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2020 Kawasaki Z900: MD Ride Review, First Thoughts

We took delivery of a 2020 Z900 from Kawasaki for testing recently, and have only put 150 miles, or so, on the bike at this point (including our commute back from Kawasaki headquarters in Irvine, California). We will have a full report when our testing concludes, but these are some initial thoughts we wanted to pass along to MD readers.

All of the changes to the 2020 model are detailed in the Kawasaki press release included in our earlier report. Highlights include a new frame (with a strengthened swingarm pivot area), new suspension settings for both the fork and shock, new electronic rider aids (traction control and selectable riding modes), as well as new styling.

Built to an aggressive price point, starting at $8,999 this year for the paint scheme featured on our test bike, prior Z900s were criticized by some owners for their stock budget tires. The tires on the 2020 model are the all-new Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2, sized 120/70 x 17 front and 180/55 x 17 rear.

A couple of things struck us immediately on our trip back to the MD office from Kawasaki. The new suspension settings provide a really smooth, confidence-inspiring ride. Although the fork and shock are adjustable only for rebound damping (as well as spring preload), Kawasaki has dialed in some very nice compromise settings.

Our first ride away from Kawasaki’s headquarters included more than ten miles on Ortega Highway, which includes a number of sweeping turns. The Z900 flows well on a road like this, and the engine compliments it. The 948cc inline-four has very good low-end torque that allows the rider to hustle the bike at a very good pace without having to shift very often. Throttle response is smooth and the power delivery is linear.

The new Dunlop tires seem to offer very good grip, and are a step forward from the stock rubber found on earlier Z900 models. The Sportmax Roadsport 2 tire profiles, and tread pattern, combine for good stability and progressive, predictable turn-in. The only negative we found was a lack of feedback from the tires, which are somewhat numb feeling.

Without adjustable compression damping on the fork or shock, faster, more aggressive and heavier riders may feel a need for increased compression damping when pushing the bike hard on twisty roads. We will be evaluating this aspect of the bike’s handling more in the next week or so, so stay tuned for the final report.

We will also get into a discussion of the ride modes and other features of the bike, but we wanted to share our initial impressions. Stay tuned for the full review.

63 Comments

  1. TBone34 says:

    With all the beautiful naked bikes out there (Monsters, Street Triples, Honda Neo Sport) it is tough for me to see dropping money on an ugly naked unless the price is great. This Kawasaki really has a great price though!

  2. motomike says:

    Geez take it easy Marcus I was complementing the Z900 not slamming the ZRX.I don’t have the room in my garage or bank account to add another bike right now. I would rather give up a vital organ than my ZRX1200.I do appreciate your passion though!

    • Marcus says:

      Ok. Understood.
      I say this because I made the mistake of selling my ZRX. I missed it so bad. I bought another and now know it will be impossible to sell it. Over eighteen years I’ve been riding the ZRX (minus a couple of years in between) and it has never failed to put a smile on my face. But the z900 is the same. At eighty pounds wet lighter than the ZRX, the z900 is the comfortable sport bike I’ve always wanted.

      • Kermit T. Frog says:

        Ah, gentlemen…The ZRX remains the most gorgeous homage to the ELR1000, which to this man’s eyes and heart is the most beautiful of classic sporting motorbikes. A Wes Cooley 1000 replica is long overdue. And so is a revival of the ZRX in ELR livery with Eddie’s signature on the tank.

        And Suzuki should get off it’s corporate duff and do Cooley and their company proud. If Yamaha wants to join in, they can take their 300 and make a tribute to the Kenny Roberts RZ350 complete with triple discs and every damn thing a newbie needs to experience the joy of riding a piece of history.

        Or not. One wonders if they have the testicular fortitude to pay homage to their own history rather than continue to make fake Harleys their bread and butter.

        • Marcus says:

          Don’t hold your breath over the Wes Cooley replica. Look what Suzuki did to the Katana… Expensive plastic pieces on the GSX S1000. Unfortunate.

