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2020 Kawasaki Z900: MD Ride Review, Final Report

It has been a few months since we picked up our Z900 test bike from Kawasaki and published our first impressions. It should be noted that the 2021 Z900 has been introduced, but it is unchanged from the 2020 model we tested, and still priced at $8,999. New color schemes are available for 2021, one of which is pictured below.

The Z900 from Kawasaki has, arguably, been the performance naked bike bargain for several years. At a tick under $9,000, the value proposition is almost off the charts when you consider the engine performance and handling. The changes introduced for 2020 only enhance the value and the appeal of the Z900.

Those changes, discussed in greater detail in earlier articles, include a strengthened frame (particularly in the swingarm pivot area), revised suspension settings front and rear, new electronic rider aids (traction control and selectable riding modes) and new styling. As we mentioned in our first impressions, the Z900 also received new tires in the form of Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2.

The engine is still the smooth, potent 948cc inline four, and it is a peach. Lots of low-end torque with a broad, linear power delivery that peaks at just over 110 horsepower at the rear wheel. Throttle response is smooth.

One of the 2021 color schemes available.

The six-speed transmission never skipped a beat during our testing – easy, positive gear changes were the norm. The only thing missing is a clutchless quick-shifter, a feature now commonly found on other sporty nakeds.

The riding position is perhaps a bit more aggressive than some competing nakeds, i.e., slightly more forward lean to the bars, and slightly higher, more rearward footpeg position. Nevertheless, on rides lasting up to 2 hours we found the Z900 reasonably comfortable. Vibration through the pegs and grips is also well controlled.

To keep the price this low, Kawasaki offers a fork and shock without compression damping adjustment. The revised tuning of these for 2020, however, provides a good baseline, and we found a good set-up for our 200 pound, experienced test rider by setting the front rebound damping at 3 clicks out and the rear rebound damping at 1-1/4 out from full hard. If you are just cruising around, you can let the suspension rebound a bit quicker for a more plush feel. Overall, we were very pleased with the suspension action.

One of the things we really like about the Z900 is the steel, trellis frame that aids in feedback to the rider from the tire contact patches. It also looks good. As we mentioned, Kawasaki revised this frame for 2020 by making it stronger, particularly in the swingarm pivot area.

That frame, and the bike’s geometry, provide excellent stability with very nimble steering on twisty roads. Budget bike, or not, the attention Kawasaki paid to this frame and suspension this year make this bike a very capable sport ride out of the box. Chassis geometry, frame stiffness and weight distribution are very good on this bike, and reflect careful engineering and testing by Kawasaki.

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35 Comments

  1. Doug says:

    Kawasaki & Suzuki offer great bikes at prices I can approach. Very happy with my current version GSX-S750. Engine delivers more than enough for me. My insurance costs are much more affordable versus the larger bike I was riding.

  2. Businessvor says:

    consists of the book itself

  3. Dan says:

    The newest Tracer is almost $15K

    • Tom R says:

      Yes, it jumped $2000 from the previous version. Can anyone tell us what Yamaha did to it to justify this increase?

      • Gary says:

        You must mean the MT09, not the Tracer, which competes directly with the Z900. The MT has greatly enhanced display and electronics, including cruise control. The SP version of the MT also has upgraded shocks/forks.

        • Motoman says:

          “The 2021 Yamaha MT-09 SP will arrive at authorized Yamaha dealers beginning in January and will be available in the exclusive Raven/Liquid Metal color scheme for $10,999 MSRP.”

  4. randy says:

    Would it kill Kawasaki to offer a single color like Red or Kawi green or blue?? Some of the colors offered are horrible. The 2021 with green wheels is bad.

  5. motomike says:

    Wow, VLJ, I couldn’t tell if that was a snarky bash on the bashers or a over-the-top whole hearted praising of the Z900! Either way, nice writing!

    • Anyone who has ridden a steel-framed Kawi from the last 5 years or so (I own two of them) knows what he is talking about. Kawi has cracked the code for great performing inexpensive bikes in the sub-zx lineup.

    • Tom R says:

      I hope that VLJ can come out of his shell soon, and really express himself.

  6. bmbktmracer says:

    I don’t like multi-part reviews. I no longer remember what was in the first one. I’d think the second one might mention MPG, since you’ve had the bike for months now. Was that in the first article? As for the bike itself, I’m going to holdout until the tail section reaches shoulder height; looks too low to me. hahaha

    • TimC says:

      Breadcrumbs to the other parts are so…the rest of the internet

      Hey Dirck – this is a good point. I second the suggestion. Breadcrumbs backward and forward would be um heap helpful.

    • Motoman says:

      I like the two-part format. Initial impressions after a quick ride, then more detail after some time with the bike. And there is always reference and a link to part one.

      It reminds me of my own experience as I have picked up a new bike over the years.

  7. Mick says:

    If the industry is going to continue with these ridiculous tail sections. They could at least make accessory luggage racks to replace the inevitable weird assemblage that serves as mud guard, license plate holder and blinker mount.

