Back Street Heroes - - (AL­MOST) A ROAD TEST - WORDS: NIK PICS: PAM BA­RAUD

WHEN, BACK IN 1999, KAWASAKI LAUNCHED THE W650, IT WAS AR­GUABLY THE VERY FIRST PROPER RETRO TO BE OF­FERED BY ANY OF THE BIG MAN­U­FAC­TUR­ERS AND, IN 2001, WHEN TRI­UMPH (HINCK­LEY) LAUNCHED THEIR FIRST, 790CC, BON­NEVILLE, MORE OF A BON­NEVILLE THAN THE TRI­UMPH.

The W650, you see, was smaller than a new Bon­neville (Bon­nies were tra­di­tion­ally al­ways a smaller bike than a lot of their ri­vals), felt lighter, made a nicer noise, and ac­tu­ally looked more like a Bon­nie than the Tri­umph did. Per­for­mance for both bikes was about the same, and both bikes were ac­tu­ally very good, but the Tri­umph won the sales bat­tle by hav­ing the more evoca­tive name.

Kawasaki con­tin­ued to pro­duce the W650 (named af­ter the very first full-sized bike, the 1965 W1, also a 650, to bear the Kawasaki name – the ear­lier Me­guro K 500 was a joint ven­ture be­tween the Kawasaki Air­craft Com­pany and the Me­guro com­pany) un­til 2007, when it was re­placed with the larger ca­pac­ity W800, still a bevel gear-driven cam en­gine like its smaller sib­ling. It’s now a

773cc twin, air-cooled, and in­ter­nally it’s been up­graded with new pis­tons, but it re­mains

A2-li­cence com­pli­ant with a quoted 47bhp at

6,000rpm, and 46.39lb-ft of torque at 4,800rpm.

Top speed is quoted as be­ing 105mph (we’ll talk about that in mo­ment), and fuel con­sump­tion is ap­par­ently 55mpg which, given the 15-litre tank, equates to around 180 miles per tank.

Now, ob­vi­ously, with just 47bhp, even with a com­par­a­tively low weight of just 223kg, the W800

Café (there’s a more con­ven­tional Street ver­sion too) isn’t go­ing to set the world alight per­for­mance­wise. As I said, top speed is a claimed

105mph, but you’d have to be fairly me­chan­i­cally un­sym­pa­thetic to get it

– I felt as though I was thrash­ing it un­nec­es­sar­ily at 85, and al­though I did once see 90 (on a pri­vate test road, ob­vi­ously, of­fi­cer), it feels a lot hap­pier at about 65-70. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not re­ally slow – it’ll cruise at mo­tor­way speeds hap­pily, it’s just that they’re not its nat­u­ral habi­tat. No, it’s nat­u­ral habi­tat is lit­tle back B-roads, and on them it is truly ex­cel­lent. The day these rid­ing pics were done I cut across the top of north Es­sex into south/ west Suf­folk, and did about 60 miles of rid­ing along tiny lit­tle back roads, and I can hon­estly say I haven’t en­joyed rid­ing a bike as much as I did this one that af­ter­noon. It’s ab­so­lutely per­fectly suited to roads where 60mph is that lit­tle bit too

fast, where 30-50mph cor­ners feel as though it’s most at home, and its al­most sur­gi­cally pre­cise steer­ing al­lows you to re­ally put it where you want it. The brakes have just the right level of feel for this kind of rid­ing, the gear ra­tios are per­fectly spaced, mean­ing that it grunts out of cor­ners won­der­fully, and the low ace-bars and rear-set ’pegs are com­fort­able and ex­actly what you want for this kind of rid­ing. Even when the ’pegs start to grind the Tar­mac the han­dling re­mains nat­u­ral, and you never feel as though you’re at the lim­i­ta­tions of the han­dling. The sus­pen­sion is softly sprung, but has good con­trol and damp­ing, and han­dles most road im­per­fec­tions with­out jolts or jar­ring. The ex­haust has a nice growl to it, and also twit­ters a lit­tle on the over-run, just like bikes used to back in the day, and ev­ery­thing about it just makes you smile. The front brake, up from 300mm to 320, needs all four fin­gers on the lever re­ally, but bites re­ally well, and the rear, with its long, ever-so-‘trad lever, con­trols it all nicely.

And it looks the part, too. The bevel gear-driven cam en­gine, with its wide cool­ing fins, is very pretty, and the tank pads, the ex­hausts, the rear light, and the clocks are very much in keep­ing with the café racer theme. Per­son­ally, I’d’ve pre­ferred all the pan­els to be the same colour, rather than hav­ing the fair­ing and side-pan­els match, and the tank and ’guards con­trast, but that’s not re­ally a big deal, is it?

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