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Kawasaki Z900RS

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Road Test Jim Scaysbrook Pho­tos Ren­nie Scaysbrook

When you’ve al­ready cre­ated one of mo­tor­cy­cling’s most iconic ma­chines – the Z1 of 1972 – you have a ready-made tem­plate to cash in on the retro mar­ket, which is cur­rently all the rage. Kawasaki’s new Z900RS is such a well thought out and well-ex­e­cuted idea it could stand on its own, but as it is, rep­re­sents a salute to that bold re­lease 46 years ago.

Tak­ing as the donor ma­chine the ex­cel­lent naked 948cc Z900, Kawasaki has skil­fully blended the styling traits of the orig­i­nal Z1 – not least the dis­tinc­tive or­ange and brown ‘Jaffa’ dé­cor that ex­tends from the fuel tank to the side cov­ers and the duck­tail be­hind the dual seat – with thor­oughly modern me­chan­i­cals. Other styling cues in­clude the pol­ished rims and spoke edges that repli­cate the wire look of yore, the twin ana­logue-styled in­stru­ments (which en­close the dig­i­tal panel with all the var­i­ous pro­gram­ming), and the big round (LED) head­light. LED is used through­out, even down to the num­ber plate light. But even in­side the en­gine and gear­box, there are changes that Kawasaki deemed nec­es­sary to fur­ther re­fine the retro pack­age – a dif­fer­ent camshaft, be­spoke en­gine map­ping, al­tered gear ra­tios, and an in­take/ex­haust de­sign that has been the sub­ject of “sound re­search” to pro­duce the de­sired mu­sic within the re­quire­ments of emis­sion reg­u­la­tions – what Kawasaki it­self calls a ‘sonorous ex­haust note’. The ex­haust pipes them­selves are sheathed in larger outer pipes that feed into a spe­cially de­signed cham­ber that has two sep­a­rate flow pas­sages ac­cord­ing to en­gine revs. It works – this one sounds throaty and crisp – un­like some of the stran­gled ef­forts of re­cent years.

As soon as you strad­dle the Z900RS you no­tice how light it feels, just 214 kg. Seats on modern bikes can be plank-like as pad­ding is sac­ri­ficed in the in­ter­ests of lower seat height, but this is an old style stepped dual seat that can be re­moved with­out tools for easy ac­cess to the bat­tery, fuse box and tool kit, and it is wide and com­fort­able. An ac­ces­sory grab rail is a use­ful op­tion. Pull the clutch in and you could be ex­cused for think­ing they’ve left the springs out. This is an As­sist and Slip­per clutch with dual in­ner cams to pro­vide a self-servo ef­fect, and is so light in op­er­a­tion it takes a bit of get­ting used to when tak­ing off. The slip­per comes into play when down­shift­ing quickly, forc­ing the clutch hub and op­er­at­ing plate apart to pre­vent rear wheel hop. I found the han­dling to be pleas­antly neu­tral around town and it gave no sur­prises on the open road ei­ther. The frame of the stan­dard Z900 was com­pletely re­designed to ac­com­mo­date the RS retro fuel tank, with less of the Z900’s ag­gres­sive for­ward lean­ing stance, thanks to in­creased steer­ing off­set and re­duced trail. It also al­lows for a lower seat height of 835mm, and there is an op­tional ‘Ergo-fit’ seat avail­able for a 35mm lower rider seat­ing po­si­tion. The en­gine is mounted at five points and acts as a stressed mem­ber, re­duc­ing the over­all weight of the chas­sis. The swing arm is made from ex­truded alu­minium and weighs just 3.9kg. Con­nect­ing the swing arm to the chas­sis it­self is what Kawasaki calls Hor­i­zon­tal Back-Link rear sus­pen­sion (a sin­gle gas rear shock), while up front there’s a 41mm up­side down fork with full ad­just­ment for com­pres­sion and re­bound damp­ing, a very prac­ti­cal touch.

The Z900RS re­ally is an in­cred­i­bly com­fort­able mo­tor­cy­cle, with a rub­ber mounted tubu­lar han­dle­bar and rub­ber-padded footrests to min­imise vi­bra­tion reach­ing the rider. The in­stru­ments are fairly eas­ily read and it’s not a ma­jor task to nav­i­gate through the dis­play panel set­tings. These in­clude odome­ter, trip me­ters, fuel gauge, re­main­ing fuel range and av­er­age con­sump­tion, coolant and ex­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture and clock. There are two modes for the trac­tion con­trol, which can also be turned off. As is nor­mal these days, there is a big range of ac­ces­sories, even down to a bikini fair­ing that’s rem­i­nis­cent of the Z1s in the Stone movie. And by the time you read this, the Z900RS will have been joined by a sis­ter model, the Z900RS Café, which has a stan­dard bikini fair­ing and sev­eral other mods. All in all, the Z900RS is a ter­rific ma­chine, prac­ti­cal, in­cred­i­bly stylish and to any­one who was there in the Z1 era – a gor­geous throw­back to hal­cyon days.

Haven’t we met be­fore?

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