Kawasaki Z900RS: Modern classic contender
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Unlike many motorcycle brands, Kawasaki appeared to be hesitant to cash in on the thriving modern classic market, but that — like the bikes the segment is based on — is now a thing of the past with the arrival of the Z900RS.
Based upon the Z900 which was launched last year, the Z900RS is the first Kawasaki to fill the modern classic niche for the brand since the W800 which was discontinued in 2016.
Readers of a certain age will recognise from where Kawasaki has drawn inspiration.
The rear of the Z900RS is purposely designed to evoke the duck tail of the original Z1; and that’s not the only piece of styling the modern bike has pinched out of grandad’s parts bin.
The analogue instrumentation combines with a centrally mounted LCD screen, which displays all the info we’ve become accustomed to in the 21st century, while retaining the cool bullet shape.
Looking at the beautiful Z1 on display at the launch, I was stunned just by how similar the clocks look from side on. Kawasaki did a masterful job here.
“This is a classic bike that says ‘take me out on a joyride’,” says Kawasaki NZ general manager Mike Cotter. “It’s not a bike to thrash.”
Odd, since we were parked up within the walls of Pukekohe Park Raceway ...
The bike has character and a lot of rich history. It is retro style meets retro sport (what the RS in Z900RS stands for), but with a few more mod-cons.
The fit and finish, too, is a step up from Kawasaki to levels not normally attributed to the brand, with a revised rider’s triangle allowing a more comfortable ride compared to its modern counterpart.
“True Spirit” is the tagline for the Z900RS, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries went to “great pains” to ensure the bike met the brief.
In pre-production, Kawasaki reportedly redesigned the bike’s frame twice to ensure everything was ‘just right’, including how the 17-litre fuel tank visually appeared.
The size of the fuel tank is understandably a concession to the requirements of the modern rider, who wants the power of a near-on litre machine, but doesn’t want to fill up every 100 kilometres.
Kawasaki’s fiddling to get the frame and tank combo right clearly paid off, as it is not until you walk up to the Z900RS that the size hits you.
This attention to detail goes even so far as the construction of the exhaust headers, with Kawasaki opting to use double-walled pipes to discourage discolouration, but also give the bike more visual presence.
Behind the engine cases is a heavier flywheel to that of the Z900 which, along with other tuning tweaks to the 948cc engine, helps to move the powerband lower in the rev range to give it more usable power on the street.
Kawasaki has made sure to launch the Z900RS to the NZ market with lots of accessories including screens, sliders, grab rails, heated grips and more.
New Zealand showrooms will see two colour options for the Z900RS —– both are termed special edition colours, and while the base gloss black is not brought in it can be ordered in at the customer’s request.
The “plain Jane” black bike would retail $500 cheaper than the $19,995 plus on roads the Z900RS retails for, but would likely be a three month wait before the bike lands from the Japanese Kawasaki factory.
Also available to order is the Z900RS Cafe, which adds $500 to the price.
Kawasaki NZ is not stocking them (I don’t understand why, they’re gorgeous) but the racy looking cafe can be ordered in, in either grey or traditional eye-searing Kawasaki green.
But does the Z900RS match its stellar looks with an equally exquisite ride?
I’ll admit to scratching my head at the choice of launch location for NZ — Pukekohe Park Raceway — but once out on the track and opening the throttle, it all made sense.
Where else could we get away with fully opening up the Z900RS and getting lost in the astonishingly good intake noise legally?
The next revelation was that Kawasaki didn’t skimp on quality when it came to the suspension, which is often a let-down area in the modern classic class.
With rebound and preload adjustable 41mm upside-down forks up front and the same horizontal back-link shock with the same level of adjustability at the rear.
Though the words “it’s a cruiser, not a racer” stuck in my head from our pre-ride briefing, it wasn’t long before they rang true as the footpeg sliders touched down on the apex of the back straight chicane.
Sure, it is no racer, but in a class that is often all about meeting the classic look without following through to offering a truly modern ride, the Z900RS is a revelation within its class.
It is definitely worthy of the True Spirit moniker as well as its premium pricing on the “modern” Z900.
2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
Engine: 948cc liquid-cooled inline 4-cylinder
Pros: Drop dead gorgeous, performance, comfy
Cons: Premium price