Kawasaki has re-released the W800, a vertical-twin motorcycle inspired by the original Kawasaki W-series built from 1965 to 1974. The W800 is said to not only take its layout and look from its predecessors, but its riding feel and sound as well. However, like many nostalgic vehicles, a huge part of the Kawasaki’s fame comes from an memorable appearance in pop culture.
Kare no Ōtobai, Kanojo no Shima (His Motorbike, Her Island) was novel by Yoshio Kataoka published in 1977. Considered somewhat of a bible for the motorcycling lifestyle, it was a romance about a young man on a road trip who encounters a young woman from Setouchi. The story’s themes included freedom of the open road, and the setting of the beautiful region around the Seto Inland Sea spoke to many youth. His bike, of course, is a 1965 Kawasaki 650RS W3.
Kataoka wrote many books and articles that appealed to the youth of 1970s Japan. Frequent topics included surf culture, music, and motorcycles. Several have won literature awards or been made into films. He also hosted a radio show and was a spokesman for Pioneer car stereos.
Compared to the US, motorcycle culture is much bigger among younger drivers in Japan, where owning a car can be prohibitively expensive. But dreams of love and road trips is universal, and when the book was made into a movie in 1986, the Kawasaki W saw a wave of popularity after its starring role.
The W was so beloved that Kawasaki released an retro W800 from 2011 to 2016. The re-re-release in 2019 has two versions. The W800 Street has the classic W look, while the W800 Cafe has lower handlebars and a sport cowl. Sadly, only the latter (pictured) is available in America.
Throwback touches include a chromed fuel tank and fenders, ribbed seat, and wire-spoke wheels, but the most important feature of the W has always been its sound. Kawasaki reportedly made sure to get the tone of the symmetrical exhaust pipes just right, not only for the single rider, but for when a symphony of Kaws ride together.
The reprisal of the W-series follows a recent trend of retro bikes from Japan. Suzuki’s entry is the 80s-inspired Katana, Honda is reviving the CBX, and Kawasaki has already re-launched another icon, the Z1.