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
“GREEN AND WHITE KICKS ASS, CAST YOUR MINDS BACK TO GRANT AND DITCHBURN’S KR750S IN THE MID-’70S”
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
“IT’S A VERY COMPACT RIDING POSITION. THE NEW ONE MUST FEEL WEIRD TO A MAN WEDDED TO HIS OLD ZED”
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
“IN TERMS OF PRESENCE, THE ZRX STILL HAS A MAGIC TO IT”
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.
“AS WE PORE OVER THE NEW NOT-VERY-EDDIE-LAWSON-EXCEPT-THE-PAINT-Z900 THE BOYS BEGIN TO APPRECIATE WHAT’S GONE INTO IT”
“IT MIGHT NOT HAVE QUITE THE ALLURE OF THE OLD STUFF, BUT IT’S CERTAINLY GOT SOME ATTITUDE”
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)