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  • March 10, 2017
  • Dirck Edge
  • Drew Ruiz and Chris Rubino
  • 64 Comments

2017 Kawasaki Z900: MD First Ride – Part 1

Okay, so I left the press launch without receiving any action photography. I am also exhausted from a very long day, so this short report will have to suffice until I have more photos and more energy.

Thank you for posting all the questions yesterday and earlier today. I will discuss several of those in Part 2, but for now I just want to talk about what it was like to ride the new Z900. Keep in mind as you read this that this is now the “flagship” naked in Kawasaki’s U.S. line-up (the Z1000 is gone). Priced at less than $9,000, that is a remarkable fact in itself.

Sure, this bike doesn’t have all of the latest electronic rider aids, such as traction control and selectable ignition maps. It is available with or without ABS, sort of like most “flagships” 5 years ago, or so. Frankly, we still think the price is remarkable because the Z900 is a fantastic motorcycle to ride.

The styling apparently remains controversial with our readership, but it is toned-down from the Z1000 (something Kawasaki specifically mentioned earlier today). We will talk about styling more in Part 2 — again, let’s just talk about riding this motorcycle. Frankly, what most of Kawasaki claims proved true during our first day testing. That is, that this bike is very fast, but simultaneously easy to ride and provides a sense of calm — I don’t know any other way to put it.

For an inline-four, vibration levels are very low, and throttle response is just about perfect when it comes to delivering the nearly linear (there is a bit of a “hit” at 6,000 rpm and up) power band. Kawasaki also spent a remarkable amount of time tuning the intake sound, and it is indeed fantastic. Almost intoxicating, in a sense. It doesn’t really sound like the intake noise coming from any inline-four we have ridden in the last few years. It has that same refined, smooth sense about it that the engine exudes as a whole.

This bike handles like a much smaller bike. If you jump on a Z900 after riding a cruiser, or even another naked with more relaxed steering, it could actually feel a bit nervous. This bike changes direction right now, but after you are calibrated to its nature, it can prove to be an asset for most riders. We did not experience any instability whatsoever, and the Z900 tracks where you point it without moving off line involuntarily.

As we noted with the Z650 we recently tested, we believe the Z900 benefits from the steel trellis frame. Steel has a much different vibration characteristic when compared with aluminum (if you ride bicycles, you might be aware of this), and both the Z650 and Z900, despite their quick handling, have a somewhat more organic feel than much of the competition. By this I mean excellent feedback (feel) though the frame from everything happening on the bike — from the tires’ contact patches to the engine response.

Did I mention the Z900 is fast? A certain, cocky Aprilia RSV4 rider I encountered earlier today could testify to the fact.

We will delve into all the technical details in Part 2, and directly address a number of the questions you have posed to Kawasaki. We did interview the Project Leader for the Z900, Seiji Hagio, although he had to speak through an interpreter. Stay tuned.


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64 Comments

  1. Austin ZZR 1200 says:

    There is an easy fix to this: modify the subframe to hang horizontally for better pillion position, change the seat, massage the headlight and some of the plastic and you have an updated ZRX minus the dual rear suspension. Kawi (or an aftermarket shop) could invest $100K on a POC, call it Z900RX and tack on $400 to the MSRP and double the sales of this thing…easy frickin’ peasy. Kawi marketing/product development dept, are you listening?

    • Dino says:

      +1

      I would be all over that! I thought that Kawasaki could make the low subframe, and higher headlight, as options. Or at least factory accessories. That way they could keep the Stinkbug styling that must be popular, but the lower options for us Fogeys that want something more normal or standard! I am not ready for a rolling easy chair (cruiser) but I don’t want to ride a bike that screams mid-life crisis!!