    Of course the owners are supposed to “tidy” these tails. But do that and the rear tire will pump water and road grime all over the rider when it’s wet.

    It really surprises me to see so much form over function on so many bikes. Even on traditionally utilitarian models. Why are these tail sections suddenly so important that all weather function needs to take a back seat to them?

    • VLJ says:

      Buyers of this style of bike aren’t looking to add milk crates or luggage racks. This is a comfortable sport bike, not a tourer, ADV, sport-tourer, or UJM.

      I agree that there was no need for that extra kink in the rear subframe, jacking the passenger seat sky high. Were it up to me, they would have continued the subframe at the same angle, all the way through.

      • randy says:

        Have you ever felt the rear seat on a Z900? Wood is softer.

        • VLJ says:

          Who cares? It’s a vinyl-covered tampon. It’s only there for looks.

          Seriously, who cares? No one buys a Z900 for passenger comfort, or overall utility.

      • Mick says:

        Oh please. It’s a fairly large displacement street bike that costs less that a front line dirt bike. It has something that is about the shape and size of a luggage rack that has no utility at all.

        The only reason it isn’t a sport tourer or UMJ is that all its practicality has been shot, stabbed, chocked, poisined, karate chopped, given a withering look, dragged out into the desert, and burned just to achieve some goofy anesthetic that requires an afterthought assemblage of parts to achieve. An assemblage that makes the asthetic look ridiculous to boot.

        No amount of gushing about how wonderful the thing is is going to make the rear end look less ridiculous. It’s the motorcycle equivalent of all those kids walking around with their pants pulled halfway down about half a decade or so ago.

  8. mickey says:

    Ugly but no doubt a crackin’ good deal. Everyone I have talked to that owns one, just loves them.

    • VLJ says:

      Putting aside its looks and the fact that it’s not a Honda, it’s the perfect sportbike for YOU. You would love its low seat height and seating position, which is every bit as comfortable as your CB1100 for your body type. For street riding, it has one of the best liter-sized I4s ever created. It is NOT peaky. It has a nearly dead-linear powerband, just the way you like it. Plenty of torque everywhere on the throttle, in any gear. The intake growl sounds cool as hell.

      No, you won’t find yourself riding it around at 2,000 RPM, the way you do on your CB1100, but so what? It isn’t designed to be ridden at that RPM. You will adjust to the difference, immediately.

      It’s not like the R1200R you rode in Europe. It doesn’t complain at very low RPM. The motor is just like your CB’s motor, only smoother in most places, and there is simply so much more surge everywhere on the tach.

      Its diminutive size belies the fact that it’s a liter I4. Pushing it around the garage, you’ll think it’s a 600. The only thing that negates its 600-ness is the width of the tank. It is a bit wide between your knees, but as someone who puts as many miles on bikes as you do each year, you’ll quickly come to appreciate the wind protection afforded by that tall, wide tank. Because you sit down in the bike rather than on top of it, the combination of that large tank and the vestigial windscreen atop the instrument cluster affords you a surprising degree of wind protection, and it’s all smooth, clean air.

      No ugly, noisy windshields necessary.

      Also, its 4.5-gallon tank (almost the same as your CB) offers acceptable fuel range, especially at the leisurely pace you prefer to ride. Moreover, the suspension is smooth and plush enough that you will be willing and able to burn through that entire tank in a single sitting. Mix in some proper twisties, and you’ll wonder why you ever put so much negative emphasis on the Z’s physical appearance.

      Truly, you soon won’t care. Not from the saddle, anyway, and that’s where you spend the vast majority of your moto time. You aren’t a coffee-shop poseur. What matters to you is that your bike works, and continues to work.

      The only real negative I see with this bike for you is its lack of luggage accommodations. Short of going the Ventura Luggage route, there really isn’t much on the back end of the bike to help you tie down soft bags.

      Oh, well. That’s why you have the FJR and CB1100.

      I know you’re thinking of downsizing. Smaller, shorter, lighter. More manageable, overall. You still want Major Motor, though, and preferably in a smooth, torquey, liter-class I4. Japanese-built, affordable, with a solid dealer network, those are all big-time pluses in your book.

      This is it. This is the one for you. Even more so than the Z900RS, in fact, since that bike is fake retro, which you loathe, plus it only offers eight more rwhp than your CB while having a much taller seat height.

      For you, the Z900 is the better fit. Lighter, smaller, far more powerful, much lower seat height, and no twitchy/glitchy throttle. Much less expensive, too.

      • TimC says:

        You lost me at “for YOU.” Low seat heights are for people lots shorter than me. Honestly this stampede to sell a few more bikes to the “got no reason to live” crowd has resulted in terrible ergonomics for most riders.

        • VLJ says:

          I know, and I get that, and that’s why I addressed those points specifically to mickey. I know how much he struggles with the tall seat heights of most sportbikes, and lately he’s been looking for something smaller and lighter.

          He still loves his big I4s, though.

