RETRO REVIEW – this article originally appeared in JUST BIKES No.345 – November, 2017
Having already ridden Kawasaki’s Z650L naked, I was keen to test the bigger, beefier new Z900, so when the opportunity came up recently, I jumped at it.
Obviously, with almost 300 more cubic centimetres, the Z900 would offer more grunt, but would it offer a better riding experience?
Larger, but Littler
Replacing the Z800 from 2016, the new-for-2017 Z900 is much more than a case of just sticking a few extra horses in the engine.
For starters, there’s an all-new chassis, with the Z800’s backbone frame replaced with a trellis frame, which is a factor in the new arrival’s substantially reduced weight. Even with its larger engine, standard ABS and substantial 17-litre fuel tank, the Z900 tips the scales at 210kg; a full 21kg lighter than the Z800.
While shorter than the Z800, the Z900 is marginally wider and taller, but doesn’t look it when you see it in the metal. In fact, it looks like a restyled 650 at first glance, which shows that Kawasaki has managed to fit a lot into a compact package.
The same impression comes when you mount the machine, too. I was surprised at how compact the bike felt from the saddle. After all, it’s a 900 – 948, to be precise – so it should be bigger, right?
The slim centre section and low, 795mm seat height meant I, at 178cm, could plant both feet on the ground easily, but taller riders will feel cramped. The foot peg placement is slightly rearward, thus pushing your body position forward from dead upright, but only slightly. Combined with the reasonably wide handlebar placement, the Z900’s riding position was quite natural for me and certainly one I could hold comfortably for an extended period.
The Z800 was far from a dog in the styling stakes, but if there was one knock against it, it was the abundance of plastic panels in the bike’s centre section. They did their job of covering the frame, but it all looked a bit busy and some of those pieces were, in my opinion, superfluous.
The Z900 has a more minimalist approach to plastics, mainly to show off the new trellis frame, but also to stay true to the whole naked ethos. While I’m not a fan of the green finish on the frame (refer to my review of the Z650L in JUST BIKES #338), the rest of the bike looks great and most of the punters I encountered during my time on the Z900 loved it, too, even the overly large number plate holder slung under that distinctive ‘Z’ tail light.
Fellow riders I met during this test said reviews they’ve read of the Z900 were all positive, hence their desire to see the bike up close and ask me a bunch of questions. Given the level of interest, I reckon I could have loaned the Z900 out for test rides on the “Old Road” (Old Pacific Highway, north of Sydney) all weekend! But back to the styling. . . .
The Z900’s tank, headlight shroud and tail have a more rounded, organic shape compared to its predecessor, but it’s no less aggressive for it. Less obvious changes, like the higher position of the front indicators, adding a small instrument cowl and slimming down the pillion pad have contributed to an overall design that’s very clean, sophisticated and polished, while at the same time providing a sporty, masculine look.
My test bike was finished in two-tone Metallic Spark Black matte and gloss (with that Lime Green frame), but a Pearl Stardust White and Metallic Sparkle Black combination is also available. If you’re a fan of red or grey, wait a while, as the MY18 Z900 comes in a choice of Pearl Mystic Grey or Candy Persimmon Red; both paired with Metallic Spark Black. Colours aside, there’s nothing really new on the 2018 version, so there’s no other reason to hold out for that model.
Smooth on the Straight
Powering the Z900 is a 948cc DOHC four-cylinder engine derived from the same unit in the Z1000. Listed output is 92kW at 9,500rpm and 99Nm at 7,700rpm, but it’s how the engine delivers that power that impresses the most.
New owners should note that when firing the Z900 up first thing in the morning, the bike’s automatic choke revs high for close to a minute before dropping back to normal revs; there’s nothing unusual about it, but it’s disconcerting if you’re not aware that it’s meant to happen.
From take off, there’s torque that pushes you back in the saddle and acceleration that’s silky smooth. And even when a burst of speed is required, it feels like there’s plenty of excess torque on hand. Sitting on 4000rpm in sixth gear, the engine feels like it’s barely working, and even in fifth gear at 100km, it’s ticking over at only 5000rpm – more than 2000rpm below redline and with no noticeable vibration.
At highway speeds of 100 to 110km/h, the bike was comfortable and easy to ride, with the same feeling on suburban streets, too. You can hold lower speeds without the bike feeling like it wants to pull away, but when you do give it some throttle, the acceleration isn’t jerky.