    • Jay says:

      Wow, 3 of my all time favorite bikes that I owned. GS1000S, RD350 & ZRX1200.

  3. motorhead says:

    It’s a great time to be a biker of standards. Quite the bike for this price: “starting at $8,999 this year for the paint scheme featured on our test bike.”
    The 2015 Z800 with ABS started at $8400.
    The 2010 Z1000 started at $10,500 (granted it was bigger, higher specs).

  4. Anonymous says:

    I owned one of these a coupla years ago. Purchase was made because of all the good press it got.Turned out to be a piece of crap and a complete waste of money. My fault for believing the hype.Hated the bike and it’s in my top three of the worst bikes I’ve ever owned and I’ve owned a lot of bikes. And no, I’m not gonna be specific. Test ride it THOROUGHLY!

    • tomg says:

      Your an idiot. I have owned at least 25 bikes. The Z900 is a very good bike regardless of price and a great bike at $8999. It can bought for mid $8k’s easily. I am not sure what you are looking for in a bike. It is the best sport bike? No. Is is the best touring bike? No. Is it the best track bike? No. Is it a great all bike? Yes. Smooth throttle response. Predictable handling. Not the best looking bike but not the ugliest either. Good luck finding your perfect bike. They do not make any perfect bikes.

    • VLJ says:

      Anonymously calling something a piece of crap without providing a single example as to why you dislike it so much renders yours a throwaway post, especially when talking about a bike that has received the nearly universal praise the Z900 has enjoyed. Also, when Dirck himself lavishes praise on it, and that praise mirrors the things those of us here who have ridden the bike and owned the bike already know to be true, it becomes even more incumbent on you to explain your reasoning.

      “And no, I’m not going to be specific” simply doesn’t work. That is one seriously lame cop-out. Why won’t you be specific? Specifics are precisely what you need to provide, otherwise, why should anyone bother listening to you?

      • Marcus says:

        I know of only ONE bad review of the z900 from a previous owner. Really makes me wonder.
        Same bitterness.
        Same vagueness.
        Yup, same troll.

    • Anonymous says:

      “I’m not gonna be specific”

      Good stuff, very helpful for everyone, thanks.

      • Motoman says:

        You are an idiot…..

      • Anonymous says:

        You’re welcome. Read the last line, do that and get back to me.

        • VLJ says:

          I did more than just give it a thorough test ride. I bought it, rode it for thousands of miles, compared it to all the other bikes I’ve ridden and owned, and declared it one of the very best machines I’ve ridden.

          This, from a guy who was a motorcycle dealer for over a decade. There isn’t much I haven’t ridden.

          So, with that out of the way, the ball is back in your court. Explain your reasoning.

  5. randy says:

    well, the 2021’s are almost out, but i’ll take the review anyway. better late then never.

  6. motomike says:

    I have ridden the previous incarnation of this bike and I can assure you it is a blast to ride. The midrange punch is impressive as is the sharp handling. At this price point it is an exceptional value. I was turned off by not being produced in Japan as with the RS. I agree the pillion is a joke but two up is not what this bike is about. I came oh so close to replacing the ZRX but somehow resisted. (I am sure I saved $$ on speeding tickets)

  7. mickey says:

    Probably the only appealing thing to me about this bike is the motor. Headlight is ugly, tank is ugy, tail section is ugly, paint on frame is putrid, betting the muffler on the other side is ugly, half green stripes on the wheels are stupid….but I’ll bet the motor is a gem.

    Not sure which is uglier this or a KTM

    all my opinion of course

    • VLJ says:

      There are a few other things I can guarantee you would like about the Z900. The low seat height, for one, and the light, neutral handling. You would get your feet down on this one, no problem. You could move it around the garage very easily. You would love it in traffic, parking lots, any slow-speed situations. The handling is so easy. The throttle response is perfect, making aggressive switchbacks just as easy as city-traffic putzing.

