5000 MILE TEST

You could dis­miss Kawasaki’s Z900RS as noth­ing more than a hasty retro makeover. But this naked is much more than a pack­ag­ing ex­er­cise. It’s a great ride, com­fort­able and eco­nomic too. But is it tough enough to tackle a de­cent mileage?

BIKE (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Ben Lind­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy Ja­son Critchell

Kawasaki’s Z900RS steps up to the tough­est test in mo­tor­cy­cling.

TWO LET­TERS SEP­A­RATE THE RS from its sib­ling – Kawasaki’s Z900. Two let­ters and a huge amount of ef­fort. Cer­tainly this is no hasty re­boot like, say, Yamaha’s XSR reimag­in­ing of their wildly suc­cess­ful MT-09. No, the de­vel­op­ment of the RS in­volved a fun­da­men­tal en­gine and chas­sis over­haul, re­sult­ing in a wholly dif­fer­ent mo­tor­cy­cle. Ride the RS along­side the Z900 and the changes feel con­sid­er­able. You sit on the bike, rather than in­side it. The raised han­dle­bar suits up­right rid­ing and thrust is eas­ier to ac­cess. It’s a much bet­ter road bike. But there’s more to the retro mar­ket than the XSR. The RS must fend off threats from twins such as Tri­umph’s 1200cc Thrux­ton, V-twins like Du­cati’s Scram­bler 1100 and box­ers like BMW’S R ninet. Can an in­line four de­liver char­ac­ter to com­pete with this level of com­pe­ti­tion?

En­gine and trans­mis­sion

‘The First thing you no­tice is there’s power all the way from the bot­tom end up,’ says art editor Paul Lang, and he’s rid­den the Kawasaki a lot. ‘It feels al­most like it’s pow­ered by a torquey triple en­gine. But it’s an in­line four. ‘The sec­ond thing you no­tice is how bad the throt­tle re­sponse is. There’s a halt­ing on-off feel to the fu­elling at small throt­tle open­ings, which would be frus­trat­ing on its own. But twist harder and the bike surges for­ward alarm­ingly.’ This surg­ing is most no­tice­able in first gear. Watch any rider set off for the first time and they’ll be caught out by the neck-strain­ing pull to 30mph. Then they’ll shut the throt­tle and be caught out by the cleaver-like chop in fuel. The ef­fect is much stronger than on other 2018 Euro4­com­pli­ant bikes, such as KTM’S 790 Duke. There’s no such surg­ing on the donor bike ei­ther which em­ploys the same en­gine as the RS – 948cc liq­uid­cooled 16-valver. How­ever, the RS trades a claimed 15.5bhp from peak power in ex­change for fat gobs of midrange thrust. In­side the cas­ings there’s a heav­ier fly­wheel and crank, re­vised cam pro­files and a larger bal­ancer shaft to coun­ter­act the in­crease in vi­bra­tion. Shorter gears pull the power into more us­able ter­ri­tory which makes for a ramp of torque be­tween 5000 and 6000rpm and peak torque – 68.4 lb.ft – at 6750rpm. All this makes the RS a much bet­ter road bike than the Z900, de­spite the fu­elling prob­lems. There’s vivid ac­cel­er­a­tion in the first three gears and punchy over­tak­ing po­ten­tial in sixth. Bril­liant fun, if a tad vibey at the han­dle­bar. Mr Lang guided the RS around Rock­ing­ham Mo­tor Speed­way’s na­tional cir­cuit on two of Bike’s 2018 track­days and sub­mit­ted glow­ing re­ports eu­lo­giz­ing about gutsy midrange, a light clutch and a short-throw gear lever. All of which make for sat­is­fy­ingly quick gear changes. The airbox roars pleas­ingly and the stock ex­haust sur­prises with a pop on the over­run. Af­ter two track­days and 5000 miles the 900’s oil level still reads just a touch be­low full. ‘But the gear­box is get­ting notchier,’ com­plains Langy. ‘There’s no quick­shifter or au­to­blip­per, so I clutch­less shift to save time. It’s easy in sec­ond, third, and fourth, but some­times I miss sixth and roar into a false-neu­tral free­wheel. That’s un­nerv­ing.’ Turns out tight­en­ing up the chain clears up trans­mis­sion is­sues and smooths out shift­ing be­tween the big­ger ra­tios. In a mar­ket full of box­ers, twins and triples choos­ing an in­line four might seem like a bland choice. But Paul dis­agrees. ‘Buy­ing a four-cylin­der bike is an easy choice. I don’t need the faff of wrestling the torque re­ac­tion of a BMW boxer, or the bother of rid­ing around the lumpy power band of, say, a Husq­varna 701 Su­per­moto. The Kawasaki’s four means I can ride in com­fort and en­joy my sur­round­ings. It’s the sen­si­ble, en­gag­ing, choice.’

