More Than Just A Z900RS With A Bullet Fairing

Kawasaki looks to maintain the momentum it garnered last year by rolling its popular Z900RS CAFE straight over into MY2019. And, why not? It’s hard to argue with success, and the retro-tastic looks and modern performance make excellent bedfellows, especially with the Seventies-fabulous graphics as the icing on the proverbial cake. The “CAFE” falls at the Southern edge of liter-bike territory, which could potentially be dangerous for a new rider, but it carries all the requisite safety equipment needed to keep the noobs dirty-side down. Today I want to get into the nuts-and-bolts of the thing and see what else Kawi has crammed under the hood of this charming little tribute piece.

Continue reading for my review of the Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE.

  • 2018 - 2019 Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE
  • Year:
    2018- 2019
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Displacement:
    948 cc
  • Price:

Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE Design

2018 - 2019 Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE
- image 795428
The rest of the bike is pretty much a good old-fashioned UJM, the likes of which could be found all over the U.S. back in the '60s and '70s.

The CAFE strikes a familiar pose to fans of ’70s and ’80s bikes, particularly those of a race-tastic persuasion. Right off the bat, the front fender looks as though it’s been chopped down as part of an overall lightening effort, much like many of the early café racers that came together in someone’s garage rather than rolling off a showroom floor. Blackout rims follow suit with a pulsed-stripe of Kawi green that deliver an interesting visual effect when under way and looks like exactly the sort of whimsy a gearhead might have engaged in back in the day.

The bullet fairing houses a cyclops headlight with a bubble shield up top that forms a minimal protection zone for maximum penetration, and yeah, you have to tuck in quite tightly to benefit from it, but that’s as it should be. A drop-style handlebar helps to pull you forward into the pocket, and this is one place I’m glad Kawi didn’t take the handlebar design too far since the original café racers frequently had the bars turned upside-down and backwards with the tank dings to prove it. Since the fairing is so tight to the bike, it comes with deep cut-outs to leave plenty of room to cut your front wheel hard for close-quarters maneuvers. The rest of the machine is pretty much a good old-fashioned universal Japanese Motorcycle, the likes of which could be found all over the U.S. back in the ’60s and ’70s.

A 4.5-gallon, teardrop fuel tank carries the flyline in a gentle arc down to the saddle. UJMs frequently had bench seats, but the CAFE’s butt-bucket comes with a clear break and rise that separates the pilot from the pillion; and ne’er the twain shall meet. The way the seat peters out over the horizontal tail section gives it a kind of faux tail fairing in keeping with the whole racing theme the CAFE has going on over there.

Even the exhaust system makes a contribution to the café look with a four-into-one system that ends with an upswept muffler on the right side of the bike below a combo mudguard/plateholder. All told, I think this is a very attractive mid-size machine, and based on looks alone I expect it to appeal to the younger generation of buyers who seem to have pretty good taste when it comes to antiques.

Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE Chassis

2018 - 2019 Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE
- image 795430
Here you have a machine that will flick enthusiastically into the corners and be quick on the reversals.

Unlike the café racers of old, this iteration uses a Trellis frame to provide the bulk of the structure with the engine as a stressed member. Not only is this a clear break from the downtube-and-cradle frame that was prevalent back in the day, but it displaces part of the frame in an effort to keep weight down and I’d say it worked out well since it weighs in at 474.1-pounds, soaking wet.

Kawi makes sure that the CAFE is as sporty as it appears with 25.4 degrees of rake and a short, 3.5 inches of trail. Couple that with the low weight and you have a machine that will flick enthusiastically into the corners and be quick on the reversals. Inverted front forks sport the trinity of adjustments — rebound damping, compression damping and spring preload — and the rear, coil-over shock boasts a stepless rebound-damping adjuster and variable spring preload. Suspension travel is generous at 4.7-inches up front and 5.5-inches out back, and the contact patches ride at a compact 57.9-inches between centers. Make no mistake, this machine is as nimble as it looks.

The Dunlop GPR-300 hoops ride on 17-inch rims with a 120/70 leading and a 180/55 bringing up the rear. Dual front brakes provide most of the stopping power and come with ABS all-around to let you safely get the maximum out of the anchors. What’s better than a tribute bike? A tribute bike with capabilities that could rival the originals along with safety gear that is far superior, and it seems that’s what you get here.

Frame: Tubular, diamond
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: Inverted telescopic fork (10-way) with adjustable compression and rebound (12-way) damping, spring preload/4.7 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Horizontal back-link swingarm with stepless adjustable rebound damping and spring preload/5.5 in
Rake/Trail: 25.4°/3.5 in
Front Tire: 120/70 ZR17 Dunlop GPR-300F
Rear Tire: 180/55 ZR17 Dunlop GPR-300
Front Brakes: Dual disc ABS
Rear Brakes: Single disc ABS

Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE Drivetrain

2018 - 2019 Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE
- image 795436
Kawi throws on a pair of additional safety subsystems in a bid to make the CAFE safe and rider-friendly, which makes it a good ride for its target audience.

The beating heart is a transverse-mount, four-cylinder engine that boosts the dated look even more. Even though it’s liquid cooled, the factory didn’t advertise that fact and did a good job of making the radiator fairly inconspicuous where it rests just under the steering head. Dual over-head cams time the four-valve heads with 36 mm Keihin throttle bodies and electronic induction/ignition control that delivers modern performance and helps it meet emission standards.

