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KAWASAKI Z900

Kawasaki has strengthened its hand by introducing a brand-new affordable 900 cc naked motorcycle with a serious performance offering in a no-frills package. **GAVIN FOSTER** gives it his all.

Kawasaki’s reasons for launching a four-cylinder Z900 naked sports bike when they already had a very similar Z1000 only makes sense when you scratch beneath the surface. Until now, their range of naked bikes consisted of a twin-cylinder Z650 and two four-cylinder models, the Z800 and the Z1000.  The outgoing Z800’s model name was accurate in that its engine displaced 803 cc, but the Z1000 had a 1,043 cc lump squeezed into the frame, and both bikes were relatively heavy when compared with more modern rivals like the excellent three-cylinder Yamaha MT-09 that weighs in at 193 kg. The Z1000 tips the scales at 220 kg and the Z800 rather bizarrely weighs even more at 228 kg, so the Z900 at 213 kg, although still heavier than the Yamaha, is a significant improvement. With all that weight to lug around power was also an issue, so where the Z800’s 113 hp output was the same as that of the Yamaha MT-09 compared to the 140 hp of the Z1000, the nimble new Z900 now punches hard with 125 hp. The official line from Kawasaki is that the Z900 replaces the Z800, but the chances are that the Z1000 will also disappear from the company’s model range as soon as existing stock is sold out.  

So, what’s the Z900 like to ride? For a start, it has an all-new compact, tubular steel trellis frame, and with no bulky fairing and the front wheel tucked away beneath the Star Wars styled instrument panel the bike feels tiny. Its seat height is lower than that of both the Z800 and the Z1000, so it doesn’t feel awkward to paddle around at a walking pace. The clutch is smooth, and the six-speed gearbox is both slick and crisp, but you don’t need to work it to death because the motor pulls willingly and smoothly from 2,000 r/min up to the 10,500 r/min red line. When you whack the throttle wide open things start happening in a hurry, and at about 6,000 r/min you’d better hang on because all these well-fed horses wait for no man. There’s also a delicious yowl from the induction tract, and it isn’t artificially generated by a digital sound system, as is so often the case with lively cars these days. The Kawasaki’s engine is very strong, but remarkably user-friendly and controllable and the power delivery is nowhere near as brutal as a full 200 hp superbike engine is when you give it beans. The 900 stretches your arms – hard – and if you aren’t careful it’ll get the front wheel pawing at the sky in the first three gears but it doesn’t feel like it wants to tear your arms from their sockets or give you a nosebleed, as the superbikes do at full whack. Road testers with the appropriate equipment and a race track to play on have recorded 0-100 km/h times of under 3.5 seconds, with 160 km/h coming up in about seven, and a standing-start quarter-mile drag time in the mid-11 second zone. That’s at Gauteng altitudes where about 17% of the power is AWOL. Top speed? A genuine 235 km/h or so, or 250 – 260 km/h should you prefer to quote the speedometer reading when you stop off to boast at the pub afterwards. One of the most impressive things about the engine is its smoothness – there’s none of that hand-tingling high-frequency vibration that plagued earlier Z bikes.  

The Kawasaki Z900 is bereft of variable traction control, launch control, six-way switchable power modes, wheelie control, or any of the other electronic wizardry that’s taken over cars and motorcycles of late, and in a bike like this that’s a good thing.  The rider needs to co-ordinate his eyes, brain, and right hand and everything will be just hunky-dory. What it does have in the way of electronic rider aids is the one that’s most important – ABS.

LAST WORD

Naked motorcycles are gaining popularity as 300 km/h superbikes prices creep higher and higher. Street fighters are more practical around town, and in a drag race up to 200 km/h there’s not much around that’ll embarrass them – even superbikes. Manufacturers are paying more attention to naked bikes now in an attempt to increase market share because they generally sell at less than half the price of a litre-class superbike. Kawasaki’s new Z900 is a very worthy contender.

Report by GAVIN FOSTER | Images © KAWASAKI MOTORS

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