Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe – Retro 60’s Street Racer on Steroids

In 2017 we caught the first glimpse of what Kawasaki Motorcycles had been working on to offer to the naked bike and modern-retro scene. 

It came rolling out of the factory in the form of the Z900RS, it was simply stunning with its retro styling and had performance specs to match. The best of both worlds culminated into a truly wonderful motorcycle. 

One year later Kawasaki developed a sibling for the naked Z900RS, and it was a more focused throwback to the time when Cafe Racers dominated the streets. 

The Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe is an unapologetic take on a sub-genre of motorcycles that in recent years has seen a revival; it is a welcome addition to the mix and has all the Kawasaki performance features that make for a modern racer while maintaining traditional Cafe Racer looks.

Without further delay let’s go explore the Z900RS Cafe, who knows it might be the one for you.

Table of Contents

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Review

Earlier models of the Z900RS Cafe were available in traditional Kawasaki green
Earlier models of the Z900RS Cafe were available in traditional Kawasaki green

History

When a motorcycle defines itself as a particular type, especially one that has a following, then the manufacturer opens themselves up to some serious critique. 

First off let’s review what a cafe racer actually is?

Origins of the first cafe racers go back to Britain in the 1950’s, shooting up in popularity during the 60’s, 70’s and then seeing a significant revival most recently.

The bikes started off as DIY jobs, with all unnecessary parts removed to make them as lightweight as possible so they would go as fast as possible. 

Often identified through their rear set footpegs, seat cowl, clip on racer bars and sometimes a half fairing. 

The story goes that riders would race their motorcycles from cafe to cafe, testing each other and their own limits. 

Cafe racers took the world by storm, with the craze sweeping through the States, Australia and worldwide, until manufacturers started to produce their own factory bikes with the cafe racer styling. 

Fast forward to 2018 and a resurgence of the cafe racer vibe was sweeping through the motorcycle world again, with riders either restoring old classic bikes, or putting a spin on the likes of modern Triumph Street Twins.

Manufacturers were all for the upsurge and Kawasaki decided to take the torch and launch their own modern take. 

The Z900RS was based somewhat on the original Kawasaki Z1 of 1972. The four-cylinder, four-stroke, 903cc bike was fast, in fact for a while the fastest bike straight out of the factory since the Vincent Black Shadow

It was a superbike in every sense of the word and the Z900RS was right to follow in it’s Grandfather’s footsteps. 

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Styling

With its traditional timeless styling the Z900RS was the perfect choice for Kawasaki to use as the base for their new Cafe motorcycle design. 

The Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe is visually stunning, it is lean, mean and green (unless it’s a later model in which case it could be a variety of colours). 

The front fender has been chopped as if to aid keeping the bike low in weight; there is teardrop fuel tank; a bullet fairing which houses the cyclops headlight which is encased by a bubble type shield. 

Dropped style handlebars equip the bike which gives the style like the old racers had where some riders would simply turn their bars upside down. 

The original cafe racers generally had solo seats, usually bench seats with a seat cowl. Instead of this Kawasaki fitted the new model with a comfortable rider seat, then a completely separate raised pillion seat. 

This gives the model a silhouette not dis-similar to the original bikes, but instead of a rear cowl, the pillion pad sits there raising the tail section, feeding into a typical racer aesthetic. 

The exhaust is a four-into-one system with an upswept muffler on the right side of the bike. 

It is a much bigger motorcycle than most of the classic bikes, with a tall seat, wide tank, it is almost a 60’s racer on steroids, but there is nothing to complain about; as that monster has all the performance you need to have serious fun. 

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Engine and Transmission

Powering the Cafe is a liquid-cooled, 948cc, transverse mounted, four-cylinder. It has classic air-cooled looks, while discreetly being liquid-cooled with a largely hidden radiator. 

It produces 110 horsepower and delivers 97 Nm of torque, and it does so with ease.

There is a six speed transmission, assist and slipper clutch, Kawasaki traction control and ABS. Kawasaki ABS systems use wheel sensors to constantly monitor wheel speed and can adjust brake pressure as required until traction is regained.

Kawasaki decided to produce a performance machine, but cater to as many riders as possible, so rider aids like their own Kawasaki traction control were added to ensure the bike could be accessible for riders of all skills. 

The actual engine used is based on the Z900 inline-four, which is a naked roadstar which boasts excellent performance, for the Cafe the engine is detuned. 

By doing this, while maintaining 110 horsepower, the rideability is increased, riding through towns, backroads, highways, mountains are all done with ease thanks to a linear power delivery.

The slipper clutch is very light and easy to use, the dual throttle valve technology is responsive, so you don’t have to do too much work to get the bike moving; with the exception of starting off from a stop, you can get away with pulling off in high gears thanks to the bags of torque. 

Overall the motor is seemingly bulletproof, a tried and tested design that has been re-tuned for a multitude of riding purposes. 

Chassis, Suspension, Brakes

The engine is a stressed member of the Trellis frame which is useful for keeping the weight down, the bike weighs in at about 474lbs in total. 

This is a far cry from the typical downtube and cradle frame that ruled the roost when Cafe’s were popular the first time around.

Inverted front forks provide ample adjustment options in the form of rebound damping, compression damping and spring preload; the rear shock has a rebound damping adjuster and variable spring preload. 

Brakes come in the form of dual discs upfront and single on the rear, ABS all round which provides a layer of security the classic bikes never had. 

Stopping power is equal in measure to the power of the engine and therefore the bike is perfectly well-balanced in that department. 

Handling/Riding Position

Despite having dropped handlebars the riding position is still reasonably upright.

