There was a time when British bikes were king. Yeah, sure, there were the Europeans, which were mostly exotic and expensive, and big heavy iron from the U.S. etc, but for the average bloke, the bike to buy was a Brit. A good ol’ Trumpy or Beesa, they were the bikes to have! They went well, handled well, and had the image of being a motorcyclist’s motorcycle. Marlon Brando rode a Triumph in “The Wild One”; Steve McQueen jumped one over a fence in “The Great Escape”. But there was a downside to British motorcycling; reliability was a bit like an English summer – you could guarantee to get it for a few days each year, but for the rest of the time, well it probably wouldn’t happen. And no matter how they tried, the Brits just didn’t seem able to make an engine that didn’t leak oil. On the other side of the world though, the Japanese had this reliability thing down to a fine art; and they could put an engine together without leaving gaps for the oil to get out. They were also great copiers – their modus operandi often being to take a design from another country, copy it, and make it work better than the original. Sometimes other countries, particularly Britain, licensed them to do this, sometimes they didn’t. In either case, having a bike that looked and went like a Brit, but didn’t break down and didn’t leak oil, was a very attractive proposition. And so it was that, during the 1960s, Kawasaki began making bikes that were copies of popular Brits. The first ones were BSA copies (which BSA had licensed them to do), then later it was Triumph. And today they’re still doing it; albeit with a couple of breaks between models along the way. In Australia, the first one we saw was the W650, which was produced in 1999. It was an obvious copy of the Triumph Bonnie. I like Triumphs, and I like reliability, so this bike appealed to me; although I never got to ride one. It was reasonably well received, but not as well as it could have been, or perhaps even should have been. Now, after a few years hiatus, it’s back; this time in 800cc form, but still bearing that unmistakable resemblance to the good ol’ Trumpy. You’d probably expect an old bloke like me to get a bit misty-eyed over something like this, and I do – especially as it resembles a Triumph. As I mentioned, I like those old Triumphs. I’ve never owned one (if I had it may have cured this affection I have for them!), but I just like the look and style of them. And now, after regularly asking dealers within a decent radius of my abode, I finally got the opportunity to take this latest Trumpy-copy from Japan for a test.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
If Kawasaki’s intention was to produce a modern-day recreation of the classic Triumph Bonnie (which it obviously was!), then you don’t have to look very hard to see they’ve achieved their aim. I reckon this is more like a Triumph than Triumph! (And both are really copies, of course!). Details like the rubber knee-pads on the tank, the classic pea-shooter exhaust, the ribbed seat, twin-shock rear suspension, rear drum brake, and even the block-pattern tyres, all bring the look of the classic Brit bike to life in this Oriental Masterpiece. You could say that, in terms of nostalgia, they have really triumphed! (Oh dear!). With its metallic green paint and shiny chrome, I reckon the bike looks great! Using actual chrome (rather than the usual plastic fake stuff) is a welcome feature on a retro bike like this too. Its own heritage (which stretches back to the time of the original Bonnie) is displayed by having only a “W” badge on the tank to identify it from the side-view. You’ve got to walk around behind the bike and look at the back of the seat to see it identified as a Kawasaki. It’s a quality product too, and very well put together. No oil-leaks on this baby! As one review I read put it, “If British twins had been made like this, the industry would never have died.” Getting on the bike you are welcomed by a beautifully plush seat. Ah, yes, bikes used to have seats like this once! These days, most manufacturers seem to think that riders like sitting on a plank rather than a cushion! The W800 is a throwback to the days when manufacturers fitted cushy seats for their riders to sit on. The ergonomics are perfect for this type of bike. You sit up and relax. And that’s the nature of the whole bike – it’s very relaxing to sit on and very relaxing to ride. Continuing the retro theme are the two big dials in front of you. Both analogue, of course, and with their black-and-white style taking you back to the 1960s. The controls are all very light and easy to use. The side-stand isn’t so easy though; in fact I found it quite tricky to get at. I had to hook my foot under the foot-peg and fold it upwards to allow access to the stand.
