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KAWASAKI Z900RS CAFE (2018-on) Review

Published: 14 August 2018

Updated: 10 September 2019

Kawasaki have hit the retro nail squarely on the head

You can hustle the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

Kawasaki have hit the retro nail squarely on the head

Overall Rating 4 out of 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 3 out of 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 4 out of 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). 

Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 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.

Insurance, running costs & value 4 out of 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

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.

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 2018
Year discontinued -
New price £10,349
Used price £8,500 to £11,500
Warranty term Two years
Running costs
Insurance group -
Annual road tax £91
Annual service cost £80
Max power 109 bhp
Max torque 73 ft-lb
Top speed 140 mph
1/4-mile acceleration -
Average fuel consumption -
Tank range -
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

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.

Other versions

Kawasaki Z900: Replaced the Kawasaki Z800 and has a new steel trellis chassis and Euro 4 spec motor. There is also an A2-compliant version available.

Other Kawasaki Z900RS reviews

Owners' Reviews

2 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
Ride Quality & Brakes 4.5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4.5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5
5 out of 5

z900rs cafe GREEN

20 August 2019 by JOHNSON

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.
5 out of 5
plenty enough power.pulls from low down. 5000 to 8000 rpm has a kick.
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
just done 1000 problems.had to adjust idling after 1st service.
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
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

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
5 out of 5
Pulls like the proverbial train from tick over
Build Quality & Reliability
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 & Running Costs
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
Buying experience

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

Photo Gallery

  • You can hustle the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe
  • The Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe goes for a lap of the TT course
  • The Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe at Cadwell Park
  • 2020 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe
  • Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe cornering
  • MCN's Child admires the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe
  • KAWASAKI Z900RS CAFE  (2018-on)
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