Words: Donovan Fourie
Pics: Meghan McCabe
In some countries, the Z900 is taking over from not just the previous Z800, but also the Z1000. In South Africa, the Z800 and Z1000 are still available, although they are 2016 models. Looking at all of this, it’s easy to assume that the Z900 is simply a Z800 with a bigger drill used to make the cylinders but, in fact, it is a completely new bike with new designs, new concepts and new technology.
Actually, the technology part is stretching things somewhat. If anything, there is very little of that on the Z900. There is no traction control, rider modes, quickshifter, cruise control, heated grips and they probably put the ABS on grudgingly because the EU said they had to. But in many ways this adds to the charm of this motorcycle. It is refreshingly simple in a put motor, put chassis and ride kind of way.
While simple, it is still newly-designed from the ground up. The engine uses the typical Z format of in-line four-cylinder, but while the 800 actually ran an 803ccc and the 1000 has a 1043cc, the 900 runs a middle ground 948cc. It pushes a plucky 125hp, a good step up from the 113hp of the 800 and not completely out of touch of the 142hp of the 1000. The torque output is much the same deal, pushing a midway 98.6 Nm, 15Nm more than the 800 and 13Nm down on the 1000.
While keeping with the Kawasaki theme, it follows much the same Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde feeling of other Kawasakis. The bottom end feels subdued and relaxed, offering a gentle ride that is perfect for cruising long highways or weaving your way through morning traffic, whereas the top end is perky and ravishing, instilling the full Kawasaki sports mode.
While the engine is good fun, the real interest is in the new frame, with Kawasaki doing away with the tubular backbone frame of the 800 and replacing it with a steel-trellis unit. With this, we are certainly spotting a new Kawasaki trend here.
Originally, the H2 was released with a steel-trellis frame, much to the surprise of everyone who did not expect this sort of thing from Kawasaki. They said that this type of frame offered light weight and nimble handling while still remaining stable under acceleration. At the time, it was believed that Kawasaki did this to attempt to cope with the massive acceleration of the H2, but now we are seeing more than just this. The new 650s have received the trellis treatment, and here too in the Z900.
It has made a noticeable difference in the feel of the bike – it is more compact than the 1000 and the 800 that, if we are going to be honest, felt slightly bulky. The seat height of the 900 is just 795mm. That’s a huge dip from the 815mm of the 1000 and the massive 834mm of the 800. More the that, the reduced weight of this bike beggars belief. The Z1000 weighs in at 220kg, while the Z800 weighs a chunky 229kg. The Z900, with Euro4 compliance, is just 208kg. That’s mega.
We spent an Autumn Sunday with it and the Ninja 650 in the Cradle/Magaliesburg area, enjoying the sublime of scenic twisty passes and long flat out sections. I started on the 650 with my mate Justin Fernandes, proprietor of the famous Jugomaro Predator Park, buzzing along some distance ahead on the 900.
For some reason, and I think we can guess what it is, Justin was hesitant in handing over the Z900’s keys when it came turn for me to have a go. He had spent the day embarrassing 1000cc superbikes through the mountain passes and pulling massive wheelies on various straights. Eventually, we arrived back at his farm, and the only opportunity I had to ride the Z900 was the 40km ride home.
It is small, very small. It gives the feeling of confidence, of oneness. It’s not trying to control you, in fact it wants to do your every bidding. The motor has that split personality between quiet town cruiser and raving monster, which is actually quite grown up. When it’s play time, it’s play time, but there are grudging moments when it’s time to be a grown up. Open the throttle and let it rev, and you are rewarded with a respectable surge of acceleration. Run between traffic and it is a gentle kitten.
There are no funny, incomprehensible switches, no complicated array of information on the screen, just what you need to know. The only annoyance is the gear change light; well, we say light, it is more of a strobe effect. When you get to peak rpm, the entire digital rev counter flashes in an epilepsy–inducing light display.
Beyond that, it is comfortable, practical, fun and all the things we said about the 650 except on an obviously higher level. And here for a price of R139,9995 (approx $10,700).