OUT ON THE ROAD
One thing that (thankfully!) bucks the retro theme is the starting procedure – no kicking involved here, just a press of a button. Very civilised! The sound isn’t truly retro either. It has that typical sound of a twin, but not really the sound of a 60s Triumph. Something that does, probably, recreate the original is the vibes from the engine. And it never really smooths out. Changing the revs – either up or down – doesn’t eliminate the vibes, it just alters their frequency. Now, I’m not talking about the rattle-your-teeth-out vibes of an old-school Harley here; no, the vibes are much more subtle than that. I’m talking lighter, buzzy, type vibes that get a bit tingly at higher revs. Some might consider it character, but at all revs it blurs the mirrors to the point of being almost useless. Power is okay, but it definitely isn’t a fast bike. It’s better at higher revs, but I reckon this goes against the old-school nostalgic nature of the bike. Twins often lack power low down, and the Kawasaki does struggle a bit at low revs – again, to my thinking, in contrast to the torquey nature of the old school Brits. However the acceleration is smooth, and the engine easily spins up to its 7,000rpm red-line; in fact it feels like it’d be happy to go well past it. In the looks department, it's all classic Brit! The gear-change I thought was a bit clunky At around 27kph per 1,000rpm, the bike feels too highly geared, given the nature of the engine. That does, however, produce a relaxed cruising ability. It sits effortlessly on 120kph, with even the wind not seeming to be too bad. The test-route I chose took me through some of the back-roads of the Illawarra escarpment. It included a mix of mountain highway, some narrow winding back-roads, some open secondary roads, and back to highway again. Road surfaces varied from smooth highway (with the inevitable bumpy bits) to choppy sections on the back-roads. So a pretty good test of how the bike performs in the real world. The suspension is fairly basic, and the limitations of its design start to show on these roads. Handling is okay, although it starts to wallow a bit in tighter corners – especially where the road undulates, or gets a bit uneven. And, while it remains quite stable, I thought there was an almost twitchy feel to it at times. One particular road I took it along was a little-used narrow back-road that runs from the highway to a more major back-road. There are corners on this road, tight twisty ones. On this occasion the road was damp from overnight rain and covered with a decent sprinkling of leaf-litter. The Kwaka didn’t misbehave, but I rode more slowly; that slight twitchy feel I mentioned, and the retro-style tyres, not making me feel very confident . The ride shows up the limitations of it’s old-school design and specification too; it gets a bit harsh over bumps. The comfy seat helps, but it’d be good if the suspension was a bit softer to match. Although I suppose that would be to the detriment of the handling. Brakes are pretty much in line with the rest of the bike too, okay, but not brilliant. That disc / drum set-up feels a bit too old-school for my liking, and the braking isn’t strong. So, what do we think? Well, I think it all comes down to how you ride the bike. I wasn’t riding it hard, and I don’t think you’re intended to ride it hard. If your memory of those old Brits is winding the throttle to the stops and scraping the pegs through corners (and there were plenty of blokes who rode them like that!), then the W800 will probably disappoint. But if you just want to cruise along and enjoy a relaxed ride on a classic looking bike, then you’ll probably love it. Relaxed cruising is something it does very well. And classic style is something it has in bucket-loads! SNAPSHOT The W800 is all about nostalgia, of course. And in that sense, it triumphs. Actually, I reckon it’s more Triumph than Triumph! The seat is retro-comfy, and the fittings and fixtures are high-class. To me though, I think that maybe it goes a bit too far down the retro path. It’s not particularly quick, the suspension soon shows its deficiencies, and the brakes feel a bit weak. But if you just want to ride along, feeling laid-back and looking cool, then this bike will do the job better than most. You do feel cool riding it – even if you’re an old bloke me! And that’s what it’s about – old-school charm and looking cool. But as a modern-day bike, well, I reckon it’s nostalgia first, and everything else second. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on what you want.
Engine: 2-cylinder, 773cc. Power: 56kW at 6,500rpm. Torque: 59Nm at 2,500rpm.
Suspension: Front: 39mm forks. Rear: Twin-unit adjustable for preload.
Fuel capacity: 14 litres.
Weight: 216kg (ready to ride).
Seat height: 790mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 100 X 19, Rear: 130 X 18.
Brakes: Front: Single 300mm disc, Rear: Drum.
Price: $11,999 +ORC.
For 2015 there’s different paint, with less chrome. For example, the wheels are now painted black rather than chrome. I think that takes away some of that traditional style about it. Otherwise it’s the same.
Click here to go to the front page. Click your BACK nutton to return to teh previopus page.