Z naked re­dress

Cycle World - - Front Page - Don Canet

Kawasaki rec­og­nizes the stan­dard bike cat­e­gory as one of the fastest-grow­ing seg­ments, with sport nakeds lead­ing the charge. En­ter the new Z900, a much lighter, clean-sheet de­sign that not only re­places the Z800 but has taken over the flag­ship role from the ar­guably re­dun­dant Z1000.

The Z900 re­tains use of a liq­uid­cooled, 16-valve, DOHC in­line-four with a re­vised bore and stroke con­fig­u­ra­tion net­ting a cat­e­gory-stretch­ing 948cc dis­place­ment. While fa­mil­iar in out­ward ap­pear­ance and di­men­sion, the new en­gine cast­ings uti­lize five rigid mount points, mak­ing it a stressed frame mem­ber. This change is key in the switch to a steel-tube trel­lis frame said to be sub­stan­tially lighter than the pre­vi­ous cast al­loy frame. This, along with a lighter alu­minum swingarm and fivespoke wheels, ac­counts for a ma­jor­ity of the claimed 46-pound weight re­duc­tion as com­pared to the Z800.

Our press ride aboard the Z900 took us through down­town San Diego and into the lo­cal moun­tains. The 31.3-inch seat height (1.5 inches lower than Z800) and claimed 463-pound curb weight has made manag­ing U-turns, park­ing-lot ma­neu­vers, and bop­ping about town no­tably eas­ier. Pulling away from traf­fic lights, in­clud­ing starts from an up­hill in­cline, proved sim­ple, with the slip­per/as­sist clutch of­fer­ing light ac­tion and lin­ear en­gage­ment feel. This—along with short­ened over­all ra­tios through the bot­tom five gears (thanks to a true over­drive sixth), light shift ac­tion, and spot-on fuel de­liv­ery—made for very fluid ac­cel­er­a­tion from light to light.

The rid­ing po­si­tion is more up­right on this Z, and en­gine vi­bra­tion has been re­duced across the rev range. Splay­ing my knees and boot heels out just a bit to avoid tank and foot-guard con­tact make the ride feel smooth at a free­way pace.

Wheel­ies, you ask? No clutch needed in the bot­tom three gears is the an­swer. I chal­lenge you to keep the front tire in con­tact while hard on the throt­tle.

The new chas­sis ex­hibits light-man­nered han­dling with very good sta­bil­ity at speed. The KYB fork and shock each of­fer re­bound damp­ing and spring preload ad­justa­bil­ity, and even rid­den at stan­dard set­tings while at­tack­ing a stretch of twist­ing moun­tain road I came away im­pressed with the level of feed­back and con­trol. The four-pis­ton front Nissin calipers pro­vided ex­cel­lent power and feel with the added ben­e­fit of op­tional ABS.

I feel the pain of Z800 own­ers, dou­bly so con­sid­er­ing the Z900 base model car­ries the same $8,399 price tag while the Z900 ABS an­tilock sells for a mere $400 more. While you don’t get ride modes and trac­tion con­trol, I didn’t feel as though this ma­chine was lack­ing with­out such fea­tures on a sunny South­ern Cal­i­for­nia day.

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