      Easy. That’s the word. Everything about this bike is user-friendly, easy to manage. It also sounds unusually good for a stock I4. The intake growl is very cool.

      For a guy who is used to the incredible user-friendliness of a CB1100, you would really enjoy riding one of these, aesthetics notwithstanding. As sportbikes go, they don’t come any more smooth, refined, user-friendly than this one. Very Honda-like, surprisingly enough, especially for a Kawi.

      And that price. If the Z900 doesn’t represent the best bang-for-buck in the sporting segment, I don’t know what does.

      • ScotocS says:

        “If the Z900 doesn’t represent the best bang-for-buck in the sporting segment, I don’t know what does.”

        The obvious challenger would be the MT-09. For the same US price, the Yamaha offers radial brake calipers, throttle-by-wire, a fully adjustable front fork, 9% less weight, and an engine which is usually deemed to have more character and a more involving sound.

        The Z900 grants more displacement and therefore more horsepower, although when you factor in weight it’s closer than the displacement difference would make it appear (also for 2021 the MT-09 is said to be getting a displacement bump to near 890cc, closing the gap a bit more).

        • VLJ says:

          Forget the spec sheets. Ride both bikes back to back and it becomes plainly evident which one is actually the sportier steed. The MT-09’s supermotard seating position does it no favors in a sporting environment, or, for that matter, out on the highway. Also, despite the MT-09’s fully adjustable suspension, its suspension and overall handling simply isn’t as good as the Kawi’s.

          The MT-09 is the better hooligan machine. If you ride in the city and like to do wheelies, it’s tough to beat. That’s its one advantage, and its true calling card. For just about everything else, however, the Z900 is the better motorcycle…unless you’re a tall rider, with long legs. The MT-09 definitely fits tall riders better than the Kawi does. Conversely, the Kawi works better for riders with shorter inseams.

          • Mick says:

            I would submit that supermotard seating is more sporting. Simply because a three dimensional ride is “sportier” than a two dimensional ride.

            That and motard seating offers both more comfort and control in the real world.

          • VLJ says:

            Supermotard seating is not more sporting, unless you plan on putting your foot down and riding it like a supermotard, which no one does on an MT-09. Otherwise, the bent knee/slight forward-crouch stance of the Z900 is clearly better for attacking corners.

            As for comfort, the Z900 is better than the MT-09 on the freeway, unless you’re too tall to fit comfortably on the Z900. The MT-09’s narrow seat and bolt-upright seating position make it hard(er) work out on the highway, munching miles while droning along.

      • TimC says:

        Why is low seat height such a plus? I jacked the crap out of my FZ6’s stock hole (custom seat built up by a guy in Fort Collins CO) and it transformed the bike totally. If you’re short yeah but I think far too many riders put far too much weight on flat footing which is how so many nuts end up in so many tanks.

        • mickey says:

          I disagree. What causes nuts in the tank is the ridiculous styling exercise which places the rear of the motorcycle subframe so much higher than the front portion of the seat, forcing a sloping of the drivers seat towards the tank.

          We did not have a nuts in the tank problem when front rider and rear passenger seats were on the same plane.

          And yes, I am short.

        • VLJ says:

          mickey and I have been internet “friends” for many years, so I know that a low seat height is a huge plus to him. I was addressing that comment specifically to mickey, because he always comments on the seat height anytime he gives his thoughts on a bike he’s ridden. More often than not with sportbikes, he says they’re too tall for him. Of late he’s been talking about looking for a small, short, light bike that’s easier to manage, but he doesn’t like the thought of moving down to 400- or even 650-class power. mickey likes I4s with lots of power.

          If he could ever get past the looks of the thing, the Z900 is the one liter-class sporty bike he would enjoy riding, moving around his garage, negotiating at slow speeds on uneven surfaces, etc. He manages just fine on his CB1100 and FJR1300, but neither of those two fit the bill as a small, light, agile, sporty standard, along the lines of an SV650 or Z400, the likes of which leave mickey wanting for more motor. The Z900 has an even lower seat than the SV650. He would get both feet down on the Z, and the throttle response is so CB1100-smooth that he would feel instantly at home.

