I envy motorcycle manufacturers. If you imagine that you could build virtually any bike you wanted, you’ll see where I’m from. And few manufacturers are as adventurous as Kawasaki. Dirt bikes, retro bikes, V-twin cruisers, Adventure Tourers, sportsbikes – all types and sizes of motorcycles come out of the Team Green factory in Akashi, Japan. And I doubt that any other motorcycle manufacturer today is required to make a chamfer motor alongside a superbike with historic WSBK title credentials. Obviously, the W800 and the Ninja ZX-10R are two ends of the motorcycle’s rainbow, with nothing in common except the name on their sides. Only said rainbow is all green.
With roots stretching back to a British design from the 1960s, it’s the W800 that emerges as the family heirloom, while the Ninja is destined to continue sharpening itself until it is one day gone. It’s inevitable, really; Liter-class superbikes were hilarious and politically incorrect a few decades ago, so it’s only a matter of time before the 1000cc inline-four are replaced with parallel 1000cc twins in an effort to save money. money for everyone from manufacturers to buyers to runners. It could well be that the W800’s engine turns out to be the most perennial idea of the pair.
Somewhere up the road, the cry of the Ninja’s inline-four echoed in my direction. At least today, there was no way to tame the 200bhp artwork on a stretch of tarmac sliding down the hills and doing all the shapes that leave the tires with a good workout. But not on the W800. The footrest gauge bolts on this laid-back machine were below Bollywood standards and sank violently into the tarmac with even enthusiastic turns halfway through. But I liked the super wide handlebars; flat track bikes would have approved it, although I couldn’t help but think the W would be much better with a pair of low bars and rear controls. Maybe that would have given the 51bhp twin a better chance to hang out with his racing sibling on that racing road.
Frowning at that number of a 773cc twin? There’s no need to – if there ever was an engine that was all about character, not spec sheet swagger, this is it. Of course, I expected to be blown away by the Ninja’s 998cc engine, to the point of being dizzying, and I was. It has always been impossible to resist the call of an inline-four howling its song of speed in the wind, and this is where the ZX-10R was most hypnotic. A bike is always built around its engine, and nothing shows it better than a superbike. Every nudge, every bend, every click, every shape – it’s all happening so the Ninja can live their life at the red line. There is nothing better in the world than a superbike engine. And yet it was the W800 that brought me down with an almost perfect parallel tackle.
Obviously, I wasn’t expecting it, which made it doubly surprising. I walked over to the W800’s rumbling sentences which contained words like “Royal Enfield 650 binoculars”, “why bother”, “unimportant”, in no particular order. And then the W’s engine roared, its 360-degree fire order silencing all my doubts. From saying no to “All parallel twins should sound like this!”, My mind changed direction like the ZX-10R in a chicane. In a world full of twins parallel to 270 degrees, the W800 was an authentic and reassuring heartbeat, strong and proud.
So I thought, “Sure, that’ll be a relaxing ride,” and most of it was, too. After the Ninja’s headbanging manners, the W800 was a bluesy day. It rumbled at low revs, as the wide bar and low saddle made it feel like the easiest thing to ride. It was sweet and unpretentious, with a nice sound on the overtaking that made me wish a studio to record it. He just had that disarming, honest nature below 4000 RPM that blew me away. And who later pulled the rug under my feet.
I expected the W800 to be a bit ‘soft’ throughout its rev range, but after 4000 rpm it became an entirely different animal. The first time I opened it up to a long, empty stretch, the W800’s change in sound suddenly made me wonder if Kawasaki had managed to fit two more cylinders into the P-twin. From that point on, I rode the W like I never would have imagined, scoring it in each of its five gears, my surprise in first gear culminating in disbelief in fifth gear. I can’t remember the last time an unpretentious motor had this effect on me, except maybe on a real old British bike. Although I bet this Kawasaki will work forever and this old British motorcycle won’t. Oh, and I wish Kawasaki would bring the brilliant W800 to India, not just that blackened boredom.
The word “soul” is often used, but it certainly lives on in the W800’s engine. The Japanese may have killed the British bicycle industry, but Kawasaki kept some of it alive, perhaps as a penance. Or maybe it was too hard for the Japanese to resist making an ultimate British twin with all the right materials and tolerances. Whatever the reason, we should all be thankful for it because it is such a special engine.
However, the rest of the W800 is pretty much the exact opposite. With decidedly average suspension and brakes, the price of the W800 (Rs 7.19 lakh, ex-showroom) is hard to bear. But you know what? I would take it. And then set about making it the tight cafe racer it needs to be. As it stands, however, you get a comfortable ride quality, even though the seat is soft and will have you squirming well in under an hour. The front wobbles at over 120 km / h, probably because of the 18-inch tires with conventional tread. And the brakes are like government offices, settling for the bare minimum with each passing day.
No such fuss, of course, with the Ninja. He remains a master of martial arts on motorcycles. It was so easy to go fast, the real world was too slow a place for that. And yet, it handled the monotony of everyday life better than a superbike. Sure, it’ll give you better lap times than ever before, but I was more grateful for its compact dimensions and easy handling in traffic. Someday, if I ever get to ride it on a track, we’ll see how well I can handle Ninja. And yet, it was the W800 that stole the show today. Doing that next to a superbike, well, that’s something.
Between these two there are whole worlds of driving sensations and stories. One evokes the past, the other bows against the future. The two are contrasting studies of the engineering capabilities of Kawasaki and Japan – just that one wants to stand the test of time, while the other wants to leave time behind. Want to guess which one is which?