First things first, if you want to hear about technical specs, this is not the review you are looking for. Let's be real, numbers and fancy words mean nothing without ease of use or an enjoyment factor. Read on to learn more about how the Kawasaki Z900RS performs and feels in the real world.
Here’s a brief history of the Z1, the predecessor of the Z900RS: The Kawasaki Z1 debuted in 1973 as the world's first four-cylinder production superbike. Renowned for its massive amount of power, at the time the 903cc engine was the largest an average Josephine had ever had the option of owning. Living up to its nickname, "The King" set 46 speed records. With a slew of Machine of the Year awards from 1973-1976 under its belt, the Z1 left some rather hefty shoes to fill.
Now, 45 years later, Kawasaki has paid tribute to the original superbike in marvelous fashion. Enter the Z900RS.
A fine line exists between function and form, and Kawasaki has walked it beautifully. Not exactly a wolf in sheep's clothing, the Z900RS is a modern sportbike wrapped in a sexy vintage coat. The design process began by taking cues from the iconic teardrop shape of the Z1's gas tank. It was these sleek and simple lines that would dictate the entire refined look of the bike, from nose to duckbill tail. A single round headlight cleverly disguises 6 LEDs for optimal performance with a vintage feel. Flat cast wheels trick the eyes into believing they are gazing at true wire spoke wheels from yesteryear, which is visually pleasing without compromising performance. Combine the classic styling with shiny header pipes (double-walled to prevent discoloration) and a buffed simple exhaust, because a little bling never hurts. You can count on the Z900RS turning heads for all the right reasons.
The bike looks so classic, in fact, that an untrained eye might miss the performance machine hiding underneath. Do not be fooled, it is a powerhouse just waiting to be let loose. Pull back the veil and you will find a true 948cc sportbike in nearly every aspect.
One of Kawasaki's goals with the Z900RS was a to provide a stress-free riding experience, and several factors allowed them to hit their mark with expert precision. This has certainly been one of the easiest bikes for me to both get familiar with and ride, even after just a few quick miles through city streets. I opted for the genuine OEM low seat which gave me nearly 2 extra inches of reach, thanks to the traditional scoop (see our video on Facebook) and the narrowing of the seat against the tank. I was able to touch the balls of both feet to the ground and push the bike around on a flat surface without issues - hills required a dismount. The weight is distributed lower than an aggressive supersport, so it was easier to move and didn’t feel as though it was on the verge of toppling over when stopped. The handlebar and grip placement was neutral, and only required the slightest bend forward at the waist in order to keep a firm yet relaxed grip, even with my shorter-than-average arms. My feet were directly below my hips, which provided a more-relaxed and less-aggressive sitting position at all speeds. Everything from parking to spirited canyon carving felt comfortable even without any other adjustments from the factory settings.
The assist (think easy-pull) clutch made controlling my RPMs in traffic almost effortless, while the slipper mechanism allowed me to quickly downshift when the curves tightened up without even a hint of hopping the rear end.
The handlebar placement and wider seat made our long day, including an hour in stop-and-go traffic, rather comfortable. The buttery-smooth transmission was a delightful accompaniment to the driving power that wouldn't quit, even in higher gears at lower RPMs. All of this without vibration or bogging. Did I mention the low grumble and perfect exhaust pitch Kawasaki tuned specifically for this model? It’s a siren song that won’t piss off your neighbors, might produce a few giggles, and will surely get all the attention.
The factory recommended suspension settings were a little bouncy for my taste, but with a few quick clicks and twists, the new settings performed like a dream on the rutted canyon roads of Malibu. Fully adjustable front and rear suspension is essential for a performance machine, so it was exciting to be able to make changes on the fly that produced a noticeable difference. The geometry of the frame and front end, as well as the weight (extremely light) of the rear, make this bike very agile and responsive to steering inputs without feeling unstable or erratic. The throttle is a bit sensitive when you reach higher RPMs, but that was quickly fixed by upshifting slightly early, and the Z900RS handled that adjustment like it was made for throttling out of the corners in higher gears. Also interesting to note, all the technology assists (ABS and Kawasaki TRaction Control) can be turned off. Yes, this baby can wheelie - don’t ask me how I know.
I even purposely overbraked and under revved the engine in a few of the switchbacks to see if I could get the bike to respond negatively. No such luck. ABS never kicked in, and the engine never bogged out. The Z900RS took everything I shoved at it in stride and performed with finesse. The best part? I had a ton of fun doing it! The happiness quotient is strong with this one.
No bike is without its quirks. In traffic, the lower portion of my right leg started to suffer from the radiant heat of the engine, so long sturdy pants are essential for commuting on the Z900RS.
The wider seat, although comfortable for stop and go traffic, was a bit uncomfortable when gripping tightly with my legs in the twisties - especially as the miles added up. The digital display between the analog gauges is small, and rightly so, but the gear indicator takes up about half of that space and feels unnecessary. I would have preferred a speed indicator instead. The only other thing I would be weary of is the lack of aftermarket accessories (like luggage systems) available right out of the gate. Currently, several Kawasaki Genuine Accessories exist but focus mainly on the look and ease of use.
I thought I would for sure like the Metallic Flat Spark Black version better($10,999), but the deep layered “Root Beer” paint (Candytone Brown and Orange) sparkled in the sun beautifully. After seeing photos of myself riding the retro paint scheme, I wouldn’t change a thing about it - vanity is so fickle, and worth the extra $200!
As it sits, the Z900RS’s 7/8in handlebars definitely perpetuate the historical nod, but they feel too small for me. I would like to see a 1 1/8in bar to give the bike that extra push towards a streetfighter feel. Last but not least, if the bike were in my stable, I would immediately choose the Ergo Fit Reduced Reach Seat and round out my purchase with a grip heater set - all available as Kawasaki Genuine Accessories.
From the perspective of an 8-year motorcycle safety instructor, I would happily recommend the Z900RS to an experienced rider looking to upgrade to a sportbike or step away from a supersport without losing any get-up-and-go.
The balance of manageability and power is quite unmatched in my book, and the price tag cannot be beat. Even a newer rider would find the Z900RS easy to control in M2 mode, as it is one of the more forgiving (of rider error) in the litre bike realm. It's safe to say the Z900RS might even make you look and feel like a better rider.
I would rate the fun factor at a 9/10, in an equally as pretty package. It will certainly keep up with all the big kid toys, while looking fabulous and keeping you comfortable. The Z900RS can turn your everyday commute into the thrill ride you’ve been looking for without breaking the bank or your body. At the price point of $11,199, it’s a ton of bang for your buck - sophisticated bang that will make you seem a bit wiser and perhaps more mature than a 1000cc supersport.
Don’t take my word for it! Head to your local Kawasaki dealer and check it out for yourself. The Z900RS is, in fact, waiting for your visit right now.
Kawasaki Z900RS Detail Photos
(Click photo to enlarge)