Kawi throws on a pair of additional safety subsystems in a bid to make the CAFE safe and rider-friendly, and I’d say that the Kawasaki Traction Control takes care of business when you’re accelerating. When it’s time to haul down, a slipper clutch prevents wheel-hop on hard downshifts so you’re relatively safe all around. It’s no substitution for skill, but it should help you survive long enough to accrue said skill.

The performance figures help the CAFE meet the expectations that its look engenders with 109.9 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 72.2 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm. Said power flows through the slipper-clutch and the six-speed gearbox before heading to the rear wheel via chain drive.

Gotta’ say I love the fact that Kawi went with the double layer of traction protection in the engine-management sector. That adds to the ABS for a triple threat o’ safety net, which makes it a good ride for its target audience. Heck, I’d even ride one, complete with Kawi-green paint and all.

Engine: 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 948 cc
Bore x Stroke: 73.4 mm x 56.0 mm
Compression Ratio: 10.8:1
Fuel System: DFI® with Keihin 36mm throttle bodies
Ignition: TCBI with electronic advance
Transmission: 6-speed, return shift
Final Drive: Sealed chain

Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE Pricing

2018 - 2019 Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE
- image 795437
Since the price may be a bit of a stretch for a young buyer, I'm going to say it's a definite candidate as a first upgrade.

The sticker kinda pushes the first-time buyer envelope at $11,699, and the color selection is rather limited with Vintage Lime Green and white graphics as the only option. Since the price may be a bit of a stretch for a young buyer, I’m going to say it’s a definite candidate as a first upgrade.

Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 month
Color: Vintage Lime Green
Price: $11,699

Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE Competitors

2018 - 2019 Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE
- image 795464
2017 - 2018 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer & Desert Sled
- image 776218
These two are nearly equal at the checkout and that's a problem for the Italians since the Z900 RS CAFE is more bike for the buck.

Since the Z900RS CAFE doesn’t exactly go all-out for the historical angle, I decided to go with another sorta’ café and hit up Ducati for its Scrambler-based Café Racer. The Duc pushes the limits of exactly how small a functional front fender can get, and the flyscreen comes off as vestigial, at best. At the saddle, the Scrambler scores with a tail fairing that works with the CR-type seat to make for a very race-tastic finish. Yeah, the number plate is totally gratuitous, but it does drive the point home.

The taillight and rear blinkers hang out over thin air since the rear-wheel fling is managed by a single-arm hugger, and I’m always fan of that look; I don’t care if it’s historical or not. Ducati falls behind a bit in the engine department. The L-twin only packs 803 cc, and that shows up in the power figures with 73-ponies at 8,250 rpm and 49 pound-feet at 5,750 rpm versus 109.9/72.2 from the Kawi. Plus, the Scrambler lacks traction control so Kawi gets another point for safety equipment.

ABS and slipper-clutch technology are constants across the board, and arguably the most important two out of the three. You’ll have to decide how important traction control is yourself. These two are nearly equal at the checkout with Ducati asking a mere $4 less than does Kawasaki, and that’s a problem for the Italians since the Z900 RS CAFE is more bike for the buck.

He Said

“Kawasaki did a good job on this bike. Would it stand up to a head-to-head with Triumph? Probably not, but that comes down to a battle between authenticity and “close enough,” and as such, is subject to taste. Still, at the end of the day, the only fault I can find with Kawi’s café is the lack of color selection.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “You might be tempted to think this is just a Z900RS with a café fairing, but that’s not the case. Yes, spec-wise it looks virtually the same, but the subtle differences make for a very different riding experience. The handlebar has a slight pull-back and it has a different saddle, which puts you in a different seating position than the Z900RS: more café racer-esque, but without the clip-on bar and the wrist fatigue. While the change in rider position might seem inconsequential, combine it with the wind protection afforded by the fairing and you get a faster, more racer-inspired ride.”

Kawasaki Z900RS CAFE Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 948 cc
Bore x Stroke: 73.4 mm x 56.0 mm
Compression Ratio: 10.8:1
Fuel System: DFI® with Keihin 36mm throttle bodies
Ignition: TCBI with electronic advance
Transmission: 6-speed, return shift
Final Drive: Sealed chain
Chassis:
Frame: Tubular, diamond
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: Inverted telescopic fork (10-way) with adjustable compression and rebound (12-way) damping, spring preload/4.7 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Horizontal back-link swingarm with stepless adjustable rebound damping and spring preload/5.5 in
Rake/Trail: 25.4°/3.5 in
Front Tire: 120/70 ZR17 Dunlop GPR-300F
Rear Tire: 180/55 ZR17 Dunlop GPR-300
Front Brakes: Dual disc ABS
Rear Brakes: Single disc ABS
Dimensions & Capacities:
Overall Length: 82.7 in
Overall Width: 33.3 in
Overall Height: 46.9 in
Ground Clearance: 5.1 in
Seat Height: 32.3 in
Curb Weight: 474.1 lb
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal
Wheelbase: 57.9 in
Details:
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 month
Color: Vintage Lime Green
Price: $11,699

Further Reading

Ducati Scrambler Café Race & Desert Sled

2017 - 2018 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer & Desert Sled
- image 776207

See our review of the Ducati Scrambler Café Racer & Desert Sled.

Kawasaki Z900RS

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
- image 754339

See our review of the Kawasaki Z900RS.

Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R

2016 - 2018 Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R
- image 757122

See our review of the Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R.

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- image 795478

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All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: kawasaki.com, ducati.com

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