I don't often get excited about a new bike release but Kawasaki's Z900RS reversed the trend when our men on the ground at EICMA last November beamed snaps back to HQ. I'm a soppy nostalgist and have a real soft spot for Kawasakis, or "Kawaskeys" as Jane in the office calls them. When I was 12 I bought a KX250, shortly before a much more suitable KX100! My first road bike was a KDX125 and my first legal one at 16 was a customised AR80. Ahem, I mean 50, officer. I've thought it's a real shame that Kawasaki have had, until recently, the W800 in their arsenal for such a long time, yet failed to join the new wave custom party. Three years ago a man from Japan with a serious job title and a Kawaskey logo on his business card popped into the 'Shed and sat with Dutch, communicating mostly through sketches and photos. Dutch is, or was at least, a Kawasaki man too. He lusted after and later owned a Z1000 back in the day, and when the custom scene first took hold in London in the late noughties he modded one with the help of Victory Motorcycles. So, we'd like to think that we had at least a little something to do with the Z900RS. Even if that does seem rather pompous. The Z900RS is more than just a rebodied Z900. The designers, led by Norikazu Matsamura, have achieved what they set out to do - rekindle the love for the old Zeds. We had a metallic brown RS here in Shoreditch for a couple of weeks and although it's a bone-stock motorcycle it genuinely turned heads. I witnessed countless members, customers and tourists stop for a closer look, nearly all with a smile and many with "Owww, I had a Z (insert capacity here) back in the day". The response from the uninitiated was just as positive.
I don't disagree, it's a handsome looking machine and apart from binning the reflectors at the rear there's not a lot left to do. The tail is already fairly tidy and the rear light perfectly formed. The indicators are LED, high quality and don't stick out that much. A smaller number plate with hidden bracket under the snubbed mudguard extension and you'd be done. Up front there isn't anything to do either. Well, personally I'd whip the indicators off and swap for Motogadget pins but that'd be more for the sake of customising something. The headlight is classy and the mudguard brackets are well thought-out and finished. In fact the finishing across the whole bike is considered and premium feeling. And I loved the gauges, a mix of old and new combined for a well laid-out and informative cockpit. My only criticism would be the small MPH increments, which means a glance to save points and a fine turns into a longer stare than is perhaps necessary.
From the side the fuel tank harks back to the seventies original, but back then it had a spine to mount to, rather than the widely splayed tubing of the new frame. Apparently 14 iterations of tank were trialled until the best compromise of aesthetics and capacity was found, and somehow 17 litres now fit in the low-profile teardrop shape. The trellis frame itself is based on, but different to, the hyper-modern looking Z900. Cast an eye down the tank and it doesn't half appear wide, but the handling and chassis performance expectations of riders these days wouldn't be met by a tarted-up version of the heavy cradle-framed predecessor. The RS' rigidity is derived from this new architecture, and weight shed by using the engine as a stressed member.
The engine dangling beneath is the tried and tested 948cc four-banger as fitted to the Z900 but with less aggressive cam profiles and a slightly heavier flywheel. There's 110bhp and 73 ft/lbs of torque on tap which is respectable, and comparable with competitors, especially Yamaha's XSR900 (which has a bit more poke, but slightly less shove).
Brake calipers are of monobloc construction and radially mounted to an inverted Kayaba 41mm fork. Sorry, showing my age, KYB as they seem to be called these days. Both preload and rebound are adjustable and the spring rate is a touch lighter on the feistier non-RS for a more cosseted ride. Kawasaki are aiming this bike at the 35 + age group where the requirement to comfortably ride over a cat's eye is actually a thing. The rear shock is also fully adjustable, ideal for those who know what they are doing or those with a passenger. Or both.
The wheels are cast aluminium rather than wire-spoked, which might upset the diehards, but frankly I know I can't be arsed to keep on top of tensioning and cleaning spokes, and many will concur. Besides, the machined rim on the stock wheels fitted looks great. Well, on my Candytone Orange & Brown they do. In other colourways the wheels are fully powder coated, which isn't a problem in my book and will look way better than tarnished wire spokes and furry nipples in 2 years time.
So, it looks great (not just my opinion), appears to be well made and is competitively priced, but what's it actually like to ride? Well each year I celebrate the summer solstice by going for a long ride somewhere that'll feature a decent and super late sunset - how jolly romantic. I also needed to tie-in a visit to the countryside before work to meet an estate agent. Irrelevant perhaps but it did contribute to an 8 hour day in the saddle, covering every type of road we have in the UK, almost.
Thankfully the nice man from Kawasaki delivered the upright, non Café version. The lowered bars, front cowl and wonderfully zingy lime green paint on that sportier model sure look great, but upright is the place for me. And if the target demographic is my age (and some) then I dare say most buyers will prefer the wide and upright chrome bars as fitted to my True Spirit. The seat (less scooped than the Café) is supremely comfortable, nice and wide at the sitting bones but sufficiently narrow where it meets the tank. The pegs are in the right spot and there's nothing poking out from the frame or engine cases to get in the way of the slick, light action gear shifts and perfectly efficient rear brake.
