Kawasaki’s old leg­ends, Z1000R and ZRX1100 play the new pre­tender, the Z900RS Cafe

Two totemic Kawasaki fours take on the new ma­chine that would di­lute their sta­tus as the boss Zeds. With 36 years be­tween the Z1000R, ZRX1100 and this new Z900RS, this could be a very un­fair con­test

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Contents -


Ask your­self this: is there a more mystical, more be­guil­ing mo­tor­bike des­ig­na­tion than a Kawasaki be­gin­ning with a Z? Sure, CBR, RD, GS, GSX and GSX-RS are all in the mix, RC and TZ too. But Z, our omega, the end stop of the al­pha­bet, sig­nals some­thing fi­nal and im­mutable, the last let­ter as the last word in the ar­gu­ment.

And there is some ar­gu­ment over whether or not this new Z900RS can be men­tioined in the same breath as its il­lus­tri­ous pre­de­ces­sors. “It’s not a Law­son rep,” says PS reader and Z1000R owner Chriswilliams. He’s here along with ZRX1100 owner John Craig and an­other Z1000R owner Chris Trun­witt: all here to cast their eyes on the new Zed, sling a leg over it, and go for a de­cent spin.there’s not much they don’t know about their Kawasaki fours.and they’ve brought some strong opin­ions with them too.

“What­ever it is, it’s got an iden­tity cri­sis,” says Chrisw. “Last year it was brown and or­ange and it was a Zed, now it’s try­ing to be a Law­son rep.” It’s not ac­tu­ally billed as a Law­son rep, but Chris refers us to a State­side ad for it fea­tur­ing none other than Ted Law­son him­self. It’s of­fi­cially called a Z900RS Cafe, but Kawasaki would be mad not to mine their rich Law­son seam when try­ing to sell it.

In­vin­tage Lime Green and­white it looks pretty damn good. “I think they’ve hit the nail on the head,” says John. “It’s cer­tainly a nice-look­ing thing,” says Chris Trun­witt. But Chriswilliams is not hav­ing it. “They’ve taken what they’ve got ly­ing around al­ready and just painted it.af­ter all, mine’s just a Z1000J with a paint job.”

They’ve styled it (and painted it). But not as a Law­son rep, not in the way the ZRX mim­icked the orig­i­nal Z1000R.THE give­away is the round head­light (be­long­ing to the stan­dard new Z900), and the roundish bikini fair­ing. If they wanted to go proper Law­son, it would have to have a rec­tan­gu­lar head­light and fair­ing, plus a blue stripe el­e­ment to the paintjob too. Any­way, green and white kicks ass, cast your mind back to Grant and Ditchburn’s KR750S in the mid-’70s – ex­actly.

Enough of its skin and more on the bones: a steel trel­lis frame houses a 948cc dohc in­line-four.the liq­uid-cooled lump knocks out a claimed 109bhp at 8500rpm, and per­haps even more pleas­ingly a very strong 72lb.ft of twist at 6500rpm.and it weighs 216kg wet. So it re­ally does get along.the midrange is strong as an ox and even though it’ll rev on to 10,000 it’s only worth it be­cause of the noise.

Kawasaki Heavy In­dus­tries have man­aged to give the all-stain­less ex­haust a healthy enough rasp for th­ese noises­trait­ened times and doubly in­tox­i­cat­ing com­bined with a fran­tic in­duc­tion roar that

de­fies you not to ex­ploit the revs at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. It’s that good.

Chris, John and Chris are yet to en­joy that. I’m still to sam­ple the charms of the old Zed and the ZRX, and there’s a bit of shock when John rec­og­nizes Chris Wil­liams’s Zed as his very own bike back from the mists of time. “What are the chances of that?” he says. “I re­gret­ted sell­ing it all those years ago, al­though it’s good to see it again.”

