Mat Durrans time traveller: Motorcycles going to the past, present and future
This past week I’ve felt like something of a motorcycling time traveller; the week started with a new bike that harks back to a golden age of biking nearly 50 years ago and ended with a glimpse of the future from a manufacturer that has, until now, seemed permanently stuck in the past.
1972 saw the arrival of a bike that established Kawasaki as a major player in the performance bike market. The Z1 was the manufacturer’s answer to Honda’s game-shifting CB750 of 1969 and came packed with horsepower and handling that made it the bike to have for speed freaks in the early ’70’s.
The Z1 was such a success it has since been remembered as the quintessential Kawasaki and so in an age of retro-themed bikes it was inevitable that this model would be honoured with a new incarnation.
The Z900RS is Kawasaki’s homage to the Z1, carrying similar paintwork and profile, though underpinned with the best that modern technology can offer.
The look is a good one, but if you’re of an age that can remember the original you’ll be in a for a huge surprise on your first ride. The in-line four cylinder motor is as smooth as you’d expect, but the 948cc mill punts out considerably more power than its namesake. 83Kw is a decent number for a naked bike, and with a solid haul of torque acceleration is serious, but the throttle can be twisted without too much worry thanks to the safety net provided by a 21st century traction control system.
Braking is pretty much as good as it gets too, with a couple of sizeable 300mm discs gripped by some tasty radial callipers and backed up with a sorted ABS system. Combine all these elements and you have a sorted sporty naked bike, and yet the RS is also a great everyday tool, hugely comfortable and easy to ride it makes a as great a commuter as it is a tasty tool for a twisty back road.
If you’re in the market for a retro bike and don’t fancy one of the crowd of such machines that are powered by a twin, then Kawasaki’s Z900RS deserves a closer look.
As much of a pleasant surprise as this bike was, it couldn’t compare to the level of shock I experienced on opening an email from a company that seems to have prided itself on ignoring the modern world in favour of living in the rose-tinted past.
Harley-Davidson is undoubtedly a successful motorcycle manufacturer, catering to its customers who value tradition, glitz and glamour over technology and forward thinking. The thing is, despite this previously successful strategy its sales have begun to suffer and cynics like us at The Bike Show have surmised it’s because, in brutally simplistic and cynical terms, its traditional base is, er, dying.
Or perhaps more accurately the desires of the existing market for motorcycles demand a more diverse offering. Harley-Davidson has consistently refused to broaden its range, perhaps put off by previous experiments with models such as the V-Rod, XR 1200 and Buell that failed to excite its customers.
I nearly deleted the company’s latest press release before reading it, so used am I to the company’s marketing gibberish extolling the positives of the latest pin-striping paintwork or dash of chrome. Thankfully I didn’t because this press release is the most shocking – in a good way – that has graced my inbox over the past 25 years.
Brace yourself because H-D has announced it is going to make an adventure bike, a middleweight sport-naked, a new custom and many new sub-500cc models for the Asian market. Its electric Livewire electric bike is ready for production next year and will be followed by other, smaller electric models all the way down to e-assist bicycles which are currently huge business in Europe.
The Pan America will be Harley’s entry into the lucrative adventure market, and though there is only the one picture of the proposed new model it has all the elements required to take the fight to the established names in the class.
All these new models will use some variation of a new family of liquid-cooled V-twins, the adventure model and Custom will use a 1250cc version, while the naked sport bike gets a 975cc unit.
At a time when H-D is experiencing more difficulties than just a dwindling customer base, thanks to retaliatory European tariffs on its products introduced as a result of Donald Trumps steel and aluminium tariffs, this new direction for the company couldn’t be more important.
These new models are intended for release in 2020, but the electric bike range will be available from next year. Harley-Davidson will then be the leading manufacturer in this new market, and that’s something I never thought I’d say about a company that has always seemed resistant to embracing new technology.