Kawasaki Z900 Per­for­mance

H2-in­spired frame and beefy en­gine. This the light­est and fastest mid­dleweight Zed to date

BIKE (UK) - - PROPER NAKED TEST -

‘At full bark the Z900 is clean and ag­gres­sive all at the same time’

BLIMEY. COM­ING FROM the two triples, the Z900’s in­line­four takes you by sur­prise. Spy a rare patch of straight Welsh tar­mac, twist the throt­tle on, and a strong wave of power – un­hin­dered by peaks or troughs – pro­pels you right up to its 11,000rpm red­line. It’s all straight-talk­ing for­ward mo­men­tum, reach­ing out and pulling you to the hori­zon rather than punch­ing for­ward like the Yam. ‘So smooth,’ says Langy. ‘It pulls cleanly with oo­dles of power. Typ­i­cal Kwak.’ At full bark, the Z900 sounds clean, raw and ag­gres­sive all at the same time. Flit­ting across a wrig­gle of road hacked into a hill­side the 948cc, 123bhp four has pretty much the ur­gency of the MT-09 in lower gears, flick­ing the front wheel into the air over crests in sec­ond and third. Ask for ac­cel­er­a­tion and you get it. Reach cruis­ing speed, click the slick gear­box up a few notches, and the Z900 takes on a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, how­ever. Waft around in the midrange in a high ra­tio and the spir­ited edge is re­placed with some­thing a bit more hair dryer than re­bel­lious naked, even through the of­fi­cial Akrapovic slip-on. On long, straight rides it’s not a bad trait, but in this moun­tain­ous play­ground it’s a slightly lack­ing power de­liv­ery and dis­ap­point­ing sound­track af­ter the ex­plo­sive re­sponse of the Yamaha and haunt­ing au­ral as­sault of the Tri­umph. Back down a cou­ple of gears with the slick ’box, chase the Tri­umph into a se­ries of turns, and the Zed re­veals han­dling sporti­ness. Out of the box the fully-ad­justable sus­pen­sion is on the firm side and works when the road is fast and smooth, just like the Tri­umph. It hasn’t the Street’s sense of posh damp­ing, and it gets a bit crashy rid­den hard, how­ever it’s hap­pier be­ing lobbed hard into fast cor­ners than the MT-09. ‘I like the pre­dictabil­ity of the whole ca­boo­dle,’ pipes up Mike. ‘You leap aboard, crack on and it all feels fa­mil­iar and us­able for any­one raised on Ja­panese bikes. The gush­ing in­line four, the bal­ance, the rid­ing po­si­tion – none of it holds sur­prises.’ And this is a bit of a prob­lem with the new Z900. It might be new, and it might be a bit bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous Z800, how­ever it doesn’t have any­thing or do any­thing that shouts ‘now’. There’s a new tubu­lar steel frame for the 900, its con­struc­tion ap­par­ently made pos­si­ble by lessons learned while cre­at­ing the su­per­charged H2 hy­per­bike. The tubu­lar sub­frame al­lows a low seat height – 25mm lower than the Yamaha. The fuel tank is tall and wide, splay­ing legs, the han­dle­bar is raked back to­wards you, and on this Per­for­mance ver­sion of the bike there’s a fly­screen jut­ting up in front of you. And so the Zed feels wholly dif­fer­ent from the mod­ern, airy, con­trol­ling rid­ing po­si­tions of the two triples. There’s an old-school feel of be­ing ‘in’ the bike and be­ing slumped in the mid­dle, rather than be­ing ‘on’ it and is­su­ing or­ders. Mike’s nos­ing at the en­gine. ‘It just looks old-school,’ he says. ‘The gear­box sits be­hind the crank, rather than be­ing stacked and tri­an­gu­lat­ing the shafts as on the MT-09 and Street – it’s show­ing its fam­ily tree back to the ZX-9R of the mid-90s. The mo­tor’s long, making the bike look like it weighs 70kg more than the Yamaha and mean­ing its mass isn’t as easy to cen­tralise as on the oth­ers. You feel it dur­ing con­stant di­rec­tion changes on whirling roads – the Zed isn’t quite as sweet or neu­tral as the triples.’ Brakes are the only ones here that aren’t ra­di­ally mounted. This doesn’t af­fect per­for­mance, the bite and power of the Nissins be­ing ad­mirable, how­ever it makes the 900 look lower spec than ri­vals. You might not want or need them, but trac­tion con­trol and modes are con­spic­u­ous in their ab­sence. Switchgear looks clunky next to slim con­trols on the MT, and the mir­rors were first seen on Z-fam­ily bikes ten years ago. The new cheap-look­ing digi dis­play is like a step back­wards; the Z800’s multi-screen af­fair was nicer. You’d over­look these points if the Kwak was cheapest. It isn’t. That fly­screen is part of the Per­for­mance pack that adds the pipe, tank pad and seat cowl, and takes price to £9139 on the road. That makes it the most ex­pen­sive here – a grand more than the MT-09. The base Z900 is £8389, but it’s still a lot of sofa searches for a bike that doesn’t ex­cel in any area. The Zed’s last­ing im­pres­sion is of look­ing down at that heart­break­ingly-ugly speedo with its faux­car­bon sur­round, the thing that fin­ishes a bike lack­ing a stand­out fea­ture. Only Mike sees past it. ‘It’s not try­ing to be dif­fer­ent like the Yam, or tear­ing down a sporty cul-de-sac like the Tri­umph. If you love fours and have a his­tory in­clud­ing bikes like Hor­nets, Ban­dits and pre­vi­ous Zeds, the 900’s wail­ing en­gine, ca­pa­ble chas­sis and ex­ploitable fa­mil­iar­ity will be com­pletely sat­is­fy­ing.’

Dam(n)

in­stru­ments. With added gen­uine fake car­bon

(Above) Is this 2003? Rim tape and wavy discs (Be­low) The Count­down Clock of mo­tor­cy­cle

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