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Kawasaki Z900: An Easy Bike to Ride

By Joe Michaud, March 30th, 2019

Naked sport bikes, I love 'em. They can have all the torquey punch of fairing-clad sports bikes, but without the hunching posture that my older bones feel or the maintenance annoyances of plastic removal and replacement.

The Z900 ABS is the newest naked option from Kawasaki. And it's as bold as that original Z1 was at its launch.

"Big Green" started their Z-series back in 1973 with the Z1; it was 900cc of image-shattering, four-cylinder revolution on two wheels. At the time, I was riding a five-year-old Triumph 650, once considered to be one of the fastest street bikes available, but the new-tech four-holer Asian bikes were quickly pushing the old-tech Brit Iron vertical twins to the background.

With sixteen valves, four cylinders, and a six-speed transmission, the Z900 replaces the Z800, first released in Europe in 2013. The Z900 has dropped some weight over the somewhat porky Z800, which sat, wet and ready, at 509 pounds. Using a new frame and aluminum swingarm with the engine as a stressed member, the Z900 has shed nearly 50 pounds. It's now sitting street-side at 460 pounds. Torque is also up nearly 20 percent to 73 lb.-ft. at 7,700 rpm and horsepower up a reported 10 percent. All good stuff.

Suspension proved comfy enough on urban asphalt as well as canyon curves. The KYB inverted front forks and a horizontal back-link rear are adjustable for pre-load and rebound. Handling felt intuitive and light on 17-inch rims, front and rear. I didn't haul a pillion but two-up accommodations looked snug. Brakes are petal-edged rotors with dual 300mm four-piston fronts and a single 250mm rear. Around town, it's nimble, narrow, and easy to lane split. It's an easy bike to ride without complicated layers of electronic decisions to be made. It can't be disengaged so the Z900 may not be a good track-specific bike.

The assist/slipper design clutch feeds the torque smoothly. The gears, first through fifth, are spaced well for churning the canyons so it's easy to keep the kettle on the boil. Shifting is slick. Sixth gear is an overdrive to keep the Slab cruising relatively buzz-free.

The motor is a quick-revver, spinning up effortlessly. It maxes out at 11 grand but there's no real need to spin the 948cc mill that hard, as the fun peters out around 9,000. But, that's not a complaint. It's easily fast enough for a felony.

The bars tip the rider slightly forward and the pegs are good reach. There's no windscreen to speak of so expect some chest and helmet buffeting at speed but, hey, we're all riding motorcycles here, aren't we? The seat proved hard after an hour or two with not much wiggle room to ease the burn. It may loosen up after a few rides but after riding a 4.5-gallon tankful of gas, I needed a walk-around. I averaged 40 mpg despite enthusiastic use, so it provides a good range.

I didn't haul a pillion and two-up accommodations look darn snug. Seat height is 31 inches. However, the tailpiece ramps up requiring a good kick to clear the seat. No problem, however: Once onboard, the view is clear from the saddle.

The instruments are uncomplicated and can be read at a glance; three different display choices are available. The rev counter flashes a shift light that is adjustable to suit the rider's throttle comfort zone and the gear indicator is always a nice touch. The mirrors work well, requiring only a small elbow tuck to see encroaching freeway motorists.

Kawasaki brags about the intake sound and has designed the specially shaped airbox to add to the aural enjoyment. The four-into-one header/exhaust with cross-overs adds to the tone but is not overpowering.

Owner maintenance is aided by a concise manual that provides data on pertinent items, particularly on shock and suspension settings. Many bike suspension adjustments can confuse owners with overly complicated settings and choices. Scheduled maintenance and tuning can be handled by an average owner without odd tools or tricky experience.

Built and priced as a minimalist mid-weight, it's a bargain. MSRP is $8,399 for non-ABS. I'd suggest adding the five Benjamins for ABS, it's a bargain should you need it. Accessories are limited to frame/axle sliders, crankcase protection, and a radiator shroud.

Fit and finish are Kawasaki quality. Available colors are all variants of the base Metallic Flat Spark Black with tank and fenders in three accent colors, Pearl Mystic Grey, Candy Persimmon Red, or Flat Ebony. The Kawasaki Green frame is a sexy eye-full. Sweet.

Anyone can spend more money and get a more complicated bike. But at $9,000 with the usual dealer add-ons, the Z900 is a true bargain. Why pay for more bike than you will need or use? Money saved on insurance, tires, and tax can all be spent on gasoline and fun.

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In 1956, Honda's president and managing director returned from a fact-finding mission in Germany where they were searching for inspiration for their next economical transportation product. They had four criteria in mind: a quiet, fuel-efficient four-stroke motor, a comfortable and easy-to-mount chassis, a clutch-less transmission, and a design that would work in all-world conditions.

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Updated for 2019, the Yamaha Tracer 900 replaces the FJ-09 in Yamaha's lineup of sport-touring bikes. It's available in both a standard version and as the Yamaha Tracer 900 GT -- a premium, tour-ready GT bike.

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