Don’t look now, but the field of naked bikes slotting in just below the 1000cc mark is starting to rise – and we’re all the better for it. Maybe the OEMs have figured out that those big beasts in the upper echelons of naked bike performance are just too much for the more sensible among us. They’re too big, too fast, too powerful, with too much electronics, and too much of a price tag. For those of us still with a desire for naked bike fun, but at a slightly more moderate pace, we bring you the assembly of motorcycling you see before you.
It’s all relative. How good or bad a thing is all depends on the competition, doesn’t it – a thing that’s kept us employed and entertained for more than a few years now. Competition is good for business; MO comparison tests usually always draw in more eyeballs than single-bike reviews. In a perfect world, we’d gather up all five or six contenders in a given class for a week-long flog over hill and dale and racetrack. But in the real world of today, well shoot – it looks like our Top Five most-read comparisons of 2020 are only two bikes each.
Going into it, we were thinking Triumph’s new Speed Twin might be a heavy favorite for the win again in this tough category. But in the actual event, after we got our mitts on one for testing here at MO HQ, we were just slightly underwhelmed with the first modern Triumph to wear that name since the original Speed Twin, way back in 1936. Our disappointment turned to joy, though, when we traded the Speed Twin a couple weeks later for a new Scrambler 1200 XC.
There are a million ways to skin a cat, as they say, and the field that is the 900cc-ish middleweight naked bike segment is a perfect example. Just take these two cats. After we put the KTM 890 Duke R and Triumph Street Triple R head-to-head, Burns gave us flack for not throwing the Kawasaki Z900 in the mix. I still don’t think it quite has enough to top its Austrian or British counterparts, but it’s peppy enough and should be thrown up against something – if for nothing else than to shut John up.
We may have done a grave disservice to the Z900. When it was brand new in 2017, we bestowed upon the newly right-sized Kawasaki (bigger than the Z800 but smaller than the Z1000), our coveted Best Standard of the Year award – and that is one dog-eat-dog category. Three years ago we (I) wrote:
The only thing unpredictable about that announcement is that there’s no word on the Z900RS Cafe. Oh well. The Z900RS has drawn tons of interest ever since its leakage right before the big EICMA show last month, and now it’ll be North American buyers’ chance to put their money where their retro-loving mouths are – on the order of $10,999.
Every once in awhile we get opened-end motorcycle loan agreements from manufacturers. What does that mean for you? It means we have a chance to really put a motorcycle through the ringer. We have the time to schedule overnight, long rides. We have the time to schedule track days. We have the time to really live with a motorcycle and give our best interpretation of what it would be like for a potential owner to, well, actually own the thing.
Kawasaki has an impressive stable of naked Z bikes (including our MOBO Best Standard winner, the Z900) but not everyone’s a fan of the line’s aesthetic. Sure, some people might like the Michael Bay Transformers look, but some people want their Bumblebee to look more like a classic VW Beetle than a modern Camaro.
This could’ve gone several ways and almost did. As all the world’s manufacturers scramble to fill a burgeoning need for what we used to call just plain old motorcycles, choosing just one becomes more difficult – especially since eligible new players have only recently been made available to us for testing. I liked the new 2018 Suzuki GSX-S750 very much a couple of weeks ago, also the heavily revised 797 Ducati Monster reviewed way back in March. It doesn’t help that “Standard” is such an amorphous category… last year, the new Triumph Street Twin took home the trophy.
For all those traditionalists/purists who bemoan modern motorcycle electronics (TC, ride modes, electronic suspension, etc.), Kawasaki has a bike for you. The 2017 Kawasaki Z900 in this review is lighter and more agile than either the Z800 or Z1000, is more powerful than the Z800, costs way less than the Z1000, and is devoid of electronics save its gear-position indicator.
EICMA and Intermot have come and gone and the question on most American consumers’ minds is which of the wonderful new models will be making their way to the U.S.? Today, Kawasaki answered their part of the question, confirming the ZX-10RR, Ninja 1000, Ninja 650, Z900, Z650 and the Versys-X 300 for the U.S. market.