          Having rocketship (yet still linear) power from his favorite motor configuration, the liter-class I4, and one that makes cool noises to boot?

          Icing on the cake.

          • mickey says:

            You do make it sound tempting VLJ.

          • VLJ says:

            If you ever ride one, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoyed something that you were so predisposed to disliking.

          • mickey says:

            LOL I’m only predisposed to disliking it’s looks. I offered that the motor was probably a gem in my original comment.

            My last and only Kawasaki was a KZ1000 which I bought new in 1977. It was a great motorcycle and set me on the path of liter class inline 4s I have come to love so much.

            Would not be against having another liter Kaw in the garage.

          • VLJ says:

            Considering how many bikes you’ve ridden and owned, and how many great bikes Team Green has produced over the last few decades, why on earth have you gone forty-three years since owning your last Kawasaki?

            Like you, you know I’m a Honda guy through and through, with soft spots for Suzuki, BMW, and Triumph, but even I have managed to own a few Kawis along the way. Despite being a “budget bike,” the Z900 is right up there among the very best things I’ve ever ridden or owned.

            You know why?

            Purity. In an era of overpriced, over-sanitized, safety-nannied to death, needlessly complicated, tech-for-tech’s sake monuments to personal vanity and conspicuous consumption, the Z900 is one of the few liter bikes these days that is simple, honest, easy to understand, easy to ride, and easy to enjoy. There are no marketing-tech filters between your mind, your right hand, and the rear tire gripping the road.

            Like the CB1100, it’s just a good motorcycle. It’s not trying to be all things to all people. It just wants to go fast and have fun; smoothly, predictably, comfortably, with a high level of exhilaration.

            It embodies all the reasons and sensations that lured most of us into motorcycling in the first place, and does so without breaking the bank. As long as one fits on the thing and doesn’t need it serve as a two-up touring mount, what more do we want?

            Okay, okay…more conventional looks, and an available centerstand. Yeah, its looks aren’t the best, nor are they anywhere near the worst, and a lot of people really prefer their bikes to have centerstands.

            Granted. I’ll concede those points. The centerstand thing is wildly overblown, however. Sure, they’re good to have when touring, but in no way should the lack of a centerstand be a dealbreaker for a sporty standard such as this, unless someone is just looking for an excuse not to buy something. Considering how infrequently any dire need for a centerstand comes up, it’s just not that important. It can be worked around. We’ve all done it. It’s not the end of the world.

            Looks-wise, sure, most people aren’t going to buy anything they truly dislike. To that point I would say, does every bike have to have dual shocks, a single round headlight, and a retro aesthetic?

            Judging from the majority of the posts from all the old codgers here, it sure seems that way. “If it doesn’t look like my old ____ , no thanks. It ain’t a real motorcycle.”

            Yeah, well, that thing on which we’re reading this website and clacking out our responses doesn’t look like our old transistor radio, either. Neither does that big SUV the majority of Americans are driving these days look anything like their old Chevy.

            And that’s okay. It really is.

  8. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Why would anybody want to sit on a compound curve tilted wedgie, with no where to shift backward to extend the days ride ?

    • VLJ says:

      There is plenty of available room for fore/aft movement. Most of the people who complain about the seat shape and seating position fall into one of two camps: either they’ve never ridden the bike, so they don’t know what they’re talking about, which represents the vast majority of the internet whiners, or they have ridden the bike and they’re very tall, in which case, yes, the leg room will be cramped.

      At a height of 5’9″, with a 29″ inseam, I rode the bike for many a 500-mile day. Not once did the angle of the seat ever smash my nuts against the tank, and I had plenty of room to move around on the surprisingly (judging solely from the pictures) flat seat.

