Back in 2013, I parked the little Honda VTR250 I had owned for many years and walked into the Triumph dealership show yard. There were shiny new Street Triples, Rockets, and Tigers. But I had my eyes on the gleaming, timeless chrome of the classic Bonneville.
Only they weren't particularly gleaming. And didn't have much chrome.
The modern Bonnevilles (of 2013) had polyethylene guards, cast wheels, and copious amounts of dull, black plastic. The overall effect, at least in my perception, was a confusing juxtaposition of classic lines, next to cheap looking components that you'd find on any cheap commuter bike (I mean, check out the indicators). Sure, you could purchase the metal guards and wire spoke wheels, but these were expensive extras. I thought to myself "what's the point of buying a classic bike when you have to pay extra for the classic parts?". I wanted Steve McQueen, not Ubereats.
So I left the dealership disappointed, and went back to the drawing board. Save for a Thruxton? What about a Royal Enfield? I hit the internet and came across the Kawasaki W800 - a bike I had barely heard of. Nonetheless it did seem to check a lot of my boxes, so I went down to the local Kawasaki dealership to check it out.
What I immediately liked about it was that all the plastic parts I didn't like on the cheaper Bonnieville where now metal and there was plenty of shiny chrome. The wheels were also proper wire spokes wheels too, and it had the addition of a tachometer.
Talking of the gauges, they're rather attractive and very much fitting the style. If they didn't have a digital clock you'd easily think they'd have been pinched from an older bike. On the sides of the tank is a proud, winged, chrome 'W' emblem, also fitting of the era the bike is trying to invoke.
Riding style is as you'd expect with a comfortable upright position and wide bars. The torque is very linear, making acceleration predictable and reliable, and having a pillion isn't really noticeable.
When first viewing the bike in the showroom the first thing that stuck out to me was the paint-design on the tank. It had an unusual fade from British-racing Green to white on the sides, with a dot matrix effect - kind of like when you look closely at a newspaper photo. In my opinion it certainly didn't fit the style but it really comes down to personel taste. You can get a W800 in other colours, but they are mostly on special editions.
Next was the exhaust note, or rather lack of it. The bike is too quiet and perhaps a even little tinny. There is no engine growl and when idling it can sound like a diesel truck waiting somewhere off in the distance. There is no easy way to remedy this either, with the entire exhaust system being one piece (though I have heard of some owners drilling into the mufflers at certain areas - something I'm not going to attempt). Modified exhaust systems are available but cost upwards of $1,000(AUD).
So after owning the bike for 10 years and putting about 32,000km (20,000 miles) on the clock, here's my newer good/bad summary.
The W800 has been undeniably reliable. Not once have I had any major issues, beyond a dead battery.
Servicing has been simple too, without any faring or water cooling systems in the way.
On the road, I really appreciate the torque line I mentioned earlier. It feels like having a pillion makes no difference when launching at the lights. The bike is not a sports bike, but the performance is available where you'd most realistically use it - in city riding.
It's also decently comfortable, with an upright, practical riding position, though I would recommend purchasing a wind deflector if travelling long distances at high speeds.
By far the most annoying thing about W800 ownership is the constant fight with surface rust on the chrome components. I often used special chrome polish, but even then it's a losing battle. The exhaust headers are obviously the most hard hit place, but there are tiny flecks of rust everywhere there is chrome - the handle bars, guards, mirrors. To be honest it's a real pain.
The rubber indicator stalks don't like the sun and have started to crack. They still function fine but don't look as good as they should. Furthermore, I've not been able to find a replacement easily. Similarly with the tail light: the plastic has become faded over time.
There is also what appears to be a kind of hard, plastic-like film on the engine crankcase. It's starting to peel. I don't know what this is or what it's meant to be - I'm guessing it's meant to protect the smoother parts of the engine from stone chips.
Finally, and this is a very, very minor thing, the bike is quite heavy. This only really is a concern when trying to get the bike up on its centre stand on uneven terrain or trying to maneuver the bike around a tight parking space.
The Kawasaki W800 is a good bike, but I'm not totally in love with it. To be honest, I find myself kind of missing the plucky little v-twin VTR250 I had earlier which, despite all the modern plastic, felt like it had more character (and to be honest fits more in my lifestyle of city commuting). I will keep the W800 of course - there's no reason to replace it at all. But I can't see myself buying something similar anytime soon, at least until I need another nostalgia hit.
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