Through town the Z is as smooth and effortless as you'd image a brand new, electronically managed bike to be. There are two butterfly valves per port. Not only does this help the Z meet and futureproof itself from stringent emissions regs, but makes for well behaved fuelling around town. The first of the pair are good old fashioned tech, cables operated by the rider. The second set are managed by the ECU, whose reactions and processing power in near 30 degree heat around the Elephant & Castle clusterfuck that used to be a roundabout are better than mine. Only a maxi scooter would be easier to ride around our snarled-up city. Scything through rush hour traffic from the Bike Shed in Shoreditch towards the A3 and freedom beyond was a breeze. The assisted clutch is buttery in its actuation and feather light, and it's also a slipper type which will flatter the most hamfisted rider (err, that'll be me then).
Stretch the Z900RS' legs and it'll propel you along with controlled urgency. A brute this isn't. There's plenty of power available but without flicking your left fingers or a hump-back bridge the front wheel will spend it's life planted on the tarmac. Being a press bike the chrome exhaust was stock and therefore aurally smothered. Wind the throttle to the stop and I'd have lost a game of guess the four cylinder soundtrack but there is at least a pleasant burble on overrun. An Akrapovic pipe is available from Kawasaki which sounds fabulous. MCN's Senior Road Tester Adam 'Chad' Child joined us for our Café Racer Cup event at Lydden Hill last month aboard his long termer, a kitted-out Z900RS Café. Chad spent an entire day wringing the thing's neck and burning through Pirelli's finest - and it sounded feral.
So if you're considering one of these, put a grand or so aside for a nice pipe, or an end-can at least. SC Project offer a decent range to suit all tastes. For me personally, even imagining a better soundtrack, the engine lacked a bit of character. It's been tuned to give more mid-range than the angular donor, which comes at the cost of some punch once the thing starts singing. I'd like a bit more of a coming on cam feeling a few thousand revs shy of the red line. But to be fair that'd be wasted as I'm a twin and triple kind of a guy so would never be sold on even the most visceral four cylinder power plant.
The winding West Sussex country lanes on the way to Goodwood are my old stomping ground and despite knowing pretty much every curve, lump and bump it became apparent that this bike is more capable than me. I'm not the fastest road rider as my imagination is too creative with tractors, diesel and sheep at the forefront of my mind most of the time. The Z900RS is ideal then for someone like me. It'll press-on without being scary and there's enough gadgetry to reign in over-confidence. ABS is standard of course and there's a dual mode traction control system. The front brakes bite hard from cold and need only a couple of digits to scrub over zealous speeds. A couple of all-in emergency stop tests passed without drama, and the Z remained stable through nearly everything I could chuck at it. I left the fork alone but if I owned one of these I'd seek assistance to dial-out the median averageness of the factory settings and pillion carrying capability.
Some prospective buyers might baulk at the omission of twin piggy-back shocks but Kawasaki have used the retro brush for the looks alone, preferring to stick with their tried and tested Z900 chassis. The monoshock is horizontally mounted to centralise and save weight. On the less well maintained roads on the way to the beach I'd wished I'd packed a screwdriver to wind the rebound clicker out. But apart from that I was happy enough with an otherwise plush and pleasurable ride. The MCN bike has full K-tech suspension which I'm sure hugely improves just about all areas of the ride but, for what this bike is designed to do, is perhaps overkill. And the grown-up road testers aren't that enamoured with the OEM fit Dunlop GPR-300 tyres, but seeing as I sent this bike back with sizeable chicken turkey strips I can't really comment. I'd wager that most Z900RS owners won't be blistering Rosso Corsas like Chad does so it wouldn't be an issue.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Z900RS and haven't ridden a bike in a while that had so many non-bikers comment about how nice it looked. Blokes leaning out of vans, even an old lady in the car park at Duncton Hill. What is a surprise though is that as yet we haven't seen loads of them parked-up in Arch 4 at our Shoreditch HQ. I think people are really missing a trick if they don't add the local Kawasaki dealer to their list of stops on their new bike demo day. In fact I'd suggest making it the first or second port of call to give a direct comparison to the acclaimed Yamaha XSR900. As for the photos above.... no, that wasn't staged. A customer with a mint original Z900 popped in so we took a few snaps for comparison.
The Z900RS, in this non Café format, is a genuine all-rounder that will commute with consummate ease, tour across wherever you want to cross, and hustle on Sunday with your mates. Just be prepared to accept strangers telling you how nice your bike is.
And of course all this provides yet another mechanically excellent canvas upon which custom workshops can apply their creativity and craft. Unlike the awkward XSR900 the Kawasaki begs to be tweaked and I'm sure we'll see some fairly radical iterations soon. For now though check out these three (click images to enlarge) from Moto Corse, Bito R&D and Doremi Collection (click on the links for the full features).
For more information, specs and to book a test ride on the Kawasaki Z900RS
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And here are a couple of cheesy corporate vids.