Kawasaki say they worked on the induction note for the Z900, too, using the same ‘sound research’ technology that was applied to the Z1000. They call it “clear and exhilarating” in this instance. I’m not so sure about that, but it sounds pretty sweet, regardless, while adding joint pipes to the headers means more mid-range torque.
A light clutch engagement, thanks to the assist and slipper clutch, aided by adjustable levers and an equally smooth gearbox (gears that snick into place, rather than clunk), make it easy to punch the Z900 through the gears, so traffic light getaways are a cinch.
And in the Corners
While the engine’s smooth power delivery and gearbox operation was a revelation, the Z900’s handling was a delight, too. It feels at one with the road, with no engine vibration coming through the steering, even at high speed.
That lack of engine vibration is even more welcome when cornering, giving you get a great feel for just how stable and smooth this bike is. From suburban roads to freeways and through the twisties, the Z900 was unwavering.
On the Old Road, the Z900 ate up changes in direction, the compact design and light weight making it easy to smoothly roll from corner to corner. Pushing into bends required little effort, yet there was enough resistance to provide the required amount of rider control, thanks also to steering that responds smoothly to input changes.
The stability felt under acceleration didn’t alter under braking, with the standard ABS being
progressive and smooth.
I’m using the word “smooth” a lot, aren’t I?
Even though the brake discs are the same size as the Z800, they’re effective at reducing speed quickly and effectively, in turn providing tremendous confidence when approaching corners. By the way, the ABS is constantly engaged and cannot be switched off.
Beyond ABS, there are no other rider aids like traction control or switchable power modes, which explains why the Z900 has a sub-$13K starting price; add more tech stuff and you add more dollars.
The suspension is firm, but not harsh, which was fine for me, but I did get a kick or two when riding over some of the more extreme whoops. There’s rebound and preload adjustability at both ends, so you can adjust it to suit, but I think if you soften the suspension too much, the Z900 loses a lot of its appeal and that ‘on-rails’ feel you get when powering this beast through a great piece of road.
For its compact size, the Z900’s instrument cluster packs a lot in. The analog-digital tacho, digital speedo and digital gear position indicator are all easy to read, even at speed. The tacho flashes at the shift-up rpm point and there are adjustable display modes.
On either side of the main gauge is the temperature and fuel indicator. The latter is a vertical bar and on first glance you can confuse it as part of your speed, particularly when the tank is full. A suggestion would be to make it a different colour. Aside from the fuel gauge, there’s also a clock, remaining fuel range, current and average fuel consumption, temperature and ‘economical riding indicator’ displays.
On the outer edges of the dash panel are two large buttons to set the tripmeters and display alternative information. These were easy to use, even with gloves on. Similarly, the switchgear is well designed and falls easily to hand, too.
In my opinion, the Z900 is truly an all-rounder for riders who like to ride often. It’s a bike that’ll serve its role as a commuter, but is also handy outside of workaday duties.
While compact and light enough to weave through traffic, the Z900 certainly isn’t lacking in bona fide performance potential, so it can be enjoyed on those weekend blasts, as well as track days.
If you’re looking for a full-sized bike that can be used in the rat race, but also used to get away from that race,the 2017 Kawasaki Z900 might just be the new bike you’re looking for.
2017 Kawasaki Z900 - specs
Type: DOHC 16V inline four
Bore x Stroke: 73.4mm x 56mm
Compression Ratio: 11.8:1
Induction: EFI, 4 x 36mm throttle bodies
Power: 92.0kW @ 9500rpm
Torque: 99.0Nm @ 7700rpm
Final Drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet, w/positive neutral finder, assist & slipper clutch
Frame: Tubular steel trellis-type
Front Suspension: 41mm telescopic fork, w/adjustable rebound and preload, 125mm travel
Rear Suspension: Horizontal back-link monoshock w/adjustable rebound and preload, 130mm travel
Front/Rear Wheel: 5-spoke cast alloy 17-inch
Front/Rear Tyre: 120/70ZR17 / 180/55ZR17
Front Brake: Twin 300mm semi-floating petal discs w/four-piston calipers and ABS
Rear Brake: Single 250mm disc w/single-piston caliper and ABS
L x W x H: 2055mm x 825mm x 1065mm
Rake: 24.5 degrees
Seat Height: 795mm
Weight: 210kg wet
Fuel Capacity: 17 litres
Metallic Flat Spark Black and Metallic Spark Black / Pearl Flat Stardust White and Metallic Spark Black
$12,495 + ORC (new price in 2017)
2-year, unlimited km warranty