A Modern Classic Tribute To The Original Z1

The race to grab a slice of the burgeoning Millennial market is heating up, and Kawasaki enters the fray with its sizzlin’ hot, retro-style Z900RS. Built as a tribute of sorts to the legendary Z1 superbike, the new-for-2018 RS packs a punch that does its predecessor justice with 111 horsepower ready to go with a twist of the mechanical throttle control. Suspension components are thoroughly modern as well, and at a glance, it seems Kawi has nailed the balance between nostalgia and nouveau with this ride. Modern performance and classic design are a common marriage nowadays, and Kawi is entering this market against some well-established competition so its success is far from ensured. Today I’m going to take a look at this retro-tastic Z900 variant to see if it really holds up the family name and is a viable competitor in the new millennial/hipster market.

Continue reading for my review of the Kawasaki Z900RS.

  • 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
  • Year:
    2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Displacement:
    948 cc
  • Price:
    10999
  • Price:

Design

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
- image 754357
For a non-replica model, the factory stayed pretty darned faithful to the original.

A straight-up UJM; that’s the best way to describe it. The flylines are defined by the fuel tank that sports a distinctly-classic teardrop shape. It has a slightly fuller profile with a curved dropoff behind the fuel cap, but otherwise the tank is very similar to the original; it’s even flanged, something I would usually consider a detriment, but it plays right into the retro vibe quite nicely.

The front fender is much smaller than the original, and of course, the inverted front forks are far different in both look and function from what was available back in 1973, so all of the retro-power in the front end comes from the round headlight housing. Don’t be deceived; the can holds super-bright LED emitters that pierce the night, and are quite visible even in sunlight. Chrome trim rings finish the headlight can and the twin round analog instruments, but the bodies join the fork stanchions, tripleclamps and mirrors for a healthy dose of blackout treatment right up front.

The achromatic scheme continues onto the frame, engine, swingarm and sundry items around the machine for a connection to the custom culture of the then-and-now, even though the original was more about the bling. I gotta say I like that, especially since the radiator blends in nicely against the dark backdrop for less of a visual impact, and that’s important since the design is trying to emulate a model that was originally powered by an air-cooled engine.

At 31.5 inches tall, the bench seat is low enough to be flatfooted — or at least tiptoed — by all but the shortest riders. Footpeg position falls into the jockey slot, but the pullback in the bars give the pilot the option of sitting upright in a relaxed riding position or leaning forward to spread out that front contact patch and employ some body English in the twisties.

Ordinarily, I’d gig the builder for the mudguard-style rear fender that hangs down below what is actually a nicely shaped tail, but the plateholder/turn-signal combo has an overall shape much like the original. Yeah, there it is again, but I challenge you to look at a Z1 next to the Z900 RS, ’cause then you’ll see that I’m actually downplaying the similarities just a skosh. Seriously folks, for a non-replica model, the factory stayed pretty darned faithful to the original.

Chassis

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
- image 754339
The engineers tightened everything up with an increase in the tripletree offset that delivers some pretty crisp handling in the corners while remaining well-behaved in the straights.

Though the RS is a variant of the supernaked Z900, it uses a slightly different frame setup that was designed in synergy with the RS’s unique body components. In order to keep the stance era-appropriate, the factory dropped the rear end and lifted the front. Naturally, that artificially increased the rake and trail to the detriment of the handling. The engineers tightened everything back up with a 6 mm increase in the tripletree offset that gives the RS a 25.4-degree rake with 3.5 inches of trail that delivers some pretty crisp handling in the corners while remaining well-behaved in the straights.

A Trellis frame supports the assembly. For weight savings, the engine serves to complete the circuit as a stressed member in order to eliminate a section of the downtube/cradle area. Up front, the inverted, KYB 41 mm forks give the RS away as a modern creation, and they come with modern features in the form of the adjustable spring preload and compression/rebound damping functions. At the other end, the KYB horizontal-mount shock tames the swingarm motion from its inconspicuous little hidey-hole, and it comes with adjustable preload and rebound damping.

The brakes mean business with a pair of 300 mm discs and four-piston monobloc calipers up front and a 250 mm disc and single-pot anchor in back. Overkill? Maybe, but it comes with ABS protection, so you can use those brakes with confidence.

Frame Type: Tubular, diamond
Rake/Trail: 25.4°/3.5 in
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
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

Drivetrain

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
- image 754347
Kawi borrowed the four-cylinder powerplant from its Z900, but tuned it for a stronger mid-range and somewhat-tamer power delivery.

Kawi borrowed the four-cylinder powerplant from its Z900, but tuned it for a stronger mid-range and somewhat-tamer power delivery. The 73.4 mm bore and 56 mm stroke gives the transverse-mount mill its 948 cc displacement, but the factory took some of the fire out of it by reducing the compression ratio to 10.8-to-1. This won’t get you cheaper gas, but it does make for a friendlier power delivery.

