The Z900 is just what we needed from Kawasaki. Power with a chassis to match... Review by Jeff Ware, Images by Kris Hodgson, Jeff Ware
Very early this year I tested the new Kawasaki Z650 and it was after a day of hooning and grinning ear to ear that I started to have dirty thoughts about the big cc Z900 version of the on-rails Z weapon.
I’ve always liked the pure muscle of the Z1000 engine but never been a total fan of the chassis. The Z650, however, proved to me that when Kawasaki want to, they can still build a seriously good handling nakedbike. The Z900 is it…
I then spent a few months chomping at the bit waiting to ride the new Z9 and when I got the call from Kawasaki, I couldn’t get down to Team Green HQ fast enough. First of all, the bike is stunning to look at. The lightweight 13kg trellis style frame, highlighted in green, is just the coolest thing, the way it proudly shows off the 948cc compact inline four donk like a proper nakedbike, is pure eye candy.
The sub-frame is exposed, too, and the frame plates look great. Even the exhaust headers snake around the front of the engine in a cool way…
The pinstriped wheels and petal rotors set the look off, along with the narrow and low stance and centrally mounted LCD dash. Overall the Z900 really is easy on the eye and for me the best looking nakedbike Kawasaki has made for a long, long time.
On paper the Z900 is a good package. Lightweight at 210kg wet, 1450mm wheelbase with 24.5º rake and 103mm trail, a low seat height at just 795mm, a good brake and suspension package and an impressive 125 ponies with 99Nm of torque. No fancy electronics, just a proper fun bike… I like that.
The Ride – 2017 Kawasaki Z900
After the walk around at Kawasaki HQ, where the compactness of the Z9 struck me, I jump on and fire it up. The inline four idles away at a rapid but silky smooth rpm before the temp rises and it settles into a slightly passive aggressive rumble. It’s being friendly but has some deep down anger!
Sitting on the slim, narrow feeling bike, I actually do a double take to make sure I’m not on the Z650. Nope. OK, so it is a small bike. The seat is low, the ‘bars are level in reach and close, with a fair bend at my elbow and the footpegs are high. Well, the seat-to-peg distance is insanely tight. The Chassis score would have been a 10 otherwise, making this our first ever 10 score test bike.
I feel I’m sitting in the Z900 rather than on it, which I prefer on any motorcycle, and the centrally bar mounted dash is small and gives an open free feeling ahead, like a proper streetfighter does. A few blips on the light throttle reveal a quick revving engine with a nice bark from the muffler and an induction growl from under the tank.
If there is one thing Kawasaki have always done better than the others, and this goes back to the first ZXR750s and ZX9Rs, is make intake growls that get the heart pumping… the stacked intake funnels ensure that on the Z900…
The clutch lever is ultra lightweight thanks to the three-spring slipper clutch. I select first gear, no clunk, and motor on out of Kwaka HQ. The next 35km of suburban peak hour is a blast. The bike is so smooth, so eager and the gearbox is super slick. No quickshifter but to be honest, I’m not a big fan of them, and with a gearbox this sweet it is more fun shifting the old way up and down the gearbox.
Acceleration is eager and fun with short gears right through to top, which is more of an overdrive for freeway cruising. Fuelling is fantastic and there is no throttle snatch or dips or glitches throughout the rev range. The engine pulls from low rpm yet has a purposeful top end and meaty torque. There are no vibes at all; the engine revs with the urgency of a motor with a lightweight crank yet benefits from the balance shaft. The result is almost zero buzz.
Small 36mm throttle-bodies help that mid-range mumbo but there is no shortage of air velocity when the revs, and the intake howl, heads towards 10,000rpm. Between red lights, I’m finding it addictive and grin inducing. And did I mention the gearbox? Man, what a sweet gearbox!
I find the dash OK to read, the tacho numbers are small and the tacho moves quickly, the speed is a little hard to see with sun on the dash but fine otherwise and there are three display settings to choose from… However, the mirrors are good and vibe free and the switchgear is basic and easy… Also, the seat is comfortable…
Battling the traffic on the Z900 makes my otherwise mundane commute more exciting and as I get away from town and hit the twisties I’m feeling invigorated after a long day travelling around Sydney to various meetings.
The Z900 steers so sweetly, with geometry that borders on conservative yet gives a taste of sports performance… it’s a bit of a teaser… and as I push on is offering the performance dynamic that gives me enough to keep pushing hard and grinning, while not turning a fun blast into a battle of skill like a full blown performance naked would. Kawasaki really have got the balance between sports, naked and universal capability spot on with the Z900, more so than any bike in class I have ridden, or at least remember riding!
As I carve from corner to corner on smooth, grippy, hotmix the Z900 feels like a 250. The 180-section rear tyre helps agility, along with the low riding position and centrally located mass. It is effortless flicking the bike left to right over and over, running the bike fast into turns, the slipper clutch limiting engine braking from the 11.8:1 compression ratio and decent ground clearance allowing fast corner speed.
The brakes, also, impress me as I reach the hairpins. The rotors are only 300mm and the four-piston calipers are conventional, however, the ABS system is predictive and works well, and there is plenty of feel and power at the lever. I’m impressed with the brakes, both front and rear.
The shock and forks give good support on the smooth stuff but as I reach the really bumpy faster sections, I expect the handling to head south. It doesn’t. The Z900 remains stable yet nimble and sure-footed. The 41mm inverted forks soak up the bumps admirably and even handle hard braking into turns.
The basic suspension is well sorted over a very wide range of conditions and although the limits are found when pushed hard for the price point and level the suspenders do an outstanding job. The front-end of the Z900 doesn’t give ZX-10R feedback and feel but I wouldn’t expect it to. It does, however, communicate enough feedback to keep me out of trouble while still pushing on, so a good overall package up front.
