WHEN FORD ROLLED OUT ITS REDESIGNED MUSTANG IN 2005 and Chevrolet did the same with its Camaro in 2009, the two car manufacturers resurrected design cues of their most popular versions from the muscle car era, eliciting an emotional response from customers, who bought them up by the tens of thousands.
KAWASAKI IS BANKING on the same phenomenon with the unveiling of its new Z900RS. This striking upright standard model, introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show in October, is a modern interpretation of the company’s 1973 903cc Z1. The world’s first four-cylinder DOHC production superbike, which set 46 speed records on its way to standing the motorcycle industry on its ear. The goal was to bring back the excitement, the fun and the performance of the bike that put Kawasaki on the map, packaged to incite passion. They nailed it. Though the RS mechanically shares much with the company’s Z900 naked bike, it is its own entity. Kawasaki folks made that clear when they stated the bike’s design started with and was built around its fuel tank, which is nearly indistinguishable from the one found on the 1973 bike and is offered in the same paint scheme: root beer and orange. It’s a big scoop of nostalgia, all covered with two sweet toppings from the past.
THE TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE continues with other Z1-inspired components: flat rear frame angle for a retro sport look; tail cowl and light positioning; cylinder head with engine fins for air-cooled appearance; and twin chrome-wrapped analog speedometer and tachometer. It would have been easy to just bolt that mod tank, raised, wide handlebars and a long strapped seat onto Kawasaki’s new Z900 and, voila, a naked bike becomes a retro bike. But, the new RS has plenty to offer of its own. While the Ninja 1000 and Z900 are Kawasaki-fast, built to do a job and work hard for their owners to get it done, this RS, though also endowed with arm-straightening power, was built to play. Where there is urgency with the Z900, the Z900RS is all about leisure.
THE RS DOES SO MANY THINGS SO WELL, it is easy to come away feeling there is nothing it can’t do. It fires right up and rumbles with the satisfying growl of its tuned exhaust note. Pull in the clutch. The assist and slipper feature makes it easy. Gears are easy to find. So is neutral. The sporty seat is quite comfortable and there is actually room to have a passenger onboard—the two-up aspect is another familiar sight from the 1970s. In fact, we couldn’t find one thing about the RS to dislike or indict. Start with the same liquid-cooled, double overhead cam, 948cc engine found in the Z900. Consistent with the RS’s more docile profile, the engine has been tuned a little different, with an emphasis on delivering smooth, strong low to mid-level torque performance thanks to shorter intake and exhaust duration, as well as a larger flywheel than the Z900.
THIS POWER IS BALANCED BY AGILE HANDLING, and managed by the selectable Kawasaki Traction Control system. The three-stage exhaust is built well, from stainless steel, looks good, with a buff finish, and may have the best “tuned” exhaust note on the market. This all adds up to a phenomenal riding experience. Within the first mile, the light and nimble handling is already endearing itself to the rider. The power is immediate and plentiful with every twist of the throttle, though launches from a stop are smooth and gentle. The exhaust picks up and reports hard acceleration, though not in annoyingly- loud fashion. Braking is stable and sure, and the handling is amazing.
ON A SPIRITED 60-MILE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RIDE along Pacific Coast Highway, through the twists and turns of Las Flores Canyon and back down Mulholland Drive, the RS turned into a racer, railing every turn. These kinds of roads, you’d better be sure the bike is going to hold the line and that the brakes will be there on steep descents into sharp curves. The RS was fully up to the challenge. It also proved to be competent and enjoyable in city traffic, its riding position comfortable. We couldn’t help but think the RS would make an awesome street tracker. Who knows? Maybe Kawasaki already has one in the works. Even if it does, it will have a hard time matching the kind of impact this new retro-inspired Z900RS is likely to have on the motorcycle-buying public.