  2. Ron says:

    I concur with the majority here. This bike, as well as most of the other jap nakeds are just ugly. That’s a shame too, as the bikes coming out are really good motorcycles dynamically. Great performance and technology, but just too damn ugly to get excited about…much less write a check for. As I have said before, the Japanese need to hire ITALIAN designers!!!!! I REALLY want to buy a second bike this spring or summer….but want to keep it under ten grand as its just to rip around town on. I have a 07 Stratoliner bagger for road trips…but its just to heavy and big for stop and go in town. Triumph is making some beautiful bikes lately, but too expensive and not many dealers. Same thing with Ducati and Aprilia. Yamaha almost got it right with the XSR, but the styling is just too disjointed, though i like the flat subframe and seat. Looks like I may have to wait another year and hope the Japanese learn how to style bikes for adults. Kawi needs to stop with the damn green too!

    • Davedave says:

      Love the green but if you don’t like it buy the other color option. No green in it.

      • MotoMaster39 says:

        They should keep green for their Supersport and offroad bikes. Offer some crowd pleasing color options for bikes that they intend to sell a lot more of. Bright green is a little juvenile for a salary man’s comuter bike. And OMG,murdered out black…The goth/flatbill thing is so 20 years too late.

  3. Doc says:

    I will go so far as this concerning the styling. It’s way better than Yamaha’s new FZ09. And while I might be able to live with the headlight, the tail section sucks. Period! It reminds me of an old swayback horse. And it’s not so much the shape as it is the angle of it. Bring the front of the seat up, the tail end down and lengthen it just a bit, voila! Think a change in color would also help immensely from the color combo shown, in my opinion. As it is, reminds me of a bike involved in a rear end collision. The bike being the one rear ended. And since when did a difference of opinion equate to hatred?

  4. John Bryan says:

    Not going to lie – still think the 1968 Triumph Bonneville is the best looking post-war motorcycle ever. But, these modern”naked” bikes are interesting looking and you can’t argue with the performance. My biggest problem is the goofy stinkbug stance rear subframe/passenger seats. Is it REALLY all that difficult to put a reasonably flat seat on a modern single shock motorcycle? Please? I promise if I slide off the back doing a wheelie I won’t sue!

  5. LordBeal says:

    Wow! What a lot of haters. How many of these guys have seen the bike in person, much less ridden one? If you think it’s ugly, then move on. Honda has a gorgeous retro 1100 that’s really fun to ride too! But if “handsome is as handsome does” then maybe the Z has earned a second look from some of you.

  6. motorhead says:

    I’m a 58 year old motorcycle rider. I’m uglier than any bike I ride. This Z900 looks pretty good to me. The speed, agility, comfort, reliability and feel are what I care about. The price is right, too.

  7. mickey says:

    I find the responses funny that say that if you don’t like the styling, or agree with those that do, then obviously you don’t own motorcycles, buy motorcycles or don’t ride motorcycles. I can tell you that I have been riding on the street almost daily for 52 years come mid May, and that my wife has ridden most everywhere with me for 44 of those years. We have owned 29 street motorcycles, have toured 40 U.S. states (plan to knock out 4 more this year), 2 Canadian provinces, and have toured 5 countries in Europe. I currently have a Honda ST 1300 with just shy of 90,000 miles, and a 2014 Honda CB 1100 dlx with over 28,000 miles on it (my second CB1100..I had a 13 model I put 8500 miles on). I rode 323 days last year (in Ohio) and average 25,000 miles a year. I currently am looking to add another “around town” bike to my stable, and starting to look for a down the road replacement for the ST.As I want my wife to keep riding along, a good 2 person seat is a must.One fit for someone in their 60’s, no longer in their 20’s.

    IF the manufacturers make something that does appeal to me, has styling that pleases me, good comfortable ergonomics, and handy features… I WILL buy, and I have the disposable income sitting in the bank to walk in and hand them a pile of greenbacks. If they don’t, then I will keep riding what I have until I, or they (my current motorcycles), die. Seeing as how they are Honda’s figure I will go first.

