2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Review

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Decidedly retro yet fully modern

I’ve been in the motorcycle biz for over 20 years, and it takes a special bike to wow me. Kawasaki crafted a great modern yet classically-styled machine when it created the Z900RS, and I’ve enjoyed it every opportunity I’ve had to throw a leg over one. Still, the Z900RS was just another nice motorcycle. I wanted a little something extra. From the moment I pulled onto the road on the new 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe, I had a pretty good idea that I’d found the bike I’d wanted to ride every time I was on the Z900RS.

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

Editor Score: 89.0%
Engine 17.5/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.5/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score89/100

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS First Ride Review + Video

Live With It: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Long Term Review

First Look: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

Kawasaki Announces Z900RS Cafe For US Market!

How could a bike that is only minimally different be so much better? I’m glad you asked.

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review

The style’s the thing

The inspiration for the Z900RS Cafe came from none other than Kawasaki’s 1982-1983 KZ1000R that Eddie Lawson rode to two consecutive AMA Superbike championships. Take a look at the KZ1000R that Kawasaki brought to the Cafe’s unveiling, and the resemblance is clear. While the Kawasaki racing green remains the same, every other component – from the bikini fairing to the ducktail (or is it duckbill?) rear fender – of the Cafe is transformed to a more modern version of the original. Where the KZ1000R was angular, the Cafe is all subtle curves and swoops. The unfortunate inclusion of the KZ-spec tank seam is the only real miscue on the Cafe’s updated style.

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review, The Kawasaki KZ1000R the inspiration of the Z900RS Cafe in all its air cooled big wheeled glory Photo by Julia LaPalme
The Kawasaki KZ1000R, the inspiration of the Z900RS Cafe in all its air-cooled, big-wheeled glory! Photo by Julia LaPalme.

To go with the racier lines of the Cafe, the handlebar gets a bend that moves the grips about 1.5 in. lower and slightly forward when compared with the RS. Add that to the seat that Kawasaki says is 0.8 in. taller at 32.3 in., and you end up with a slightly more aggressive riding position. To me, this slight change makes the Cafe a more fun ride when the road gets twisty but doesn’t extract a toll on the lower back when navigating the more mundane urban grid. Additionally, the riding position coupled with the bikini fairing makes the Cafe less taxing on interstate highway drones. With the RS, I always felt that the riding was a little too upright once the city streets were left behind.

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review, The broad torque curve makes the Cafe tons of fun when the road gets twisty
The broad torque curve makes the Cafe tons of fun when the road gets twisty.

Improved EFI

Although Kawasaki’s press information doesn’t list any mechanical differences between the Cafe and the RS, something has clearly changed in the Cafe’s power delivery. With a bore and stroke of 73.4 x 56.0 mm, the liquid-cooled inline-Four has its 948cc tuned for mid-range joy, and every staff MOron who has ridden the RS has said that the loss of the top-end horsepower has not been a compromise – if you’re keeping the RS within its intended riding envelope. Yeah, it’s a motorcycle, so someone’s going to hop one up and trick it out to be a full-on retro racer. (Just ask Brent what he wants to do to the RS.) Still, the RS’ and, hence, the Cafe’s torque curve is the very definition of broad and flat, which means that what the engine lacks in top-end rush it makes up in smile-inducing grunt.

Why Did Kawasaki Detune The Z900RS, Why?

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review, Though mechanically unchanged the Cafe s engine receives blacked out engine covers The intake and exhaust sing the song of my people
Though mechanically unchanged, the Cafe’s engine receives blacked out engine covers. The intake and exhaust sing the song of my people.

However, as we’ve previously noted, the Z900RS did have an issue with abruptness on off- to on-throttle transitions. While it could easily be ridden around, it was occasionally a nuisance. Happily, that has been completely exorcised from the Cafe. In fact, the difference was so pronounced that we ran the Cafe on the dyno to see if there were any other changes in the power output. There weren’t. What you see in the Cafe’s horsepower and torque curves are almost exact duplicates of those of the RS that we tested in April.

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review, The Z900RS Cafe s torque curve is impressively broad and flat translating into tons of fun at corner exits While the horsepower curve is consistent in its climb it lacks the top end rush some riders crave
The Z900RS Cafe’s torque curve is impressively broad and flat, translating into tons of fun at corner exits. While the horsepower curve is consistent in its climb, it lacks the top end rush some riders crave.

One morning, I rode from Big Bear Lake, CA back to Los Angeles via the Angeles Crest Highway for almost 100 miles of sinewy pavement, and the linearity of the power delivery can’t be understated as I frequently had a choice of two gears available. Maintaining neutral throttle throughout corners was a breeze, and when the pavement straightened out, that torque was only a wrist twist away, accompanied by the intake and exhaust serenade!

