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The 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Marks the Return of the Universal Japanese Motorcycle

With a return to their roots and a nod to an icon of the past, Kawasaki does nouveau-retro, right.

Retro bikes are so hot right now. Whether it’s a re-booted cafe racer, scrambler or bobbed cruiser, the bikes raising pulses these days all have wheels firmly planted in the past. But while most OEMs are concentrating on filling niches within a niche, Kawasaki decided to bring back the style of bike that built their business in the first place, the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle). On paper, the all-new Z900RS ticks all of the important boxes: inline-four motor, standard riding position and a set of disc brakes up front. Add to that a healthy (and purposeful) resemblance to Kawasaki’s mighty Z1 of the ’70s, and you’ve got a bike with a vintage vibe that should appeal to riders of all styles.

Verdict:

Under clear skies in the warm California sun, the Candytone Brown and Orange Z900RS is absolutely stellar. Chrome shines in all the right places, and the paint looks deep enough to dive into. The saddle sits low at 31.5-inches, so it isn’t a hurdle for riders of most heights and the wide, flat bars offer ample control. The seat is firm but comfortable and leg positioning falls inline with a relaxed riding attitude.

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS

Engine: 948cc, DOHC, inline four
Horsepower: 111
Torque: 53.5 lb-ft
Weight: 471 lbs
Price (MSRP): $10,999 – $11,199

Where the Kawasaki Z900RS sets itself apart from any of the competition is that it is the only modern retro-styled bike (currently) to come equipped with an inline four-cylinder engine. For many riders out there, this alone is enough reason to salivate, and I’m happy to report the performance it packs is ample and engaging.

Long before superbikes were cranking out over 200 hp and offering riders wind-tunnel tested, carbon fiber bodywork, the quickest motorcycles also happened to be the same bikes we used for everyday riding. Nothing was specialized because the focus of a Universal Japanese Motorcycle was to get people riding. UJM machines were comfortable, had room for a passenger and delivered the simple and raw experience only a motorcycle can deliver. With the Z900RS, Kawasaki has returned to these roots, in an incredibly stylish, engaging and affordable manner.

The Good:

Thumb the starter and the Z900RS’s 948cc, four-cylinder engine fires to life and idles at 1,100 rpm, where the exhaust note is quiet with a throaty timbre. It should sound refined: Kawasaki engineers put in hours to get the sound just right and after a few blips of the throttle in the parking lot, it sounds like they’ve nailed it.

Mix in some wind noise, some howl from the intakes and the Z900RS sounds even better on the road. It won’t lay claim to top-speed records like the original Z1 that inspired it, but it’s quick enough to keep experienced riders fully engaged. Kawasaki also equipped the RS with a three-way, traction control unit that can switch off entirely, should you wish. In level 1, where I spent the majority of the ride, it lets the front end get light enough to mimic a race start without any drama, which was plenty cool.

The trellis frame lying beneath is a modified version of the one found in Kawasaki’s Z900 streetfighter, meaning the engine is solid-mounted, and the RS has fully adjustable suspension, front, and rear. That translates to a communicative and planted ride through some of the curviest bits of Malibu’s canyons. Peg position is mid-mounted for comfort and will scrape if you’re aggressive, but they certainly don’t limit any fun where they are.

Who It’s For:

The Kawasaki Z900RS was designed to tug at the heartstrings of nostalgic riders in their mid- to late-thirties or forties; riders who grew up in the heyday of the original UJM battles. These riders already have at least one bike in the shed or have hung up their helmet but have been looking for an excuse to get back on two wheels.

Watch Out For:

Throttle modulation on the Z900RS is abrupt. Whether it be at slow speeds or maintaining mid-corner balance, the algorithms feeding fuel and air need some refining since they eliminate the smoothness that could inspire ultimate confidence. This isn’t a deal breaker since the engine has been tuned for more power down low, but it would make the Rs more fun at full tilt.

Alternatives:

The Kawasaki Z900RS has the Triumph Bonneville lineup as well as BMW’s R nineT family of “modern classics” to contend with in the high-end world of modern classic motorcycles. Where the British and German efforts employ a higher grade of components and to some degree fit and finish, their respective pricing reflects those decisions.

Closer to home, the Yamaha XSR900 and XSR700 both offer a similar style of aesthetic but in a slightly more aggressive ergonomic fashion. If you were looking for a few track days here and there, the Yamaha is going to be the better bet.

On the horizon, Honda has their all-new Neo-Sports Cafe CB1000R in production. It offers considerably more power (143.5 hp) than anything in the category and hits a lot of the right styling notes as well.

Pro Tip:

An easy fix for the fueling issues would be to install a Power Commander. Once installed you can fine tune how the ECU (Engine Control Unit) interprets your actions on the throttle.

Other reviews:

Cycle World: “Whether or not new riders will see the relevance in the ’70s heritage of this model doesn’t matter because they’ll see a great-looking motorcycle regardless.”
Revzilla Common Tread: “Fit and finish are remarkable, even down to the frame paint. The whole motorcycle looks like it was put together by someone who loves bikes.”

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