    So speaking for myself as a commentator, and others as well I assume, yes, we do own motorcycles, we buy them, we ride them and we comment on those that don’t appeal to us. To assume because we make a negative comment about a design feature that we don’t is just foolish.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      From Kawi’s POW, if they go geezer style, they’ll sell you one last bike before you keel over. While if they go anime, they’ll sell a million 18 year olds in emerging Asia the first in their lifetime total of 29 bikes….. It’s not even a close contest. The boomer phenomenon is dead as a marketing angle. And Harley has cornered whatever market there still may be, for chrome laden caskets, and funeral dresses featuring fringe.

      • mickey says:

        Well the joke is on them then. At least in the US where it seems the majority of 18-28 year olds don’t have jobs, don’t want to have jobs, live with their parents, only own what their parents buy them, and are more interested in playing video games than riding motorcycles.

        Old people like me on the other hand CAN and DO buy motorcycles and want to ride, have good jobs or pensions, good credit or money we can freely spend in the bank.

        Besides there is nothing saying they couldn’t have two similar models… bolt a nice headlamp, new rear sub frame, some wind protection and put a decent seat on the same model as the anime they are building for the 18 year old Asians, and actually sell some motorcycles here now to guys who can actually afford to buy one.

        • Provologna says:

          My vote for 2017 MCD Honorary Guest Commentator!

          “…Seeing as how they are Honda’s figure I will go first…” Sold my 1983 Sabre liquid cooled V-4 shaft drive, w/shockingly good finish considering 97k miles in San Francisco Bay Area (moderately high salt and moisture). Not only never a drop of internal fluid, no aeration anywhere. Except the suspension, which was shot, the rest of it ran like new, switches, etc, all of it. The only non-maintenance item was the voltage regulator. Only three or four known engines rival the smoothness of Honda’s 700cc V4, a superb (though long) engine. It made decent torque, and I routinely confirmed proper operation of the rev limited, for, you know, safety reasons. The 700cc motor was Honda’s answer to the then-Harley tariff on motors over 700cc. 750cc versions had longer stroke/same bore, and vibrate more, especially the race replica Interceptor.

          IOW, you’re probably right.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “The boomer phenomenon is dead”

        it’s over Johnny…

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiZdY9rw-uo

  8. downgoesfraser says:

    Strange theory with predictable responses.

  9. Frank says:

    nostalgia is a funny thing, I took one look at that other Z900 and immediately thought speed wobbler! Unfairly. Modern kawas only look good with full fairings.

  10. skybullet says:

    Much of today’s styling is apparently by 20 somethings for 20 somethings. The market however is heavily populated by those of us who appreciate a classic look (including some of the 20 somethings). Triumph is getting better at recapturing the styling many of us appreciate in their twins. Unfortunately, their performance is also retro. BMW’s 9T9’s primary selling point is the styling and Ducati seems to be doing well with the Scrambler. How a bike looks and sounds are powerful motivators too. I see the Z900 as another missed opportunity, the look un-sells it to me.

  11. Brian says:

    It looked pretty good to me in person, but then I own a latest-gen Z1000, which–with a few small mods (tail tidy, mirrors, exhaust)–looks pretty cool to me. Can’t say that I’ve ever looked at the headlight shroud in person and thought “saggy boobs.” But that’s probably because I don’t typically view it under studio lighting from a perspective two feet off the ground…

    Which is good, because I get to enjoy a really awesome bike that happened to cost a lot less than MSRP (presumably because people couldn’t be bothered to look past a photo).

    For the record, I also own and enjoy a ZRX1100. And a CB1100. And a BMW airhead.

    Dear Diary: I hate, hate, hate riding my BMW! That thing is so fugly with its engine just hanging out in the breeze like a big pair of jugs! Yesterday Sarah laughed and pointed when I rode by. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and die, it was SO embarrassing!

    Anyway, always torn between being annoyed by the comments on this site and amused by their predictability. How many people on here actually own bikes? Of those, how many actually *ride* them, as opposed to sitting around looking at them? Rhetorical questions.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      Without having seen this in real life, I highly doubt this will be a Z1000, styling wise. More of a realization that Sugomi Zed was just too uncompromising, and hence expensive, for the demographic that actually buy this class of bikes in numbers meaningful for a big OEM. A Kawi FZ-09, so to speak.

