One Of The More Authentic Tribute Bikes

Classic looks and modern performance come together with a parallel-twin to push this homegrown-looking bike, the new Kawasaki W800 Café. Unveiled at 2018 EICMA, the factory pulled out all the stops to give it a custom, homegrown appeal.

Continue reading for my look at the Kawasaki W800 Café.

  • 2019 Kawasaki W800 Café
  • Year:
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  • Engine:
  • Displacement:
    773 cc
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2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Design

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café
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At the end of the day, it's just another standard UJM with a bullet fairing and stylized tail section, but so were many of the original café racers, which makes this a rather authentic tribute piece that genuinely pays homage to the W1.

The landscape is rapidly changing for motorcycle manufacturers the world over, and all the major brands are looking to rope in the next generation of riders/revenue. It seems that this new buyer base has excellent taste in retro-style machines, so Kawi looks to take that to the bank with the all-new W800 Café. I’ve never made secret my appreciation for café racers, so it’s with great delight and anticipation that I dissect this charming mid-size ride.

The year was 1966 when the W1 hit the scene to become the grand-daddy of the Ninja line, and that provides the inspiration for the design of this retro-tastic sled. It starts with the wire wheels to lend it a dated air and the blackout treatment that comes out of the gate in earnest for a custom bent. The front end is almost uniformly achromatic except for the wire spokes and, of course, the brake disc.

Darkened fork sliders and tubes run with black bellow gaiters and a similarly dark, M-shape handlebar. The bar’s shape strikes a historical chord because back in the day, homebuilt café racers frequently had factory bars that were mounted upside-down and backwards. That’s where the peculiar dents in the front of the fuel tank came from, since in that configuration they were free to make contact with the tank before the tripletree found the steering stops.

Amid all this darkness is a silver bullet fairing in the café style, and that contrast lends the W800 quite a bit of additional homegrown appeal. Go ahead and pencil me in as a fan even if it does look a bit mismatched; kinda’ like corduroy patches on a plaid jacket. A flange-type, teardrop fuel tank fits the bill perfectly with rubber kneepads that cushion and grip when you tuck in or start using some body English.

The saddle rocks a two-tone look with a brown pilot area and black pillion, and while the p-pad is generously proportioned, it creates a faux tail-fairing look reinforced by the color change so you can get that solo-saddle look without precluding a passenger. Plus, there’s a pair of J.C. handles that double as anchors for a bungee net to give you a little cargo capacity.

A slightly bobbed rear fender mounts the rearward lights and a tagholder to do away with the mudguard, and one can’t help but see a similarity between this rear end and those favored by British giant Triumph on some of its current models as well as others from history. At the end of the day, it’s just another standard UJM with a bullet fairing and stylized tail section, but so were many of the original café racers, which makes this a rather authentic tribute piece that genuinely pays homage to the W1.

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Chassis

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café
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Even though café racers aren't powerful 'circuit-type' bikes, they are street racers and are expected to deliver decent cornering performance in an urban environment.

It’s safe to say that double-downtube/double-cradle frames generally look more or less the same, but Kawasaki designed the structure from the ground up for this all-new bike. The factory used advanced dynamic analysis software to determine the stress on each individual frame member, and that allowed it to vary the inside-diameter of each piece according to the strain it’ll have to support.

A 50 mm square cross-section backbone acts as the main structural member and imparts its great strength to the assembly. It’s important to remember that even though café racers aren’t powerful “circuit-type” bikes, they are street racers and are expected to deliver decent cornering performance in an urban environment. That’s OK, because while straight-line performance is good for fast bikes, cornering performance is good for fast riders, and guess which one requires more skill.

Symmetrical, 18-inch wheels round out the rolling chassis with aluminum rims for their low weight. Steel spokes and nipples were added for their strength, and the factory shot them with a protective coating meant to make them easy to wipe clean after a ride. The right-way-up front forks contribute to the dated look but little else as they’re plain vanilla with nothing in the way of adjustability, and the dual, coil-over rear shocks are minimally adjustable with the requisite preload adjustment as the only tweak.

A dual-piston anchor bites the large, 320 mm front disc with an identical caliper to grab the 270 mm rear disc, and I’m proud to see the factory didn’t take the retro angle too far with an antique drum brake out back. The factory doubles down on the modern equipment with an ABS feature that’s part of the standard equipment package.

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Drivetrain

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café
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Kawi opts for a slip-and-assist clutch that delivers a light pull at the lever and some protection from excessive backtorque.

Another feature I’m glad to see is the air-cooled parallel-twin engine. There’s just no way to hide a radiator or make it look cool on a bike like this, and the cooling fins on the jugs and exhaust clamps make the antique look complete. Well, almost. The bevel-gear drive shaft that connects the drive gear to the single over-head cam is external for all to see, and that quaint little feature just puts the old-school look over the top.

