KAWASAKI Z900RS CAFE (2018 - on) Review

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Annual servicing cost: £80
Power: 109 bhp
Seat height: Medium (32.9 in / 835 mm)
Weight: Medium (474 lbs / 215 kg)

Prices

New £10,349
Used £7,400 - £10,200

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Kawasaki’s new Z900RS Café Racer is living up to its promise. So often a new bike looks the part, but doesn’t deliver either the styling, authenticity or riding engagement suggested through striking press images.

They tend to look stunning but handle like a wheelbarrow with a flat tyre, or have ‘Monet’ aesthetics (look great at a distance, and like a kid’s art project up close) but go like stink. The Z900RS Café Racer is the best of both worlds, looking and riding significantly better than I expected it might.

Adam Child admires the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

Even before throwing a leg over Kawasaki’s new Zed we're smiling. It’s a stunner. So often manufacturers try to copy historic designs and fall short. Kawasaki have hit the retro nail squarely on the head.

It's a blend of nostalgia and modernity

This Kawasaki Z900RS Café Racer is a beautiful blend of nostalgia and modernity. The classic Kawasaki green really looks the business, especially with that single headlight and 1970s throwback nose cowl.

Settle into the saddle and the journey back in time continues. The seat is wide, and surprisingly high. Chief Road Tester, Adam Child, is only 5ft 6in and he says it’s a stretch around the large fuel tank to the dropped bars. Chrome analogue clocks are a lovely touch, with only the modern switchgear detracting from the authenticity. Take a look at our first rides video review to see the Z900RS in action.

In September 2019, Kawasaki introduced new colours for the Z900RS Cafe for the 2020 model year. This design features a predominantly lime green livery, complete with a black stripe.

2020 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe livery

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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). 

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
5 out of 5 (5/5)

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.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Equipment

4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Specs

Engine size 948cc
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 16v, inline four
Frame type Tubular steel trellis
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Seat height 835mm
Bike weight 215kg
Front suspension 41mm forks fully-adjustable
Rear suspension Single rear shocks adjustable for preload and rebound damping
Front brake 2 x 300mm discs with four-piston monobloc radial caliper. ABS
Rear brake 250mm single disc with single-piston caliper
Front tyre size 180/55 x 17
Rear tyre size 120/70 x 17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption -
Annual road tax £93
Annual service cost £80
New price £10,349
Used price £7,400 - £10,200
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power 109 bhp
Max torque 73 ft-lb
Top speed 140 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

2018: Z900RS introduced alongside the café version. Both feature 1972 Z1-syling, more grunt than the standard Kawasaki Z900, traction control, monobloc calipers and a tuned exhaust note. The standard un-faired Zed gains flat bars, too.

MCN Long term test reports

MCN Fleet: Over 6000 miles and the love continues to flourish

MCN Fleet: Over 6000 miles and the love continues to flourish

What have we learned after 6000 miles on the café-style Kawasaki Z900RS? After trackdays, commutes and even a trip to the TT, MCN Senior Road Tester Adam Child reveals all. Read the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Racer review today 100 miles Even before throwing a leg over Kawasaki’s new Zed I’m smil

Read the latest report

Owners' reviews for the KAWASAKI Z900RS CAFE (2018 - on)

3 owners have reviewed their KAWASAKI Z900RS CAFE (2018 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your KAWASAKI Z900RS CAFE (2018 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Engine: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Value vs rivals: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Equipment: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Annual servicing cost: £80
5 out of 5 Simply a great bike
06 August 2020 by Dave Fulker

Year: 2019

My first 'big' bike, and I think I struck gold! Modern running gear and engine technology in a stylish package that very effectively echoes the beloved Z series from a generation ago and yet it stands alone as a credible roadster in it's own right. In the design there's an attention to detail that is seldom seen in bikes this at this price and in it's execution the whole riding experience is joyous. A bike I shall be keeping!

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

I'm 49 years old, 6'1" tall and weigh around 88kgs. The ergonomics are good with a slightly cantered forward riding position and my knees not tucked up at all. The bike works well on twisties, on the slower around town riding and on the main trunk roads. A good couple of hours in-between breaks is fine - it's not an 'all-day-long' tourer, but that doesn't mean you couldn't tour on it - you can and I have with no issues.

Engine 4 out of 5

It's got a very useable torque spread which entertains without being unpredictable, it sounds fantastic when pushed, even with the stock exhaust system. Overall the bike works well at cruising in the higher gears when gently touring and it works well when a bit more enthusiasm is applied - in this regard it's an extremely versatile machine. One slight irritant is that at low speed / rpm it's snatchy and difficult to perfect because - so I'm led to believe - emissions controls require a full fuel shut-off when coming completely off the throttle and I'm also told this is resolved by adding an O2 eliminator which has the effect smoothing out that initial throttle response. I'm yet to try this!

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

I have no complaints. Just under 4,000 miles travelled and every single one of them has been trouble free.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

A bit on the pricey side and service intervals, according to the manual at least seem very short at 3,600 mile although I've heard rumours across various forums that this has now been extended to 7,200 - which I'm yet to confirm.

Equipment 4 out of 5

The good first - The assist / slipper clutch is superb as are also the all around LED lights, good looking and functional dash, rider modes and the comfy seat are the highlights. The mirrors provide excellent rear visibility and being round look the part too, no need to swap them out! The headers are stainless steel wrapped and look fantastic on the Café the can is brushed steel which also looks good.The OEM tyres, a factory version of the Dunlop sportmax tyre, are poor to be honest and I'll be swapping them out imminently.I wish it had heated grips!I've added the following Evotech accessories - tail-tidy, brake & clutch levers and crash bungs and an SW-Motech tank bag.

Buying experience: Excellent, Greenham Kawasaki are an exemplar dealership!

5 out of 5 z900rs cafe GREEN
20 August 2019 by JOHNSON

Year: 2018

powerful smooth 948cc engine with smooth gear changes,light clutch. paint finish in lime green stands out.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

breaks are very good for standard riding. when slowing down from higher speeds breaks need a bit more.

Engine 5 out of 5

plenty enough power.pulls from low down. 5000 to 8000 rpm has a kick.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

just done 1000 miles.no problems.had to adjust idling after 1st service.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5

riding modes can be switched off.fitted engine bars for old school look.

Buying experience: £500 off list price.BARGAIN!

5 out of 5 Latest in a long line of lime green meanies.
18 June 2019 by Ninjawinja

Version: Performance

Year: 2018

Annual servicing cost: £80

I have owned my RS cafe for 3 weeks now and am absolutely enamored with its versatility. The roar from the air box and akrapovic can combined from virtually no revs is an adrenaline boost in itself. The motor pulls and pulls cleanly and even at 80/90 there is very little interference from turbulence due to the bikini fairing do a great job of diverting the airflow I am 6ft2inch tall and 17 stone and am extremely comfortable on my z900rs cafe. Well worth the money. This is my 14th Kawasaki in 37years of riding motorcycles and I am very impressed with this gorgeous looking green meanie.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5

Pulls like the proverbial train from tick over

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Only criticisms initially are the location of the oil filter (nothing guarding it from road debris clippings etc). The radiator could have been better designed.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5

Buying experience: Bought from Chris Walker kawasaki in Grantham excellent service. Great day and very efficient friendly staff there.

Back to top