We roll out of Peter­bor­ough into the sticks, a mo­to­cade of mean green­ness span­ning 36 years.the tyre sizes tell you a lot about the leaps made in chas­sis tech­nol­ogy over that time. Chris’s 1982 Zed Thou wears a 120/90 18 rear, John’s 2000 ZRX1100 a 170/60 17 and this new­est Z900 a 190/55 17.The Zedthou is low and long with a 1540mm wheel­base, the later pair stub­bier and taller with 1465mm and 1470mm be­tween the wheels. Chris is first to sam­ple the new­est ma­chine. He climbs on and is im­me­di­ately mildy freaked out by the tall seat.at 820mm it’s not quite in the big trail bike league, but for a road bike it’s at the higher end of the scale. “Bloody hell,” says Chris as he tip­toes the bike out of our lay-by. Then he’s off.and he doesn’t come back for a fair while – a good sign.as an old school Zed owner there’s al­ways a sus­pi­cion he might not like it out of sheer cussed­ness, and with him be­ing from York­shire too, the pos­si­bil­ity be­gins to feel more like a prob­a­bil­ity.

Twenty min­utes later he’s back and while hardly beam­ing from ear-to-ear he’s plainly found some­thing in it he likes. “I’ve got new re­spect for it,” he grum­bles. “But why’s it so tall? You sit on it, not in it and it’s more of a sports/tourer rid­ing po­si­tion, it’s not cafe racer at all.the seat’s too hard too and the spring­ing’s stiff.the fair­ing seems to di­rect wind at your chest in­stead of al­low­ing it to flow over you.the en­gine’s great and the clutch and gear­box are re­ally good too. But I think Kawasaki are miss­ing a trick here for shorter riders and new riders too. It doesn’t need to be this tall.” Chris is stocky, but by no means short.and it’s a valid point. “It’s a Sun­day af­ter­noon


bike, a hip­ster bike.there’s not a lot of seat for a pil­lion.you might fit an eight stone girl on the back, but no more.they’ll brand it up with jack­ets and hats and prob­a­bly sell loads of them. But I wouldn’t buy one.”

Jump­ing onto Chris’s Z1000R I can see pre­cisely where he’s com­ing from. His old Zed is a real lowrider.the stock Law­son seat is like a slot cut deep into the frame rails, you truly feel clasped by the bas­ketweave vinyl, the ’bars are nar­rower and the ’pegs plant your knees fairly high un­der your arms. It’s a very com­pact rid­ing po­si­tion.the new one must feel weird to a man wed­ded to his old Zed.

Chris’s bike has 33,500 miles un­der it. It’s got a Kerker four-into-one and sounds gruff and will­ing like a good two-valve Zed should.and you def­i­nitely feel like you’re

drag­ging your arse along the as­phalt.while it doesn’t ex­actly tip into cor­ners like a Moto3 ma­chine, it’s not nearly so re­luc­tant to turn as leg­end might have it. Brak­ing re­quires ef­fort though. “It’s hard to be­lieve those brakes were pretty good in the ’80s,” says Chris. “But if you use the rear a fair bit too, it does stop.” Even­tu­ally. “I re­built the forks last week and I think I put too much oil in, the front end’s a bit skit­tish.” It is.and so there’s hardly any weight trans­fer on the stop­pers, which doesn’t help. But it’s a charm­ing ma­chine; well worn, but well cared-for, work­horse not show pony.

Big John’s next out on the Z900RS.AND he loves it from the get-go. He re­turns with plenty good to say: “It gives you huge con­fi­dence al­most im­me­di­ately. there’s a nice weight to the steer­ing and the ’bars have a re­ally nice bend to them.the rid­ing po­si­tion is su­per-comfy for me (and he’s a big unit at about six foot four).the brakes are a lit­tle bit sharper than I’m used to, but I could do a lot of miles on that bike. If I had a cou­ple of days on it I could definitly ride it harder than my ZRX. In fact I could go a bit silly on it.

“They’ve got the clocks right with those chrome sur­rounds, but I don’t think it’s in the old Z1000R or ZRX mould though… if you com­pare it more to an old Z900 or a Ze­phyr, they’ve got it right. In a cou­ple of years time, when they come onto the sec­ond­hand mar­ket, it’ll be at the top of my list.”

