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2020 Kawasaki W800: MD Ride Review, Part 1

We told you about Kawasaki’s new W800 a couple of months ago. We were struck by its beautiful, classic style and the photos we saw. Now, we have had one in our garage for testing for a couple of weeks, and bring you this first report.

All the details were provided in a Kawasaki press release published by MD. Inspired by Kawasaki’s own W1 from the 1960s, the new W800 is, perhaps, the modern retro with the most authentic styling and detailing.

The paint and finish on the W800 is gorgeous. The centerpiece is the bevel-gear driven vertical twin engine beneath the absolutely perfect (in our opinion) fuel tank design. The pea shooter mufflers not only look right, they sound great as well. The iconic look of the seat, accented by piping, once again seems just right — and it feels good to sit on as well.

The spoked wheel designs are correct, with a 19″ front enhancing the authentic profile. Bias ply tires, with tubes, lend further authenticity but detract somewhat from modern, sporty performance (more about that below).

The W800 is not without its modern features. The 773cc air-cooled twin is fuel injected and has four valves per cylinder. A five-speed transmission has gear spacing designed to work with the broad spread of torque available from the motor, and works well with a modern Assist and Slipper Clutch.

Disc brakes are found front and rear, and the classic-looking round headlight houses modern LEDs to offer an extremely bright beam.

The W800 is very comfortable to sit on and ride. The seat is low and broad with good support, and the bars and controls are within easy reach without making the rider feel cramped. The engine is smooth, and pulls away from a stop with a very linear power delivery.

With less that 50 horsepower at the rear wheel, the W800 is certainly no speed demon, but the relatively big twin is motivated with good throttle response and a plateau of torque that arrives just above idle.

Brakes, clutch and shifter all work well — on par with quality modern machines. Aided by the relatively narrow tires and broad handlebar, the W800 drops into corners with ease.

We took the W800 on a ride with some local, quick pilots aboard much more modern, powerful machinery. Somewhat surprisingly, the W800 kept up with these bikes on twisty roads … again, aided by the easy turn-in, and stable cornering, as well as corner exits that took advantage of the torquey powerband. Even the brakes (including the lone disc up front) worked without complaint during some very spirited riding (riding that wouldn’t normally be associated with a bike of this type). Ground clearance for cornering is decent, although we did dig a hole in the tarmac at one point with the side stand and center stand on the left side.

A rider of equal skill, of course, would have a big advantage over the W800 on a more modern, powerful, well-suspended machine … whether in the twisties or on the highway. The fundamental nature of the W800 is to cruise and enjoy the scenery. Nevertheless, we were surprised that the bike could be pushed so hard. This is a testament to the Kawasaki engineering and ride development teams.

The tires worked well enough until the pace got near the red zone. The bias ply rubber, at that point, started to show its lack of performance potential. It is not really designed for sport riding, but our “torture test” showed the rubber could hold up during any normal use of a retro like the W800.

We’ll have more in our Part 2, including action photos. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can check out Kawasaki’s website for the W800.


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137 Comments

  1. Grover says:

    The money they are asking for this Kawasaki would be better spent on a variety of slightly used bikes from kawasaki’s own inventory. A Kawi 900 or CB1100 with low miles would be a way better bike experience while enjoying the “retro” look. Pass

  2. Jase says:

    Get on the RE Interceptor 650. A miles better bike and much cheaper.

  3. J Wilson says:

    I’m fine that this is built to be what it is as a motorcycle, not the usual rocket-sled performance or ultimate drag-your-elbow cornering ability.

    I don’t like tubed tires, so does anyone know how you’d upgrade to tubeless radials, would it require different wheels ?

    • Snake says:

      Very few companies have ever offered tubeless-compatible wire wheels, the spokes must either be attached to an inner-diameter raised flange (doesn’t look ‘proper’) or individually sealed with rubber O-rings (labor intensive and expensive to build, tedious to repair).

      So although they are available, neither idea has really hit it off as the cure-all to make tubeless wire wheels an industry thing.

      For its expected performance range, and considering modern materials, I hope that you’ll find the tubes & tires on this bike acceptable otherwise you’ll need to change wheels.

      • Raven65 says:

        …or the spokes can go to the outside edges of the rim – outside the tire bead – as they do on my 2003 BMW R1150GS. Also would not be a period-correct look for this bike though.

  4. Dirty Bob says:

    No! For the money and looks I wouldn’t be happy with the W800 over an Iron 883 Sportster! Iron $8,999 vs W800 $9,091. Retro look is nothing. Also the kaw-wee has a 773cc and hd a 883cc.

    • Artem says:

      Yes. Honda 1100 is better. Looking at the streets.
      Now nothing about Kawasaki contender.

    • Selecter says:

      773cc vs. 883cc, and the 883 somehow manages to put a few less HP to the wheel. And have -no- cornering clearance at all. And have a stupid ass-dragger seating position. And have perhaps the most deficient suspension in motorcycling existence… and is somehow 60 lbs. heavier than the W800. And manage to not only be less roomy, but a LOT less roomy to ride!

      Hey, wait a second here… the Iron 883 is the *only* bike in existence that could prompt one to argue a pretty amazing case for buying a W800, especially from the perspective of value! Actually, the cast wheels are the single feature that the Iron has that begs in its favor. That’s it, the single and only thing that I could possibly see the 883 has having “over” the W.

      • Snake says:

        “Actually, the cast wheels are the single feature that the Iron has that begs in its favor. That’s it, the single and only thing that I could possibly see the 883 has having “over” the W.”

        Not true. The 883 series has been long-term popular with smaller riders: the W800’s 31.1 inch seat height doesn’t hold a candle to the 883 Iron’s 25.7 (rated laden height).

  5. SeTh says:

    This is the rich man’s Himalayan!

  6. Brad Kingsly says:

    Producing less than 50 RWHP and weighing slightly less than 500# puts it in the Sportster 883 performance category. I guess if you’re happy with that kind of performance then this is a bike you’ll be satisfied with.