There isn’t a huge amount wrong with the standard Kawasaki suspension. Up front, the 41mm units are fully adjustable, and the rear shock has preload and rebound adjustment.
For 80% of riders, for 80% of the time, it will be faultless. However, I fall outside that window. I’m in the ‘odd’ 20% who’ll ride hard on the road and venture out on occasional trackdays. I’ve even raced my Zed in the recent Bike Shed-organised Café Cup. This is why I turned to K-Tech for some more control.
The standard Dunlops aren't up for spirited riding
Increased speed also puts too much pressure on the brakes, which feel a little lacking. They need more bite and struggle to haul the Zed down from high speeds. The standard Dunlops aren’t really up for a spirited ride either. They are also on the list for a change to something sportier.
The nose cone is all design over function. Wide bars exaggerate the feeling of the wind tugging at your jacket’s seams every time you let the speed build.
This is more than just a Z900 with flares, because there’s even more going on under the skin. Kawasaki have bolstered low to midrange power for everyday riding, which is at the expense of the standard bike’s top end clout, but the reality is you never miss it in the real world. First gear is shortened and the exhaust is tuned for bass-laden ear destruction, as well as grunt.
Even on tickover it sounds period, giving the impression it’s running on carbs, not slick fuel injection. The Z900RS Café Racer’s character floods through within a few miles of riding. A baritone-deep, gurgling airbox roar and throaty exhaust growl accompanies every degree of throttle, but despite the aural drama there are few vibes from the Kawasaki’s grunt-packed 109bhp 948cc inline four-cylinder engine.
Sixth gear is all you need in everyday conditions, unless you’re pulling away from junctions. A combination of deep torque and short lower gear ratios let the Kawasaki pull smartly in top from a little as 20mph.
There's no lack of speed in the Zed's armoury
There’s no lack of speed in the Zed’s armoury either and with the traction control turned off it will do the kind of Evel Knievel wheelies the Z1 could only dream of back in the 70s. The slip and assist clutch, gearbox and twistgrip are all beautifully light and easy to operate, but the power delivery is aggressive from a closed throttle, which makes tackling tight corners and slow riding tiresome.
A smooth inline four motor like the Zed’s will never have the same kind of earthy character as the Z900RS’s twin and three-cylinder rivals such as the BMW R nineT and Triumph Thruxton, but it makes up for it with apocalyptic exhaust raw on the throttle and a blood-spitting gurgle on the overrun.
There's 109bhp available, and there’s certainly some bark to the Café RS, and real bite at 7000rpm. The lack of fairing gives a greater sensation of speed and it’s hard work holding on above 100mph (not that most will ever try).
A big Zeds is as bulletproof as a tank and the attention to detail here borders on the obsessive. The Z900RS Café is more like a one-off special than a high volume production bike. On our ride, there were multiple occasions where the bike jumped out of gear, though. Check out the video here.
Kawasaki say they’re gunning for the similarly priced BMW R nineT Racer, but the Z900RS Café Racer has to face a raft of retro rivals. With its impressive blend of performance and disco-cool Z1 style, it could easily beat the lot of them.
The naked straight-barred Z1 lookalike Z900RS variant was released in January 2018 and in MCN tests it had beaten the Triumph’s Thruxton and BMW R nineT Pure and that’s no mean feat. But sometimes, when a manufacture decides to cafe racer-ise a bike, by throwing on a nose fairing and fitting droopy bars, like Kawasaki have done here, it can be a disaster.
Take BMW's R nineT Racer. It’s one of the most beautiful-looking machines on sale and is a blast to ride, but its bars stretch-out like a medieval torture rack. A couple of dozen miles draped over it, like Superman, leaves you dreaming about jumping on the nearest bus home.
You can see more of the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe's rivals in this video.
There’s little sign that this bike is built down to a price, except from the cheap-looking rear disc and speed sensor ring. But the nostalgia comes from the nose fairing, which looks like a bigger version of an old AR80’s. It’s the same colour, but unlike the old 10bhp missile the Z900RS Café Racer doesn’t have chunky green foam grips…
There’s a cacophony of Z1-inspired detail too, from the ducktail back end and oval rear light, to the machined engine fins, textured metal tank and side panel badges, replica cam covers and clocks, which use the same typeface and needle shape (resting at the same angle at zero) as the originals. It’s almost nerdy.
Step back and you’ll see how the new upper frame shape allows the seat and slim, pear drop-shaped fuel tank (which extends down, behind the side panels) to be placed horizontally, like the ’72 machine and from above the Z900RS has the same slinky ‘hour-glass’ shape.
The attention to detail is almost nerdy
Kawasaki have cleverly made crisp rear LED lights glow like a 70s light bulb, the orange tank stripe wraps around the front of the tank and meets around the front in a Z-shaped bow and the Euro-spec speedo on our test bike goes up to 240km/h, just like the original.
Everything from the Z900RS’s chest puffing riding position, to the view down to the bars and the unholy growl it makes with a fist full of throttle, can’t help but make you feel good.
Modern day niceties like the multifunction display between the analogue dials, the easy-to-use switchgear, traction control and skin-saving ABS all give the Z900RS a safe, practical edge and as you’d expect there’s a raft of Kawasaki goodies available, too, from crash protection, to grab rails and heated grips.