Han­dling and ride

‘There’s no damp­ing in that fork,’ an­nounces a K-tech tech­ni­cian at the com­pany’s Le­ices­ter­shire head­quar­ters. Paul’ s taken the RS to up­grade the stock sus­pen­sion. The orig­i­nal rear shock (ad­justable preload and re­bound) is re­placed by a K-tech Ra­zor-r (£495) and the front stan­chions re-valved. A re­mote preload ad­juster comes in handy on a bike used for oc­ca­sional pil­lion car­ry­ing – pity you need C-span­ners to ad­just the stock unit. The ‘no fork damp­ing’ reve­la­tion makes sense: as stan­dard, the RS fork dances over the slight­est road sur­face im­per­fec­tion. The fork springs com­press over bumps and re­bound im­me­di­ately, pogo-ing the head­stock and hurt­ing con­fi­dence in the front end. The stock shock bal­ances the front in spring rate, and new bikes editor John West­lake re­ports bouncy-yet-bal­anced per­for­mance at Rock­ing­ham. But ride slower over bumpy ground and the ex­pe­ri­ence is far from bal­anced. K-tech as­sess the stan­chion springs are of good qual­ity and leave them alone. They re­place the valves and add their own fork oil. The re­sult is sig­nif­i­cant. Sud­denly the RS is track­ing ground bet­ter. You feel as if the front tyre is constantly in con­tact with tar­mac, con­se­quently steer­ing in­puts are more se­cure and cor­ners are rounded with­out front-end chat­ter. There’s also a pleas­ing ker­pluff as the fork oil is squeezed through the new valves. The to­tal price for this over­haul? £900. ‘It’s worth ev­ery penny,’ an­nounces Paul with­out hes­i­ta­tion. ‘I didn’t think it would be, but the change is re­mark­able. It holds its line bet­ter, soaks up bumps like never be­fore, and still works with the added weight of a pil­lion. Now the chas­sis feels good enough to make the most of that en­gine and the strong, pro­gres­sive brakes. I can’t em­pha­sise enough how much bet­ter the bike is to ride now.’

Elec­tron­ics

An LCD dis­play nes­tles be­tween the his­tor­i­cally-ap­pro­pri­ate dou­ble bul­let clocks. It’s filled with im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion, like a use­ful gear in­di­ca­tor, a six-level fuel gauge, range and odome­ter read­ings,

and a dig­i­tal clock. The acro­nym for Kawasaki Trac­tion Con­trol sits just above the gear in­di­ca­tor. There are two set­tings plus off, se­lected us­ing the rocker on the left switchgear. Modes are sim­ple to un­der­stand: two is high in­ter­ven­tion, one al­lows front wheel el­e­va­tion. ABS isn’t switch­able, but doesn’t in­ter­fere with Paul’s or John’s Rock­ing­ham track an­tics. There are no rid­ing modes or other faf­fery, but what is present is qual­ity kit.

