Kawasaki W 175 Road Test Review - Back to Basics
If you have either heard of or lived through the Indian motorcycling scene of the nineties, chances are that you would be enticed by Kawasaki's single-cylinder commuter motorcycles. They were peppy, reliable and pretty comfortable too and gave birth to a fruitful relationship between Kawasaki and Bajaj that opened the doors for premium Japanese motorcycles to enter the Indian market. While that relationship may now be over, the Kawasaki motorcycles of today have enabled many Indians to realise their dreams of owning their first big bike. Everything from the Ninja 300 to the ZX10R has been luring Indian motorcyclists, but to make its Indian business more profitable, Kawasaki needs bigger numbers which can only come from a relatively more mass-market offering and the answer comes in the form of the W 175.
I think a Ninja 175 priced and specced to take on the Yamaha YZF-R15 would have been a better bet, but right now it is the adventure motorcycles and modern-retros that are the most sought-after segments and Kawasaki wants to eat into Royal Enfield's pie instead. Who doesn't? RE owns the space and is laughing their way to the banks every month! TVS hired ex-Royal Enfield man Vimal Sumbly to lead their entry into modern retros, and on similar lines, the first fruit of the Triumph-Bajaj alliance is likely to be a smaller iteration of the Bonneville. So Kawasaki's W 800-inspired 175 seems to be on course.
While a W 175 exists in the other Asian markets, Kawasaki India has gone ahead and made a more India-specific version that extends beyond retuned mechanicals. For starters, the tank is of 12l capacity instead of the 13l unit that goes on the global models. While that may not sound like much of a deficit, it does hurt the visual proportions of the W 175 making it feel more like a compact commuter than a roomy standard or roadster motorcycle like the W 800. The pea-shooter exhaust does try to save the design but more meat would have helped the proportions of the 175. The flip side is that the riding geometry is more relaxed and doesn't need you to stretch out for the handlebars. Long story short, our W 175 is slightly smaller to fit a wider variety of riders. Shorter riders will appreciate the low seat height while the fairer sex or those with a smaller frame will appreciate the lightweight feel of the motorcycle. I am impressed with how light and nimble the new Royal Enfield Hunter 350 feels in comparison to the Classic 350 to attract a new breed of riders to the RE clan - but the W 175 makes even the Hunter feel bulky and lazy to manoeuvre. While it is not a fair comparison, the similar price tags and body styles are likely to make certain consumers consider both of these options.
The W 175's suspension has been tuned specifically for our road conditions too and you will be surprised how nice it is. There is a bit of chatter on the front end, especially when riding on concrete surfaces but otherwise, it leaves no room for complaint despite what its spec would suggest. It soaks up bumps extremely well and even with two-up riding, the ride comfort is one of the best for a power commuter. The wide seat, fore and aft, contributes further to that effect for both users. The motorcycle maintains its composure around bends quite nicely too, but the skinny tyres and the spongy brakes will limit how much enthusiasm you can show around winding roads. The brakes certainly need improvement in their bite and feel, but the single-channel ABS works as advertised.
This Kawasaki is not a Kwacker then, but the city is where the W 175 shines, feeling easy to flick around and simply whizzing through the traffic with a likeable purr. Sure, those expecting a bit of thump from this retro body style will be left wanting, but the exhaust note isn't the typical single-cylinder buzz. In fact, there is hardly any buzzing you will notice anywhere on the motorcycle. It is an extremely refined package all the way through the pickup and the mid-range and that is where the W 175 feels at home. 30-90kmph is its happy zone and it's beyond this point that the motorcycle starts losing breath and some vibrations kick in. The torque doesn't leave room for complaint and complements two-up riding too, but 100kmph takes ages to reach and highlights the low power output of the engine. For example, the Bajaj Pulsar 180 (which was originally going to be christened the P 175 back in the day) churned out 15PS back in 2001 but the W 175 only manages 13PS and it shows in its lazy acceleration. It translates into a fairly good fuel economy though - managing to pip similarly priced competition like the Hunter 350 and the TVS Ronin.
So while the W 175 isn't a sporty offering, the engine and the suspension deliver a far nicer experience than what their specs suggest. Of course, the biggest fly in the ointment is the price and elements like basic instrumentation, a flimsy key, the simple bent pipe for a garb handle or the large yet inadequate halogen headlamp is likely to make you feel shortchanged. The latter also drained the battery within minutes when we forgot to switch off the electricals during a fuel stop. But these shortcomings (for the lack of a better word) are easy to ignore once you ride the bike because it is simply a likeable mechanical package and an alternative to the other modern retros in this price bracket if you are looking for a well-built, reliable and lightweight package. Old-timers too looking for an easygoing Kawasaki commuter could take a liking to the W 175. Will all of this amount to the kind of numbers Kawasaki is expecting from the W 175? I'm not sure. I believe that for it to happen, either prospective customers will have to change their point of view to see value in the W 175 or Kawasaki will have to change their pricing strategy for this product since it isn't as attractively priced as the rest of the Kawasaki range. But either way, the W 175 is a lovely motorcycle like its 800cc sibling and I hope it doesn't meet a similar fate of being a showroom ornament.
Words: Rohit Paradkar
Photography: Anis Shaikh
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