If you read Part 1 of our report from the press launch of the new Kawasaki Z900, you already know we were thoroughly impressed by this latest member of the Kawasaki naked “Z” family. As the new flagship naked in the U.S. line-up, the Z900 surprises with its pricing, ranging from $8,399 for the non-ABS model to $8,799 for the ABS-equipped version we tested at the launch.
Although called the Z900, the new, 16-valve DOHC inline four-cylinder engine displaces 948cc. With a claimed wet weight of 463 pounds, the Z900 is 43 pounds lighter than last year’s far less powerful Z800. On paper, the performance promise is impressive.
With other “flagship nakeds” offered by competitors priced as much as $14,000, and up, Kawasaki had to leave some features off the Z900. Most notably, it does not have selectable engine maps, traction control or an IMU to adjust parameters based on inertial forces. It does have ABS brakes (the model we tested), as well as a sophisticated, and useful “Assist & Slipper” clutch.
That clutch simultaneously reduces lever pull effort and prevents rear wheel lock-up or hop during aggressive down shifts. The transmission is a six-speed, and Kawasaki left the first five gears relatively low and closely spaced to further enhance acceleration. Sixth gear is an overdrive to improve mileage and calm things down when cruising on the highway.
For an open class bike, the Z900 has a very low seat height that will allow even shorter-than-average riders to place both feet firmly on the ground at stops. The bars are relatively high, but the rider is slightly leaned forward into the wind when holding them. The distance between the seat and the foot pegs is moderately large, about half-way between a tourer and a pure sportbike.
Both the fork and the shock are adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping. They are held by the new lightweight steel trellis frame (only 30 pounds) and aluminum swingarm (8.5 pounds). Lightweight cast aluminum wheels are 17″ in diameter, and the rear tire is a moderately sized (for an open class machine) 180/55 section. With petal disc brakes all around, the dual front discs measure 300 mm each and are squeezed by Nissin four-piston calipers. Nissin provides the ABS units, as well, which only add a few pounds.
The 948cc engine was designed for smooth, linear power delivery with an emphasis on mid-range power with good over-rev further up the tach. Kawasaki worked hard to provide a smooth throttle response and excellent FI tuning. The engine is rigidly mounted to the frame, as a stressed member at five points, and features a light crank for lively throttle response and a secondary balancer to reduce vibration.
Kawasaki carefully crafted the sound produced by the air intake. This included shaping the interior of the airbox and even including a “dividing wall” to further enhance the intake note. The two, central combustion chambers are fed by longer intake funnels to balance sound and broaden power.
The LCD instrument panel allows the rider to select a custom rpm level that will trigger a shift light, and even to select from three separate display patterns. The compact unit includes a comprehensive set of readouts, including all of the usual information plus current and average fuel consumption, remaining fuel range and a gear position indicator.
Styling fits in with the rest of the Z family, i.e., “Sugomi” style. The aggressive profile of lower headlamp and higher tail is supposed to invoke a sense of a crouching predator poised to attack. According to Kawasaki, the Z900 was actually designed to have a more conservative look than the outgoing Z1000, whose styling was “polarizing” to customers. Fit-and-finish are excellent, and several small styling touches are present, including the Z-shaped taillight and rather complex fuel tank shape.
We rode the Z900 approximately 120 miles at the launch, including a group ride largely hampered by heavy traffic, followed by a solo, more aggressive 2 hour stint. We found the seat, and overall ergonomics very comfortable during this ride, placing the rider in a relaxed position that is still slightly aggressive for performance riding.
Clutch pull is light for such a large engine, and we like the gear ratios selected by Kawasaki, which made the bike very quick on the street, but still relaxed at highway speeds. Vibration levels were remarkably low — pleasant even — considering the fact that the Z900 has a rigidly-mounted inline-four.
The Z900 has a light, athletic feel, and changes directions with very little effort. The bike seems physically small as you ride it; seemingly in marked contrast to the huge power available through your right wrist. It is a scalpel through city traffic, and a beast at highway speeds where the Z900 can dominate surrounding traffic with its impressive power-to-weight ratio.
The Z900 is all about being smooth and predictable, despite its quickness. The low vibration and seamless throttle response, together with the pleasant, feedback-rich sensations passing to the rider through the steel frame lend a sense of confidence and familiarity to the rider. This is the somewhat intangible part of the Z900 that most impressed us.
The brakes offer plenty of power and feel, although we did sense more ABS-pulsing than we expected (we will explore this more when we get our hands on a test unit). Launching the Z900 from a stop is a piece of cake with smooth clutch engagement and a low first gear coupled with plenty of low-end torque delivered by that smooth throttle.
The low gearing and the engine performance mean the Z900 will take a back seat to almost no other motorcycle at city and canyon speeds. Coming out of corners, several gears seem to do the job equally well, and you can keep the Z900 in a higher gear if you don’t feel like shifting during a canyon ride.
The suspension settings offer a firm, but reasonably supple ride. Plenty of damping for high performance riding — even a track day for most skill levels. We were impressed by the impact just a couple of clicks on the fork rebound adjuster offered.
We will post a separate article on our interview with the Z900 designer a bit later. For now, we note that we couldn’t get Kawasaki to admit a “retro-style” Z900 is in the offing. This doesn’t mean much, as manufacturers never like to show their hand when it comes to future models.
The bottom line is that our first impression of the Z900 is more than positive … we were a bit surprised by the performance/price ratio it offers. We like the trade-offs Kawasaki made to price this bike under $9,000, and didn’t miss the electronic aids found on pricier models during our brief test. This is a simpler, less expensive open class naked that seems to perform up to the standards of some of the best, priciest models in the class.
Indeed, the Z900 has a likeable, easy-to-ride nature that you might even prefer over some of the competition. It is available in two color schemes, including Pearl Mystic Gray/Metallic Flat Spark Black and Metallic Flat Spark Black/Metallic Spark Black. For additional details and specifications, visit Kawasaki’s web site.
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