In 2018 Kawasaki gave the modern classic segment a shakeup with the introduction of the Z900 RS, a bike which really put the sport into the ‘retro sport’ category which up until that point had been more about style and little about substance. Hot on its heels is the Z900 RS Cafe, which as the name suggests adds plenty of cafe racer styling to the already attractive Z900 RS package.
Words and Photos by Mathieu Day-Gillett
Initially, Kawasaki New Zealand was planning on only offering the Z900 RS Cafe as a special order motorcycle with a $500 premium over the base Z900 RS, but due to demand for the cafe racer version Kawasaki decided to import a number of Z900 RS Cafe models for general release – albeit at a slightly higher price of $21,495 over the base bike’s $19,995.
Despite the change in price, the Z900 RS Cafe is still fantastic value for money for those riders who want the ease of ownership of a brand new machine with the classic styling inspired the by racers the 1970s. But with the addition to the mix of the 1970s inspired bikini fairing and flat ace style handlebar, the Z900 RS Cafe doesn’t add any additional sportsbike ability over the offering of the base RS.
With an already edgy engine and chassis package inherited from the Z900 RS Kawasaki didn’t need to add any further substance in that area. The engine is the same DOHC 948cc inline-four producing a very healthy 81.6kW (109hp) at 8,500rpm and 98.5Nm at 6,500. As a result, the Cafe remains in terms of performance the same well planted and relaxed machine which is at the cutting edge of the modern classic class. Plus, let’s not forget that glorious intake and exhaust note which Kawasaki so painstakingly tuned from the factory. This bike simply sounds sublime.
However, don’t think that you are getting just a version of the Z900 RS with a fairing in eye-searing Vintage Lime Green if you go for the Cafe. New for 2019 is a new colour option dubbed Pearl Storm Grey, which can be specially ordered in and adds a more subtle aesthetic option for riders who don’t want the added attention the bright green bikes attract. While the physical changes in the creation of the Cafe version of the Z900 RS are small, they are in fact substantial, especially in terms of rider ergonomics.
The bikini fairing offers plenty of wind deflection for the rider, and gives an authentic “racer” feel if you hunch down behind it like Kawasaki’s WSBK Champ Jonothan Rea, while the flat handlebar, combined with the new cafe racer seat actually has you sitting closer to the well thought out instrument cluster, which like the Z900 RS features two easy to read analogue gauges split by a stylish inverted LCD display.
The seat, however, isn’t the most comfortable for pillion riders with its cafe racer hump, but as the subframe of the Cafe is exactly the same as the base Z900 RS the seats can be easily interchanged if desired.
Despite the old-school appearance, the Cafe does pack in plenty of modern essentials in terms of electronics. On top of the aforementioned digital instrumentation display, the Z900 RS Cafe also features Kawasaki’s brilliant adjustable Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC) system and ABS as standard features. While the ABS is permanently on and ready to save you from locking up the wheels, the KTRC system can be adjusted on the fly via the left-hand handlebar switches and acts almost as a rider mode buttons as the bike feels quite different between KTRC off and fully on.
This comes into its own when you swing astride the Z900 RS Cafe and hit our incredibly varying roads. With the ability to chose between three different traction control settings it is easy to keep the bike humming along in its sweet spot without fearing the rear wheel might decide to overtake you mid-corner.
Mid-corner is, unfortunately, one of the places where a rare drawback to the Z900 RS base comes into play with the Z900 RS Cafe. As we learnt at the Pukekohe Part Raceway launch last year, cornering clearance is limited on the Z900 RS thanks to where the comfortable rider’s triangle has the footpegs placed, meaning if you want to slay corners and get your knee sliders skimming the tarmac you should probably look at one of Kawasaki’s supersport models instead of the more relaxed Retro Sports.
If, however, you adopt the old Porsche racing mantra of “Slow in, fast out” the Z900 RS Cafe is a thoroughly enjoyable machine thanks to that specially tuned intake and exhaust note and is a standout in the Modern Classic class.
PROS AND CONS | 2019 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe
Engine: 948cc DOHC inline-4
Power: 81.6kw (109hp) at 8500rpm / 98.5Nm at 6500rpm
Pros: Looks stunning, very modern, high-performance, exclusivity
Cons: Limited ground clearance, limited numbers of bikes coming to NZ