2017 Kawasaki Z900
In theory, the new Kawasaki Z900 replaces the Z800 and is what’s called a budget bike. Suzuki’s GSX-S750 and Yamaha’s FZ-09 have the same mission (to offer as much as possible for as little money as possible) and are Kawasaki’s most direct competition in that segment. That being said, after recently riding the latest Z in California during its press launch, I feel somewhat confused.
I’m used to these bikes. They do offer a lot for the money. But there are limits to what can be built for around nine grand and I’m used to seeing and feeling those limits quite clearly. Each case is different, but in general terms, shortcomings go from relatively shy horsepower levels to cheap suspension and brakes to so-so finish quality. I’m used to getting off these bikes and wishing there would be more of this or that, yet, in the end, accepting the package because of its attractive price point.
I didn’t feel that with the Z900. At all. I’m not saying it’s perfect; it’s not. But I know a budget bike when I ride one and that’s no budget bike. Kawasaki calls it a 900, but its displacement is actually 948 cc, so basically one liter. Claimed horsepower is 125. The inline four isn’t a recycled motor, but rather an all-new engine purposely developed for that model; Kawasaki even engineered the intake system to scream deliciously anytime the throttle is opened. Attention to detail is everywhere and includes several viewing options on the digital gages and a LED taillight in the shape of a Z. Suspension is adjustable for preload and rebound damping front and rear. Weight has been massively reduced compared to the Z800. Brakes are very good and ABS is a mere 400 $ extra. Heck, there’s even a clear family tie to the exclusive H2 thanks to a green trellis frame. The only obvious missing features are ride modes and traction control, while a small and not always easy to read instrumentation shared with the entry-level Z650 can be perceived cost cutting effort.
Still, overall, before it even turned a wheel, the Kawasaki Z900 is a case of almost bizarre generosity rather than one of wishing there was more. And once its actually ridden, any list of «missing features» becomes essentially irrelevant. For instance, neither ride modes nor traction control are missed during everyday use. On the contrary, experienced riders might just find something refreshingly simple about a motorcycle that does no more and no less than what they want it to. One example : with almost a liter of displacement, the Z900 is pleasantly torquey at low and mid rpms and it just keeps pulling harder till it hits the rev limiter. It’s plenty powerful enough to gently get the front wheel airborne during full acceleration in first, and also in second gear with just a little clutch play. On bikes of that class equipped with traction control, wheelies aren’t always dealt with elegantly, some systems even brutally slamming the front back down, then letting it rise again, then slamming it again…
Not everyone is fond of the occasional wheelie. But for those who are, electronic aids like TC often feel like they interfere more than help, especially on budget bikes with less elaborate systems. Personally, not only did I not miss TC at all on the Z900, but I really enjoyed being the one in control and making decisions. As for the less experienced, as long as they’re reasonable, I don’t see why the lack of TC or ride modes would prevent them from considering the Kawasaki as a purchase. All they have to do is ride within their limits. And choose the ABS version.
The Z900’s inline four isn’t just fun and fast, it’s also a genuinely good motor with plenty of torque from idle to about 6000 rpms to make everyday riding a breeze, especially as it’s remarkably smooth within that range. It becomes quite buzzy from there to the 11000 rpm redline. The clutch and 6-speed tranny both work lightly and precisely.
Riders of all experience levels will appreciate the precise, fluid and natural way the Z900 handles. It doesn’t feel like a nervous racetrack refugee, but rather like a solid and competent street bike that’s easy, inviting and a lot of fun to toss around on a twisty back road. Because of budget restrictions, suspension is sometimes a weak point on these bikes, but not on the Kawasaki Z900. Firm and sporty in their base setting, the fork and shock can be softened to provide a smoother ride on less than perfect roads with almost no negative effect on handling.
Comfort is OK. Tall riders will immediately feel their legs cramped by the small seat to pegs distance (the result of an invitingly low seat height), but an available thicker accessory seat greatly diminishes the issue. Other than that, the riding position is typical of sporty nakeds, meaning compact and upright yet just slightly tilted forward. Both the standard and accessory seats, however, become uncomfortable on longer rides.
The Kawasaki Z900 is the definition of a bargain. It just isn’t a budget bike, but rather a motorcycle that could be sold at a higher price, yet isn’t. It looks good, handles well, is fast, torquey and fun, and even sounds amazing. It’s not perfect, but for $9,699 with ABS (400$ less without), it’s a steal.