    • Geoffrey Hill says:

      Can’t get my wife to ride on a P pad, especially one 4 foot in the air.

  12. Bill says:

    This bike is not ugly to me. It is repulsive.

  13. Mike says:

    A lot for Kawasaki haters out there. Compared to the butt ugly FZ9 with that stupid rear fender this bike is sexy. How many times in the last 20 plus years have the Japanese build modern UJM’s and nobody bought them. This bike is fresh and exciting. Quit being dicks!!

    • Austin ZZR 1200 says:

      Actually, many of us love Kawi but hate this design language…makes brand loyalty really difficult when you are embarrassed to own one of these things..

    • Cyclemotorist says:

      I currently own one Kawasaki. I like Kawasakis. But I don’t like the style of this one. I don’t find it fresh and exciting. That doesn’t make me a dick.

    • bmidd says:

      You stop being a dick for calling people Kawasaki haters. The bike looks like crap, just like most “modern styled” new motorcycles. It’s even uglier in person.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “It’s even uglier in person.”

        aw c’mon not that bad. saw it back at the show and was surprised by how good it looked. that, and also because i didn’t even know it was a new model i was supposed to be looking for…? so i was doubly surprised. still got the pic on me phone.

  14. Pacer says:

    I would like to see a comparison between this and a zx9 from 15 or so years ago.

  15. Austin ZZR 1200 says:

    Sat on one of these at a motorcycle show. Yes, it is just as ugly in real life as it is in pictures. I ride a Vstrom 650 and this bike is too ugly for me to buy/ride…that’s saying something…like birth control on two wheels

  16. rokster says:

    “Action” pictures? You mean those pictures where you can get a good look at the dirty, ugly exhaust system of some bike you cannot even ID because it is lying on its side and there is some journo crawling all over it? No thanks, the pictures posted here are perfect. Look, they even enabled everyone to bitch about the looks in detail.
    Better get used to it boys, it is the new normal.

  17. carl says:

    Styling SUCKS!!! Not my idea of a standard, how is this going to be comfortable? Just a “zx10” minus the plastic to be me.

  18. Vrooom says:

    It’s certainly a bargain, and as someone else said, you won’t be able to see the headlight while you’re riding it. That thing is pug fugly.

  19. ROXX says:

    Saggy boob fairing and no passenger seat are a deal breaker for me.

  20. Norm G. says:

    re: “As we noted with the Z650 we recently tested, we believe the Z900 benefits from the steel trellis frame”

    CRAZY TALK…!!!

    re: “Steel has a much different vibration characteristic when compared with aluminum (if you ride bicycles, you might be aware of this)”

    i’m all over it.

    re: “both the Z650 and Z900, despite their quick handling, have a somewhat more organic feel than much of the competition. By this I mean excellent feedback (feel) though the frame from everything happening on the bike — from the tires’ contact patches to the engine response.”

    nope, a few years back Stoner and a so called “expert” from another site (who shall be nameless) said this is not possible, so therefore the only thing left for me to conclude is that it ISN’T possible. right then, combining the phenomena of “group think” with the power of the Internet, i am now gripped by an “uncontrollable urge” to propagate this myth to the FOUR CORNERS OF THE GLOBE.

    Q: why…?

    A: look i’m a layperson, it’s what i do.

    • Gary says:

      Aluminum is much stiffer then a steel trellis frame. On the surface this sounds great – a stiff is always better, right? Not always. For instance, when a bike is leaned over in a corner the suspension stoke effectively get reduced. Having a little “flex” in the frame allows a leaned bike to better handle rough road surfaces while leaned.

      • Mark T says:

        “stiff is always better, right?” Yeah, that’s what she said….

        I liked the ride of my old 1980’s Peugeot PFN10 bicycle with a steel frame much more than my current Specialized Secteur with an aluminum frame. There is a difference in response and feel.

        That said, I kinda like this thing. Especially at this pricepoint.

