2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Review

Retro revisit aboard the new and improved W800.

Kawasaki W800 Café
Old-school character and lines in a modern machine—this is the Kawasaki W800 Café.Jeff Allen

As much as the Cycle World staff enjoyed Kawasaki’s retro-inspired W650 twin, hindsight suggests the bike’s 2001 release may have been too far out in front of the current retro bike trend. While the 1960s-styled W650 only remained in the American market model lineup for two brief years, timing of Kawasaki’s W800 Café lines right up with the surge in retrobike interest.

One of my favorite aspects of the neoclassic craze is the boon of retro riding gear so essential to achieving that Steve McQueen cool factor. I appreciate the W800 Café much like my favorite distressed leather aviator-style riding jacket; both possess feel-good comfort and a minimalist classic good looks, yet are constructed of modern materials with safety tech hidden beneath the surface.

Kawasaki W800 Café
Just like retro riding gear, the Kawasaki W800 Café ups the cool factor but has modern tech to make riding in style livable.Jeff Allen

If you like the feel of steel, the W800 has metal in all the right places. Its fuel tank, airbox side covers, and rear fender assembly all proved attractive to our shop magnet. Although the front fender and bikini fairing are constructed of plastic, it’s easy to look beyond that when focusing on the fine attention to detail Kawasaki has given items such as the bike’s beautifully stitched two-tone leather saddle, classic-style large round-face instrumentation, and metal-housed period-perfect handlebar switch gear. The only thing lacking here is a kickstart and tickle-me Amal old-school cold-start routine.

Thumbing the start button spurs the fuel-injected, air-cooled, SOHC parallel-twin to life in nary a full rotation of its weighty crank. Once warmed, the long-stroke 773cc mill settles into a quartz-watch-steady 1,300-rpm idle. A quick throttle blip is met with lazily spooling rpm that is indicative of its generous crankshaft inertia.

Kawasaki’s W800 Café 733cc engine
Kawasaki’s W800 Café 733cc engine looks and feels the part of a throwback with a bevel-drive camshaft and 360-degree firing interval.Jeff Allen

Technical Editor Kevin Cameron describes the merits of the W800’s low-stress engine tune and the valve timing precision of bevel-gear camshaft drive. Cameron concludes that the W800 engine is an extremely durable and long-lasting design and its use of four valves per cylinder has allowed Kawasaki to maximize cylinder-fill resulting in greater low-rpm torque and improved fuel efficiency. Strapped to the Cycle World dyno the W800 Café painted a table-flat torque curve that bellies up with near-peak output early in the rev range.

Novice riders will quickly gain confidence pulling away from stops aboard the W800 Café. Its lightly sprung assist-type clutch offers smooth engagement, and fueling is spot-on. Combining those attributes with crank inertia makes even starting off on an upslope worry-free. I found the W800’s five-speed gearbox provides light, positive shifts when leisurely lugging along or accelerating hard on the throttle. An additional novice-friendly feature of note is the Kawasaki Positive Neutral Finder, making the search for neutral at stops a snap. Shift down to first gear while stopped, and simply lift the shift lever and into neutral it goes, blocked from hitting second until you get rolling. It’s a great system that’s been around for ages.

The engine has a twin personality that I found very agreeable. Its 360-degree firing interval sees the pistons rising and falling in unison, producing charismatic, evenly spaced power pulses prominently felt throughout the lower half of the rev range. An engine balancer shaft quells those vibes to a milky smoothness from 4,200 rpm all the way to the 7,500-rpm rev limit. Craving that rich coffee-grinder vibe, I found the engine happily content chugging along at 2 grand in top cog, churning out a pleasurably therapeutic vibe at 35 mph.

