Kawasaki steps up its bid to grab a slice of the growing naked-bike market with the Z 900 ABS. As demand for the genre increased, so have expectations of performance along with polished looks. Kawi built this ride to replace both the Z800 and Z1000 moving forward into the ’17 model year, so buyers should expect to find plenty of both of those qualities. What did the factory throw on this all-new bike to make it competitive in a minimalist, sportster/roadster market? How will it compare to the other “Big-Four” naked 750s? Let’s check it out and see.
This ain’t no first-gen naked bike, but instead it is a mature, planned-out design. Everything from the body panels to the exposed Trellis frame is built to have minimal impact on the overall panache, and the bike itself winds up as more of just a setting for the gem that is the 948 cc mill. The stressed-engine arrangement leaves the plant well exposed just behind the front wheel, with little to nothing at all left to the imagination, just as it should be.
Thankfully, Kawi did a better job than most with the headlight housing. Usually naked bikes have some kind of insect/alien/Transformer-looking thing leading the way, but the builders managed to make the side-by-side assembly look like it was designed by grownups. Inverted front forks and a minimal fender lead the way with a molded-in wind deflector that surely does a grand job protecting the single-clock/multi-function, digital instrument cluster, but little else. Oh well, it’s a roadster, so you already knew you were going to take a beating.
The camel’s hump rises toward the middle before tumbling down the backside to a deep-scoop saddle that puts the rider in in bike rather than on it. A stadium pillion perch pulls the lines back up in the back for a slight, nose-low/ass-high posture, and a jockey-style rider triangle encourages the rider to adopt a forward-leaning position. All very streetfighter ish, and appropriately naughty.
An upswept muffler caps the 4-into-1 exhaust system for a final racy touch that stays well clear of the ground so as to not interfere with the lean angle to the right side, although the exhaust headers still define the low point of the 5.1-inch ground clearance. Seat height is reasonable at 31.3-inches tall, and the narrow seat provides a fairly straight shot from hip to ground, so even vertically-challenged riders have a shot at keeping it under control in the parking lot and at red lights.
So, there it is. Sleek and showy, but in a humble-brag kinda way, the Z900 completely sheds the old “stripped sportbike ” look and replaces it with a design that is a few steps higher on the evolutionary scale.
Kawi makes much of its all-new Trellis frame, and with good reason, in spite of its steel construction, it weighs in at just under 30 pounds. Course, it should be light with naught but a steering head, swingarm pivot and seat support to it, and the engine itself making up a large part of the frame structure. An aluminum swingarm completes the bones to keep unsprung weight low at the rear wheel.
A horizontal-mount, coil-over monoshock comes with adjustable preload and rebound damping, adjustments that Kawi wisely incorporated into the 41 mm, usd front forks as well. The steering-head geometry gives us a 25-degree rake and 4.1 inches of trail for very agile handling, aggressive cornering abilities and a 57.1-inch wheelbase. Suspension travel is in the plush range with 4.7-inches up front and a total of 5.5-inches in back. Cast, 17-inch rims mount Dunlop Sportmax D214 hoops with a wide, 120/70 up front and wider 180/55 in back.
The factory loaded up on the brakes with dual, four-pot calipers to bind the dual, 300 mm front discs, and a single-pot-and-anvil caliper bites the 250 mm rear disc. This represents the only area to get any kind of fandanglery, and the ABS is the sole fancy feature in this respect. Some may think that to be a negative, but I see it as a bonus, and if you can live without the brake augmentation there’s even a non-ABS version on the menu just for you. Simplicity is a great thing when you have to break out the wrenches and make repairs, especially in/under the garage/shadetree.
A 948 cc, inline-four engine is the gem that drives the setting here. The oversquare mill runs a 73.4 mm bore and 56 mm stroke with a warmish, 11.8-to-1 compression ratio that will put you at the premium pump. Naturally, this plant follows the typical four-cylinder configuration — four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC — and it comes mounted sideways in the transverse-mount position so it peeks out on both sides.
No traction control or variable rider modes here to complicate everything, but plain and simple engine control.
A quartet of 36 mm Mikuni throttle bodies controls aspiration, and the four-valve heads open up the heads for maximum, naturally-aspirated volumetric efficiency. The intake tracts come in different lengths — a feature the factory added to smooth out and broaden the torque band that also improves the intake sound for an increased sensation of acceleration. So they say, anyway. I never found an abundance of intake noise to be particularly attractive, but to each his or her own.
