One-and-a-half years. Over 16,000 miles. Several sets of tires and brake pads. A new drive chain, a rebuilt clutch, several oil changes, and who knows how many gas tank refills. Pretty sure I've worn the new off my Z900RS, and have put in enough seat time to have an intimate knowledge of Kawasaki's retro-styled ripper.

On paper, the RS makes a good impression with killer specs - ABS, traction control, inverted fork, fully-adjustable front and rear suspension, radial monobloc brakes (and a radial master cylinder to match), slip-assist clutch, digital fuel injection, LED lighting, and a big 948cc liquid-cooled inline-four that pushes out more than 100 horses and 70 pounds of torque to the back wheel.

Thankfully, the groovy bits on the spec sheet translate to the ride itself.


Kawasaki has delivered a well-rounded, versatile, and fun machine in the Z900RS that confidently strides in the footsteps of the original '73 Z1. It brings the classic Japanese superbike, musclebike, UJM, whatever you want to call it, into the modern era with style, grace, and an appropriate amount of grunt. To say everything about it is well-executed is a bit of an oversimplification, but not much of an exaggeration.

One look's all it takes to know the Z900RS has style. It's a consistent head-turner wherever I  ride, classic and modern all at once. It's aesthetics are balanced and simply put, looks the way a motorcycle is supposed to. No frills, no bodywork, and no insane Michael Bay Transformers-derived angles or bug-eyed headlights (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It doesn't need them as it draws cues from the classic Kawasaki machines that paved its way. Overall fit and finish is superb. The materials, fasteners, paint and plastics show little wear, and there's not a spot of corrosion to be seen. Sure, it's picked up a few scuffs and chips along the way, but that's an inevitable consequence of riding and not an issue with build quality.

Complementing its curbside appeal is the fact that Kawasaki put a lot of work into making it sound good, too. It gurgles and growls at idle almost as if there actually were four Mikuni carburetors feeding air and fuel to the engine, but it's fuel-injected and has modern emissions standards to comply with, so it's not quite as raucous and loud as a carb-equipped bike from four decades ago. It’s like your favorite cover song. Different but hits the right notes. Flick the side stand up, put it in gear, twist the throttle and the intake howls and the exhaust grunts in a manner that is quintessential Kawasaki.

Riding hard and trying to catch the horizon is where the Z900RS is assuredly at its finest. While it's not a superbike by today's standards, it still has plenty of muscle to flex with a claimed 111 ponies and 72 lb-ft. of torque, enough to blow the wheels off the classics it's inspired by. Usually I can hang with all but the fastest sportbikes at any sane (and legal’ish) pace on public roads. Putting that power to the road is a smooth transmission that bangs through gears seamlessly thanks to a slip-assist clutch that keeps clutch pull light and shifting slick and reliable.

Bred to be ridden, the Kawasaki Z900RS looks pretty good parked outside a coffee shop, too. 

They say power is nothing without control, and the RS delivers in that department. The sum of its variables make for a light-handling motorcycle that turns in with little effort. The variables include a low curb weight near 470 lbs., tight steering geometry and mass that's centralized, a stiff trellis frame, wide bars, and solid suspension. Point its 41mm inverted fork into a turn and it hits the target like a well-thrown dart. Owing to it's sporting pedigree, lean angle is generous and it takes a lot of lean to scrape the pegs. It stops well, too, its power definitely front-biased. The radial four-piston front calipers are mated to big discs, and pressed into action by a radial pump. The rear brake exists, I guess. It's nothing special, and gets the job done when you need a little extra oomph to the front. The ABS is unobtrusive, and I can’t recall the last time I felt it activate.

Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC) is part of the Z900RS package, too. At its highest setting, the ECU predicts wheel slippage and adjusts power delivery accordingly. The important takeaway here isn’t that I have better control over the bike in a slippery situation (which I do), but that I have a computer in my bike that can see the future. I welcome our psychic robot overlords. The lower setting is reactive to poor road conditions, and can be turned off entirely. I end up riding in the rain frequently, and though I ride prudently in the first place, traction control is good for peace of mind. The end result is a confidence-inspiring motorcycle that's as adept at weaving through traffic on my daily commute as it is carving up twisty Texas country backroads on the weekend.

It’s also pretty damn comfortable. The rider triangle is relaxed and open, with mid-controls that are set low on the chassis, and a fairly tall, wide, tapered bar (1" clamp at the risers, 7/8" at the controls). At six-feet-tall, it’s a perfect fit for me. The seat is well-padded, and strikes a good balance between soft and firm. Whether the ride is 10 minutes or 10 hours, I always dismount with minimal soreness, stiffness, or other discomfort. On longer trips I’ll get a little saddle-sore after a few hours, but it’s nothing a pit stop and a Red Bull can’t cure. Passenger comfort is a slightly different story, and my wife can only handle an hour or two on the pillion. Part of that is due to the need to sit very far back on the seat in order to reach the passenger grab strap, so passenger comfort could be improved easily by adding a grab rail.

Kawasaki paid attention to other little details though that make the Z900RS an easy bike to live with. First of all, the mirrors don’t suck. They appear to be made specifically for the bike rather than cribbed from a parts bin, and you can (gasp) actually see out of them. They don’t pick up a lot of vibration (not that there’s much to begin with, the RS is unsurprisingly a smooth-running machine), and they’re positioned well enough to see what’s to your sides and behind you. My broad shoulders typically leave me able to see little more than my shoulder and elbows, or I am forced to angle the mirrors so far out that I can't really see what's behind me. Mirrors that work are nice to have for your daily ride. Kawasaki put an emphasis on practicality and included attachment points along the tail section for tying down luggage. Another utilitarian nod is the 12v power adapter under the seat to plug in electronic devices, as well as connectors to easily wire in accessories like heated grips without having to resort to splicing or tapping into the wiring harness.

In a year-and-a-half it's proven to be trouble-free, and maintenance has been easy. Oil changes, replacing tires and brake pads are straightforward tasks. I needed to replace the stock chain about 10,000 miles in and expect the RK chain I replaced it with to last longer. The factory friction plates in the clutch gave out around 13,000 miles. I dropped in Barnett Kevlar friction plates and Barnett springs to give the clutch a bit more bite and a longer lifespan, and now it pulls better than it did new. I have some deeper servicing and tune-up work in the pipe as well, including replacing the air cleaner element with the newly released K&N filter, checking and adjusting the valve clearances, and changing the spark plugs. The spark plugs are admittedly past the 7,600-mile interval Kawasaki lists in the owner's manual, but my experience with NGK laser iridium plugs are that they will last much longer than that in much more powerful bikes (I put about 20,000 miles on a set in an '02 FZ1, and they were still going strong when I sold it). I'm not suggesting to neglect service and maintenance that the manufacturer recommends, but I'm confident I can get more than 7,600-miles on the plugs.

Aftermarket support is coming along for the bike. There are plenty of universal fit items that can work or be made to work (see: National Cycle flyscreen), and more parts are released on the regular that run the gamut, from performance upgrades to seats, luggage, bodywork, and everything in between.

All told, I'm beyond satisfied with what the Z900RS delivers. That's not just me subjectively justifying my purchase. If it was a turd, or didn't have a great blend of performance, comfort, style, and easy ownership, I'd kick it to the curb and find a new ride. It won't be the last motorcycle I'll ever own, but I have promised myself that I'll be the only owner of this particular bike. I think that says a lot.