The 676cc W650 was a great motorcycle. But is this 773cc W800 upgrade a move in the right direction? You be the judge...
▲ A modern classic c/w chromed mudguards, a side stand, and a centre stand. It ought to be British, but it took the Japanese to build it. We're still Triumph men (and women) here at Sump. But a moment of weakness has led us to question our faith. Note that the smaller image (top right of this picture) is flipped/reversed just to show you how Bonneville-like it is.
▲ Speedometer, tachometer, indicator repeater light, neutral light, low fuel level light, oil pressure warning light, high beam light and an LCD screen with a trip meter and clock. Seems like Kawasaki has delivered everything you might need on the classic highway, and the firm has done it very neatly. Marks out of ten? Ten.
▲ This bike looks pretty (and pretty cool) from every angle, not least this one. The saddle is reasonably generous for two-up riding. But the fuel tank holds barely three gallons, so expect to start getting thirsty at around 100-110 miles. If you take it easy however, you'll see 150-180 miles before you run dry.
▲ Check out the bevel drive to the single overhead camshaft. It's neat, it's efficient, and it looks so right. Note that unlike Triumph. Kawasaki didn't fake up carburettors for the fuel injectors. A neat chromed cover is all you need. When it comes to compact engine design, this one is up there with the best of them. And it's air-cooled. Nice.
▲ Those wheel rims are aluminium alloy (19-inch front, 18-inch rear), and those skinny TT100-style tyres look just right. Ditto the front fork gaiters. We're finding it very hard to fault this bike on its features, poise and detail, and the performance is acceptable. So how comes Japan isn't selling shed loads? And how comes every time we ask a Kawasaki dealer, he hasn't actually got one in stock (but can "get one to order"). Could be a connection there? £6,799 on the road, with many dealers offering respectable discounts.
▲ The Black Edition for 2015. There's a cult following for these bikes, and we figure that can only grow. We're big fans of the Yamaha XS650, but given a choice, we'd opt for this Kwacker. Maybe.
▲ Cafe racer edition available only in Japan ...
▲ ... and also available in black (Japan only)
"Having a Triumph 955 Sprint and a couple of vintage bikes I was impressed by the traditional look of the W800. I'd considered a Bonnie and compared ease of servicing versus general good looks, and I formed the opinion that the W was the best choice for me.
"As this was to be my first new bike since an MZ250 in 1977, it was a big step to spend on something which demanded dealer servicing for the warranty to be honoured (more on this later).
"Scouring the country for the best deal, I eventually found it was matched by my local dealer in spite of him suggesting it may never come back to him for servicing.
"On collection, the bike was clean and looking good. I was impressed. First riding impressions were that it was very light to handle. It had a nice upright riding position and the gear change was slick. Power was not impressive, but the torque was ample and I find it lopes along at a greater pace than it appears.
"Approaching one year old, I thought the camshaft bevel gear was a bit louder than it ought to be. I spoke to the dealer who said that the assembly grease had 'worn off'."
"Road holding was excellent on the TT100 tyres whether wet or dry, but the front brake was abysmal (it improves with age, however, but always needs a firm grip).
"Mileage began creeping up, and the first service came due. I had planned to use an independent mechanic, but Kawasaki advised that my warranty required a franchised dealer to carry out the work. I also considered doing the work myself, but my wife badgered me into taking it back to the dealer.
"However, to save a little money I took my own oil and a genuine oil filter. On collection, an hour later, I saw the mechanic walking around and dabbing paint marks on bolts. He handed me the left over oil and I rode home.
"Mileage per gallon has averaged somewhere in the mid 60s with a low of 58 and high of 72. Oil consumption is nil, although others on a W650/800 forum report some oil use."
"There, I checked the bike and discovered that the oil was overfilled and that hardly any oil remained in the container. Frustrated by this, I took a torque wrench to some of the bolts only to find different readings.
"Kawasaki was contacted, but showed little interest other than suggesting that they would advise the dealer for future reference.
"From then, the bike continued to give good service. A few long runs (150 miles or so) revealed that the seat could be better and that the mirrors gave a poor view behind.
MPG, oil and grease
"Mileage per gallon has averaged somewhere in the mid 60s with a low of 58 and high of 72. Oil consumption is nil, although others on a W650/800 forum report some oil use.
"Approaching one year of ownership, I thought the camshaft bevel gear was a bit louder than it ought to be. I spoke to the dealer who said that the assembly grease had 'worn off'. So it was back to Kawasaki who confirmed that the dealer was talking nonsense. They advised I go elsewhere, but the next dealer was too far away, so I eschewed the warranty and serviced it myself.
"New oil sorted out the bevel sound, and the bike felt crisper. I now have no year-two warranty, but figure the savings made on the initial deal (£1,000) and service cost savings covered a lot of potential repairs.
"Meanwhile, the W attracts attention everywhere it goes. It confuses many due to the W logo on the tank. Also the firm's logo on the rear of the saddle is obscured by the carrier and the top box that I fitted.
"Overall, I fully recommend this machine. It is easy to live with, is frugal on fuel, and offers reasonable performance.
