We’re spoiled for riches in the naked upright sportbike class, with every shape, size, and shade of riding represented in the segment. Even in that noisy and competitive crowd, the street-focused Kawasaki Z900 keeps heads on a swivel with its rocking inline-four-cylinder engine and attractive MSRP. Now, the Japanese firm is sweetening the pot with the tarted-up 2022 Kawasaki Z900 SE, adding upgraded suspension and braking components into the mix.Brembo? Check. Öhlins? Yep. The 2022 Z900 SE adds a new blinged-out Showa fork and Öhlins S46 shock to bolster its chassis, while radial-mounted Brembo four-piston calipers and a radial master cylinder up the ante in the braking department. All for an extra $1500 over the base model.
An impact is felt out of the gate, and we put the 2022 Kawasaki Z900 SE through the wringer at some of our favorite local haunts. Now, we’ll let the Fast Facts do the talking.
The 948cc inline-four packs a street-savvy punch. Kawasaki’s tried-and-true powerplant is a charming piece of kit, dolling out its hits with the smoothness of your favorite crooner. Low rpm torque, broad midrange might, and top-end puff are aplenty, while its impressive linear power delivery makes it as user-friendly as can be. Pesky peaky powerbands aren’t a thing here, and the four-banger’s ability to rev up with vigor keeps it engaging, as does a visceral induction howl.
A sporty six-speed transmission doesn’t skip a beat. Tight, short throws make gear selection a breeze, which is only made lovelier by the easy-going slip-and-assist clutch. However, if there was ever a motorcycle needing a quickshifter, this is it, as it would suit the Z900 platform’s sporty mood. As a reminder, this steed is geared on the lower side to help it find its four-cylinder-powered-stride quickly. Fortunately, the saving grace is a 6th gear overdrive that nets respectable fuel economy during highway slogs.
Three power modes and a modest electronics suite are standard. Sport, Road, Rain, and a customizable Rider mode morph the Z’s personality. Each mode also adjusts traction control settings, with Sport serving the zestiest throttle response, and Road is a shade off from that. Kawasaki has pinched a few pennies and eschews an IMU, though I needn’t wag my finger at its well-sorted traction control. Still, hooligans will want to disable TC for anything more than a modest power wheelie. Meanwhile, the non-adjustable ABS doesn’t wither under pressure, save for rough tarmac, making it chime in prematurely.
Cruise control isn’t available. To be fair, the Z900’s bones date back to 2017. It never flexed the flashiest tech, and pricey electronics go against its mission of keeping costs low and fun high, which it has achieved at every update. Still, as we look at the naked landscape, plenty of offerings flaunt CC, and it may be time to bring fresh gizmos into the fold. It would be a welcome addition, even if it requires a true ride-by-wire throttle like the Ninja ZX-10R recently acquired.
We appreciate the full-color TFT, though the user interface needs some attention. Kawasaki’s easy-to-read display is used in plenty of models at this point—may stodgy LCDs live in the past, where they belong. However, the lack of input indicators or feedback from the menu makes exploration a mysterious task. 2022 Kawasaki Z900 SE owners will surely learn what makes it tick, while those unfamiliar are often left with an eyebrow raised and an owner’s manual referenced.
A Showa and Öhlins duo improves the riding experience across the board. Upgrading the suspenders at each end has done wonders for this steel-trellis chassis, highlighting the finer points of its stable handling. Now, the Z900 holds its line with a steely-eyed steadiness. Even if its hefty 468 pounds requires a little more steering input than competitors, riders have the confidence to absolutely bully it around the curves thanks to the more supportive setup. And Kawi didn’t compromise its outright comfort in the name of performance. While I appreciate the shock’s remote spring-preload adjuster, the shock doesn’t feature compression damping adjustment—luckily, the Öhlins isn’t lacking in that department for me.
Brembo M4.32 calipers and a radial master cylinder bring the stopping power. Replacing the old-school axial hardware found on the base Z is proper sportbike componentry. The venerable M4s are not the latest and greatest from Brembo, yet the improvement over the standard Z900 is clear. Initial bite is stronger than before, with the added benefit of enhanced feel. That goes a long way whether you’re trail braking in the canyons or trawling parking lots, bringing it up to snuff with the comparable naked machines. Also, the SE ditches the petal-style rotors.
Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 tires return. Nothing has changed on the tire front, and Dunlop’s Roadsport rubber aims to balance grip and mileage. Sportier options are in the Dunlop family, though rubber of this ilk fits the Z900’s extensive job description.
A standard UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) seating position awaits. While the Sugomi looks are certainly futuristic, the seating position harkens back to Japanese sportbikes of yesterday, with the rider neatly tucked in the chassis behind its 4.5-gallon fuel tank and backswept handlebars. The Z900 SE’s 31.5-inch seat height is also welcoming, particularly for those with shorter inseams. However, the trade-off is a tighter seat-to-peg ratio that leggier customers might find a bit cramped—an inch-taller seat is optional for those looking to reduce knee-bend. My 5-foot-10 frame is on the can nestle into the Z900 and isn’t worse for wear.
The 2022 Kawasaki Z900 SE strengthens the foundation of a solid platform. Shelling out extra coin on an up-spec model raises one question: Is it worth it? In this case, the upgraded suspension and braking components are definite improvements over the base model’s hardware, and you’d be spending less than replacing the bits yourself. While it has crept into the 10k mark, the Z900 SE still stands firm on its original promise to deliver sporting simplicity, with credit going to the fun-loving four-cylinder engine and freshly embellished chassis.
KTM Super ADV R + Lightning Motorcycles’ Richard Hatfield
byMotos and Friends by Ultimate Motorcycle
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Motos and Friends—the weekly Podcast brought to you by the editorial team at Ultimate Motorcycling. My name is Arthur Coldwells.
In this week’s first segment, Editor Don Williams rides KTM’s new 1290 Super Adventure R. This hardcore ADV bike is big, powerful, and a true expert-level machine. Interestingly, it has multiple points of adjustment within its highly capable electronics package, and Don discovered several big surprises where the bike changed personality completely. His is an intriguing look at one of the most capable off road ADV bikes on the market today.
In the second segment, I chat with Richard Hatfield, CEO of Lightning motorcycles. This silicon valley based manufacturer was founded in 2006, and having racked up several notable race victories (including Pikes Peak in 2013 with the late Carlin Dunne on board) Lightning have certainly dominated in racing terms. In another first, Lightning has just announced a new rapid-charging battery technology that may well bring electric motorcycles into becoming real-world, practical transport.
So from all of us here at Motos & Friends… we hope you enjoy this episode!