Kawasaki’s Z900RS puts a modern spin on a classic bike
Kawasaki, eager for some of that moto nostalgia, has brought back a venerable nameplate with the introduction of the Z900RS — a two-wheeled throwback that marries classic styling with modern motorcycle technology.
The old-new bike is driven by a 948cc in-line four-cylinder engine, watercooled and smoothed out by a heavier flywheel than what was used in earlier Z900 engines.
The engine features decorative cooling fins that harken back to 1960s and ’70s styling, and a classically inspired 4-into-1 exhaust system, but it is mated to its six-speed transmission through a thoroughly modern slipper-assist clutch.
On a full-day ride from West Los Angeles into the Malibu mountains, I found the new machine remarkably easy to ride.
The power (estimated in some publications at 110 horsepower but unconfirmed by Kawasaki) rolls on smoothly. Traction settings add extra control. Engine tuning has given the RS version of the Z900 more low-end torque than its non-RS brother. Sound tuning has given the 4-into-1 exhaust a strong sonic signature. A Z900RS club coming down the road is going to sound magnificent.
The KYB suspension, easily adjustable fore and aft, takes the rough stuff out of the road. The braking system — with Nissin ABS managing dual discs in front and a single disc in the rear — feels calm and confident.
Kawasaki has worked to bring the ergonomics in line with what it perceives as the current appetite for more upright riding. The handlebars are higher, wider and closer to the rider than on previous iterations. The foot pegs are lower and a little farther forward.
The 31.5-inch seat height (a 30.5-inch seat is an available option) allows for a casual mount. The 5.3-inch ground clearance meant I only scraped the pegs on extra-tight turns. The 471-pound fueled weight of the bike comes off the kickstand easily, and the bike maneuvers well at slow speeds.
The classic styling is most visible in the teardrop-shaped tank, oval headlight bezel and spoke-like cast wheels, all of which strongly suggest the British bike look the Japanese were so keen to capture when they first took on the American street bike market.
In this case, the tank is a generous 4.5-gallon fuel reservoir — giving the bike an approximate range of 180 to 200 miles between refills — and the bezel houses a very bright LED beam.
Over many years of riding in the Malibu hills, I know I’ve gone much faster on curvy roads. But I’m not sure I ever looked better.
But the third and fourth hour on the bike revealed some of its shortcomings. That good-looking flat, wide seat started to feel very uncomfortable, much sooner than it should have. The sweet dial-on of the throttle was not matched by a similarly smooth dial-off. Deceleration felt choppy, despite the slipper clutch.
Kawasaki representatives hosting the introduction said the target customer for the Z900RS is a 35- to 55-year-old rider who craves a “unique” and “authentic” riding experience, prefers “mid-paced riding” and is interested in “show” as much as in “go.”
The Z900RS will offer prospective Kawasaki customers another option between the current Z900 (lower price, more power, more aggressive naked-bike styling) and the Ninja ZX10R (higher price, much more power, much more aggressive performance).
It also gives them a modern way to appreciate old-fashioned styling without having to struggle with old-fashioned technology, like a manual kick-start and ever-present oil on the garage floor.
With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $10,999 for the all-black version and $11,199 for the root-beer-and-orange model, this is a fine bike at a fair price.
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