Kawasaki’s given its sporty naked a bit of a facelift for 2020 and kept the price on the right side of $10k.
Photography by Kit Palmer
I’ve gotta be honest. I did not love the Kawasaki Z900—at first. It was a bike that didn’t wow me in any great fashion, but, to be fair, it didn’t do anything bad, either.
It was just another UJM (universal Japanese motorcycle).
Then I had a deeper look, namely at how many folding greenies this thing would cost me. At that point, things started to get a bit more appealing. You can have this rather sexy little motorbike for an MSRP starting at $8999, putting it equal to the least expensive (saying cheap sounds, well, cheap) bike in the class in the Yamaha MT-09, which is effectively the same bike it’s been since it came out seven years ago. The real geeky ones of you out there will note that when the Z900 came out in 2017, its MSRP was $8399, so yes, while it has gone up, everyone else has gone up more, and there’s a lot more you get for your money with the 2020 edition.
Everything else in the category is at least $1000 more, and in the case of the Honda CB1000R and Ducati Supersport, $3000 more. You’ve got to admire Kawasaki for coming in with such an attractive price, and once you get over the fact the suspension is not the best, or the ride comfort isn’t great (more on that later), the largest naturally aspirated naked bike in Kawasaki’s lineup suddenly doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.
The Z900 replaced the Z1000 a couple of years ago and headed all Kawasaki naked bikes until the boisterous Z H2 rocked up on the scene this year. This year is the first in which Kawasaki has given the Z900 some love since its inception, running the same 948cc inline four-cylinder motor wrapped in a new chassis, revised suspension settings and new bodywork.
And on the electric front, you get the three-stage Kawasaki TRaction [sic] Control, two throttle riding modes and connectivity to the neat little Kawasaki Rideology app which lets you record and log your ride info like distance, speed, route, take or make phone calls and check service info via the new 4.3-inch TFT display dash.
Let’s start with what isn’t new. That 948cc motor is a carryover from 2019, including the 36mm throttle bodies and pistons that were created in the same casting process as the H2’s, and the intake system that was acoustically tuned to give the most pleasing (read: meaty/loud) intake noise of any four-cylinder on the market.
When Kawasaki brought this motor out in 2017, it was a much nicer unit than the old 1043cc brute that was in the Z1000. Throttle response was greatly improved, making for a smoother transition from fully closed on those little increments where it mattered, like inner-city streets or roundabouts. That throttle response now has a new layer to it in the two throttle modes, which gives you all the gas in Full and a scant 55 percent of the available power in Low. The Low power is too low for a bike weighing a claimed 467 pounds curb, but it’s a nice thing to have at your disposal, especially if you’re a new rider getting used to the power of a near 1000cc inline-four.
When it’s broken down, the Kawi’s is an old-school motor—smooth four-cylinder power mated to a rad intake noise, and a decent kick once you cross the 6000-rpm threshold. Switch the TC off and give the bars a yank in the first two (sometimes three) gears, and the front wheel will rip skywards, just like the old Z1000 loved to do. Plus, the chassis is pretty stable, so doing one-wheel salutes is simple—if you so desire.
Around town, the Z900 is an absolute pussycat. You can cruise all day and never see 6000 rpm, or even need to. It’d be nice if the engineers fitted a quickshifter to the otherwise nice gearbox, but then that would see the price shoot past that magic $9000 mark.
The first three gear ratios are quite short, which help keep the motor revving, so you’ve got power when you need it. Fifth and especially sixth are much taller, and I’ll admit to rarely using sixth gear even on the freeway.
A saving grace here is the motor is velvety smooth with hardly any vibrations coming to the bars and pegs. This is no mean feat for an inline-four and shows Kawasaki’s five-point mounting system does more than aid in chassis stiffness.
Once we turn our attention to the chassis, here’s where I start to have some issues. Being 6’1”, I found the riding position to be pretty cramped. Everything is compact on the Z900, including the triangle between the seat, footpegs and handlebar. Those of shorter stature to me likely won’t be as affected by this issue, but on a long ride around San Diego, I would be stretching my legs at any given opportunity.
Given that the riding position was cramped (for me), it took some of the shine away from a chassis that was happy moving along through the twisties at a fair clip. The suspension action in traffic was nice and plush, offering good road comfort and holding, but up the pace and the spec of the springers begins to show through. Heavy braking would see the fork plunge through the stroke, and conversely, trying to ride fast and get on the gas early would have the shock sink in its stroke and you’d run wide.
The suspension is designed primarily for commuting and medium-speed riding, so if you start riding aggressively fast, you’ll begin to reach the limits pretty quickly.
The same can be said of the brakes. The master-cylinder and conventionally mounted front calipers lack feel when used in anger, and, with an ABS system that cannot be switched off, I had a few hairy moments when there’d be a pulse at the lever before the ABS had any right to kick in. Again, at sedate traffic speeds, the brakes are no problem. Crank things up a notch, and they start to show their spec.
The fact that ABS can’t be switched off is a bummer because it eliminates the possibility to find out if the lack of power and feel at the lever is predominantly to do with the ABS or the master-cylinder/caliper setup. However, Euro 5 rules dictate that ABS can’t be switched off if a bike is to be sold in Europe, which means we must live with that from now on, for all manufacturers.
Moving onto the cockpit, the new 4.3-inch TFT dash is a massive improvement over the old needle and digital speed readout from the 2017 model. There’s a lot of information in there, but it’s easy to read and access via the left mode button, and there are three different light settings it switches to for daytime, early/late sun, and nighttime riding. Kawasaki has been doing this longer than anyone I can remember—I’m pretty sure the ZX-636 of 12 years ago had this feature—and some bikes still don’t have it.
In the end, I came to like the Z900. I still stand by my assertion that it didn’t overly wow me, but it’s a solid, well-built machine at an exceptional price. There are other machines in this category that will beat the Z900 for excitement—it needs to lose some (and more) pounds to compete against something like the KTM 890 Duke—but considering what you get for the money, the Z900 is a fine machine indeed. CN
2020 Kawasaki Z900 ABS Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, 4-cylinder, 4-stroke, DOHC, 16-valve
|Bore x stroke:
||73.4 x 56mm
||73.1 lb-ft at 7700 rpm
||Tubular steel trellis
||41mm inverted fork with rebound damping and spring preload adjustability
||Horizontal back-link, stepless rebound damping, adjustable spring preload
||Dual 300mm petal-style discs with 4-piston calipers, ABS
||Single 250mm petal-style disc with 1-piston caliper, ABS
||Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 120/70 ZR17
||Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2180/55 ZR17
|Weight (curb, claimed):