Kawasaki Z900 vs. Yamaha FZ-09: Sport Motorcycles Comparo Review
There are so many super-sexy liter-bikes out there it’s easy to overlook the machines tucked just under the 1000cc displacement threshold. Even though they’re not the best equipped, and don’t have shockingly fast liter-engine horsepower, they still have way more get-up-and-go than most people can realistically use, and because they are more user friendly, they don’t need the sophisticated electronics and exotic suspension of their brethren.
I have lived with both the all-new 2017 Kawasaki Z900 and the upgraded 2017 Yamaha FZ-09 for an extended period of time and I was impressed. To begin with, at less than $9000 each, they are exceedingly good value. I discovered that, budget they may be, cheap-feeling they are not. On the contrary, they both have exceptional build quality and nicely detailed finishes that you would expect to find on a premium-level machine.
Kawasaki’s all-new Z900 is a 948cc inline-4 “screamer” motor, with an even firing order and a traditional powerband. It produces power in a relatively linear fashion all the way to the rev-limit. The Kawasaki pulls very strongly everywhere, and is a sterling example of the typical Japanese i-4 motor—and that’s a real compliment.
The Yamaha FZ-09 on the other hand, is an 847cc triple, designed around Yamaha’s uneven firing order Crossplane Concept. Less traditional than the Kawasaki’s UJM powerplant, the Yamaha’s strength is its prodigious torque that appears lower down the rev-range where it is most useful. Despite its 101cc deficit to the Kawasaki, it only starts to feel less powerful closer to the rev ceiling.
Both motors are smooth and pleasant feeling, around town or on tight canyon roads. However, they have strikingly different characters.
As we know, pleasurable motorcycling isn’t just about outright horsepower; both torque output and (lack of) weight are big factors, too. With 126 horsepower and 73 ft/lbs of torque, the Kawasaki is quite a bit more powerful than the Yamaha’s 115/45 power output; however, the Z900 is also quite a bit heavier.
The Yamaha only weighs 414 pounds, compared to the Kawasaki’s 443 pounds, and that extra weight makes a difference. Not only that, the Yamaha’s motor feels as though it has minimal flywheel weight, as it revs quicker than the Kawasaki’s slightly silkier engine.
All that adds up to the Yamaha feeling quite a bit snappier than the Kawasaki low down in the powerband. Now, don’t take that to mean the Kawasaki is a sloth, because it is not—and more on that later—but the Yamaha motor is more aggressive, and this is especially noticeable in the lower gears where the low-down power jumps in at small throttle openings.
The FZ-09’s motor and fueling is not jerky, but an intermediate-level rider who took both bikes for a spin told me that he preferred the Kawasaki, as it was easier to ride. The Kawasaki has a smooth powerband, and the power just keeps flooding in until you reach the rev limit.
Around town or on tight canyons, I preferred the Yamaha’s instant jump-to-it character, and its amazing, useful power. On faster roads with more rhythmic riding, I favored the Kawasaki’s smooth-screaming motor that always seemed in a predictable but strongly building powerband, no matter which gear I was in.
Both machines have beautifully smooth fuel mapping and a good throttle connection. However, the Yamaha does have a slight flat spot that can make itself apparent when pulling away in first gear. Unlike the Kawasaki, the Yamaha comes with three power modes that deliver the motor’s power in increasing levels of aggression. I preferred the STD (middle) mode, which was nice and smooth at small throttle openings.
The Z900’s fueling is flawless and it has no such off-idle hesitation. Even when exiting relatively slow corners in a tall gear, the motor pulled smoothly with zero hesitation anywhere. Although there are no selectable power modes, the Kawasaki is so user-friendly at all points in the rev range that it really doesn’t need them.
Both bikes have enough beans to power-wheelie in first gear, but the Yamaha will do it in second gear as well. The FZ-09 is so absurdly agile it feels like it actively enjoys wheelies, as they feel so natural and controllable.
Braking is very similar on both of these machines; I can’t fault, nor do I prefer, either one. Both brake systems have an unintimidating mild initial bite and good linear feel. If you want to stop harder, you apply more pressure—there are no surprises.
