First Look: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

Z1-inspired Z900RS combines classic looks with modern touches

UPDATE: We’ve added some shots of the new Z900RS from Kawasaki’s display at the Tokyo Motor Show, including some customized versions including one with several carbon fiber components.

Kawasaki pulled the wraps off its new Z900RS, a retro-styled motorcycle based on the Z900 platform that recalls the classic Kawasaki Z1. As of this writing, the Z900RS has not been confirmed for the U.S. market, but it has received certification from the California Air Resources Board so it’s only a matter of time before it becomes official.

Like the Z900, the Z900RS is powered by a 948cc Inline-Four, but with shorter-duration cam profiles and a lower compression ratio (10.8:1 compared to 11.8:1 on the Z900). Kawasaki also increased the flywheel mass by 12%. Kawasaki claims the Z900RS gets 110 hp at 8,500 rpm and 72.6 lb-ft. 6,500 rpm. The engine is tuned for low- to mid-range performance, with the Z900RS claiming more grunt below 7000 rpm than the Z900.

As it did with the Z900 and Z1000 before it, Kawasaki carefully tuned the Z900RS to produce a specific sound. While the Z900 was designed to deliver a specific intake howl, the focus on the Z900RS is designed to deliver a strong, deep rumble from its megaphone exhaust when idling or moving at low speeds.

The engine covers were designed to call back to some of the Z1’s motifs, while the cylinders sport faux engine fins to make them look air-cooled. The engine is paired with a six-speed transmission with a shorter first gear and longer sixth gear than the Z900. An assist & slipper clutch provides a lighter clutch lever pull while relieving back-torque pressure during excessive engine braking. The Z900RS also comes standard with a two-level traction control system.

Details such as the teardrop gas tank, round headlight, tail cowl and dual instrument clusters are callbacks to the Z1, yet they each maintain a modern touch. Between the analog speedometer and tachometer sits a multifunction LCD screen. The chromed circular headlamp with a convex land give a classic appearance, but the light itself is an LED with six chambers: four for low beam and two for high beam. Like the Z1, the tail has a “duck bill” style cowl atop an oval taillight, only this light is an LED. Unlike traditional LED lights which are a collection of illuminated dots, the Z900RS’ taillight is surface-emitting, which means it forms one solid surface like a classic non-LED light.

The wheels also exhibit a bit of this modern-retro trickery. At a quick glance, it looks like the Z900RS has wire spoke wheels. Look closer and you’ll see it actually has cast wheels with spokes that look like wires.

Achieivng the Z1-inspired fuel tank shape was a key part of the Z900RS’ design. To get it to fit, Kawasaki had to tweak the Z900’s trellis frame, moving the upper rails closer together. Once the tank was positioned, Kawasaki began working on the seat design and tail length for a balanced ratio closely resembling that of the Z1. Kawasaki also modified the riding position to be more upright and relaxed than the sportier Z900. The upper triple clamp is also different from the Z900’s, positioned 40mm higher than on the Z900 while reducing trail and making the Z900RS quicker to steer.

The suspension system is comprised of a 41mm inverted fork offering 10-way compression and 12-way rebound adjustability and stepless preload adjustability. At the rear, Kawasaki decided to keep the Z900’s horizontal back-link shock instead of switching to the more retro-looking (but lower performance) twin shock design of the Z1. The rear shock offers stepless rebound damping and preload adjustments.

The front wheel is equipped with dual discs with four-piston radial mount monoblock calipers while a single-piston caliper is paired to the single rear disc brake. A Nissin ABS system comes standard.

In Europe, the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS will be offered in three color options: Candytone Brown, Metallic Flat Spark Black and Metallic Matte Covert Green / Flat Ebony. We will provide an update on U.S. color options and pricing when they become available.

Kawasaki had a few custom Z900RS on display at the Tokyo Motor Show including this carbon-clad special.

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS 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. power110 hp at 8,500 rpm (claimed)
Max. torque72.6 lb-ft. 6,500 rpm (claimed)
Driving systemChain
Clutch type (Primary)Wet, multi-disc
FrameTubular, diamond
Front SuspensionTelescopic fork (upside-down), 4.7 inches of travel
Rear SuspensionHorizontal back-link swingarm, 5.5 inches of travel
Caster (Rake angle)25.0°
Trail3.9 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 length2,100 mm (82.7 inches)
Overall width865 mm (34.1 inches)
Overall height1,150 mm (45.3 inches)
Wheelbase1,470 mm (57.9 inches)
Road clearance130 mm (5.1 inches)
Seat height835 mm (32.9 inches)
Curb mass215 kg (474 pounds)
Fuel tank capacity17 litres (4.5 gallons)
Dennis Chung
Dennis Chung

Dennis has been a part of the team since 2008, and through his tenure, has developed a firm grasp of industry trends, and a solid sense of what's to come. A bloodhound when it comes to tracking information on new motorcycles, if there's a new model on the horizon, you'll probably hear about it from him first.

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  • Ottoknut Ottoknut on Dec 16, 2017

    Kawasaki is making the same mistake with their Z900RS as Honda is with their CB1100: They are pricing it unrealistically high. Guys my age (58) may be willing to pay a little extra for nostalgia, but not to the point were too much function is given up for the sake of form, i.e. the Z900RS is more expensive than the much more modern (albeit homely) Z1000ABS. I may be nostalgic towards the old style bikes, but I am also pragmatic. So, it goes against the grain for me to spend more to get less.

  • Bobplugh Bobplugh on Jul 05, 2018

    My first "big bike" was a '76 Green KZ900. I loved that bike. I eventually put on a Corbin Gentry seat, luggage rack and tall sissy bar, plus a full Vetter Windjammer fairing (with bottoms too). This was my "station wagon" for quite some time. I rode this bike from Pittsburgh, Pa. to Cambridge, Mass one year at the end of spring break. Just before I left it started snowing (yes, snowing) and at times it was a blinding blizzard out there. No, traction control, no electronics... just me, the bike, and the road. I remember the fairing accumulated snow deep enough until it slid off all at once - this happened several times.

    At one point I thought i was travelling a bit too close to the center of the road so I moved one lane to the right. Just as I cross the line I felt a slight bump and realized that I had been riding on the shoulder and that the shoulder ended and was followed up by DIRT... Yes, that's how close I came to being a statistic, or at least destroying my bike.

    Nonetheless I made it all the way (after a few stops for gas). My trust one piece TourMaster suit (which I still have) worked fantastic and my 3 finger winter gloves kept my hands toasty. I slept for about 18 hours after arriving though - I had never had to concentrate so hard for so long on the road before.

    Anyhow, that bike had 81 hp (according to specs). My current bike, a 2005 ZRX1200 (which as close to some of the later bikes I had as possible) has about 140 hp or so.

    I was hoping for a bike that sat like the old KZ900 but had hp more in line with current higher end models. Retro styling is great - I've been waiting for that for YEARS... but... no reason to give us a half baked motor.

    Count me disappointed.