FIRST RIDE: 2017 KAWASAKI Z900
Z naked redress
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.