2018 Kawasaki Z900RS | First Look Review

2018 Kawasaki Z900RS in Candytone Brown/Candytone Orange.

After weeks of teasing and hinting followed by a global unveil at the EICMA show in Italy earlier this month, U.S. motorcycle enthusiasts will finally get their first in-person look at the new 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS retro sport standard at the New York installment of the Progressive International Motorcycle Show, December 1-3. Based around the Z900’s potent 948cc in-line four, with fully adjustable suspension, ABS and traction control all standard, the new Z900RS promises modern levels of performance with a satisfyingly old school, Z1-inspired look and feel.

The Z900RS’ 948cc inline four is lifted directly from the potent Z900 sport standard, although it’s been tweaked for more low- and midrange grunt.

When we rode the 2017 Z900 in a head-to-head comparison test with the raucous Yamaha FZ-09 (renamed the MT-09 for 2018), its smooth, tractable power and well-matched chassis and engine won us over, and with that DNA we’re hoping the retro RS is just as fun. The two bikes share an engine and suspension components, but both have been tweaked for the RS. The liquid cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, 948cc in-line four was retuned for more low-to-midrange grunt—Kawasaki claims the RS pulls harder than the standard Z900 up to 7,000 rpm—with shorter cam timing, a reduced compression ratio (10.8:1, down from 11.8:1) and a 12-percent heavier flywheel. The engine covers and cylinder heads were redesigned as well, with faux cooling fins and die-cast aluminum covers reminiscent of the classic Z1. Like the Z900, the RS is equipped with an assist-and-slipper clutch for easy lever pull and smooth downshifting.

Twin analog dials are matched with a modern backlit LCD display.

A good engine deserves a good exhaust, and to that end Kawasaki says it used acoustic research to create the ideal tuned sound for the first time ever. The stainless steel system has a 4-into-1 design, with double-wall header pipes with a narrower (compared to the Z900) 28.6mm inner diameter that contributes to the RS’s low-to-midrange power.


The new high-tensile steel trellis frame incorporates a slighter longer rake and shorter trail than the Z900, for a laid-back look that Kawasaki says is still light and flickable. Its higher, flatter subframe holds a classic bench seat with a 31.5-inch height (just 0.2 inch taller than the Z900). The teardrop gas tank holds 4.5 gallons, and wet weight is a claimed 474 pounds, about 10 more than the Z900.

A chrome passenger grab rail is available as an accessory, adding to the bike’s old school look.

The RS’ suspension is identical to that used on the Z900, with the notable addition of 10-way compression adjustability on the now fully adjustable 41mm fork. The horizontal back-link rear shock is still adjustable only for rebound damping and preload. Suspension travel is the same, with 4.7 inches available at the front and 5.5 inches at the rear, but it’s a bit softer sprung for a more street-friendly ride. Braking power is provided by radial mount 4-piston monoblock calipers squeezing dual 300mm discs up front, and a single-piston pin-slide caliper gripping a 250mm disc at the rear. Unlike the Z900, ABS is standard.

Kawasaki says the entire Z900RS was based around its retro teardrop gas tank.

Also setting the RS apart from its sporty sibling is the addition of Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC) with two riding modes plus off. Mode 1 allows for some wheel slip for sporty riding, while Mode 2 limits wheel spin on slippery surfaces. In the event that “excessive” wheel spin occurs, Mode 2 will also intervene to reduce engine output until the rear wheel regains grip.

The 2018 Z900RS in Metallic Flat Spark Black.

The Z900RS will be available in two color schemes, Metallic Flat Spark Black ($10,999) and Candytone Brown/Candytone Orange ($11,199). We’ll be getting our first ride on the new Z900RS in just a couple of weeks, so look for more details later this month. But with classic Z1-inspired good looks and a fully modern powerplant, electronics and suspension, we’re betting the Z900RS is going to be a fun ride.

Check out more new bikes in Rider’s guide to new/updated 2018 motorcycles.




