Bikes 18 Apr 2018

Review: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS tests the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS.

Words: Steve Martin

Is it retro or resto? Or a modern-contemporary piece of art that just happens to combine the best attributes of new and old? When designing the Z900RS, Kawasaki had a lot to live up to – the original Z released in 1972 was such a game changer and an iconic model that the manufacturing giant couldn’t afford to get it wrong. A perfect mix of modern versus classic had to be achieved if Kawasaki had any hope of respecting the original machine. The good news is that they got it right straight off the bat, the new 900 is simply awesome.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Where we rode:
With a bike as free and easy as the Z900RS, I didn’t have a route plan – I just wanted to see where the bike took me. I know that sounds a bit loopy, but that was my theory. The first time I ever saw an original Z9 was in the hills, so that’s where I headed. The Dandenong’s in Melbourne’s east offer an amazing array of different surfaces and radiuses to negotiate, and my plan was to spend a lot of time there. Obviously finding a cafe was part of the equation, so stopping at the Earthly Pleasure in Belgrave for coffee was a must.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Tech features:
The new 900 has definitely got an old-school look and kerb appeal, but the RS is anything but old under the skin. Every detail on this machine has been built to impress starting right from the heart. Unlike 1972 when the spark plug sparked and away it went, the 2018 version is a lot more electronically high-tech. The Z sports Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC), which has two levels – the first is set to be intrusive for slippery conditions, while the other is a sports mode. If you want to get crazy, there is the option to turn it off, and boy does that make you smile. Slipper-clutch technology is taken from the race track and added to the Z, as well helping the handling by stopping unwanted rear wheel hop while heading into corners – it really does help keeping the back under control when close to the limit. An excellent ABS system is typically high quality and works with no unwanted intrusions, meaning it uses all the grip available and adds to the safety aspect of the machine. Looking on the bright side, LED lights keep power usage down, putting less strain on the overall electrical system and provide great night vision. Keeping a control of all of the tech is a very old-school, cool looking dash with analogue speedo and tacho readouts hiding its high-tech nature. There’s even a fuel gauge sneakily fitted to the middle console, and that takes the guess work out of fuel stops.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Motor characteristics:
The 948cc engine is a master class at achieving performance versus old school looks. The fact that its water cooling is well hidden, and the fins on the outside of the barrels still aid in taking heat away is an excellent start at keeping things real, but it’s on the inside where the modern magic happens. The engineers have worked hard on giving a lot of low-end and mid-range response by shortening the cam duration and also lowering the compression, meaning that this year’s bike has a substantial increase in power through the most used part of the rev range compared to the 17MY Z900. Lower compression and a heavier crank weight also gives the power an easy, free, controllable feeling to the rider, making it very enjoyable to twist the throttle. The RS is fed by a set of downdraught throttle bodies that once again draws heavily on Kawasaki’s racing prowess and allows the shortest possible route for air and fuel to make it into the combustion chambers. They sport a secondary set of butterflies that are computer controlled, and they help keep things smooth to a point. Because perfect smoothness would be quite boring, Kawasaki has deliberately built in a certain amount of vibration, not the annoying kind but the type that makes you want to keep heading back for more. The exhaust is carefully tuned to sound awesome as well, it’s made of high-quality stainless-steel and treated to a natural buff finish. It’s got to be one of the best looking standard pipes on the market, so perhaps the days of needing an aftermarket pipe are nearly over.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Chassis feedback:
The frame geometry is spot on too with Kawasaki knowing exactly what works after winning the last three World Superbike Championships. You can be assured that this baby turns and stops well, but at the same time a lot of thought has gone into the rider positioning. It’s a very relaxed feel as opposed to a racer stance which wouldn’t suit. The rear monoshock is nicely tucked away up above on the right-hand side of the bike making adjustability access easy, especially when playing with the preload for a pillion. The whole shooting match wreaks of quality with radial mount brakes, good quality fittings hidden anti-pollution gear meaning the performance matches the bikes nice curves. Through the twisties the geometry seems perfect, it’s one of those bikes that turns with less lean than you feel you need to give it, and that makes it confidence inspiring. The suspension front and rear works well absorbing bumps in the standard settings well. There’s the option to adjust and personalise it if needed, but for me, Mr average, it was good as it was. The low speed balance is also good, as is the tight turning lock, and that means that it’s not out of the question to take the RS through peak hour every day, in fact it would even excel.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Final thoughts:
Throwing a leg over the RS for the first time is a great feeling. Not because it’s light to pick off the stand (which it is), but because of the sense of nostalgia one gets when you’re in control. I don’t even think you had to be riding back in 1972 to appreciate how beautiful this bike is. It’s timeless in its appeal and it will be a big selling point for team green. A simple thumb button start up rewards the pilot with a wonderful burbling deep note coming from the standard pipe. Give it a rev and the induction noise kicks in only enhancing the sound. The clutch is light thanks to the new Kawasaki clutch, it makes departing from the lights easy work and I think you can forget about arm pump or tired hands hampering your day. The gearbox is also positive with a light feel to it, but the best part once underway is the way the motor responds. It’s nothing like a top-end speed demon, AKA the ZX10, at all, and that’s a good thing for the road and this style of bike. Kawasaki says it makes all of its usable power in the low to mid-range, and it feels like it to. I was using mostly three to four grand and getting plenty of action, but there’s a big kick at about 7000rpm that is big enough to make even the most power hungry of riders happy. All that torque means that you need to be smooth on the throttle, especially from fully closed to just open because it can be ever so slightly all or nothing, but it doesn’t take long to work it out. Every bike that makes its way onto the market must be different in some way to attract a buyer – the Z900RS is just so perfectly in tune in that regard, it certainly is a tribute rather than a reproduction of a long-lost hero. Its retro looks hide the modern package that it is, but the internals of this bike live up to the image it’s trying to portray. As a motorcycle it’s a great bike, but as a complete package the Z900 RS is hard to go by.

Vital specifications

Engine type: In-line four-cylinder, four-Stroke, liquid-cooled
Capacity: 948cc
Bore/stroke: 73.4mm x 56.0mm
Transmission: Six-speed
Seat height: 835mm
Weight: 214 kilograms
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Price: $17,999
Additional details: