I pulled into one of my favorite breakfast spots one Saturday morning, and before I even had the chance to take my helmet off, some guy rushed out, leaving his table of friends, and had to talk to me about the motorcycle I just rode in on – a 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS. I stood there chuckling to myself for a moment as I pulled my earplugs out and composed myself, then happily proceeded to chat and answer his questions. This wouldn’t be the only time someone went out of their way to compliment or inquire about the bike, either. There was the guy on the freeway who changed two lanes just to get a closer look, followed by a big thumbs up seal of approval, then the random girl in a Hermosa Beach crosswalk who asked me for a ride across town – and she didn’t even see my face! – damn you, helmet laws. If only it were the ’70s, I could’ve gotten away with it…
These interactions are just a few of the more memorable ones. Fortunately, the retro-inspired Kawi does more than just please your visual senses, because it’s even more fun to ride than it is to look at. Though it doesn’t breathe as much fire as its jockier Z900 brother, it can still hustle down the back roads with gratifying rhythm. The RS’ motor has been retuned to deliver its torque sooner, and you can definitely feel it. There’s plenty of power right off the bottom, but the 5,500-8,500 rpm range is where the RS pulls hardest, making its peak torque figure of 64.5 ft-lbs evenly between 5,900-7,800 rpm. For comparison, the Z900 churned its peak torque of 68.1 ft-lbs at 8,000.
Yes, the Z900 makes more torque and power compared to the RS (115.1 hp at 9,800 rpm vs. 97.4 hp at 8,600 rpm), but what the RS lacks in performance it more than makes up for in looks – in my opinion – and I would happily accept that trade-off any day for such a small margin in performance. And besides, you could easily hop it up if you wanted to. Also, both bikes were dynoed on different machines, and I’ve seen charts where the RS made 101 stock hp – just something to consider. Anyway, having the power accessible sooner makes around town riding way more enjoyable and besides, ~100 hp is more than plenty to get you in trouble. I saw 142 on the speedo and the RS still had a little left, and that was uphill, but I was running out of real estate. How much faster would you want to go?
The Z900RS’ ergonomics offer a comfortable rider triangle and yet plenty of leverage to confidently flick the bike wherever you desire. Compared to the Z900, the RS’ handlebar is 2.6 inches higher and 1.4 in. closer, as well as 1.2 in. wider than the Z900’s bar. Footpegs are 0.8 in. lower and a touch forward. And the seat! Oh man, that thing is awesome. It’s like a giant fresh-baked loaf of bread to rest your butt on, like a whole ‘nother suspension system that never had me shifting my weight from one cheek to the other on longer rides. It’s one of the first things you notice about the bike. After a while, some seats tend to pound your ass like a sailor on shore leave, but not this one. I rode from LA to Sonoma County on the 5 and back with not one complaint. Those of you who know the road, know how long and boring it can be, kind of like parts in West Texas.
I do, however, have one complaint regarding the ergos: When the going gets extra spirited, the lower footpegs scrape the road too soon and pull the reins in on your fun. Which is a shame really, because the Z900RS is spunky, and encourages you to bend the rules. I’ve stiffened the suspension though, especially in the rear to get more performance out of it based on my riding style and needs. To that end, the inverted front fork is fully adjustable and the rear shock can be tuned for preload and rebound. From the Kawasaki factory, the RS’ suspenders come rather soft – the rear shock’s preload was just about all the way in its softest/lowest setting. Stiffening the rear shock up and adding several compression clicks in the front have quickly made the Z900RS sportier and more mid-corner compliant. When it comes to dragging peg, adding more preload definitely helped, but if this were my bike to keep, I’d look into different rearsets.
Mounted at the bottom of the front fork are a pair of radially-mounted four-piston calipers that really do a nice job of squeezing the 267mm rotors and slowing you down. ABS comes standard and works like it should, without any startling or premature activation or pulsing at the lever – which was actually a big bummer for me on the 2017 Z900 we tested. You could really grab a handful and shed speed confidently; however after constant heavy use, they do seem to fade. I’d look into replacing the brake lines with steel-braided ones.
What else is there to like about the bike? Its practicality. This is something that has dwindled on many bikes over the years in favor of cleaner (or edgier) lines. For starters, the Z900RS comes with a helmet lock right on the left subframe, just below the seat. Having an easily accessible and simple to use helmet lock like the one on the RS has made my life so much easier. I know some bikes hide theirs under the passenger seat in the form of a post or plastic tab, but using those is a hassle and can definitely scratch your paint. Not to mention, it takes longer too. I can confidently walk away from the Z900RS knowing my helmet won’t grow legs.
Another practical feature of the RS is that it has four mounting spots on the tail – two on each side – to strap or bungee something to if you need it. These, paired with the flat-ish rear seat, means you can actually transport something that otherwise wouldn’t fit in a backpack or tank bag, making the Z900RS more than just a toy, but rather an actual form of functional transportation – brilliant.
The question still remains though, what about the abrupt throttle? Honestly, at first it was noticeable, but not as bad as some initially made it seem. In no way is it a dealbreaker, and 2,000 miles later, the thought of it doesn’t even cross my mind. Just last week, JB and I were out riding the Z900RS and Suzuki GSX-S1000Z back to back (which coincidentally has also been accused of having an abrupt throttle in the past) and neither of us experienced or complained about a twitchy twist grip, on either bike.
One thing that’s rarely mentioned in bike reviews is how well the headlight works. Sounds silly, I know, but the Z900RS’ headlight might be the best I’ve ever used. The round headlight has retro styling for sure, but its illumination is anything but. Using LEDs, the rider can see more than they can with a halogen bulb, however the beauty of it is that other drivers can see you too. Never have I had more cars move out of the way for me – day or night – than when riding the RS. Like Moses and the Red Sea, it’s crazy. A game-changer, really. People move out of your way as if you were a cop – it’s that bright.
In the 2,000 or so miles we’ve shared together so far, the Z900RS has given me zero troubles whatsoever and has been as reliable as the sun rising (though it’s still early for something to prematurely wear out). I’ve only had to adjust the chain once, but that’s normal for a new chain. And I’ve also been able to average about 39-40 mpg, which is rather impressive considering the copious amount of throttle I’ve been giving it. Hey, it only gets better as the revs climb.
All in all, the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS is fun motorcycle that has appeal to many different types of riders, both young and old. If you don’t want attention or people approaching you and asking about it, then the RS isn’t for you – keep driving your Prius. But if this bike has ever piqued your interest, I would definitely recommend taking a closer look and checking it out, because it looks way better in person than it does in pictures. And that’s saying something. Whether you choose to cruise down your local scenic road or kick it up a notch and flip it through the curves, the Z900RS will do it in style and make you feel like you’re back in the ‘70s (not that I would know, but a boy can dream).
As far as the future with this bike goes, I’d love to customize it because I think it’s a great platform with a lot of potential to be even better. If Kawasaki would let me, I’d love to put ZX-10R forks, bigger brakes and rotors, different rearsets, lower bars, maybe even clip-ons, a fender eliminator and a bunch of other goodies, just to name a few and race this thing out. I’ve got some more ideas floating around, but what do you think?