  1. After this more detailed report, the impression remains that this is a stronger contender for retro-bike glory than even Honda’s CB1100F. And while a desire for heated handgrips is not “retro”, one can hope that option will be available. If 472 pounds is wet weight, then it is approx. 200 pounds lighter than my Concours and I wouldn’t miss the Connie’s tire pressure monitors since low batteries in those units — a winter experience, to be sure –trigger annoying flashing messages on the ZG’s info screen. Please tell me there’s a way to turn off that distraction (and, yes, I could have removed the sending units when I had new tires fitted). I also wouldn’t miss the buried location of components, e.g. the battery. Still, $11K plus destination charges gives pause — I’d hoped for a price nicely under $10K. And who makes a helmet with the right matching colors?

  2. Having owned a ‘74 Z1A…. one of its attractions was the low seat height (a feature shared by my 2002 ZRX – green, of course). This is something the retro version seems to be missing… but it does look nice. I’ll have to test fit one when they show up at the dealers (won’t be able to at the Seattle PIMS since that venue has been dropped, really? It can’t have been because of small crowds, it was always packed).

    • Wonder what info PIMS uses to drop cities they drop? My nearest I’d 800+ miles away. I doo like the bike. It’s just too tall for me. Between it and the Honda CB1100 the seat height makes the difference.

  3. Japanese men must be taller these days. The Concours, Yamaha FJR and this bike are all for the long of limb. Either men from Nippon are indeed taller, the engineers over yonder are just not paying attention or they are lazy. I have a 29″ inseam, so I’ve gotta go Harley or Gold Wing. It’s frustrating. Oh, that’s right – there’s BMW. It’s ironic that the taller Europeans are the only ones accommodating us vertically challenged Americans.

    • One problem Bill is that seat height is sort of a zero sum game. A seat that accommodates a 29″ inseam is likely to result in a too cramped riding position for a 34″ and longer inseam. Cars and trucks have a range of adjustment with seats and controls. Unfortunately it’s unlikely motorcycles will ever be able to fit the same range of rider sizes.

  4. Great looking bike – at last in pictures! I’ve always loved the 70’s and 80’s styled bikes! However, what every bike manufacture seems to forget when doing retro bikes, is that one of the major appeals of the Kawasaki H2 750, 900 Z1, Honda CBX and Suzuki GSX bikes, is that they were the fasted/baddest bikes that you could purchase at the time. Sure, if I just want speed I can buy a ZX-14 or other Kawasaki Ninja. But what I would spend $ on is a Z1 styled bike with 150 – 175+ hp – then I’m standing at the dealer excited to write the check! But with 111 hp – not so excited 🙁

  5. Odd. Looks like they could easily loose an 1″(or more) of seat height at the front 1/2 of the seat (or all of it) just by dropping the subframe. Would probably look better, as the seat actually looks like it hits the back of the tank to high anyway. Not that I’m knocking its looks, IT LOOKS GREAT! And the rest sounds spot on! This could be my next bike, even if the seat is to high. I’ll carry a stool on the passenger seat.

  6. I dig it. My first bike was a kz1000. None of the retro bikes to date have had quite the emotional appeal as this one. I am 6’3″ so I have the opposite complaint about most bikes and manufacturers always trying to get seats lower… that just means cramped knees and hips for me. Every bike I own has custom tall seat and/lowering pegs except my Super Tenere. This new 900RS might just find a place in my garage.

  7. All these retro bikes have the same problem, for those of us of a certain age! they are not as desirable as the original bikes they are trying to copy lol.

  8. Just bought one today, love it feels real good, kind of like being home, because I had a Z1 in years past. Hope its as good as my old one.

  9. Just purchased one today i am 5ft 4 on my toes but i am getting a low seat that comes as an option bit over the top in price considering i paid 20k for the bike and another $750.00 for the seat thats in New Zealand dollars

  10. Took a Brand New 2018 Candy Brown/Orange home yesterday. Great deal of $8499 plus a free Akropovic slip on Exhaust. Great deal on a Great bike. But I do agree I wouldn’t have paid 11,199 for it.


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