The dropped handlebars fitted to the Z900RS Cafe won’t be a problem for most, but those shorter in stature may find themselves dropped down over the tank significantly in order to reach them comfortably. 

The bars are wide and the tank is also long and wide, so there is quite a gap between the seat and bars. 

The seat cradles the rider nicely and for a stock seat it is very comfortable, arguably more comfortable than the original Z900RS.

When you first approach the Z900RS Cafe it looks very tall and wide…and well it is. 

Once you get your leg over, the seat allows you to sit down into the bike a little bit, so it does feel a little less daunting. It is still wide though, so be prepared to have your legs spread further apart than on other modern bikes.

The suspension deals with any bumps in the road properly, there will be no nasty jolts to the lower back from hitting holes or speed bumps. 

Feedback to the rider from the front forks is good and you feel very well connected to the road.

Despite its size, the bike is agile and feels flickable, corners are guaranteed fun with each turn. The agility is something that takes you by surprise, as the bike’s styling deceives you into thinking it will be a bit heavy and lumpy.

The bullet fairing does an okay job at keeping the air off the rider but it is more about style than practicality. 

At speed though you will feel like you are going faster than you actually are, thanks to the air hitting you in the face and chest, unlike fully faired sports bikes on a naked bike you are exposed to the elements significantly more. 

Rear suspension is more than capable for loading up for a weekend away or carrying or a pillion and you won’t feel bogged down or sluggish.

Where riders may feel a little shortchanged with the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe, is when riding it in a more sporty fashion. 

For those wanting to push the limits of the bike, the suspension may feel a bit weak and need looking at. The Dunlop tires aren’t the best for cornering at high speed and so swapping them out to something more race specific might be a good idea. 

There are plenty of after-market parts such as Akraprovic exhaust systems, to add on to the bike which will improve performance somewhat if you really want to squeeze the best out of the model.

Reliability and Build Quality

Quality screams out of the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe, the paint details, Z900RS emblems, angular bodywork, leather stitching, all give the bike a premium feel.

The engine is bulletproof and on the whole there seems to be very few issues with the bike, so unlike the classic racers, you can now own an awesome street Cafe Racer without having to work on it every moment you aren’t riding.

The 2022 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe comes in any colour you want as long as it's Metallic Diablo Black
The 2022 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe comes in any colour you want as long as it’s Metallic Diablo Black

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Rivals

The Z900RS Cafe has a few rivals in the modern cafe racer category:

  • Ducati Scrambler Cafe Racer
  • Royal Enfield Continental GT
  • Triumph Thruxton
  • Moto Guzzi V7 III Racer
  • BMW R Nine T Racer
  • Norton Commando 961 Racer
  • Honda CB1000R Neo Cafe

Each of the bikes have their own unique selling point and ties to the original cafe racer scene. 

The Kawasaki however, is personally one of my favourites from a styling point of view, particularly with the latest all black rendition, it oozes class, quality and performance. Dare I say it, is even reminiscent of the Vincent Black Shadow that the original Z1 took notes from. 

Specifications

2022 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Four-stroke, four-cylinder, DOHC, 16 Valve, liquid-cooled
  • Capacity – 948cc
  • Bore x Stroke – 73.4 x 56mm
  • Compression Ratio – 10.8:1
  • Fuel System – DFI with Keihin 36mm throttle bodies
  • Ignition – TCBI with electronic advance
  • Transmission – 6 speed
  • Final Drive – Sealed Chain
  • Max Torque – 98 at 6,500rpm
  • Max Power – 109 horsepower at 8,590rpm

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Tubular diamond 
  • Rake – 25 degrees
  • Front Suspension – Inverted telescopic fork with adjustable compression and rebound damping, spring preload
  • Rear Suspension – Horizontal back-link swingarm with stepless adjustable rebound damping and spring preload
  • Front Brakes – Dual 300mm discs, ABS
  • Rear Brakes – Single 250mm disc, ABS
  • Length – 82.7”
  • Width – 33.3”
  • Height – 49.6”
  • Ground Clearance – 5.1”
  • Seat Height – 32.3”
  • Curb Weight – 476.3lbs
  • Wheelbase – 57.9”

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe Top Speed

The Z900RS Cafe top speed is somewhere in the region of 140mph. 

Price of a Z900RS Cafe New and Used?

The all new 2022 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe has a MSRP of $12,199 in the US, it is not currently listed as a 2022 model for the UK. 

In the UK prices for a 2018 model start from around £7,800 or for a 2020/21 model you will be looking at closer to £10,000. 

MCN has a few adverts for a Z900RS Cafe, including this 2019 example with under 2,000 miles on the clock for £9,499. 

In the US you can find used models starting at just under $9,000. 

Cycle Trader has this example for $8,960 which has done 3,642 miles in its short life.  

Verdict

I am very much a big fan of the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe. 

I loved the Z900RS when it first came out. I was captivated by the timeless design, backed up by the performance; overall though it was just a really pretty motorcycle. 

When the Cafe version was first rumoured I am pretty sure I let out a very big sigh and an impressive eye roll, feeling like the last thing we need is another addition to a flooded scene of cafe racers. C’mon guys everyone and their Mother is building a racer right now. 

However, Kawasaki Motorcycles proved me wrong, it is exactly what we needed then and with the 2022 version it is most definitely what we need now. 

As a factory cafe racer goes it is visually stunning, the big cowl, black paint work, racer stripes and brown leather seat, all make for a genuinely beautiful bike even for those who aren’t fans of the cafe racer aesthetic. It is a big, mean, chunky beast.

Both images on this site are via Kawasaki Motorcycles

Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe - Retro 60\'s Street Racer on Steroids

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