Did I mention that the bike is relatively simple? Let me reiterate that here. No traction control or variable rider modes here to complicate everything, but plain and simple engine control. Power output is decent with 123 horsepower and 73.1 pound-feet of torque (depending on whose dyna is used), and is ample for the 463-pound curb weight.
A six-speed gearbox crunches the ratios with a slipper clutch that makes the connection with a light lever pull and some wheel-hop prevention. Not exactly vanilla, but if you’re going to make a tech exception, the clutch is an excellent place to do it.
A ’17 Z900 with ABS will set you back $8,799, while the non-ABS model rolls for $8,399. No matter which brake package you go with, the choice in paint remains the same: Pearl Mystic Gray/Metallic Flat Spark Black or Metallic Flat Spark Black/Metallic Spark Black.
With such a modern-looking bike to work with, I decided it might be fun to compare it against a bike from the future, literally. I’m talking about the 2018 GSX -S750Z from Suzuki here. Sorry folks, that’s all the further into the future I can see, so let’s just run what we brung, shall we?
Suzuki brings a bit more to the table as far as body coverage goes, but that really doesn’t detract from the whole naked-bike appeal very much at all. The GSX-S 750Z also boasts a lot more in the way of angular structures, and comes off looking a bit sharper to mine eyes. Both are proper streetfighters, to be sure, and the final judgement on looks varies according to taste, so no one will judge you if you like the Kawi better.
The Z900 gains an edge with its adjustable front suspension since the GSX-S750Z comes with only the obligatory spring preload in back. Both run large, dual front brake discs and ABS, and so gain no advantage here. Probably the biggest difference we will see here is in the 749 cc engine Suzuki puts up against the 948 cc Kawi mill — namely the electronic engine management that enables a traction control feature and idle-control/takeoff assist function and makes the Suzuki a much more advanced and complicated machine. Although it gives up a few cubes to the Kawi, the GSX-S’s mill still manages to churn out 112 ponies, just a handful under the 123 horsepower short of the much larger Z900.
Kawi picks up a minor win at the till with an $8,799 sticker, just a bill under the $8,899 Suzuki, but in a reversal at the bottom end, Suzuki’s non-ABS is cheaper with an $8,299 tag versus the $8,399 non-ABS Z900. It’s a tradeoff, and a minor one at that.
“I appreciate the Z900 for what it is and what it can do, not for how it looks. I thought I was OK enough with it until I looked at the GSX-S lineup and some of the other worthy competitors, and suddenly the Kawasaki looked a little bleh. Just a little lacking in that elusive Quality Without A Name. Beyond that, I got to give Kawi props on keeping it simple and not going overboard with the gadgetry.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says “It’s lighter and has more power than the Z800. It’s a solid replacement for its lower cc sibling and even though the suspension is a bit basic, it feels good. The bike feels big but it doesn’t feel heavy — mostly because it isn’t, but also because it feels balanced at low speeds. The clutch is very smooth and easy to engage, which is a welcome feature especially with a little arthritis in my hands. Cornering is a breeze and acceleration is snappy and responsive and who doesn’t love the roar that comes on at about 6,000 rpm?”
|Engine:||4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-four|
|Bore x Stroke:||73.4 x 56.0mm|
|Fuel System:||DFI® with 36mm Keihin throttle bodies|
|Ignition:||TCBI with electronic advance|
|Final Drive:||Sealed chain|
|Frame Type:||Trellis, high tensile steel|
|Front Suspension / Wheel Travel:||41mm inverted fork with rebound damping and spring preload adjustability/4.7 in|
|Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel:||Horizontal back-link, stepless rebound damping, adjustable spring preload/5.5 in|
|Front Tire:||120/70 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax D214|
|Rear Tire:||180/55 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax D214|
|Front Brakes:||Dual 300mm petal-type rotors with four-piston calipers, ABS|
|Rear Brakes:||Single 250mm petal-type rotor with single-piston caliper, ABS|
|Overall Length:||81.5 in|
|Overall Width:||32.3 in|
|Overall Height:||41.9 in|
|Ground Clearance:||5.1 in|
|Seat Height:||31.3 in|
|Curb Weight:||463.1 lb|
|Fuel Capacity:||4.5 gal|
|Color Choices:||Pearl Mystic Gray/Metallic Flat Spark Black, Metallic Flat Spark Black/Metallic Spark Black|
|Warranty:||12 Month Limited Warranty|
|Kawasaki Protection Plus™ (optional):||12, 24, 36 or 48 months|
|Price:||$8,399 (With ABS: $8,799)|