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review, The shock is adjustable for preload and rebound while the fork is fully adjustable
The shock is adjustable for preload and rebound while the fork is fully-adjustable.

Brakes and suspenders

While the Cafe can be pushed to an extremely aggressive, peg-scraping pace, it seems happiest when ridden up to an 8/10ths pace – which is fine with me. Any faster, and the ride becomes too much like work and probably should be taken to the track. But say you still decide to notch up the pace an additional tenth or two, the Cafe (and the RS) begins to lose a little bit of its composure. G-outs make the suspension go boingy-boingy, and rippled stutter bumps become a little too much for the fork to handle, forcing the bike wide if encountered mid-corner. Neither of these is terrible. The bike is just letting you know that it is no longer in its happy place.

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review, Strong drama free brakes makes trail braking a snap
Strong, drama-free brakes makes trail-braking a snap.

Braking is handled by a pair of radial-mounted four-piston calipers embracing 300mm discs. They work well and offer excellent feel for confident trail-braking. Since I’m not a huge late braker, I never pushed the binders to the point that the ABS felt it had to intervene. So, I would say that the level is set such that it is available to save your bacon in the wet or a panic stop situation but not interfere with your good time.

Limited production

During the Z900RS Cafe’s product unveiling, the Kawasaki reps said several times that the Cafe would be a limited release for 2018. Judging from the responses I received during the brief time I had the bike around Southern California, it has struck a nerve with the riding public. What appears to initially attract riders is the bike’s good looks. While I did get comments from some younger riders, the vast majority of those who were enamored with the Cafe were in the north of 40 set that remembers the era the design hearkens back to. With my age being in the mid-50s, I guess I, too, fit the profile.

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review, Sandwiched between the speedometer and tachometer the LCD screen displays all the information a rider needs from traction control setting to the remaining fuel
Sandwiched between the speedometer and tachometer, the LCD screen displays all the information a rider needs, from traction control setting to the remaining fuel.

So, back to my introduction. 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. With the MSRP checking in at $11,499, the Cafe is only $300 more than the top-of-the-line Z900RS. The fairing alone is worth that cost increase. The new riding position is gravy. If you’re at all interested in buying a Cafe this year, I suggest you get yourself to your Kawasaki dealership before it sells out.

2018 kawasaki z900rs cafe review

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

+ Highs

  • Retro yet modern style
  • Smooth throttle transitions
  • Loves an 8/10ths pace

– Sighs

  • Stutter bumps unsettle suspension
  • Seat could be a little softer
  • I had to return it after only 9 days

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Specifications

Engine TypeLiquid-cooled four-cylinder DOHC four-stroke
Bore x Stroke73.4 x 56.0 mm
Displacement948 cc
Compression ratio10.8:1
Fuel SupplyFuel injection (ø36 x 4)
Lubrication systemForced Lub. Wet
Starting systemElectric
Ignition systemB&C (TCBI EL. ADV. D.)
Max. power97.4 hp at 8,600 rpm
Max. torque64.5 lb-ft. 6,800 rpm
Driving systemChain
Clutch type (Primary)Wet, multi-disc
FrameTubular, diamond
Front SuspensionTelescopic fork (upside-down), 4.7 inches of travel, fully-adjustable
Rear SuspensionHorizontal back-link swingarm, 5.5 inches of travel, preload and rebound adjustable
Caster (Rake angle)25.0°
Trail3.5 inches
Steering angle35° left / 35° right
Front Tire120/70ZR17 M/C (58W)
Rear Tire180/55ZR17 M/C (73W)
Front BrakeDual 300 mm disc
Rear BrakeSingle 250 mm disc
Overall length83.1 inches
Overall width34.1 inches
Overall height46.5 inches
Wheelbase58.1 inches
Road clearance5.3 inches
Seat height32.3 inches
Wet weight (MO scales)496 pounds
Fuel tank capacity4.5 gallons
Join the conversation
2 of 81 comments
  • Lee Lee on Jul 20, 2018

    Someone tell me I haven't lost my mind. The bike is only offered in lime green? Am I the only one who thinks that's ugly? I know it's their race color and I know some people like it but any color you want as long as it's lime green?

  • Greg Bonett Greg Bonett on Sep 17, 2021

    After 3 years of ownership I still have the smile on my dial. Great bike and is a keeper. Only changes have been tyres after I wore out the ones that came with the bike. Regular services are very affordable if you can't do them yourself. The amount of comments I get when enjoying the bike on our roads in Australia is amazing. Remember these comments when you want to buy one in 10 years time!