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.
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