The FZ-09 has a radial master-pump and calipers, and ultimately those brakes are a tad more powerful—but it’s close. While the Z900 does not have radially mounted calipers, it does however, have wave rotors. Some people prefer the wave look, and I’ve always suspected they give a little more bite and improved feel at the lever.
Where the rubber meets the road, both motorcycles are equipped with ever so slightly budget-conscious tires that are a notch down from each manufacturer’s very best. However, grip is excellent with each, and the handling of course, is exemplary. The Z900 is fitted with Dunlop Sportmax D214 rubber, while the FZ-09 gets the Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20. Those who feel the need can easily upgrade, as the tire sizes are standard.
The bikes I tested were equipped with ABS and, although I never had to use it on either machine, it’s great insurance—I wouldn’t buy a street motorcycle without it. ABS ups the price of the standard Kawasaki Z900 by $400. With both bikes ABS-equipped, the $8999 Yamaha FZ-09 is just 200 bucks more expensive than the Kawasaki. The Yamaha does however also come with two-level traction control and three power modes, where the Kawi offers neither feature.
Although they’re both the same upright-sportbike class, again, these machines couldn’t be more different. Although the Z900’s looks are modern, it has a somewhat traditional riding position and familiar style, albeit with that ass-in-the-air MotoGP styling that is contemporary cool.
The FZ-09, in contrast, has that taller, skinny-looking, Supermoto styling ethic. It’s a modern streetfighter and, if you’re not careful, it may well pick a fight with you. The Yamaha screams aggression—this is the bike you’ll want to be riding when you have to escape the zombie apocalypse. It’s tall, it’s fast, and it’s flickable, so you’ll get away, believe me.
In terms of ergonomics, the Kawasaki has a wide and flat seat that, for me, feels normal and pretty comfortable. It’s not the best I’ve ever used, but it certainly isn’t bad. The Yamaha is more dirt-bike style, so it’s skinny, fairly hard, and has enough forward slope that it caused the wedgie phenomenon when I wore jeans. I’d rather not elaborate any further, but we’re all adults here and you know what I’m saying.
I felt perched on top of the slim-feeling FZ-09, and those wide handlebars and relatively low-and-forward footpegs have the riding position tailor-made for strafing city streets, though for long freeway drones it’s not the best. The Z900 is lovely around town, too, as it is so easy to ride and the seated-in position helps me feel connected to it. However, the riding stance is definitely leaned forward quite aggressively so, again, it’s a little better suited to sweeping curves and higher speeds.
The Yamaha sits the rider higher and pretty much bolt upright, and so there’s significantly more windblast than on the Kawasaki. Yet, the Yamaha will make you feel confident and a little aggressive, so if you’re in town battling Suburban-driving soccer moms more distracted by their cellphone than Carlos Danger at a high school graduation, the FZ-09 gets the nod over the Z900.
Even though the rubber footpegs (a welcome touch) on the Kawasaki are higher and farther back than the Yamaha’s, that’s not to say the Z900 is less comfortable—it’s just different. In the end, both machines feel natural, light, nimble, and perfectly at home around town.
The Yamaha’s taller stance and crazy-torquey motor give it the edge if most of your mileage is around the city and flicking through traffic. If you do more canyon carving or distance riding, the Kawasaki takes the laurels. The Z900 is simply more comfortable, and long-legged feeling. Despite being a naked, I would happily take it on a multi-day long distance trip, and gloriously rev the nuts off it for every grin-inducing inch of the way.
The suspension on these motorcycles falls within the same pattern, with a 41mm fork up front and single shock at the back; all four units are adjustable for spring-preload and rebound damping.
Both motorcycles handle impeccably, with light, neutral, intuitive handling that make them both supremely easy to ride. Forget manhandling or wrestling either bike into a corner. These two motorcycles are agile, yet so refined that any rider will quickly feel at home on either one.
Yet, as with both the engine characters and riding positions, there is a marked difference between the way they handle. The Kawasaki is a sporting revelation. It turns out the taut suspension is ideal for my 185-pound frame. The chassis works perfectly with my old-school riding style, where I take precise, sweeping lines through corners, focusing on maintaining my momentum. I never adjusted the suspension at all—it’s that good. The springing is firm, and the damping exceptional. The Z900 feels planted and secure at all times, and soaks up bumps well without throwing the bike off line in a corner.