      The bike is quite comfortable, as long as you’re not too tall. If you’re 6’0″ or shorter, especially if you don’t have a lengthy inseam, you’ll be fine. As in, all-day fine. Once you surpass about 6’1″, or a 32″ inseam, that low seat height combines with the mid-set pegs to lock your knees and hips into a less-than-ideal-for-sport-touring bend. For those people, no, the Z900 would not be a great choice for all-day comfort. For shorter riders, however, that ripping little Kawi is wildly underrated as a useful, every-day all-arounder.

  9. todd says:

    I don’t get why people complain about the stock tires that a bike is shipped with. You do realize they are replaceable for your favorite brand of choice…

    My 690 Duke came with Metzlers that only lasted 3 months, including the 600 break-in, half-throttle miles; a total of just less than 2,900 miles down to the cords all around the carcass. If I was going to judge a bike based on the first few months of riding on temporary equipment, that would be terribly short sighted. I replaced the lousy Metzlers with Shinkos and have experienced better grip for the last 4,000 miles, not sure when they’ll wear out but it was (less) money well spent.

    • Blitz says:

      Ha! Same experience. Metzelers were toast at 3,500 miles. Bought a second set. Same story. Bought Shinkos, and the first set went 7K miles but could not tell the difference in handling from the Metzelers. Might try Michelin Pilot CT2 – put a set on my daughter’s 790 Duke. Those seemed to last even longer (but different bike).

    • Dave says:

      People complain about bad stock tires because if they’re not good, you’re riding a few thousand miles on bad tires or your acquisition cost is several hundred dollars higher than the bike’s price.

      And 2,900 miles down to the chords? Really? You’re either doing burnouts or you should report them to DOT and CPSC because those tires are so defective they’re recall worthy. I’ve never had Metzlers OE but I’ve had 3 sets installed on bikes and they’ve all been excellent (Metzler & Pirelli are nearly the same, effectively the same company).

      • fred says:

        Agree with your first paragraph.

        My re-entry motorcycle was a 2006 SV650. Put almost 10k on the OEM Dunlops, and never developed confidence it the bike. Because of all the reviews about the SV’s wonderful handling, I figured it was just me. I finally made a deal for a different ride, and put new Michelins on the SV before I sold it. What a difference! Never would have got rid of the SV if I’d had the Pilots on it sooner. It is unconscionable IMHO for the mfg’s to put crappy tires on their bikes.

        • mickey says:

          Same experience on my FJR. I thought there was something wrong with the bike. Was regretting my purchase. At 6400 miles (6 weeks into ownership) I replaced the stock 023 Bridgestones with some Michelin PR4GT’s and it handled like a different motorcycle. What a difference a quality tire makes.

          • Motoman says:

            “At 6400 miles (6 weeks into ownership)”…. Geez mickey…. I guess you don’t get out to ride much! 🙂

          • mickey says:

            yea Motoman, that was a typo I didn’t catch, it was 6 months into ownership (not 6 weeks lol), but I do ride a fair amount. Average 25,000 miles and 300 days a year split between a couple of motorcycles. That FJR is now 2 years old and has 32,000 miles. My CB1100 just turned over 54,000 miles. I have missed 11 days riding so far this year,(3 of those last week while getting injections in my knees) mostly to medical issues. DON’T GET OLD!

          • Motoman says:

            Thought I remembered you do ride quite a bit mickey. Still way more than most ride in six months! I’m sixty myself and just had my right knee worked on. Just one of many injuries over the years that catch up eventually. I lived in CA for 23 years until 2012 when we moved to the Midwest to be near aging family. We’re in the process of heading back. My mileage will go up again 😎

        • ScotocS says:

          My 2005 Kawi ZZR600, as delivered, was a handling nightmare. Some of that was terrible suspension settings that made the thing want to stand up and go wide in every sort of corner imaginable, and the rest was due to the Dunslop tires that seemed designed to create as little friction as possible (and were poorly shaped as well).

