The 2020s youth market wants—nay, needs—affordable motorcycles that perform well and have comfortable ergonomics; vehicles that “make sense” if you will. Kawasaki has answered that need with the 2020 Kawasaki Z900 ABS. The absolutely brilliant motorcycle was unusually good when introduced in 2018. Although it was inexpensive—I saw a new one for sale a few months ago in a local showroom for $6,100–its powerful, inline-4 engine revved to the moon, and the non-adjustable suspension worked quite well out of the box. I absolutely loved it.Presumably, the recipe succeeded, so for the 2020 release of the 900, Kawasaki bestowed some significant upgrades on it—without losing the strengths and appeal of the original.
1. The Z900 now comes with three riding modes and Kawasaki’s traction control, adjustable suspension, a full-color TFT instrument pod, LED headlight, and Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 Tires.2. Lacking for nothing, the DOHC 948cc motor feels crisp and very powerful. It revs willingly and rapidly to the 11,000 rpm limiter, producing power all the way there. If you’re chasing a buddy in the canyons, you will love the broad powerband and sheer speed this motorcycle is capable of. Yet the Z900 also produces an impressive 73 ft-lbs of torque, which is useful if you’re coming out of slow corners or dodging distracted drivers in town.3. The motor is noticeably smooth. Although that sounds like a non sequitur, the engine is so lacking in vibration that it actually stood out to me. There is no low-rev rumble, and a minimal amount of high-frequency vibes, too. On high-mileage rides, especially long, high-speed runs through twisting canyons, this helps keep the ride less fatiguing.4. Retaining the sublime handling of the original, the new lightweight trellis chassis of the Z900 is just as nimble and sweet-handling as before. Both the 41mm inverted fork and rear shock now have adjustable rebound damping for fine-tuning. I found the suspension so well set up that I didn’t touch the settings, and it was only on a really spirited two-up ride where I needed to increase the rear spring preload two turns. Overall the suspension reacts so well it handled the fast, poorly paved Angeles Crest highway incredibly well. The bumpy tarmac was making the suspension work hard, yet the Z900 stayed planted on line and unerringly accurate to steer.5. The handling of the Z900 is impeccable, with special kudos going to the Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 tires. At 468 pounds at the curb, the Z900 is so well balanced that it feels nimble. It is light and maneuverable, whether riding around town or transitioning at high speed through a rhythmic series of bends. Yet despite the Kawasaki’s excellent maneuverability, it is also stable, and not nervous at all. The Z900 is neutral-feeling on turn-in, so I found it incredibly accurate to steer. With minimal input at the handlebar, it is super-easy to ride fast, with real precision.6. Equipped with four-piston calipers gripping petal-style 300mm rotors in the front, the brakes are adequate without being spectacular. They have plenty of linear feel, and don’t grab on initial application. They are powerful enough for solo-riding, though a two-up ride left me feeling that a little more stopping power perhaps wouldn’t go amiss. ABS is now standard in 2020.7. New for 2020, three power modes incorporate three levels of traction control. Of those power modes, Sport and Road both provide full power, with only the level of aggression changed slightly. Rain mode offers 60 percent of full power, with a soft power delivery. The three levels of traction control are integrated into each mode, with Sport mode having level 1 (least intrusion), Road mode having level 2, and Rain getting level 3. A fourth Rider mode is customizable, so (for instance) one permutation could be Road power with traction control level 1. Wheelie aficionados will have to go into Rider mode to turn off the traction control, which also functions to limit wheelies.8. The 36mm throttle bodies with dual-butterfly injection give a smooth power delivery. A jerky throttle is simply a thing of the past. Expert riders will appreciate how precisely the throttle can be modulated, especially when riding aggressively in a low gear through technical corners. Intermediate riders will appreciate the lack of jerkiness at the twistgrip, making it easy to ride the Z900 comfortably.9. The 2020 Kawasaki Z900 is a fuel-sipper. A 4.5-gallon fuel tank sounds a little lacking, however, I found that the engine is so miserly with its fuel usage that the Z900 actually had an impressive range. It returns mid-40s mpg–even with a day of very aggressive two-up riding didn’t faze the fuel consumption at all.10. A six-speed gearbox and slipper clutch matches perfectly spaced ratios that swap smoothly and efficiently. There is no clutchless shifting assistance, and on a bike that is this capable of going fast, I’d like to see it offered at least as an accessory. Sixth gear, as usual, is a bit of an overdrive. If you want to explore the Z900’s prodigious power you will more likely use the lower gears and the rev-happy engine. At highway speeds, top gear allowed for reasonable revs and returned amazing fuel economy, which is remarkable given the lack of aerodynamic fairing.11. The color TFT display is useful and easy to read. A sweep rev-counter across the top of the screen, a large digital speed readout, and a very large gear indicator told me all I needed to know at a glance. The display’s brightness adjusts automatically, and a black/white background can be toggled depending on your preference.12. Ergonomics on the Z900 are upright-naked typically comfortable. The handlebars are nicely shoulder-width, and the rider stance is slightly leaned forward and pleasantly aggressive. I found the footpegs to be set quite high, but the handling on this machine is so good that I quickly realized the bike needs supersport-level ground clearance in corners.13. For such a small rear seat pad, my passenger reported that the Z900 was surprisingly comfortable on a long ride. However, she did complain about the lack of passenger grab rail or handles, which she finds useful, especially on hard braking.14. MSRP is $8999, an astounding feat for such a charismatic and spectacular performing machine. Build quality is exemplary; this motorcycle is amazing value for money.15. Overall the 2020 Kawasaki Z900 is close to my ideal two-wheeler. It’s very quick, responsive, intuitive to ride, comfortable, good-looking, and beautifully finished. And it delivers all of that at a really great price.Action photography by TeeJay AdamsRIDING STYLE
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly Podcast—Motos and Friends.
My name is Arthur Coldwells.
This week’s Podcast is brought to you by Yamaha motorcycles. Discover how the YZF-R7 provides the perfect balance of rider comfort and true supersport performance by checking it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or see it for yourself at your local dealer.
This week’s episode features Senior Editor Nic de Sena’s impressions of the beautiful new Harley-Davidson Low Rider ST that is loosely based around the original FXRT Sport Glide from the 1980s. Hailing from The Golden State, these cult-status performance machines became known as West Coast style, with sportier suspension, increased horsepower, and niceties including creature comforts such as a tidy fairing and sporty luggage.
In past episodes you might have heard us mention my best friend, Daniel Schoenewald, and in the second segment I chat with him about some of the really special machines in his 170 or so—and growing—motorcycle collection. He’s always said to me that he doesn’t consider himself the owner, merely the curator of the motorcycles for the next generation.
Yet Daniel is not just a collector, but I can attest a really skilled rider. His bikes are not trailer queens, they’re ridden, and they’re ridden pretty hard. Actually, we have had many, many memorable rides on pretty much all of the machines in the collection at one time or another.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!