A 77 mm bore and 83 mm stroke gives the mill its 773 cc displacement, and the 360-degree firing order makes this a true twingle, which is to say both pistons move up and down in sync with a power pulse from one or the other on every rotation kind of like the old Triumph plants. Induction control falls to a pair of 34 mm throttle bodies with a set of sub-throttles that help ensure a smooth idle and seamless transitions as it balances the discrepancies between demand at the grip and what can actually be delivered at any given rpm range.

In another move to deliver a modicum of safety, Kawi opts for a slip-and-assist clutch that delivers a light pull at the lever and some protection from excessive backtorque. A five-speed transmission and tough chain drive complete the drivetrain in old-school fashion. I haven’t seen all the specs as of this writing, but it looks like the new W800 Café will be A2 license compliant with a targeted max of 47 horsepower. The previous-gen W800 mill churned out 47 ponies and 44 pounds of grunt, and I expect the new version to land somewhere in that same ballpark.

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Pricing

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café
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MSRP is below $10k in a single – but stylish – two-tone colorway.

Kawi manages to keep the base MSRP below 10 K with a $9,799 sticker, and you can have any color you want as long as you want Metallic Magnesium Gray with Galaxy Silver fairing and side covers. Of course, the factory gives you ample opportunity to bump that sticker a bit higher with accessories such as a passenger JC rail, luggage rack, hook-nut set and heated handgrips.

Color: Metallic Magnesium Gray/Galaxy Silver
Price: $9,799

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Competitors

2017 - 2019 Triumph Street Cup
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2019 Kawasaki W800 Café
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You'll have to decide if the extra few hundred bucks is worth the additional power and traction control.

Since I’ve referenced British heavyweight Triumph numerous time, and with good reason, I decided to grab the café-tastic Street Cup for my head-to-head. Like Kawi, Trumpet has its own deep roots to draw upon, and that shows in the overall look of the “SC” from the flyscreen up front, to the teardrop fuel tank featuring the classic knee-pockets, all the way back to the distinctive tail fairing.

The looks of the SC are right on point, until you notice the radiator on the downtubes, that is. I get why liquid-cooled engines are popular, and have nothing against them in general, but from a strictly aesthetic point of view, I don’t like it and never will on a machine that has no way to camouflage it.

Give Triumph credit for the great paint packages: Racing Yellow over Silver Ice or Jet Black over Silver Ice. Those packages look like they’re planned out and not “what we had laying around” like the Kawi, even though that works for the W800 from the custom standpoint.

KYB stems support the double-downtube/cradle frame, but come with nothing beyond the obligatory spring-preload adjustment out back, so Trumpet doesn’t score any points here. Brake hardware is also similar with a single front disc and ABS all around.

The SC runs a 900 cc parallel-twin engine that has a bit of a lope to the idle due to the 270-degree firing order and benefits from some extra fandanglery in the form of a traction-control feature Kawi doesn’t match. The boost in cubes also bumps up performance with a claimed 55-ponies and 59 pound-feet of torque washing through a similar drive with a slipper clutch and five-speed transmission.

Regardless of color choice, the Street Cup rolls for $10,500 to concede a bit of ground to Kawasaki’s W800, and I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide if the extra money is worth the additional power and traction control. Even the less-than-inspired paint serves a purpose here, and I have to admit I like it in spite of myself even if it fills me with the urge to jump up and make myself a root beer and vanilla ice cream float.”

He Said

“What can I say? I love classic bikes, and really like it when a manufacturer reached back into its own family tree to a specific model for inspiration rather than just making a token effort to touch on a classic-but-vague look.

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “This really is a stab at the Bonneville, and I know there’s a ’Love It’ camp and a ’Hate It’ camp out there because the W650, and later the W800, have been in production overseas since the late ’90s, but didn’t fair well here against the real deal from Triumph. How about this new W800 Café? I don’t know. The W800 was not really an ’Oh Wow!’ kind of bike that gave you a thrilling ride. It was more slow and steady wins the race. Ample torque in the low range makes it better for navigating city traffic, but not much oomph left for the highway. It was very maneuverable at slow speeds so filtering was a breeze. As far as the new model, that remains to be seen. It fits right in with the current retro trend, and it’s very approachable for folks new to two wheels. I like it, and yes I like the color, even if it is a bit root beer floatish.”

2019 Kawasaki W800 Café Specifications


Color: Metallic Magnesium Gray/Galaxy Silver
Price: $9,799

Further Reading

Triumph Street Cup

2017 - 2019 Triumph Street Cup
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See our review of the Triumph Street Cup.


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Read more Kawasaki news.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source:, triumphmotorcycles

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