Kawasaki V800 Café Ural Sahara
Happily, reports of the W800’s death were premature. When Kawasaki circulated information that production would cease in 2017, the rumble from around the world convinced them to perform the necessary updates to ensure the continued existence of a hugely popular and practical motorcycle that began life as the W650 20 years ago.
Apart from the capacity increase in 2011, not a lot has changed, until now. The very latest model, the 2019 W800 Café, sports an entirely new frame as a cure for the twitchiness of the earlier version, which after all, was only really evident when it was being exercised very briskly. The new frame is more heavily braced around the swinging arm pivot area, and dimensionally different elsewhere. I couldn’t fault it. Whereas the earlier W800 came shod with Dunlop K81 tyres with a 19 inch front, the Café has 18 inch both ends with Dunlop K300 GP tyres. This pattern itself is 40 years old but the
more rounded profile and modern rubber mix work in perfect harmony. Flicking the W800 about in corners is easy and predictable, but you’ll still scrape the footrests (or at least, the warning knobs) fairly easily. When we tested the then-new W800 in 2011, it came with a drum rear brake, but today’s compliance rules dictate ABS all-round so there’s now a disc at both ends. Despite their minimal appearance, the brakes work in total symmetry with the rest of the bike; no more than you need, and no less. The front fork and rear end have both had an increase in travel and are firmer. The biggest change, obviously, is the styling. The café culture is hot right now and the W800 makes an ideal platform, however, the mods are actually quite minimal. Up front is the bikini cowling which looks the part but actually does very little in terms of rider comfort, with the air stream over the top aimed directly at chest level. But that’s really only an issue at high speeds, so not very often. Compared to the old dual seat, the Café’s perch is narrow and firm. Handlebars? I haven’t seen a pair like this since the days of Brylcreem and sideburns. And hair for that matter. Ace Bars we used to call them (probably originating from the Ace Café culture), and they were on every big road burner as well as quite a few middlers and tiddlers. The set on the W800 is wide and quite comfortable, matching the seating position very well, however I found the tank knee rubbers were too far back to actually contact my knees. Maybe they’re just for effect…
Otherwise, the package that made the original W800 is still there, and still a treat to ride. Just the exhaust note is enough to transport you back to the days of the Ponderosa Café at Caringbah (or its equivalent in any town or city), for this is still a 360 degree crank, firing the way the old British twins always did, whereas virtually every other twin on the road today uses a 270 degree layout. Thanks to the inbuilt balance shaft, the ride is virtually tingle-free except at high revs, but there’s ample power where it’s needed, especially around town, and power delivery is silky smooth and linear thanks to the EFI. Instrumentation appears not to have changed much, and compared to other 2019 models, is a welcome exercise in simplicity; no engine maps or modes, no switch settings, no fuel gauge, just an LED odometer/trip meter/clock, a pair of easily read dials, and a few little lights. I like that. Naturally there is a range of genuine accessories available, including heated grips.
The overall finish of the W800 Café is very impressive, the metallic bronze paint deep and lustrous. Far from disappearing, the W800 is back with a bang, and Kawasaki Australia say they are confident the Café model will be joined in 2020 by the standard trim Street model which is currently exclusive to North America. That simply means a dual seat, higher bars, and no cowling. Watch this space.
Cappuccino, here I come.
ABOVE Smooth, torquey engine. LEFT Rear disc with ABS replaces the old drum. TOP RIGHT Ace Bars, no less. RIGHT Seat is narrow and firm.