Kawasaki caused a scene in the early ‘70s with its original high-performance Inline Four-equipped street bike, the Z-1 900. Fast forward four decades and old is again new with the release of this fabulous remake, the Z900RS ($10,999).
A two-wheeled nod to the old days of peace, love and wheelies, the RS blends the charisma of that classic with the power and ease-of-use of a brand new motorcycle. We’ve already covered some of the nitty gritty in the preview article— now it’s time to swing a leg over Kawi’s retro-sport machine.
Two Worlds Collide
There’s no doubt designers did a marvelous job with this one. The RS appears period correct— especially when parked next to the 1973 original. If you’re a person that digs the look of old bikes, you’re going to adore this Kawi. Yet the RS appeals equally to those that desire something fashionable and high-tech. It blurs the middle space between retro and contemporary, offering the best of both.
It’s All in the Details
Japanese bike brands are known for sweating the details and this Z900 RS continues that theme. The six-chamber LED headlight and LCD display, which is situated between a set of authentic round-face analog gauges, look like they are straight from the old days. Aside from the thin aluminum radiator trim, the fit and finish and aesthetics, including the seat cover and contrast-cut alloy wheels are top-notch. Kawasaki went so far as to engineer an entirely new frame to show-off the classic-looking 4.5-gallon teardrop-shaped fuel tank.
Rowdy Inline Four Engine
If there’s one thing Kawasaki knows how to do, its build a rowdy engine. And in typical ‘Z’ bike spirit this 948cc I4 doesn’t disappoint. Smooth off the bottom, power comes on gently making it easy to wield on city streets. It’s also close to vibration-free with just a hint of buzz transmitted through the footpegs around 5000 revs. A responsive and properly weighted clutch is another plus.
Yes, throttle response is a tad sensitive— especially in first gear— but after notching a few miles under your belt you get use to its sensation. However to be fair, the overly responsive action of the rear suspension doesn’t do it any favors, but we’ll talk about that more in a bit…
Rev ‘er up and vibration is replaced with the euphoric howl of the intake—urging you to twist your wrist even deeper. The tune emitted from the chromed-out pipes is also pleasing delivering a throaty attention-grabbing note that will attract attention from passersby. Things get really exciting north of 8000 rpm with the engine delivering the meat of its powerband before the rev limiter gently kicks in.
Historically Kawasaki motorcycles are always on the conservative end of the decibel spectrum, however you’ll think twice about the need to fit an aftermarket exhaust on this one as it sounds great off the showroom floor. For those keen on making more noise, Kawasaki offers an Akrapovic slip-on muffler as an OE accessory.
During the course of our moderately paced and less than 80 mile ride through the canyons of west LA and Malibu, we averaged 44.7 mpg according to the RS’s computer.
Two-way adjustable wheel speed-enabled traction control is standard and has enough logic to allow for wheelies— a must when you have a rambunctious engine breathing beneath you.
Perfect for the Street
Born for the street the Z900RS follows in the path of the original Z-1 900 with exceptionally road-worthy ergonomics and chassis. Specifically, the RS is fitted with a big chrome handlebar that can be swapped out on demand for a different piece if desired. However given the wide and tall bend— but not overly so— we’re happy with the stock setup.
The saddle has a nice covert pan that supports the rider’s bottom and keeps them in place. It was a little on the soft side for our preference. The position of the rider’s footpegs are lower and more far forward than the Z900 streetfighter and are pleasant for those looking for a comfortable street bike that they can ride all-day.
The suspension does a fine job of soaking up bumps on city streets and generally delivers a pleasing ride around town. Raise the pace on back roads however and the chassis does get a tad bouncy. Both the fork and shock offering damping adjustment allowing for improved ride quality through more dodgy and beat up surfaces though it would have been nice if Kawasaki fitted more heavy-duty suspension components in the vein of the Ninja ZX-10R. After all, that motorcycle gives the best of both worlds of the sport and comfort suspension spectrum.
The fork is adorned with a set or radial-mount brakes up front that offer adequate stopping power. An oversized rear brake keeps speed in check with pleasing power and pedal feel. Always-on ABS is standard with more conservative programming— with the system cycling early rather than later, but the system generally works well.
A Legend Re-Born
There’s no doubt Kawasaki hit a homerun in the styling and engine department. And while the suspension performs well at a moderate pace, we’d like to have seen greater focus on the handling quotient. Even still folks seeking a stylish motorcycle that runs and drives as well as it looks will find a worthy partner in the RS.