The One We've Been Waiting For

In A Crowded Market, the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Stands Out


September 25, 2018 Cars : Motorcycles By Photo by Matt Neundorf, Carolyn Merey
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Initially, it was doubtful the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe would make it to American streets. For whatever reason, Team Green was holding out on their full-fairing iteration of the retro RS. Enthusiasts and nostalgists alike were less than pleased, and for a good reason. The standard Z900RS is a well-sorted machine at an everyman price. Not only did it mark the return of a proper Universal Japanese Motorcycle to the two-wheeled world, but it did so in a uniquely attractive modern-retro package. So, of course, we wanted a crack at its racier looking stablemate.

The Good: Let’s be honest. The Z900RS Cafe is stunning. There’s restraint in the aesthetics that strike a refreshing balance between form and function. Nothing reeks of faux-authenticity or is overwrought. Everything from the headlight cowl, to the humped seat, to the brushed and shortened exhaust silencer has a natural vibe on this bike. If the bodywork were painted black, we’d call it subtle, understated, minimalist. Bathed in the Lime Green of Kawasaki’s racing past, the Z900RS is a distinctive standout.

Watch Out For: The sculpted, artfully humped yet incredibly stiff seat. I’d like to think that things would soften up and the seat would break in after a while but my loaner unit had 2,500 miles on its clock when I picked it up and near 3,300 when I handed it back, and it still felt chiseled from stone.

Who It’s For: The market for retro styled bikes is at an all-time high, with offerings on the table from almost every manufacturer. But so far, Kawasaki have best combined those aesthetics with the neutral ergonomics that made the original UJM so famous to begin with. For that reason, I get the feeling that newer riders who are sick of spending more time wrenching than they do riding their hobbled-together, Craigslist Honda CBs will gravitate towards the Z900RS Cafe and its standard stablemate.

Verdict: Thankfully, Kawi decided to release a run of a “few hundred” Vintage Lime Green machines to the American public. And that’s a good thing because this is the RS to have.

Review: The differences between the Z900RS and this Cafe variant are minimal but impactful. The front cowl presents the most significant visual change and also contributes to what amounts to a much more practical, comfortable and rideable bike overall. At highway speeds that sculpted bit of plastic deflects wind efficiently over a slightly tucked helmet. During a 450-mile day in the saddle, I fully expected to hate this bike but that just wasn’t the case. Considering the Cafe’s exclusive drop-style handlebars and the lower seat height, I was surprised by just how relaxed the ergonomic setup was.

That’s because the Z900RS Cafe isn’t a cafe racer at all. It’s not stripped down or compromised by a focus on total performance. Because the Z900RS underpins it, you know the chassis is nimble and communicative, the brakes are more than ample and the fully-adjustable suspension can be tuned for compliance or aggression. There’s virtually no vibration from the 948cc, in-line four-cylinder engine and the flat, creamy torque curve means there’s plenty of punch from nearly anywhere in the rev range. ABS and traction control provide all the modern interference needed to save that gorgeous green coating, and there’s even room for a passenger. As soon I drained my first tank of fuel, it was clear that the Z900RS Cafe is a thoughtfully customized UJM instead of what its naming implies. The Z900RS Cafe remains a jack of all trades: powerful but approachable, racy yet refined and the best RS in Kawasaki’s fleet.

What Others Are Saying:
“It’s not very often I ride a bike that makes me think I would want to spend my own money on one, but that’s what has happened with the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe. The styling appeals to me, and the bike’s functionality hits the sweet spot for what I would like in a sporty, do-it-all motorcycle.” – Evans Brasfield, Motorcycle.com

“Traditions and naming conventions aside the Z900RS Cafe is a great looking bike. It’s got beautiful lines, an impeccable quality finish and there’s a great balance of modern and retro touches.” – Geoff Baldwin, Return of the Cafe Racers

“Whereas I thought the 900RS was a bit of a missed opportunity, I feel Kawasaki has absolutely nailed it with the Café version. The changes made—both mechanically and aesthetically—make for an improved package that oozes charisma and charm, while remaining decidedly modern in the process.” – Rennie Scaysbrook, Cycle News

Alternatives: There is plenty of choice in the modern-retro arena these days and even if you narrow the search parameters to cafe racers, the segment is well populated.

• Triumph Thruxton R ($15,000)
• Moto-Guzzi V7III Racer ($9,990)
• Scrambler Ducati Cafe Racer ($11,395)

Key Specs: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS

Engine: 948cc, DOHC, inline four
Horsepower: 111
Torque: 73 lb-ft
Weight: 474 lbs
Price (MSRP): $11,499

Price: $11,499

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