Gone are the days when motorcycle riders were required to have a fair amount of brawn and almost no notion of fear to ride a motorcycle fast. Modern motorcycles are becoming increasingly easier to ride, and in the right hands, frighteningly fast. Now we know that the Z800 was an absolute bomb of a bike to ride; it had a brilliant engine and predictable handling. For 2017, though, the Z900 replaces the Z800 and we take it to the streets to find out what’s different.
The Z900 gets the new headlight cluster consistent with the ‘Z’ series. While it carries forward the Sugomy styling of its predecessor, the front bikini fairing is all new, so is the tail section, and it even exhibits a new exhaust design. This new twin headlight has a more fluid look to it, with a forward jutting jawline that accentuates its aggressive look. Sitting atop the headlight is a blacked-out windscreen that offers some amount of wind protection. The negative-lit LCD speedometer is all new and is shared with the likes of the Z650 and the Ninja 650. It’s got a nice semi-circular, cascading tachometer, a gear indicator and a large centralised digital speed readout. Like on the larger Kawasakis, the tachometer acts as a shift indicator; the needles begin to blink when it’s time to shift up.
The tank’s organic shape goes well with the Sugomy design philosophy, with the key slot located right at the front of the tank. There’s a nice, wide seat that’s well padded and reasonably comfortable for longer hauls. Our test machine was fitted with a rear seat cowl – an add-on accessory – so we didn’t have the chance to check pillion seat comfort. The tail end culminates in a typically ‘Z’ series fashion and has the LEDs placed in the shape of a ‘Z’. The slightly boxy and angular nature of the Z800’s design has given way to more organic curves. It’s still unmistakably a ‘Z’, and its overall silhouette has been pretty much carried over from its predecessor. Overall fit and finish levels are quite impressive too.
On the inside
The Z900’s frame is all new as well. Kawasaki has dropped the older cast-alloy backbone chassis from the Z800 in favour of a tubular steel trellis unit that weighs only 13.5kg; about 1.5kg lighter than the similar new trellis on the smaller Z650. With five rigid mounts to the motor, the engine is a stressed member of the overall chassis now. The low weight, paired with a low seat height of just 795mm, makes the Z900 a good proposition for shorter riders.
The suspension setup, on the other hand, hasn’t seen a massive revision over the outgoing model. It retains the beefy 41mm upside- down forks at the front with stepless adjustability for rebound damping as well as spring preload (there’s no compression damping adjustment, though). The rear still uses the familiar horizontally mounted linked monoshock, and suspension travel at both ends is identical. Overall ride quality is quite good over the less-than-perfect road conditions in India; bumps at low and high speeds are handled in a predictable manner.
While most mechanicals have either improved or stayed the same, the same cannot be said about the brakes. The dual-petal rotors at the front seem to have reduced in size from 310mm to 300mm, but Kawasaki has retained the opposed four-piston calipers. The stopping power of the Z900 is far from insufficient. While the initial bite is light and predictable, squeeze a bit harder and the brakes will scrub off speed at a phenomenal rate.
The Z900 is powered by a new 948cc inline-four engine that is based on the Z1000’s unit and makes 123.6hp of peak power at 9,500rpm. As expected from an inline-four engine from Kawasaki, refinement levels of this engine are simply exquisite. From the moment you thumb the starter button, there’s a nice bassy buzz that transforms into a positively manic howl as the revs climb. And, as expected from a naked, the engine offers a nice, meaty mid-range with a noticeable kick after 6,000rpm. The motor has been equipped with a secondary balancer, driven on the sixth web of the crankshaft, to reduce some of the excess vibrations, and there’s minimal vibration in any situation.
Kawasaki has also developed an assist and slipper clutch which makes action at the lever light and assists with excessive engine braking. In keeping with its street-fighter character, the Z900 gets a short-ratio gearbox with pretty closely stacked gears until fifth; the sixth gear is a relatively tall one. In fact, combined with the high refinement levels, you can pull away from speed breakers from 20kph in third gear with no resistance. And the fifth gear will help you pull cleanly from as low as 30kph, all the way to a speedo-indicated 180kph; after which, the sixth gear will take you all the way to a 240kph-plus top speed.
What’s noteworthy on the Z900 is the cooling system – it’s absolutely outstanding. Even while ambling through heavy city traffic, there are almost negligible levels of heat from the engine, and that’s commendable for a larger displacement motorcycle.
Taming the beast
When astride the Z900, the first thing you’ll notice is how responsive it is. It feels extremely sporty for a naked and we completely approve of that. Whether it’s tipping into corners, wringing the throttle or hard braking, the Z900 does it all in an all-encompassing, highly intuitive manner. Combine the extra 12hp of grunt over the Z800 and the drop in weight of almost 20kg and you have a bike that’s just a lot more fun. It’s light, nimble and stable; the Z900 will embrace corners with enthusiasm, and it certainly wouldn’t say no to a bit of hooliganism. However, it must be said that the new Z also feels a little too eager to tip into corners, so there might be some restraint needed to tackle the corner in a more poised manner.
The electronics package on the Z900 is a fairly simple one – ABS is all it gets. There aren’t any power modes or traction control, so the riding experience is a rather unfiltered one. What your rider inputs are into the machine is exactly what you’ll get. That, however, won’t work very well in adverse conditions for a non-experienced rider. The on-off throttle transitions are a bit abrupt and that can be slightly counterproductive when leaned over. The Dunlop Sportmax tyres don’t perform very well either; grip levels are too inconsistent.
The ‘Z’ factor
Simply put, the Z900 is a great replacement for the Z800. It’s simple, it’s light, it’s highly effective and it’s got all that you’d need from a really fun bike. The balance between power and handling translates to a rather sublime experience. While the lack of electronics may not hamper the riding experience in dry, tarmac conditions, the absence of traction control makes it a bike that’s better suited to intermediate and well-experienced riders. With a price tag of Rs 7.68 lakh for the base model (ex-showroom, India), we think the minor bump in pricing over the Z800 is definitely worth it as you do get a whole lot of more bike for almost the same amount of money.