2017 Kawasaki Z900 ABS First Ride Test | Striking a Balance
This is a year of change for the Kawasaki Z line, as there is a bit of consolidation and the all-new 2017 Kawasaki Z900 ABS takes its place at the helm of the marque’s naked sport bikes. Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams takes the first ride on the new Z900.
The 2017 Kawasaki Z900 ABS replaces the Z1000 and the Z800. Yes, the venerable Z1000 is gone from the Kawasaki lineup in America for 2017 (but still available elsewhere in the world), and takes the short-lived Z800 with it (emissions issues are blamed for the Z800’s departure).
The Z900’s engine is all-new, yet quite familiar. While it’s an all-new powerplant, it follows a predictable Kawasaki approach—liquid-cooled DOHC short-stroke inline-4 with a six-speed transmission (five close ratios, and an overdrive 6th). It is a tried and true recipe, but this one works differently than you might expect.
Rather than muscular at lower rpm, the 948cc motor puts its power out higher in the rev range. It’s typical of big naked sport bikes to have huge grunt down low and through the lower mid-range of the powerband, but the Z900 has a different approach. Fairly soft and restrained below 6k, it wakes up about halfway to the generous 11,000 rpm redline. Both upper midrange and top end are satisfying.
The dual-personality engine makes real-world sense. While you might find a huge hit off the bottom addictively satisfying, and it is, in many ways that kind of power delivery is not practical around town—it can wear you out. The soft bottom end makes the Z900 a fantastic bike in urban traffic, yet it winds up excitedly when the road gets open and you can stretch its legs. Oh, and when you rev it up, the motor has a nice intake roar.
Electronic aids are banished from the motor. Here’s a list of what you won’t find on the Z900: power modes, traction control, wheelie control, rear wheel lift mitigation, launch control, quickshifting, engine braking control, or an inertial measurement unit (IMU).
The 2017 Kawasaki Z900 is built to a price. With everything that’s missing, you might expect to pay less for the new Kawasaki flagship Z, and you’d be right. The MSRP of the Z900 (sans ABS) is the same as last year’s Z800 ABS. The Z900 ABS is a staggering $3600 less than the Z1000 ABS it replaces, and $4600 less than the technologically advanced Yamaha FZ-10.
Not only is the engine new—so is the frame. While Kawasaki calls the Z900’s 30-pound frame a trellis design, it’s actually a combination of trellis, perimeter, and traditional steel tube, with the engine employed as a stressed member. The frame is a fabulous piece to see in person—very sparse, nicely welded, and the subframe is permanent.
The Z900 is an agile machine. The frame works, giving the 459-pound (claimed curb, no ABS) Z900 a great feel on the road. Feedback through the chassis is excellent, and that encourages a rider to push just a little bit harder in the twisties. The frame is also narrow through the center, making it easy to grip the 4.5-gallon gas tank.
Suspension and tires are medium spec, though certainly adequate. Semi-adjustable KYB suspension and Dunlop Sportmax D214s get the nod. They aren’t top-shelf, but within the context of the Z900, the suspension and tires get the job done.
Soft compression damping ensures a plush ride. Kawasaki decided that you should be nicely separated from the harshest realities of the road, and opted to fix the compression damping. The setting isn’t pure sport, but you can certainly ride aggressively once you settle into its behavior. Rebound damping and spring-preload are adjustable, so you can liven up or settle down the suspension response a bit, to taste. I thought it worked quite well out of the box, which is usually the case because I’m not a rider outside of the normal size and skill envelope.
The tires stick better than you might expect, and they are predictable. With silica blended in to extend life and improve performance in the wet, the Dunlop Sportmax D214 are a good medium-performance tire for riders with an eye on their budget—a likely Z900 buyer. Hitting it hard in the canyons, the D214s gave good feedback in conjunction with the chassis, and that’s a big part of going fast with confidence.
Braking is extremely friendly. Except for ABS, the braking is very basic on the 2017 Kawasaki Z900. The initial bite is extraordinarily soft, and the braking builds intuitively as you squeeze the lever. You won’t be surprised and the braking power is consummate with the motor, chassis, and tires. The rear brake is useful, and will trigger the ABS if used too aggressively.
Assist and slipper clutches are a good thing. They’re fairly common now, and the Z900 gets one. In urban areas, the light clutch pull is appreciated, and the slipper clutch is a great aid for the D214s when downshifting with abandon.
The 2017 Kawasaki Z900 is comfortable enough to be a weekend sport tourer. The flat-bend wide bars are comfortable, and there’s a good amount of legroom. You’ll lean a bit forward, to encourage aggressive riding, but the ergonomics are definitely upright. The seat height is an approachable 31.3 inches, though I preferred the softer inch-higher accessory seat. Dual counterbalancers banish buzziness, and the EFI is butter-smooth. There’s nothing about the Z900 that annoys or catches the rider off balance—perfect for fatigue-free rides.
It’s all about balance on the 2017 Kawasaki Z900. It’s a budget flagship Z, but Kawasaki did a good job of not letting any property of the Z900 standout as an underperformer. Instead, every facet is on the same page, providing just the right amount of performance so one attribute doesn’t overwhelm another. With the dual-personality motor, you can dial in exactly how much canyon performance you like, while still having a bike that’s great as a commuter or urban battler.
This week Teejay chats to Tyler Poppe. Tyler works on the TV show Mayans MC–and yet he doesn’t ride an American V-Twin. Wassup with that?? Also, Arthur finds out from friend Mike Cardillo about his thoughts on the full-size version of the Kawasaki KLX 140R F trail bike.