        • Larry Kahn says:

          I have a 70’s Peugeot and always felt it had a good sense about it. And I’m no bicycle expert. Thanks for verifying. The transformer motorcycles (started back with the 1986 Yamaha Fazer, looked like it was already crashed) are odd, aimed at an age market that is not buying motorcycles. That retro version looks great!

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “when a bike is leaned over in a corner the suspension stoke effectively get reduced. Having a little “flex” in the frame allows a leaned bike to better handle rough road surfaces while leaned.”

        behold beholders…!!! just when everyone had been scammed into turning their brains off, thinking there was “too much information”…? along comes Gary (Rothwell) and DECODES THE TRELLIS MATRIX (how dare you sir).

  21. redbirds says:

    This is a lot of bike for the money. At least you won’t see it’s silly styling elements whilst riding it. Congrats Kawasaki.

  22. Sam says:

    How about a real SEAT for a real ARSE !!!! We aren’t all Jockeys:)

    Some of us get to the point in our riding experience that we want and need comfort—after all, this is a street bike.

  23. VEGA says:

    Indeed sad to hear that The Z1000 is gone, poof…! It was indeed a great bike, with a LOT of muscle and nice looks…! Yes, I absolutely dig the looks of The new Z1000…!
    But then again, it doesn’t make much sense as it had just 100 more cubes over this bike, which mean almost nothing…!
    Anyhow, I like The Yamaha’s line-up with a 690cc Twin, 847cc Triple and a 999cc Four… Take your flavor… And would have absolutely loved to see a Triple from Kawasaki with about 800ccs of engine displacement, something to compete with the beefed-up Street Triple and Suzuki’s GSX with a 750 Four…
    The Yamaha Triple is a nice break from ‘traditional’ Jap-Fours and I wish The other members of Big-4 follow suit…

  24. Bob says:

    Sounds like a great chassis, engine and drivetrain package. Now if they could just do something about the styling.

  25. JD says:

    So I’ve long been a fan of the ’02 era Kawasaki ZX-9R ( http://www.motorcycledaily.com/2002/06/03june02kawasaki2002zx9r/ )
    How does this new bike compare to that one in power, handling, & braking? What has 15 more years of experience done for this size of bike? I realize this is not Kawasaki’s superbike, as the ZX-9R was, but considering the similarity of engine size and architecture, I’m curious how this would be better and worse than the older machine. As I’m now 15 years older too, the more upright ergos look appealing. But so would some wind protection. Regarding appearance, the older bike looks downright calm, clean and subdued compared to these newer machines.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “How does this new bike compare to that one in power”

      see entry for…

      “there is a bit of a “hit” at 6,000 rpm and up.”

      this was a characteristic of the C and D generation Zeds. you could simultaneously have fun and “shoot your eye out” in a single afternoon.

      BRILLIANT…!!!

    • Dave says:

      Those ZX9’s are still lust-worthy in my opinion. Worth noting in the comparison is that bike sold for $9,500 in 02′, about $12.8k in today’s dollars. This new bike sells for $8.5k which is approximately $6.3k in 02′ dollars.

      I don’t know how they’re doing it…

      • Provologna says:

        Same thing occurred to me. I presume the Japanese yen has dropped vs. the USD in the intervening period.

        It’s interesting when one looks back over the last century how often certain groups of persons warned (loudly) the dollar would crash and burn. Yes, it’s gone up and down, but I’d wager over the last C few popular currencies have done better. It seems no matter how badly we manage the USD, most of the world does even worse w/their own currency.

        Of course, past is not necessarily always prologue, so there’s always that.

      • todd says:

        You don’t actually believe these are all sourced and built in Japan, do you? It’s a global market today and there are plenty of people living in grass huts that would love to assemble 50 motorcycles a day for a couple bowls of noodles.

        • Provologna says:

          Good points. I have not followed the country of origin of modern Japanese brand bikes. IIRC my friend’s Honda 250 dual sport was built in Malaysia.

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