It's only my issues with servicing and the relatively heavy rear tyre wear (3500 miles) that detracts from what is virtually a perfect bike."
— John Evans
[Note: the engine cutaway illustration shows the W650]
Engine: 773cc air-cooled, SOHC, 8-valve,
Wheelbase: 1,465mm (57.8 inches)
Power: 47- 48hp @ 6,500rpm
Price new: £6,799
In its original incarnation as the W650, this classic street cruiser ran a bevel-driven SOHC, 8-valve, 676cc engine featuring a 72mm bore and an 83mm stroke—and that's a fairly long stroke for a Japanese motorcycle engine. It also ran carburettors rather than a digital fuel injection system.
But now, as the W800, the cubic capacity has grown to 773cc. Not a huge leap perhaps, but a significant one. Meanwhile, the new 77mm bore x 83mm stroke gives a very different, old-world characteristic similar to that of British twins of the 1960s. The stroke is still fairly long, but with notably more power and pick-up thanks to the extra 97 cubic centimetres.
The engine has also benefited from fuel injection (as opposed to carburettors on the W650), and the bike has comparable (100 -110mph) performance to that of the T100 Bonneville, its closest rival. Moreover, at £6,799 the bike has a price to match
As the W650, it easily out-retroed the T100 Bonneville by including a kickstarter and an electric foot. But Kawasaki, in its oriental wisdom, decided to drop the kicker and offer an electric starter only, and as a result you can argue that the bike has lost some of its edge and appeal.
Nevertheless, it's a tough contender and lopes along in exactly the way you might expect.
Worst of all for the T100, this Nippy roadster, with its more compact engine, ribbed seat, "classic" rear drum brake and straight-out-of-the-1950s poise just looks so good.
Nevertheless, we'd still opt for the Triumph for reasons of performance, handling, build quality, looks, and (okay) kudos. Plus, the Bonnie has more accessories on the market.
But it's a very, very close call, and some owners reckon that the Jap offering actually has the edge on build quality (and many others reckon that the W650 is the one to go for, especially if you want to customise it and have the classic kickstarter to boot).
It ain't often we're grateful to Kawasaki. But on this occasion we're doffing our lids here at Sump. Why? Because this machine has helped raise the bar, and Triumph will have to work even harder to stay on top in this class. And that means better bikes for all of us.
This bike is pretty good fun. But naturally, you can forget scratching. The front end is too soft. The front brake is too feeble. And the steering geometry is too laid back. But don't get us wrong; as a general, all-round classic cruiser you won't have much to complain about, neither solo or two up. Just don't try and get clever.
The switchgear feels nice, but without being exciting. The controls are just about right. The clutch is smooth and progressive. Rider comfort is fine for hundreds of miles.
The gearbox is unfussed and snicks up and down engagingly (pun intended). And when you need to find neutral at stop lights, you can easily pick it out of selection with a gentle hook or dab.
Blip the throttle and the fuel-injected 47 - 48hp, air-cooled motor feels eager and tractable. You launch yourself off the lights satisfied that the parallel twin, 4-valve-per-cylinder engine is pulling surprisingly well for a SOHC design. But when you pass 5,000rpm, things tail off rapidly.
At those revs, you're still galloping along at around 65-75mph, and you've got some oomph left for decisive overtaking. But the rate of climb is slowing, and the boiler's running out of steam.
If you're stubborn and determined, you can creep up to 90mph and beyond. But what's the point of hanging around up there on a bike like this? It's not what this machine is about, and it ain't much fun with your arms spread like a prophet.
Instead, you'll climb back down to "sensible" velocities; i.e. 55 - 70mph and enjoy the laid-back, easy-going jaunt.
The engine sounds pretty good too. Not a bang, and not a whimper either. Just a nice, confident, slightly metallic rasp. But it won't fool any half-serious British bike fan. Then again, most owners wouldn't care about that. They're happy with the modern sound of Japan.
The vibes, such as there are, aren't really intrusive. The engineers dialled out the worst of them, but the shakes start creeping back after a hundred miles or so and begin making themselves known. Never painfully, mind; just a gentle reminder that you're on an old school parallel twin and that you shouldn't expect too much for too long.
There are balancers fitted to this engine. They add weight and bulk, and they sap power, but (for most riders) the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
As a 50mpg commuter, the W800 is ideal. As a tourer, it's just the job for unfussed, unhurried national or international excursions. As an all-round shopping trolley, it just does everything enjoyably.
Overall, it's a modest bike without too many pretensions. It's interesting to note that the Big K didn't feel confident enough to put its name on the petrol tank and instead relegated its moniker to the back of the saddle. The large chromium plated W (as a reminder of the firm's worthy 650cc W1, W2 and W3 models built between 1966 and 1975), will have to suffice.
Future classic? Definitely. Contemporary classic? Ditto.
The image immediately above, incidentally, shows a 2015 W800. No great changes for this season. It's mostly just a few tweaks and a fresh livery. But the bike is every bit as good.
Copyright Sump Publishing 2014