cruising along at the posted 80km/h was enjoyable, even with the hero knbbs scratching through some of the bends, and while there was plenty of performance to push the speeds up a bit higher, I honestly didn’t feel the need to.
There was plenty of thrills to be had simply connecting up all the corners, with just a dab on the brakes heading in, and perhaps a downshift if I really felt the need to wash off some speed, with the W800 Café giving an engaging and rewarding ride. I wasn’t wringing the throttle, there was no attempt at pinpoint accuracy on turn-in points, or getting a knee down. There was just simple, good old, fun, without breaking the speed limit either.
Overall I had a great time on the 2019 W800 Café, it has amazing character and while performance isn’t the draw card, road manners were to me exceptional and it was one of those machines I could have fun on, in any condition, without needing to do a million miles an hour, or risk my license. It’s not a matter of hoping others seeing me on the bike would conjure some amazing rep either, it was the totally internalised fun of enjoying a great motorcycle, and not really giving a sh#t what anyone else thinks.
The clutch was on the heavy side, the seat a little hard towards the front – but roomy, the gearbox was a bit agricultural in the shifting mechanism and I needed to move the foot control levers a bit, but the style was great with an amazing finish quality. The one other point I did note, is the bike will track along road snakes and corrugations very easily, and developed a shimmy at 110km/h on the freeway in a poorly surfaced section, with the surfaced corrugated in the direction of travel. On normal (decent) surfaces there was no such issue, but this may also come down to the tyre.
That exhaust note was addictive, especially on the aggressive downshifts onto the slipper clutch, and in chrome absolutely eye catching. The clocks are retro with a hint of modern, with a LCD display for the time, with adjustable levers as standard, beautiful paint and a great engine.
At $14k + ORC, this pushes the W800 up into another price category and there’s a huge amount of competition there these days (Monster 797, V7 Stone, SV650X, Street Twin, XSR900) and it is five grand more than an Interceptor or Continental GT 650. As we always say with all bikes, it is down to individual preference and what you click with so make sure you ride them all and with the W800, take it for a longer than normal test ride to get used to the riding position and the handling. Once it all gels it is a great ride and on smooth roads it really is a grin inducing old school ride. Lots of fun. You can’t put a price on happiness…
2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe – Tech Talk
For 2019 Kawasaki have unleashed a heavily updated W800 Cafe version, boasting a revised engine, new styling and ergonomics, lashings of chrome, an 18in front wheel and wider lightweight aluminium rims, revised and reinforced frame, slip and assist clutch, LED headlamp, clubman ‘bars, larger diameter forks and stiffer shocks, larger front disc brake and new rear disc brake (replacing the drum brake), ABS, and two-tone cafe racer seat.
The heart of the W800 Cafe is the air-cooled vertical-twin displacing 773cc with a bore and stroke of 77 x 83mm, with the 2019 model returned for peak torque at 4800rpm, where the previous model saw this figure at 2500rpm.
34mm throttle-bodies are joined by sub-throttles, with the long-stroke 360-degree crankshaft creating the iconic engine characteristic, along with a heavy flywheel. A balancer shaft reduces vibes, which is noticeable through the ‘bars, with a five-speed gearbox and slipper and assist clutch fitted.
Kawasaki also focused on the aesthetics of the engine, with the silver bevel-gear cover and blacked out engine offering contrast, while EFI components were hidden away for a traditional look.
The traditional design mufflers are also now chrome, and being touted as ‘tuned’ exhausts, offering both a tailored note and optimised performance, which help highlight the engine’s character. The peashooter style mufflers include revised muffler chambers and help meet (and easily exceed according to Kawasaki) Euro4 regulations.
Offering sportier handling is the change from a 19in front wheel to an 18in, with wider aluminium rims also aimed at providing a composed highway ride, alongside a reinforced frame for better rigidity, despite looking the same as the outgoing model. This was done by varying the pipe thickness but not diameter where needed. I did notice a shimmy on certain highway surfaces, but these seem more tyre related.
The ‘clubman’ style ‘bars also drastically change the ergonomics of the W800 Cafe from the W800 SE, with a more forward leaning and sporty bias, with slight changes to the seat, alongside it being two-tone.
Also aimed at beefing up chassis performance is the new 41mm larger diameter forks with stiffer springs and a more rigid triple-clamp, while the shocks are likewise stiffer.
In order to meet ABS requirements the W800 Cafe boasts both front and rear disc brakes (previously front only), with the rear no longer a drum and instead featuring a 270mm rotor, with a dual piston caliper.
Instrumentation is dual traditional clocks, with a multi-function digital display in the left, and the idiot lights on the right, with a specific Cafe dial face.
2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe Specifications
Colours: Metallic Magnesium Grey & Galaxy Silver
Price: $13,999 + ORC
Warranty: Two-year, unlimited kilometre
Claimed Power: 35kW[48hp]@6000rpm
Claimed Torque: 62.9Nm[46.4lb-ft]@4800rpm
Wet Weight: 223kg
Fuel capacity: 15L
Engine: Air-cooled, four-stroke vertical-twin, SOHC, eight-valve, 773cc, 77 x 83mm bore x stroke, 8.4:1 compression ratio, dual 34mm DFI throttle-bodies, 360° crankshaft
Clutch: Wet, multi-disc, slipper & assist
Chassis: Reinforced tubular double-cradle high tensile steel frame,
Rake: 26°; Trail: 94mm
Suspension: 41mm Telescopic fork, 130mm travel, Twin shocks with spring preload adjustability, 107mm travel
Brakes: ABS, single 320mm front rotor, two-piston Tokico caliper, single 270mm rear rotor, two-piston caliper
Wheels & Tyres: 18in cross-spoke wheels, 100/90-18in M/C 56H, 130/80-18in M/C 66H
Seat height: 790mm
Overall width: 825mm
Overall Length: 2135mm
Instruments: Dual analogue clocks, multi-function integrated LCD display