Accelerating hard on exit the Kawasaki stays on line and secure feeling. It really is an exceptional and intuitive handling motorcycle. I felt totally connected to it, and the absolute reliability and precision of the handling filled me with huge confidence, especially in the solid front-end. It was good enough I tended to carry fast corner entrance speeds even on unfamiliar roads.
The Yamaha, with its wide bars and Supermoto tenet, is more suited to flicking into a corner and back again with alacrity. It encourages point-and-squirt riding, where you almost back it into a corner with a flourish, flick it upright, and then jet from the exit leaving a presumably appreciative audience in your wake. On the FZ-09, I’m almost tempted to stick my foot out flat-track style when coming up to a corner. That’s not my style of riding, but the Yamaha is light-feeling enough that I was constantly tempted to try.
The suspension is softer than the Kawasaki’s and, coupled with that amazing agility, the FZ-09 has a slightly nervous demeanor. When you’re riding even reasonably hard the handlebars are never still. At modest speeds the handling is friendly and confidence-inspiring, however, the soft springing and mild damping settings mean the FZ-09 is less precise and moves around a lot more than the Z900.
Aggressive corner exits will squat the FZ-09’s rear end and set the handlebars waggling; it’s not dangerous, but it makes for vague cornering especially at higher speed. However, if you’re buzzing around town and weaving your way through a pothole infested minefield, then the Yamaha will soak up all those imperfections without drama, leaving you serenely oblivious to the hammering beneath your wheels.
For the California canyon carving that is most of my riding, I opted to stiffen up the Yamaha’s suspension. I did not add spring preload, but I increased the rebound damping by several clicks at both the front and rear of the FZ-09. The handling then became much closer to the Kawasaki’s level of precision. Still, the Z900 is simply the better handling motorcycle in a purely high-speed, sporting environment.
In terms of fittings and build quality, both motorcycles are very nicely finished. The single instrument pods on each machine contain all the information necessary, and are easy to read. Unlike the Z900, the FZ-09 has tapered handlebars, which are a nice touch.
As budget-conscious machines, you will have a pleasant surprise at the fuel pump. Both bikes have excellent fuel consumption—they really are sippers. The Kawasaki has excellent fuel range that is well in excess of 100 miles, and no matter how much you empty the tank it still only ever seems to take just under three gallons to fill the claimed 4.5-gallon tank.
The FZ-09 has less range than the Z900. If you go on extended rides, you may have a few anxious moments looking for the next gas station. The tank never emptied, but on group rides it was always the Yamaha that was first to need a gas station, but that is more a factor of its 3.7-gallon tank size, not fuel consumption.
Overall, these are two incredibly satisfying motorcycles. As budget-conscious as they are, they are monster value for money, and neither one compromises in terms of overall capability and pure riding enjoyment. They look awesome, and they work incredibly well; intermediate and expert riders alike will not find much of anything lacking in either one.
Both are very capable in town, and both carve through the canyons with enthusiasm. The Yamaha FZ-09 is a bit better suited to urban riding while the Kawasaki is slightly superior on the open road. Novice-to-intermediate level riders will probably prefer the Z900 over the FZ-09, however expert level riders will have a much tougher decision. But ultimately, they are both fantastic motorcycles and there’s no wrong way to go—no one is going to be disappointed.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: HJC RPHA 11 Pro
- Communications: Sena 10C
- Jacket: Spidi Warrior Pro
- Gloves: Spidi Carbo 1
- Pants: Spidi RR Pro Wind
- Boots: Spidi XP5-S WRS Vented
|10 Essential Specs||Kawasaki Z900 ABS||Yamaha FZ-09|
|Motor||Inline-4; DOHC||Inline-3; DOHC|
|Bore x stroke||73.4 x 56.0mm||78.0 x 59.1mm|
|Front tire||120/70 x 17||120/70 x 17|
|Rear tire||180/55 x 17||180/55 x 17|
|Wheelbase||57.1 inches||56.7 inches|
|Rake||24.5 degrees||25.0 degrees|
|Seat height||31.3 inches||32.3 inches|
|Curb weight||463 pounds||425 pounds|