Kawasaki have modified the Z900’s upper frame so they could fit the tank and seat horizontally, like the original ’72 bike. As well as its modified chassis, higher spec monoblocs trump the Z900’s brakes and a three-way switchable traction system and retro-styled Dunlop GPR-300 tyres are other new editions.
Light, accurate town handling continues when you hit the open road. Suspension springs are stiff, so the Z900RS is more composed the harder you ram in into corners and fully-adjustable forks and ZX-10R-style horizontal rear shock and linkage are lightly damped, so the big Zed feels get floaty when you up the ante, but they’re set to give a smooth ride and easy, accessible low-speed handling.
Original equipment tyres lack grip and confidence when you push on, but are fine for normal riding and there’s no problem with ground clearance, braking feel and power. But we’d love to spend day twiddling the suspension settings and fitting stickier tyres to see if it could match the composure of track-ready retros like Triumph’s Thruxton R and BMW R nineT.
All day riding is relaxing and the back friendly, upright bar position is natural. There’s plenty of seat-to-peg room for the tall and it’s low enough for the short (a 35mm lower accessory seat available to drop you down even further).
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.
There’s no lack of speed in the Zed’s armoury 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, but it makes up for it with apocalyptic exhaust raw on the throttle and a blood-spitting gurgle on the overrun.
A big Zeds is as bulletproof as a tank and the attention to detail here borders on the obsessive. The Z900RS is more like a one-off special than a high volume production bike.
Kawasaki say they’re gunning for the similarly priced R nineT Pure, but the Z900RS has to face are a raft of retro rivals. With its impressive blend of performance and disco-cool Z1 style, it could easily beat the lot of them.
There’s a cacophony of Z1-inspired detail, 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.
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 metallic brown and orange livery isn’t just a faithful replica of the original’s carcinogenic paint, it has one of those flawless, glistening finishes that looks like it’s still wet with lacquer.
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 wide chrome 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 a bikini fairing, grab rails and heated grips.