We asked for it, and we got it. Hot on the heels of last year’s Kawasaki W800 Cafe, we get the 2020 Kawasaki W800, the standard version of the authentically retro motorcycle with roots in the 1960s.The 2020 Kawasaki W800 evolved from the W650, which was produced from 1999 to 2007. The W650’s inspiration came from the 1966 Kawasaki W1, which featured a parallel-twin four-stroke powerplant design patterned after the BSA A7.A long-forgotten footnote in the Kawasaki pedigree—the company first established its performance reputation with two-strokes in the 1960s and 1970s—the W series revival is one worth embracing. Extensive testing of the new W800 tells us precisely what the latest dubya is all about.
1. The primary differences between the standard 2020 Kawasaki W800 and the Cafe version are the handlebar and the seat. The W800 Cafe has a lower, sportier handlebar, in a nod to its name. The standard W800 handlebar delivers a fully upright seating position. The Cafe has a fancy two-tone sculpted seat to secure the rider in place, while the standard W800 gets a roomy tuck-and-roll seat that leaves plenty of room for movement by the rider and passenger. If you’d like, the Cafe seat is a direct bolt-on for the W800, so feel free to mix and match for a custom look and different feel.2. Thanks to the upright bars and flat seat, the Kawasaki W800 earns its chops as the consummate city motorcycle. The ergonomics and comfort establish the W800 as an ideal motorcycle for tooling around town, enjoying the attention of vintage-styling without the hassles of a 55-year-old machine.3. With great ergonomics, the fantastic motor is simply the icing on the red velvet cupcake. Stylistically patterned after the bevel-drive Ducati singles of the 1960s, the W800’s engine does use a bevel system to drive the vertical twin’s SOHC, eight-valve head. Along with flawless fuel injection, these are nods to modern performance expectations. The result is a gently arcing torque curve from below 2000 rpm, peaking at about midway to the 7000 rpm rev limit. That matches the fully linear power delivery to make the W800 perfectly suited to exploring urban areas. Simply twist the throttle and away you go at an entirely predictable and friendly pace.4. With a sweet compliment of vibrations, Kawasaki could have named this motorcycle the Magic Fingers. The twin’s 360-degree crank doles out a comforting array of vibrations as you run through the rev range. Riding the W800 is genuinely a wonderful visceral experience.5. Kawasaki outfitted the W800 with a modern transmission. Although it only has five-speeds, the W800 gets by with wide ratios to match its broad powerband. Shifting is slick, and the clutch has a torque-assist function to keep the feel at the lever nice and light. A slipper function is present, though you really have to botch some downshifts to need it. As a bonus, Kawasaki’s Positive Neutral Finder makes putting the transmission in neutral a breeze at every stop—it’s easy to get used to and appreciate.6. Better than vintage, though not up to fully modern standards, the non-adjustable suspension is adequate for the motor and the rest of the chassis. Action is fairly rudimentary with the traditional fork and twin shock (which does have spring-preload adjustment to accommodate a passenger). Neither end stands out as particularly, though you will feel the road a bit more than you probably prefer—especially in a city such as Los Angeles, with its deteriorating infrastructure.7. Those are authentic vintage wheel sizes on the 2020 Kawasaki W800, and that’s both good and bad. The 19-inch front wheel gives you the look you want on a vintage motorcycle, and brings with it the benefits of light steering and the ability to roll over road hazards. Paired with the 18-inch rear hoop, the wheels raise the W800’s center of gravity, and neither Dunlop K300 GP is especially wide. Of course, in urban areas, agility trumps stability, and that’s another reason to love the W800 when tooling from the darkness at the edge of town to the bright neon lights on Broadway.8. City twisties offer plenty of fun on the W800. Built in 1924 and linking the Cahuenga and Sepulveda Passes, Mulholland Drive is a vintage road suited to a retro motorcycle. Parts of it have fantastically smooth and grippy pavement, while other stretches feature brutal concrete. The W800 is a pure pleasure to ride on the newly paved portion, with its lithe feel—despite weighing nearly 500 pounds gassed up—making for an effortless ride. Cornering clearance is generous, and the Dunlops are ready for action. The motor’s substantial flywheel will make sure you don’t get excessively rambunctious and override the chassis. When it comes time to navigate the unmaintained sections, no one will have to tell you to back off the throttle—it’s a natural coping mechanism in response to the suspension. If you want to go a tad faster, get the Cafe edition.9. Stay