Ground clearance, as mentioned, is good, not like on the old Z1000, which scraped at the site of a corner. My toes are gently touching down from turn to turn, giving me more info and feedback on where the Dunlop hoops are…
At the end of a few runs, I was really impressed with the bike. Over the next few weeks, I used it as a daily ride and a mountain scratcher and it impressed the entire time. It is fun, really good on fuel, light and easy to ride, the headlight is tops and it comes at a very competitive price. If you are keen to get on a large capacity naked, head to your local Kawasaki dealer and try a Z900…
Second Opinion: 2017 Kawasaki Z900 – Kris Hodgson
While we had the Kawasaki Z900 I got the chance to have a quick ride and was immediately impressed with the offering, offering a very different experience to my time on the previous Z800 and Z1000 models, both of which I rate highly. The Z900 is both more radically styled and more restrained, with a stunning green frame on the model tested, and looks and feels much more petite than the bulkier 800 and 1000, without the polarising front-end. It’s still cool, but I think it’ll appeal to a wider audience.
A quick revving 948cc in-line four feels snappier and more torquey, it’s still smooth but it’s more aggressive with the delivery of that power, with more character than the previous 800 and 1000. The bike itself is 210kg wet and feels solid, but more nimble, and there’s a really strong sports aspect to the overall package.
The bike feels like a 250cc four ergnomics wise, with a compact but not cramped seating and ‘peg position, with a natural reach to the ‘bars. At 180cm it was easy to lock into the bike and crouching down and forward and moving my weight around felt like the bike had been made for me.
Handling is razor sharp, with super smooth corner entry thanks to a slipper clutch, that allows a really aggressive riding style, bringing out the most fun possible. Four-piston calipers on the front offer ample stopping power, and naturally ABS is standard.
Overall the Z900 just oozes character. Where the Z800 and Z1000 are great machines the Z900 makes them (and many other offerings) seem boring in comparison. It’s an ideal hoon machine and perfect canyon carver as the Americans would put it.
Kawasaki are right on the money with the Z900, finish quality is great, styling is awesome in my opinion and it’s a significantly more European feeling offering in many ways and $12,499 RRP + ORC is extremely competitive pricing.
2017 Kawasaki Z900 Tech Talk
Kawasaki’s Z900 features a liquid-cooled 948cc in-line four-cylinder four-stroke 16-valve powerplant, with a bore and stroke of 73.4 x 56mm. Downdraft throttle-bodies are used, with a 36mm throttle bore and sub-throttles, for sensitive throttle response and good low speed and small throttle opening response.
Intake and exhaust valves are 29mm and 24mm respectively, with cast pistons manufactured with the same technique and materials used in the H2R, while cylinders are die-cast and feature an open-deck design. A lightweight crankshaft ensures a quick revving character, with a secondary balancer eliminating excess vibration.
Intake funnels are 50mm for the outer pair and 150mm for the inner pair, helping deliver both performance and a strong intake sound or ‘howl’ on aggressive throttle openings and acceleration.
Short gear ratios from first to fifth and a sixth gear overdrive ensure a strong and punchy mid-range, without losing highway cruising capability. An assist and slipper clutch is also featured.
An all new high-tensile steel trellis frame weighs in at just 13.5kg, and uses five rigid-mount points with the engine as a stressed member. An extruded aluminium swingarm weighs just 3.9kg and the sub-frame is a twin-tube design, which like the frame itself has been designed to follow straight lines, with as small bend angles as possible, for optimised stress dispersal.
41mm USD forks include stepless rebound damping and preload adjustability via the left fork cap, while the rear shock is a monoshock with linkage above the swingarm to reduce heat transfer from the exhaust, and features rebound and preload adjustability.
Brakes are four-piston calipers with resin brake pads on the front, with 300mm petal rotors, while the rear is a 250mm petal rotor with single-piston caliper. ABS is standard thanks to a Nissin unit.
A 795mm seat height offers an easy reach to the ground, with the footpeg, seat to handlebar ergonomics designed to offer a sport-naked feel.
A stacked dash is also featured, with an LCD central screen, surrounded by an analogue-style tachometer, while the Kawasaki ‘Economical Riding Indicator’ lets you know when you’re not using enough throttle and having enough fun.
Other features include a Z-pattern LED taillight, luggage hooks built into the passenger footpeg stays, a carbon-fibre style lower dash cover, and lightweight five-spoke wheels.
2017 Kawasaki Z900 Specifications
Price:$12,499 + ORC
Warranty: Two years/unlimited kilometre
Colours: Pearl Mystic Gray with Metallic Flat Spark Black, Candy Persimmon Red with Metallic Spark Black
Claimed power: 92kW [125hp]@9500rpm
Claimed torque: 99Nm@7700rpm
Wet weight: 210kg
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC inline four-cylinder, 16-valve four stroke, bore and stroke: 73.4 x 56mm, displacement: 948cc, compression ratio: 11.8:1, four 36mm Keihin oval throttle-bodies, with oval sub-throttles
Gearbox: Six speed
Clutch: Wet multi-disc
Final ratio: 15/44
Final drive: Sealed chain
Chassis: Trellis, high-tensile steel
Rake: 24.5 degrees
Suspension: 41mm inverted fork with rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, 120mm travel, Horizontal Back-link with rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, 140mm travel
Brakes: ABS, Dual semi-floating 300mm petal rotors, dual opposed four-piston calipers, single 250mm rear petal rotor, single piston caliper
Wheels & Tyres: Five-spoke wheels, 120/70 ZR17 (58W), 180/55 ZR 17 (73W)
Ground clearance: 130mm
Seat height: 795mm
Overall height: 1065mm
Overall length: 2065mm
Overall width: 825mm
Instruments: Digital multifunction display