Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe review

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

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.

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First Look: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

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

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

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.

Kawasaki KZ1000R

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.

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe action

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?

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe engine

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. 

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!

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe shock

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. 

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe front brake

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.

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe instruments

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.

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe

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