          After being frustrated for the first few weeks of ownership (this was my first new bike after a Rebel, a 454LTD, and a Ninja 250), I rode a friend’s ZX636 and was blown away. I set out to replace the tires and learn about suspension settings. Had a Pilot Power put on front and a Pilot Road in the rear and got the suspension properly set up and it was like I was on a completely different machine. The Power in front felt five times grippier than the stock tires and also helped the bike handle more cleanly.

          The way that bike came out of the factory and/or dealer was downright dangerous.

  10. Jim says:

    That’s as much of a “Wish I was a Superduke” as anything I’ve seen lately.

  11. TP says:

    Nah, it’s not an attractive bike. I love UJM fours though. Being a Kawasaki, it’s probably fun to ride and I might just get one for that reason

  12. Gary says:

    Not a fan of the styling, but it seems like a solid bike. Kawi is on a roll.

  13. Neil says:

    sitting against the tank on the flat park of the seat is not comfortable and the back of the seat is not either AND the high seat is not either THE END

  14. John Bryan says:

    I find the Sugomi styling very unattractive, but it would be tolerable if Kawasaki offered an optional rear subframe with a plain, flat seat. I guess the RS model is more my style – though as slow as I typically ride I’d be fine with a Z400RS if they ever offer one here in the US. Nice to see Kawasaki making all the good tech available on what, in today’s market, is a bargain bike. Do like the green frame though!

    • ScotocS says:

      Rumors of a 2021 Z650RS at least have appeared recently. I recently got to try out a 2018 Ninja 650 and I thought the engine and chassis hit a nice sweet spot (not as high strung as the 400 and not as brutish as the 900) but would be even better in a Z-RS.

      • Fred says:

        I was thinking that a Z400RS would be cool, but a Z650RS would be amazing. IF they didn’t retune/detune the engine, and if they kept the price down.
        I realize the 900 RS is more expensive due to the country of origin and the level of fit and finish, but in the smaller models it would be a hard sell with a big price gap.

    • VLJ says:

      No manufacturer offers optional subframes with plain, flat seats for their stepped-seat sportbikes or sporting standards. There is no point in holding out for such a thing. It’s never going to happen.

      • fred says:

        Never is a long time. In my short 40 years, I’ve seen a lot of things that never were going to happen, or were never going to happen again, wind up being reality.
        IMHO, it is quite reasonable to think that practical, ergonomic seating for motorcycles will return.

        • VLJ says:

          They already have returned. Witness the Z900RS, the entire Bonneville line, the WX800, the Royal Enfields, etc.

          What will never happen is for a manufacture to offer two distinct subframes with flat seats as a factory option on their stepped-seat, higher-performance sportbikes.

          Never happened, and never will.

  15. fred says:

    The Z900 seems like a really good bike. Still don’t like the insect face and stink-bug tail, however. I have a couple of Kwakers in the garage, and like their current offerings better that the options from most other manufacturers.

  16. Jose Luis says:

    I like

  17. ScotocS says:

    Interested in whether the electronics are really worth writing home about. Does “Sport” mode actual induce quicker throttle response than “Road?” How does “Rain” actually feel, does it reduce the fueling cutoff / snatchiness? And if you get a chance, try the “Rider” mode with the TC turned completely off. I kind of wish it had even more, like an up/down quickshifter and cruise control, but $9K is aggressive.

    Do you feel the need for the taller seat? If you wear a backpack does the passenger seat get in the way? Are the bars too close, or too high (and on this bike is the handlebar something you can rotate a bit to change the angle of — I was able to do that on an FZ6R and found it to my liking)?

    If you get the chance to test the bike on wet roads I’d be interested in hearing how the tires held up.

    Do you get any brake fade, or pogo-sticking of the front or rear suspension (hopefully you get a chance to adjust the settings a bit).

    Thanks

  18. Hambone says:

    I’m a big fan of Kawasaki standards. My last standard was a green ZRX-1200R Model. I really want to like this bike but as shown it just looks plain. I’d love to see this in old Kawi green or GPZ red.