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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.