Looking older than you are isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it means you can buy fags and booze by simply removing your school tie and dance the night away with grown-up girls in nightclubs. Kawasaki’s W800 is motorcycling’s spotty teenager masquerading as a classically styled, distinguished gent. The air-cooled twin with an external bevel drive looks more Ace Café than Starbucks yet lurking in front of the K&Ns are a pair of electronically controlled throttle bodies. Infact, those familiar with the modern W will remember the first time the caught a glimpse of the throttle grip moving all on its own once the ignition is primed, rather unnerving and contemporary.
So with such a great looking engine mounted in a classically proportioned frame why don’t we see more of these Kawasakis being customised? Here in the Bike Shed we gave it a go when founder Dutch commissioned CRC motorcycles to build a W800 Street Tracker to transport him around London, and the occasional speedway track. The owner of this bike is a mate of Dutch’s and eagerly awaited a viewing of the new ride, after which he promptly called Calum from deBolex and booked a build slot,
The receiver was barely down when a low mileage donor landed at the deBolex south London HQ, shortly followed by an excited Ranx, keen to brainstorm ideas for the project. A street tracker with a sophisticated brat-style undertone was decided upon and the guys got to work. Calum & Des make a great team, with the complimentary skills needed to ensure deBolex keeps up with the ever higher customer expectations. Des has a background in upholstery and his resulting attention to detail is exemplary, more on that in a minute.
Anyone who’s sat on a stock W will have noticed how the subframe splays out considerably as it triangulates towards the shock mounts, and trapezoidal brat seats are not cool so the rails were chopped out and a new top rail and loop grafted in, complete with modest kick-up and a tail light boss.
Despite progress in the world of lithium batteries a fair few amps are required to turn over the 773cc engine whilst providing enough juice for the ECU, fuel pump etc. And with cold cranking amps comes size, although Shorai manage to make impossibly light and miniature battery packs the rectangular shape would have ruined the now clean looking rear triangle, so with a bit of jiggery pokery and some mods to the rear brake a battery box is now squeezed below the swingarm. Weathertight thanks to a rubber gaitor yet removable with a single bolt should charging be required.
Thanks to this relocation less squeezing-in needed to be done so a much smaller box was made for the wiring harness, ignition and Power Commander. A fluted wedge shape sits under the seat, adding the slightest bit of bulk which is not only practical but balances out the void beneath and well proportioned saddle.
With the clumsy looking ignition moved down below Calum smoothed-out the top clamp and fabricated a housing for the all-in-one Motogadget speedo. The lay-back bar clamps can look awkward on a stock bike but here they resemble a purposeful flat track inspired upgrade. ISR levers and switches are great quality with a chunky machined feel, further neatening the cockpit.
Des & Calum had previously experimented with a waterproof canvas supplied by luggage makers Malle London. The water repellence is thanks to dry wax, pre-impregnated into the material meaning it won’t rub-off onto Rank’s trousers. Lifting a leg to reveal a shiny gusset is not a good look. As you can see, Des is a master upholsterer who isn’t satisfied unless stitches are arrow straight. A tricky task with this fabric as there is nearly zero stretch, but well worth the effort as it’s about time we saw alternatives to leather, pleather and up-cycled ponchos.
Stock footpegs on the Kawasaki are fairly agricultural appendages wrapped in a chunky rubber boot so bosses were welded on to accept a more subtle pair of Tarozzis, with a pillion set further rearward too.
Despite the trend for fitting ever smaller fuel tanks, practicality was high up on Ranx’s brief so the stock unit was kept, besides, with an internal fuel pump sometimes is better to leave things be. The factory fit knee pads and badges had to go, unfortunately leaving unsightly holes. Calum takes his paintwork seriously so rather than use filler he leaded the holes and indentations before meticulously filing and sanding, the old fashioned and proper way of doing things. We like that.
All the handwork so far would be somewhat wasted without at least some hike in performance, after all the W800 was designed to be a retro classic, aimed at the more laid-back rider. A less restrictive Keihan silencer on handmade headers helps the cause and looks the business too. The engine note on these parallel twins is actually quite tuneful, follow the link further down for a video.
Once complete, as with all deBolex builds, Ranx’s W was sent to PDQ for a session on the rolling road where engine expert Nick tweaked fuel and ignition maps through the Power Commander to match the open filters and new pipework, managing to extract 9 extra horsepower. That’s nearly a 20% increase from an engine with a very mild cam and positively relaxed 8.4:1 compression ratio. We like that too.
Apparently, such results in black and white aren’t adequate for Calum, as he recently demonstrated by riding a customer’s CB750 to Biarritz and back, with multiple drag races up the Punk’s Peak hillclimb to ensure a proper shakedown was conducted. Yup, Ranx’s freshly finished W also needed such a comprehensive evaluation so Calum gave it a thorough seeing-to at the recent Malle Mile event. Essentially an all-out drag race up a country gent’s lawn.
Racing against one of his previous builds Calum sealed the day with an overall win, saying “Anyone who saw me that day and any pictures may have noticed the constant grin on my face, I was so shocked at how well the bike performed, loads of power, light weight and nimble and with the engine map truly dialled in you know what your getting every time you jump on”.
There’s no doubt Calum and Des will build you a fantastically finished bike, but maybe keep hold of the key if you want to take the maiden ride. Watch The Mile by Malle London here.
Photos by Dominic Hinde