away from rain-grooved freeways. The bias-ply K300 GP tires feel treacherous on freeways with rain grooves, at almost any freeway speed. You’ll be riding along, enjoying the wind in your face and, all of a sudden, it feels like you have a flat front tire as the front end starts weaving alarmingly. On the wrong combination of rain grooves, the rear wheel will follow suit, upping the anxiety ante. While the W800 never went down on the freeway, and likely won’t, it certainly feels ready to lose the front end at a moment’s notice and your knees tighten up on the tank pads. Next time we test a W800, we’ll look for a pair of radials to mount—though the 19-/18-inch rim combo makes that tough. It’s not fun to be nervous about any ride on the freeway.10. If you’re interested in heading to the hinterlands, enjoy the backroads. Rain-grooves aside, the 2020 Kawasaki W800 could be used as a retro weekend touring mount. With the right bags thrown over the seat, and a modest windshield—hint, hint, to Kawasaki Genuine Accessories—nothing is stopping you from smiling for many miles on the way to a weekend getaway motel, alone or with a passenger. Handling on rural canyon roads are fine, and the W800 will keep up with the traffic on the highways. The significant other on the back will love the seat and passenger ergonomics—roomy and natural. If you get caught out after dark, the stylish LED headlight will lead the way to your destination.11. Braking is friendly, and ABS is standard. There is nothing abrupt about the braking on the W800, though the 320mm front disc delivers when necessary. Kawasaki had a sense that many W800 riders will use the rear brake, so they bolted a 270mm disc onto the rear hub. With ABS, both brakes make the rider look good.12. The dual clocks are traditional, even though they’re unnecessary. A tachometer is overkill with a motor such as the W800. You don’t need to know what the rev count is—you just ride and let your experience tell you when to shift. If you are near the rev limit, you’re doing it wrong. Warning lights are there when rarely needed, save the low-fuel alert. Annoyingly, the W800 lacks a fuel gauge.13. This is a conversation-starting motorcycle, so prepare to be an influencer. With a beautiful paint job, just the right amount of chrome, a centerstand, and enough styling cues to convince a passer-by that you’re on a 1960s motorcycle, you will likely be bombarded with questions such as, “What year is your bike?” You will likely have to repeat “2020” until they realize you truly did understand the question. A big part of riding a motorcycle is feeling cool, and the Kawasaki W800 massages your ego like a pro.14. A fantastic city motorcycle and enjoyable canyon cruiser, the 2020 Kawasaki W800 brings plenty of modernity to the vintage theme. The W800 is an easy motorcycle to love, unless you ride on rain-grooved freeways daily. We think that’s a fixable problem, and the rest of the package is so spot-on that it is worth a bit of tinkering. Certainly, it requires far fewer modifications than an actual 1960s motorcycle. You look great on the W800 and it feels wonderful to ride. That’s how motorcycles were 55 years ago, and the 2020 Kawasaki W800 follows in that essential tradition.Photography by Kelly CallanRIDING STYLE
Our first segment introduces you to the new Arch 1s. This latest, slightly more sporting American V-twin, adds to the original KRGT1 coming from the boutique manufacturer based in Hawthorne, Southern California. Senior Editor Nic de Sena rode through Malibu with Gard Hollinger, who co-founded Arch Motorcycle with his friend, Keanu Reeves. The 1s is a unique ride for sure, and Nic explains what makes the bike really stand out.
For the entertaining story behind Arch Motorcycle from Gard Hollinger himself, you must listen to his podcast episode on Motos & Friends HERE
The guest segment of Motos and Friends is brought to you by the faster and most technologically advanced, 2023 Suzuki Hayabusa—visit your local dealer or suzukicycles.com to learn more.
In our second segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams chats with multiple Emmy award-winning writer, Producer, Director, and actor, Thom Beers. the former Chairman & CEO of Fremantle Media North America, responsible for American Idol and America’s Got Talent.
Thom’s fertile imagination led to most of the really big reality TV shows such as ‘Deadliest Catch’ (now in its 17th season!), and many others. Of course for us in the motorcycle world, you’ll be interested to hear the genesis and story of how he started the first real fabrication reality show ‘Monster Garage’, that showcased Jesse James, and then how that led to ‘Biker Build Off’ and the ‘Zombie Choppers’ movie.
You’d imagine that most of Thom’s time is spent sitting behind a desk and on his phone. Not so. His intense stories of capturing much of the content for these shows make for some hair-raising listening.