Camshaft duration was reduced to move the powerband south a bit, and the crankshaft bulked up by 12-percent to smooth out the pulses and aid that mid-range grunt. As for the grunt itself, the factory clocks it at 72 pound-feet at 6,500 rpm backed up by 111-horsepower. Unfortunately, the throttle feels a bit all or nothing, so smooth transitions will come only with practice. The good news is that the stock traction control’s setting number 2 smooths that out somewhat, and the two-channel TC couples with the ABS for some solid traction protection.

Engine power filters through the six-speed transmixer with a slip-and-assist clutch that provides a third layer of traction protection and limits the backtorque that makes it up to the engine. Though the throttle is mechanical in its input, an ECU processes all the relevant data and actuates a set of sub-throttles in the 36 mm thottle-bodies to smooth out the differences between power supply and demand.

Purists will wail about the 4-into-1 exhaust, but in a first, Kawi actually engineered the exhaust note, and I submit that you don’t have to look at the exhaust while you’re on the bike, but you sure have to listen to it. Consider that before you judge the looks or infidelity of the exhaust configuration too harshly.

Engine: 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 948cc
Bore x Stroke: 73.4 x 56.0mm
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

Pricing

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
- image 754349
MSRP is around $11k with an available colorway that hails back to the original Z1.

The 2018 Z900RS can be yours in Metallic Spark Black or the classic Candytone Brown/Candytone Orange that ties into the ’73 Z1, and it will set you back something around $10,999 and $11,199 depending on which color you pick. As always, Kawi provides a 12-month warranty and gives the option of buying up to four additional years of coverage.

Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (with optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Colors: Candytone Brown/Candytone Orange, Metallic Spark Black
Price: $10,999

Competitors

2017 Honda CB 1100 EX
- image 705635
2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
- image 754353
Whether you call them 'standards' or 'roadsters,' they are both cut from the same cloth looks-wise.

For this battle of the retro-roadsters, I decided to pull out my very favorite Honda — the CB1100 EX — for my head-to-head. Honda strikes out for roughly the same era as the RS, back when the transverse-four UJM was the superbike du jour, and it presents the rider with a similarly relaxed rider’s triangle, and a bench seat that is a bit more comfortable than the RS’s bench by all accounts.

Whether you call them standards or roadsters, they are both cut from the same cloth looks-wise. I must confess to a certain bias in favor of the Red Rider, especially since it runs a flangeless fuel tank that just seems to add so much to the perception of the fit and finish.

Suspension performance is definitely a cut below on the CB. True, it comes with Showa’s Dual Bending Valve forks that provide a better-than-vanilla ride with spring preload to boot, but that’s not the same as fully-adjustable stems. It gets worse in back as Honda only offers the obligatory preload adjustment. Brakes are similar with ABS at both ends, so neither make any gains here.

The biggest advantage to be had can be found in the engine compartment; Honda brings the cubes with 1,140 cc in its air-cooled, four-banger mill. Too bad it only manages 89 ponies and 67 pounds o’ grunt versus 111/72 from the much smaller RS. Kawi delivers the coup de grâce at the checkout with its $11-thousandish pricetag while Honda holds out for another grand with a $12,199 MSRP.

He Said

“I don’t care about the price or power; 10/10 I’d buy the CB. That said, I must admit Kawi really did well with the RS. I love the retro touches, and the fidelity of said touches, and I think it’s going to perform just fine in its target market.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “This modern classic field gets more populated every year, it seems. The look is vintage-inspired, which harkens back to a time before things got super-complicated. Even though the technology is there, it doesn’t scream techno-modern. I thought the RS was going to be a Z900 with some upgraded options and fancy saddle stitching, but it’s really its own machine. I have to wonder why it’s called a Z900 at all. It really should be a Z1something, don’t you think? Since that’s what it is modeled after, give it that name. This is a much more laid back bike than the Z900. It’s comfortable and the rider triangle is very relaxed. If the Z900 is too sportbike-like for your liking, give the Z900RS a look.”

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 948cc
Bore x Stroke: 73.4 x 56.0mm
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 Type: Tubular, diamond
Rake/Trail: 25.4°/3.5 in
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
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: 83.1 in
Overall Width: 34.1 in
Overall Height: 46.5 in
Ground Clearance: 5.3 in
Seat Height: 31.5 in
Curb Weight: 471.9 lb
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal
Wheelbase: 58.1 in
Details:
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (with optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Colors: Candytone Brown/Candytone Orange, Metallic Spark Black
Price: $10,999

References

Kawasaki Z900

2017 - 2018 Kawasaki Z900
- image 738363

See our review of the Kawasaki Z900.

Honda CB 1100 EX

2017 Honda CB 1100 EX
- image 705638

See our review of the Honda CB 1100 EX.

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

Press release
What do you think?
Show Comments
Motorcycle Finder: