Retro bikes, there are more and more of them these days, sprouting like mushrooms after the rain. Capitalising on a previous model in a manufacturer’s catalogue from at least three decades ago, brought up to date, seems to be an easy way to make money and this is what Kawasaki seems to have done with the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS, priced at RM67,900, with the SE, or Special Edition, going for RM69,900, including GST.
Now, retro is as retro does, and motorcycles of this ilk are more about presentation than “go”. But, about four decades ago, Kawasaki made the baddest, maddest four-cylinder sports bike you could buy, the 1973 Z1.
The thing is, the Z1 was high tech for the time, and was the bike all the riders wanted, till Suzuki came and kicked everyone’s butt but that’s another story for another time. So, what was high tech back then is obsolete today, but it does not stop some riders from hankering after an “image” of a by-gone age.
When Kawasaki first released the Z900 naked sports, with its inline-four, a thought went through our minds that this would make a good basis for the reintroduction of a bike in the style of the Z1 and the Zephyr, and, well, Kawasaki went ahead and did it.
With the recent launch of the Z900RS – truth be told we are waiting for the Z900RS Cafe Racer variant we had a look at in Milan – Kawasaki Malaysia, before allocating proper review units, allowed the local moto-journalists a taste test, as it were. So, what did we think of the Z900RS?
No one can deny that Kawasaki makes a set of bloody entertaining inline-four superbikes, the all-conquering ZX-10R is one such example. In the Malaysian market, the previous generation Z800 is considered by many to be the “entry-level” four-cylinder for Kawasaki in recent times, and, with the advent of the Z900 and Z900RS, we have the latest variants of Kawasaki’s basic naked superbike.
For Malaysia, we get two versions, the 2018 Z900RS and Z900RS SE. The main differences are mainly cosmetic, with the SE coming in Candy Brown and Orange with aluminium highlights and the base version in Matte Black with green graphics, but both Z900RS’ are otherwise identical.
The Z900RS is rather more than a just a dressed up version of the base Z900 though. There really are enough changes to qualify the Z900RS as a completely different motorcycle.
First off, the power in the liquid-cooled, DOHC, 948 cc engine has been detuned, from the 125 hp in the Z900 to 111 hp in the RS, with peak power now happening lower down the rev range. Torque takes a slight dip, but the RS carries more torque below 7,000 rpm than the Z900.
Similarly, the frame is revamped on the RS, to accommodate the wider 17-litre fuel tank, and the sub-frame redesigned to place the one-piece seat lower and horizontally. Brake callipers are now radial-mount, versus the axial-mount callipers on the Z900, with ABS and two-mode user-selectable traction control as standard equipment.
Suspension on the Z900RS is fully-adjustable, the 41 mm diameter front forks featuring 10-way compression and 12-way rebound damping adjustability, with pre-load being stepless. At the back, the monoshock comes with stepless preload and rebound adjustment.
One item pointed out to paultan.org by Kawasaki is the Malaysian market Z900RS will come with a 805 mm tall seat as standard, with the 835 mm seat as an option. This is the reverse of the Euro-spec Z900RS, which gets the 835 mm seat as standard, the 805 mm being the “low” option.
What this means is the rider can tailor the seat height of the Z900 to suit, adding to the versatility of the bike. Jumping into the saddle of the Z900RS, the author, as a senior rider who cut his teeth on real air-cooled four-cylinders of a more elegant time, felt immediately at home.
Sitting somewhat upright, there is enough space in the flat saddle for the rider to move around. The handlebar, seat and foot-peg relationship was set for comfortable cruising, and we will certainly be putting this to the test when we receive a review unit.
We then took the Z900RS out for a spin along the roads in Putrajaya, under escort. This meant no high speed work, but we can certainly confirm the engine of the Z900RS feels a lot more eager in lower gears than the Z900, which needed its neck wringing out to the upper reaches of the rev range to develop power.
If you’re a young rider, the lack of a sculpted fuel tank, in today’s fashion, might leave you a little weirded out. You are more perched on the Z900RS, instead of in it, as modern sports bikes are wont to do to the rider.
A short, hour-long ride is not going to tell us much, as you can imagine, but some things were readily apparent. The Z900RS does handle, and will take corners in an interesting fashion, as one of the marshals found out when we zipped past him on the left in a cheeky over-take, leaned well over.
That the Z900RS will handle doesn’t surprise us. Not much anyway. In a package weighing 214 kg, wet, Kawasaki has demonstrated that one thing they know how to do well is handling on a budget.
They demonstrated this on the Z900, and now, with the Z900RS. In this respect, Kawasaki is somewhat on the game, although we did note the suspension was less than compliant in the compression stakes, transmitting a lot of road feel back to the rider via the handlebars.
Again, this being a short media ride, there was no opportunity to mess with the suspension settings. That will have to wait for the full review, when we can put the Z900RS through the paces.
As for the rest of the Z900RS, the twin analogue clocks bisected by an LCD information screen are in keeping with the bike’s styling, with the speedometer and tachometer needles evoking memories of gunning a Suzuki GS550 round Kowloon Hotel. However, the numbers were little hard to read without bifocals, so knowing current road speed was a best guess thing for the author.
Bringing the Z900RS up-to-date is LED lighting all-round, the headlight being a six-element unit – four for the main beam, and two added LEDs for high beam. There is also a DC-power socket located under the seat for charging electronics.
In all, we found the Z900RS to be quite entertaining, and easy to ride. This is a plus for Kawasaki’s intended market for this retro bike, which, according to its marketing department, includes riders of all skill levels. Certainly, in these days of 200 hp litre-bikes, 111 ponies isn’t going to scare anyone.
It should be remembered that the original Z1, back in the 70s, put out some 70 hp, and was considered to be a motorcycle only skilled riders could handle. Today, with the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS, anyone can ride.
GALLERY: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
GALLERY: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS SE