Con­trols and com­fort

It’s pleas­ing to see a three-way re­la­tion­ship that works. Seat, foot­peg, and han­dle­bar lo­ca­tions cre­ate com­fort­ably up­right er­gonomics. The chrome han­dle­bar sweeps up to­wards you, and cir­cu­lar mir­rors sit on long stalks so you look over your el­bows in­stead of at them. In Bike’s Au­gust is­sue group test the Z900RS im­pressed with bet­ter rear views than Du­cati’s Scram­bler 1100, Yamaha’s XSR900 and BMW’S R ninet. ‘It’s very easy to ride long dis­tance,’ says Langy. ‘The seat’s so plush you can go for hours with­out ach­ing. I’ve rid­den it down to the Ace Café, and good old Swin­don, and haven’t felt any pain at jour­ney’s end.’

Prac­ti­cal­ity

It’s a naked mo­tor­cy­cle. Rain will drench you. Wind will bat­ter you. But it’s a great ma­chine for night rid­ing. Light­ing is uni­ver­sally LED, with a strong head­light and use­ful high-beam spread. Paul con­tin­ues to com­mute on the Z900RS as day­light hours di­min­ish, de­spite the pres­ence of an uber-ca­pa­ble Yamaha Su­per Ténéré in the Bike lock-up. ‘I love the brake light,’ he an­nounces. ‘The light source is LED, but plas­tic sur­rounds make the spread of light look like a proper bulb. So it’s bright, but still re­minds of the old Z1. That’s stun­ning at­ten­tion to de­tail.’ The brake light isn’t the only place Kawasaki R&D have fo­cussed their ef­forts. One-piece wheels look like they’re spoked, but aren’t any­where near as much of a faff to clean. The pil­lion perch is as com­fort­able as the rider’s ac­com­mo­da­tion. Bungee hooks are stan­dard fit­ment, and screw onto the sub­frame. And the bat­tery is lo­cated just un­der the seat. In­stalling charg­ers or heated kit power ca­bles is as easy as re­mov­ing the bench and un­screw­ing two bolts. The teardrop tank doesn’t just look large, ei­ther. It holds 17 litres of fuel, which typ­i­cally lasts just un­der 200 miles. Hold a con­stant 80mph on the mo­tor­way, though, and the low fuel warn­ing light winks on at 165 miles. That means cruis­ing econ­omy is an im­pres­sive 61.9mpg. If you are a dry-weather-only rider the Z900RS has all the prac­ti­cal touches you’d ever want.

‘This is no hasty re­boot… the cre­ation of the RS in­volved a fun­da­men­tal en­gine and chas­sis over­haul…’

Qual­ity and fin­ish

This is where the RS builds up most of its char­ac­ter. From the seat to the bul­let clocks and duck­tail fair­ing, the fin­ish is un­de­ni­ably well thought-out. Nods to the Z1 come in all shapes and sizes, from the crosshead screws hold­ing on the clock faces, to laser-cut half-moon camshaft end cov­ers. In fact, the sin­gle de­sign dis­ap­point­ment is the box-sec­tion swingarm, thank­fully hid­den by black paint and the bright chrome ex­haust. ‘Ooh, ain’t it gor­geous,’ coos Paul when I ask him about the paint­work. The colour is Candy­tone Brown/candy­tone Orange, the most ex­pen­sive fin­ish avail­able for the RS. It’s £100 more than the matt green, and £300 over the base black. But the ma­jor­ity of Bike staffers be­lieve it’s worth the money. Paul again: ‘I want to point out the ‘Z’ they’ve painted on the front of the tank. Lovely touch, that. No mat­ter in­di­vid­ual taste, the qual­ity of the paint is uni­ver­sally ap­plauded. Else­where, the fin­ish is show­ing signs of wear. Take the ‘Kawasaki’ tank badges and ‘Z900RS’ sub­frame badges. Both are los­ing paint. Don’t ex­pect the ac­ces­sory full-caps ‘KAWASAKI’ tank lo­gos to be bet­ter, even though they cost £79 per pair.

It took an ex­pen­sive sus­pen­sion re­vi­sion to sort out the ride

Stylish ur­ban-ism. And Langy

Sum­mer in Birm­ing­ham – there’s noth­ing quite like it

Con­tem­po­rary bright­ness with a whi of the orig­i­nal Z

Some of the de­tails are start­ing to show signs of wear

Not the most aero­dy­namic pair­ing

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