          Look on the bright side. You have an entire niche full of ginormously tall, top-heavy ADVs all to yourself. I’m sure mickey would have loved to consider any number of ADVs down through the years, the Africa Twin in particular, but he says they’re simply too tall for him.

          I’m right there with him. I can manage a 1250 GSA, but I wouldn’t want to have to deal with it every day.

          Until manufacturers start making truly modular motorcycles with a WIDE range of ergonomic adjustment, as is the case with cars, very short and very tall riders are going to continue to gripe about the limited market.

          It is what it is.

          • mickey says:

            Tim C, there has certainly not been a “stampede” by the manufacturers to make bikes that will fit guys with short inseams. The bikes that are not cruisers (ie: sport bikes, standards, sport tourers or tourers) with seat heights of 30″-31″ can be counted on 1 hand, maybe a couple of fingers. Then again the bikes with 32″-33″ seat heights are so numerous as to be considered the norm. I’ll bet you can find more bikes with 34″ seat heights than you can find with 30″ seat heights.

            So mfg’s make most bikes to fit the 5’9″ -5’11” dudes with 32-33″ inseams and those of us on either end of that scale get to complain that they don’t make bikes for us.

            Same goes with suspension..how do you make suspensions for those that weight 150# and those that weigh 250# ..those that just ride, those that tour and those that think every ride has to be a road race up some canyon? Those that ride single and those that ride 2 up?

            hence the aftermarket …..

        • Kermit T Frog says:

          You lost me at your “You lost me” crap…Whatever, tough guy.

  9. Neil Devine says:

    Rider triangle is wrong. Body needs to be parallel to lower legs. The high tails on these slide the rider into the tank, just like the FZ09 and if you hug the tank low, like they want you to, it crushes the boyz. I would have bars even lower or the reach to the bars longer. I could not feel comfortable on either the stock nor the high seat. Technically it’s a hit.

    • todd says:

      Ergonomics, except for the issue of the sloped seat, look spot on to me for comfort.

    • VLJ says:

      This oft-repeated claim that the Z900’s seating position crushes the rider’s nuts is pure internet myth. I rode the thing on many a 500-mile day in blistering cold and blazing heat, over mountains, across deserts, all up and down the California coastline as well as in city and freeway stop-and-go-traffic, and neither the seat nor the seating position ever caused undue discomfort.

      Sure, it’s not a Gold Wing or R1200RT. There isn’t a lot of leg room, but that’s only an issue if you have long legs. Riders who are 6’0″ and under, especially those with relatively short inseams, come to appreciate that low seat height. Also, the shorter the rider, the more upright the seating position will be. The main portion of the seat is almost dead flat, so it does NOT push you forward into the tank. If your legs are long enough to push you back into the slightly raised portion at the rear of the seat, then your crotch is nowhere near the tank.

      Regardless, as long as you’re not well north of 6’0″, you’re fine.

      Oh, and no, a rider’s body does not need to be parallel to the lower legs. That’s absurd. There are countless bikes that manage perfectly well without such a seating position. There is certainly nothing wrong with that seating position, obviously. It’s usually quite comfortable, as long as it’s fairly upright, but it is absolutely not mandatory.

      Ride the thing for yourself. You’ll see. As long as you’re not comparing it to touring/ADV bikes, or cruisers, you’ll be fine. In fact, an hour or two into the ride you’ll be surprised by how little attention you paid to the seat, the seating position, and your overall comfort.

      As naked standards go, especially sporty naked standards, the Z900 is plenty comfortable…for people who aren’t too tall.

  10. Neal says:

    If you want a refined, comfortable, and powerful sportbike, this is where the smart money is. I had a Z800 and it was a fantastic bike, the Z900 improves on it in every way. You don’t look at it when you’re on it.

    • MacSpoone says:

      This right here.
      My daily is a Z800, and aside from a Bagster seat for the spousal unit’s comfort on 2-up rides, it’s just a plainly excellent bike. I’ve done 500 miles, easy, with no notice of crushing the fella’s, though breaks every 100 miles or so is always a good idea (besides, wife has to pee, eventually)

  11. fred says:

    I really like the Z900. For looks, fit, and finish, my preferences run towards the Z900RS, but the Z900 wins the budget battle. There are lots of great bikes out there, and this is one of the best real-world bikes, IMHO.

  12. Buy this (with trellis!) instead of the new Monster and keep the change or farkle away..bulletproof

  13. Kermit T Frog says:

    If I were younger (a LOT younger 😉 ), this bike in the 2021 model year in black with red accents would be in my garage.

    The price is very reasonable and the bike is more than competent for the real world in which we all ride. Hey Guzzi?! Take note of the front brakeS on this Kawasaki because from what I understand it is similarly priced to both of your 2021 V7s.

    Yeah, I know it’s only got a 4.5 gallon tank but even taking that into account I could live in the real world with the Kawi. With ease. 🙂

    Cue the “ifonly” crowd. I need to find that “Fountain of Yoot”. 🙂