Kawasaki Unveils the Retro-Styled Z900RS

The retro/modern motorcycle craze shows no signs of slowing down and that's fine with us.

Alessio Barbanti/Kawasaki

Retro motorcycles are hot right now. With the smashing success of bikes like the Triumph Bonneville and the Ducati Scrambler, just about every manufacturer is stuffing modern engineering and technology into old-looking bikes to appeal to younger riders and to women, demographics that are getting more and more into motorcycles. The retro-modern trend in motorcycles is something you won’t hear any complaints about from me because the results are stellar.

The latest example of this design philosophy is the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS inspired by the original Kawasaki Z1 of the 1970’s which was just unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show. At first glance, we wouldn’t blame you for thinking this is an authentic vintage motorcycle. Aesthetically, it’s one of the truest to its original form of any of the throwback motorcycles on the market, which is saying a lot.

Kawasaki has shown off a couple different paint jobs on the Z900RS, all of which are good modern iterations of classic designs. They all look like they could just as easily be from 1972 as they are from 2018. The bike has a stylish, traditionally-shaped 4.5-gallon fuel tank and a small cowl behind the ribbed dual-saddle seat. Other old-school styling cues include chrome four-into-one exhaust with a “tuned exhaust note,” fake cooling fins on the engine, and retro-looking mag wheels.

The new bike is based on the fantastic Kawasaki Z900 naked bike, but this is more than just a reskinning. It has a re-tuned version of the liquid-cooled DOHC 900cc inline-four engine which delivers more power lower in the rev range. Unfortunately, total power and torque are down from 125 to 111 and from 72.2 to 53.5 pound-feet respectively. We’ll have to wait to throw a leg over an RS to see if the loss in power and torque were worth the extra juice lower in the revs.

Ergonomics are completely different on the Z900RS as opposed to the Z900. A new steel trellis frame, a new handlebar that’s wider, taller, and closer to the rider, and repositioned footpegs put the rider at a comfortable, upright seating position that should be quite accessible to anyone new to motorcycles.

Another thing that should appeal to new riders is the tweaked transmission. First gear is shorter than it is in the Z900 which will make the bike easier to wield at low speeds like at traffic lights and in parking lots. Also, six gear is taller which will make the bike a bit more highway-friendly and probably more efficient.

There are two riding modes, one for sporty riding and one for relaxing. One of the things that makes these retro standard motorcycles so popular is their versatility. They can be a sporty canyon-carver one minute and a comfortable cruiser the next. The two riding modes in the Z900RS should magnify this popular aspect of its competitive segment. Also, traction control is standard.

Kawasaki

Usually, on retro/modern bikes like this, you’re sacrificing a little bit in terms of instrumentation. They often only have one gauge in order to stay true to the stripped-down look, but the Z900RS has two analog gauges that look exactly like the ones on my old Suzuki GS along with an LCD panel in the middle displaying a fuel gauge, a gear indicator, a temperature gauge, and more useful info.

We’ll know more about the Kawasaki Z900RS when it makes its official debut at the Milan Motor Show in a few weeks. We don’t know specifics on pricing or availability yet, but it should be a more affordable alternative to retro offerings from Triumph and Ducati.