W800 cafe lean
On the road, the W800 Café’s engine lumps along with noticeable power pulses at lower rpms but smooths out just above 4,000 rpm.Jeff Allen

Leaving town in my wheel tracks I hit a freeway ramp and soon noticed the engine’s balancer aligns quite well for a relaxed 70-mph freeway cruise with the tachometer needle hovering at 4,300 rpm in top gear. I also immediately discovered the W800’s genuine throwback-handling quirk. Riding a stretch of concrete freeway had the W800 wiggling and wobbling as its Dunlop K300 GP bias-ply rubber (with a centerline tread groove) chased rain grooves in the road to a degree unlike any modern bike I can recount. For all of its novice-friendly qualities, wiggle and weave are certain to sap much confidence gained. Short of a retread or avoiding grooved superslab altogether, the best I could do was to give her a loose rein and roll with the flow until reaching a blacktop surface. Love the look of the retro tires, but different rubber is likely to cure this.

On non-grooved pavement (bumpy, rough, or smooth) the chassis otherwise tracks very well. So well in fact I’m left with full confidence the double-cradle, square-section gusseted backbone steel frame offers the rigid qualities Kawasaki touts. This—along with its stout 41mm fork, beefy lower triple clamp, and stiff shocks—means you can relish sharp handling when working a curvy back road. Planted as it may be, the pace is ultimately dictated by the bike’s semisporting degree of cornering clearance. Fluid steering inputs will make the most of available bank angle allowing a fun, spirited clip, while firmly planting a peg feeler and folding a footrest offered fair warning to rein it in. Dialing up the stepped spring preload adjustment on each shock a couple of notches improved the sporting potential without overwhelming the shock’s nonadjustable damping.

W800 Café
Though decidedly retro, the W800 Café can get around corners and bends well, especially with a little more preload added to the non-adjustable rear shocks.Jeff Allen

Inspired by the W800’s throaty peashooter exhaust note, sporty clubman bar posture, and nimble handling nature, I made like a Manxman ascending into the mountain mist, fluidly carving Highway 18 from San Bernardino to Crestline. Putting the binders to test on the backside descent tracing Highway 138 into the high desert, I found the front single 320mm floating rotor and two-pot pin-slide caliper combo maintained its firm lever feel and consistent braking performance. The bike’s standard-feature ABS serves as yet another example of modern refinement and underlying safety.

Kawasaki W800 cafe countryside
Although some of the parts are plastic, there are plenty of metal parts in all the right places.Jeff Allen

As the backroad leg of the route wound down, I looked forward to whistling through a favorite short stretch of tight twisties just prior to merging onto Interstate 15 for the drone home. In the couple of years since I last passed through these parts, development has encroached. What had been a prime roller-coaster ribbon of black flowing upon natural topography has now become a straight and level four-lane swath through the hills.

Hands-free
It’s easy to feel like you are in the 1960s on the W800 Café—in a good way.Jeff Allen

While progress has cut the heart and soul from this particular road, I found solace in the W800’s homage to tradition. Kawasaki has recreated the spirit and style of its mid-1960s W1 model in a modern machine possessing plenty of old-school character.

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Price and Specifications

Price $9,799
Engine Type 773cc, SOHC, air-cooled, four-stroke parallel twin; 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x Stroke 77.0 x 83.0mm
Compression Ratio 8.4:1
Fuel Delivery DFI w/ dual 34mm throttle bodies
Final Drive 5-speed/chain
Front Suspension 41mm telescopic fork; 5.1-in travel
Rear Suspension Twin shocks w/ adjustable spring preload; 4.2-in. travel
Front Brake 2-piston calipers, 320mm disc w/ ABS
Rear Brake 2-piston caliper, 270mm disc w/ ABS
Tires, Front/Rear Dunlop K300 GP; 100/90-18 / 130/80-18
Rake/Trail 26.0º/3.7 in.
Wheelbase 57.7 in.
Seat Height 31.3 in
Fuel Capacity 4.0 gal.
Measured Wet Weight 491 lb.
Contact kawasaki.com

CW Measured Performance

Horsepower 46.2 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 44.1 lb.-ft. 4,500 rpm
Fuel Consumption 38.5 mpg
Quarter-Mile 13.84 sec. @ 95.27 mph
0–30 2.11 sec.
0–60 5.19 sec.
0–100 16.81 sec.
Top-Gear Roll on 40–60 5.03 sec.
Top-Gear Roll on 60–80 5.95 sec.
Braking 30–0 38.65 ft.
Braking 60–0 156.06 ft.