Buzzy Betty: 2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe

John L. Stein rides Kawi’s latest retro motorcycle, the Kawasaki W800 Cafe twin, and gives his impressions.


2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe

Engine: 773cc air-cooled SOHC parallel twin, 77.0mm x 83.0mm bore and stroke, 8.4:1 compression ratio, 46.4lb/ft torque @ 4,800rpm, 46.2hp @ 6,200rpm
Fueling: Multiport sequential electronic fuel injection
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: 12v, electronic ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube steel cradle frame w/steel swingarm/57.7in (1,466mm)
Suspension: Telescopic fork front, twin shock absorbers with adjustable preload rear
Brakes: Single 12.6in (320mm) disc front, single 10.6in (270mm) disc rear, ABS
Tires: 100/90 x 18 front, 130/80 x 18in rear
Weight (curb): 489.5lb (222kg)
Seat height: 31.1in (790mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.0gal (15.1ltr)/42mpg (observed)
Price: $9,799

Although it’s a bit wordy for today’s synthesized Twittersphere and nanosecond attention spans, I still like the old phrase, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Particularly in terms of the current market segment of retro bikes, it is absolutely the case. For proof, consider Kawasaki’s new W800 Cafe twin. Designed to mirror the Kawasaki’s star-crossed W1 and W2 twins of 1965 and later, it attracts both veteran riders who remember the good old days, and new riders with old souls. And it looks the business too, with a low-set Clubman handlebar, bikini fairing, peashooter mufflers and other ’60s and ’70s design cues. However, despite a half century with which to perfect the basic goodness of a parallel-twin, dynamically the W800 Cafe rather falls short — an ironic throwback to the grim realities for British bikes of yore, and why riders gladly left them behind. Grade it a “C” or perhaps, magnanimously, a “B.”


Before we dive into the Abyss of Reason, let’s look at the challenges of rekindling Kawi’s quinquagenarian into new form. For starters, in the mid-1960s the W1 (single carb) and hotter W2 (dual carb) 650cc twins were spinoffs of BSA’s 650cc A10 pushrod twin, which was a formidable enough bike in its day. Kawasaki was on the move at the time, attempting to leap up-market from its origin — like most if not all postwar Japanese bike-makers — as a practical “transportation” company. The 250cc A1 and 350cc A7 two-stroke twins launched around the same time, and with rotary valves and Grand Prix-proven engineering, they were blisteringly fast giant killers — exactly the kind of bikes that could and would smoke (sic) BSAs and Triumphs on the street and track.

11/28/2020 12:11:09 PM

This is exactly the kind of bike you either love or hate and if you love it, you don't give a damn if everyone else hates it. The first time I saw a W650 I was in Lake Havasu, AZ and I had to turn around and go back and check it out. Luckily the owner was right there so when I asked him what it was he told me he was from Canada and it was his. I was amazed because I had never seen one and I liked it immediately. I can say if this bike pushes your button, you really don't care about it's misgivings that's the simple truth. I've owned far better bikes and far worse as well. I'd like to get one and I know exactly where I can get one. None of my bike purchases (and there have been a lot) necessarily make a lot of sense to anyone but me and by gosh, that's all that matters. In 2010 I traded a 2008 FZ1 for a 2010 Triumph Speedmaster because I had never owned a Triumph. That 865 engine just never did it for me, not because of it's power, or lack of, but I wanted an engine that "looked" right and that 865 just didn't. Eight months later I re-traded back to my FZ1. There are riders who chose, like me, not because it out-performs but because it out-looks. One of my bikes is a Moto Guzzi V7 III and it doesn't out-perform very much but when I'm on it, I feel good about it and as I said, "that's all that matters".

4/23/2020 2:56:04 PM

The author didn't understand the bike. Though market realities may dictate otherwise, it doesn't really compete with it's classmates, as they are predominantly new bikes with classic trappings. The W series recreate a bike of the classic era with modern tech infused discretely. The W series is intended for someone who wants a bike that truly harkens back to the vertical twins of the '60s and '70s without the headaches of owning one. It excels at that mission. As soon as comparisons to modern bikes arise, it's obvious that Mr. Stein missed the point. This was the wrong version for your magazine anyhow. Iron and Air and their hipster audience would have been a better forum, and the 2020 W800 standard would be more appropriate as it's much closer to both the original W650 and W1/W2 models.

3/15/2020 1:11:07 AM

What a hatchet job! I own a 2019 W800 Street and it's not buzzy at all. Just smooth torque with a bit of throb. My Street W800 surpasses my expectations every time I ride it. The test W800 Cafe must have had a loose engine mount (or a very biased reviewer). At least the review saved me some money. I was going to get a subscription to Motorcycle Classics then read this rediculous review. I miss Peter Egan, retired from Cycle World. He would have loved this bike.

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