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Common Tread

Kawasaki's revived W800, proliferating retros and motorcycle pricing

Nov 08, 2018

The W800 is back. They ought to call it the McRib, because it keeps showing up.

The W800 has been reintroduced as a 2019 model paying homage to a motorcycle that was a nod to a throwback machine (the W650 reissue that ran from 2000 to 2001 in the United States) which spawned an update (the W800 that we never got here) that was itself a tribute to an earlier motorcycle (the W1 that was introduced in 1965) that was patterned heavily off yet another bike (the BSA A7). My head hurts. Convoluted history aside, Kawasaki has brought to market a bike those under the age of 40 will probably identify as a retro and those over 40 will probably call a standard.

W800
This paint job is making my eye twitch. Pick a color and run with it, please. Or at least integrate the two colors across all the panels. This is perilously close to becoming a Harlequin Edition W800. Kawasaki photo.

Kaw’s new bike is clearly patterned after Britbikes of the 1950s and 60s, because way back when (1963), they purchased a factory licensed to produce a copy of said Beezer. Motorcycle history is intertwined and knows no borders, eh? Kawi drew on that history when they released the W650 in 2000. That bike had sales problems, like some other notable Japanese retro machines, such as Honda’s GB500 and CB1100. After two years, Kawi pulled the plug in America, leaving the retro standard twin market almost entirely to Triumph, a windfall they probably still appreciate, if they’re intelligent.

Kawasaki gave things another go with the Z900RS (and related Cafe version), and now they’ve doubled down and gone either farther back (to the W1) or less far back (if you want to say it’s patterned on the reissue) with this new bike. The new W800 has many specs that are completely typical for this class of machine: an air-cooled parallel-twin engine, steel duplex frame, and what appears to be 18-inch wheels. (Full specs have not been released, but the motorcycle appears on Kawasaki’s American website.) It looks to retain its unique bevel-driven overhead cam, and I imagine it will retain its 360-degree crank arrangement with balancer.

W800
A bevel-driven cam is a nice way to make this mill stand out a bit from other retro twin powerplants. 2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe. Kawasaki photo.

This machine appears, from visual clues, to be very similar to the bike it descended from, so I suspect that the mechanicals are similar, right down to the fuel injection. Interestingly, Kawasaki did something similar last year with the KLX250S: fuel-injected a previous model and brought it back because the bike presumably now met emissions. I actually kind of like this plan, because it helps to explain the aggressive pricing: $9,799 for a throwback p-twin is very competitive.

How it fits into the proliferating retro twins category

I think this is a traditional-appearing bike that is going to titillate plenty of people in the market. However, is this bike going to “split the vote?” With so many other options like the ones available from Triumph as well as the very, very affordable Royal Enfield twins, not to mention the sea of related-but-not-quite-the-same retrograde machines like Ducati’s Scrambler and BMW’s R nineT currently for sale, will this W800 disappear into the crowd?

W800
That...that's not how those go. 2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe. Kawasaki photo.

Is it possible this market is flooded? The 600 is dead, and finally, blessedly, the market is no longer dominated by race-class engine sizing. (Why should it? Most bikes ain’t bein’ raced!) Has styling finally taken a permanent turn? Were sharp/angular/insect/Transformer/choose your adjective styling and full fairings just momentary style blips? Have we returned to motorcycles that more closely resemble the machines of the first 70 years of production, where parts are parts and are put on display for their beauty? Or is this instead merely a lull in creativity, a gaggle of terrified designers frightened of losing their jobs, reverting to the safety of a thing that once worked, hoping that this style of design will work once again? Let’s not gild the lily here: Most of the heavy lifting on this design was already done.

Regardless of why the W800’s traditional, comfort-food design has found its way into Kawasaki’s lineup once again, customers are getting a break. Too often I hear and read “Motorcycles are too expensive,” and too often I’ve replied that real wages have not risen in a long time, yet motorcycle prices have remained flat for damn near 30 years. Rather than bemoan the fact that customers can’t seem to afford their wares, Kawasaki dusted off a serviceable old model, probably put some old tooling back to work, and is passing the savings along to the customer.

W800
I think I prefer a decorative plate to an injector housed in a body that apes a carburetor, personally. 2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe. Kawasaki photo.

This math and conversion gets a little dicey here, but see if you can pick up what I’m layin’ down. The 2011 W800 carried an MSRP of $11,999 AUD in September 2011. (Lance correctly indicated that we need to compare prices from the same country for this comparison to work, and the W800 was not available in USA, so we gotta work with Aussie bucks on this one.) If we adjust for inflation, the new W800 should cost roughly $13,500 AUD. Yet the number on the hang tag is going to be $13,190 AUD. (That works out to $9524.89, very close to the U.S. MSRP of $9,799, so I think the math holds up to pretty rigorous scrutiny.)

This new W800 will feature a slip ‘n’ grip clutch — a very real improvement upon the previous design. (And I’ll eat my hat if ABS isn’t standard on it; I can see the tone rings on both wheels and I doubt it’s profitable to even offer a version without it. Yet another improvement.) The next time you hear about bikes that are too expensive, remember this bike, which is a textbook example of falling prices on improved bikes.

W800
That's a pretty inoffensive taillight assembly if that's what we're getting here in the USA. 2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe. Kawasaki photo.

Maybe the retro craze has to do with the current crop of motorcyclists wanting to forget their shitty economic reality, and try to recall a time they never experienced when it didn’t take two incomes for a household to survive or the idea of a pension wasn’t something that would make a human resources drone laugh out loud. Maybe on the side of the manufacturers it’s a look back to the glory days when a simple twin motorcycle was a modest, affordable luxury, rather than a sumptuously extravagant purchase that an increasing number of motorcyclists will come to enjoy later in life than their forebears… or perhaps never at all.

Or maybe it’s easier not to think about it and call it just another hipster bike for the millennial snowflakes.