If that isn’t a re­sound­ing yes vote it’s hard to know what is.and bear in mind too John’s ZRX11 is in tip-top or­der, so he’s not stepped off some­thing de­crepit into a world of brand new won­der. His bike rides like a good ZRX should.the en­gine is strong from the bot­tom of the dial and spins up ea­gerly. It rides sure­foot­edly on stock sus­pen­sion and the To­kico six-pots stop its 240 ki­los wet with com­fort­ing pro­gres­sion. It’s also im­mac­u­late in ev­ery de­part­ment with 26,000 miles on it.

And a joy to ride. It asks se­ri­ous ques­tions of the new Z900. No, it’s not as fast or as fre­netic, but it has a so­lid­ity al­lied to a sup­ple­ness that’s ridicu­lously se­duc­tive, and a strong en­gine that belts out nearly 100bhp with 70lb.ft on tap at 6000rpm. So far from shabby as to make ut­ter sense – even at around five grand for a prime ex­am­ple. No, the ’box isn’t as slick, the steer­ing quite so pre­cise, but as a whole and in terms of pres­ence, a ZRX still has a magic to it.

The other Chris heads up the road on the RS and is back in fairly short or­der. He’s rid­den the new ‘naked’ Z900 and is ea­ger to see how the Cafe com­pares. “It rides a lot bet­ter than the naked one,” he says. “But I wouldn’t put money down on one. I’d think about it though.the ’bars are bet­ter and the brakes are great too. It does


what it says on the tin, al­though it’s not a Law­son rep in any way ex­cept paint.” There goes that Law­son ob­ses­sion again. Hardly sur­pris­ing when you own an im­mac­u­late first gen­er­a­tion Eddie bike – even if it is a white one. “Europe was meant to get white ones only,” says Chris. “But for what­ever rea­son it didn’t hap­pen that way in the end.” As we pore over the new not-very-law­son-ex­cept-paint Z900, the boys be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate the think­ing that’s gone into it and the stan­dard of fin­ish on it.

“They’ve man­aged to put a re­ally neat pipe on it,” says Chriswilliams. It’s a tidy ar­range­ment al­right.the stain­less head­ers feed into an al­most square col­lec­tor be­fore the catal­yser, and the brushed stain­less exit from that is stubby and tucked tight into the right flank of the bike. “It’s got a de­cent lit­tle back mud­guard that peo­ple will prob­a­bly take off and put a tail tidy on,” laughs Chris. “The monoshock’s eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble which is good,” says John. “And front and rear sus­pen­sion’s fully ad­justable, which is rare on a bike like this.” Chrisw is in rap­ture over the front mud­guard mounts. “They’re re­ally trick – light, strong and... just dif­fer­ent. It’ll need a ra­di­a­tor guard though. ”what­ever em­bel­lish­ments it may or not need, it ticks a lot of ma­jor boxes straight from the crate.and it’s cer­tainly no slouch ei­ther.



It’s a lean, mean cor­ner­ing ma­chine – as is the rider (mi­nus the lean bit)

Chris with for­mer owner John’s old Z1000R

John and his had-it-for-15-years ZRX1100

Old Zed Thou: still plenty of charm, but un­sur­pris­ingly feels its 36 years

Crit­i­cal eyes don’t get much more crit­i­cal than this

Zippy en­gine, de­mon gear­box and strong brakes are its ma­jor pluses

Gi­ant toad­stool at the side of the road caused con­cern

ZRX easy to get on and go fast (even in very shiny hi-tops)

Pipe’s nicely fin­ished with a sat­is­fy­ing rasp to it. Not a Kerker thoughAbove left: Chrome sur­rounds nod to the past Above right: DOHC leg­end in self-same style as orig­i­nal Zed

64 Prac­ti­cal Sports­bikes Like a fam­ily tree, very green and solid, and they won’t get Dutch Elm dis­ease (for sure)

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