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OPINION

Ride Review: The Kawasaki Z900RS really does have it all

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The Z900RS is a pretty amazing bike.

Literally, everyone that spoke about it to me on the launch was unanimous about the way it looked and how pretty it is when looked at up close. And then, after the ride, not a single person felt the need to nag about the lack of stereo-suspension in the back, spoke wheels being missing, or even grunt over the chrome bits and fenders. Why?

Because quite simply, the four pot engine is stunning – because of it’s massive torque down in the rev range – and it pulls through nicely to the limiter. Even though the RS feel heavier than the Z900, I’m pretty sure it accelerates faster. It’s a beauty.

After spending some time with the bike, it’s clear that Kawasaki have spent some serious effort on the design of this bike and even though you might be tempted to think that it’s just a reworked Z900, it’s not.

Frame, engine, suspension, brakes… Basically everything got a complete overhaul and the result is truly impressive.

I know that our friends here at Motofire have had reservations about the machine, but actually – in my opinion – it’s genuinely the very first bike that combines actual, real 1970s heritage (there are soooo many small hints of the original Z1) with modern day ride qualities.

Yes, there is the BMW RnineT,  the Yamaha XSR or the Honda CB1100, but the first two don’t really have a link with bikes from the seventies and the latter is overpriced, under-powered and not nearly as beautiful as the Z900RS.)

After spending some time with the bike, it’s clear that Kawasaki have spent some serious effort on the design

The Z900RS really does have it all… Radial four-pot brakes, adjustable suspension, adjustable levers, traction control (3- stage) and it’s quite clear that Kawasaki wants to present it as a premium bike. And here in Belgium where MaxxMoto are based, the pricing is competitive too, starting at €11.599 which is about €4k cheaper than the average BMW RnineT. So it’s fair to say that you get a lot of bike for the money.

Now, before I completely come away sounding like a Team Green press representative, there are a few, minor flaws.

First of all, the throttle response is quite ‘twitchy’ with an on/off feel that can initially seem disconcerting; possibly because of the transmission, the injection, or a combination of both. It’s not as bad as on a Suzuki GSX-S1000 or the first gen Yamaha MT-09, but even though the 4 cylinder engine is very smooth, the pick up of a closed throttle is rather abrupt.

Basically everything got a complete overhaul and the result is truly impressive.

The same thing goes when you close the throttle – for example when entering a hairpin corner. In that situation you get a bit too much off the engine brake delivered back at you, which can get the bike a bit off balance at times. This is a minor issue and it gets better when the bike warms up, but it never really disappears.

Speaking of things that get better after they’ve warmed up: let’s talk tyres.

On the cold Catalonian asphalt (7° and less) it took forever for the Dunlop Sportmax GPR 003 tires to warm up, and it was a good thing that the bike had traction control. It’s a rather typical Kawasaki thing to put cheap ass tires on a good bike here in Belgium – the Z1000SX, Ninja 300, Versys… All of these come on less than desirable rubber – and for a bike that feels so premium elsewhere, this is a bit of a shame.

Apart from that, it’s a struggle to come up with much more by way of criticism. I think the seat is quite high – if you are smaller that 1m 75 this might become an issue, especially if you’re a less experienced rider, and the transition from the seat to the polished, slippery tank is rather, too smooth. So when you brake hard during some spirited riding, you better squeeze your knees hard to help in holding on.

Oh, perhaps you could argue that despite the retro dials looking nice, the lettering on the analogue clocks (‘the same as on the Z1 in 19-seventies’ blah blah blah…) is just too small and hard to read. But now we’re literally nitpicking.

So the takeaway conclusion from our couple of days riding the Kawasaki Z900RS around the Catalonian roads?

The Z900RS has an excellent looks/performance/price-balance and really takes the whole neo-retro thing to a higher level than anything else before it.

For more photos from the launch – including lots of images of the details on the new Kawasaki Z900RS, visit MaxxMoto.

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Since launching in December of 2015, Arno and the team from the Belgian motorcycling site MaxxMoto have made a name for themselves with impartial, up-to-the-minute, honest and free motorcycling news, reviews and videos online. We're proud to call them friends of Motofire.

OPINION

One LOVE

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All motorcycles have a singular beauty. However, if it is YOUR motorcycle, there is a deeper connection.

Your relationship is one of trust and respect that transcends time.

From the first time you meet, a connection is established. Your one love is hard to find. I have been out at the dealership and seen some hot Italian bikes but in the end, they are high maintenance, expensive to keep up, and they will not stand the test of time.

Looks are important, but a relationship is more than skin deep.

How does that bike make you feel? Every time you gaze upon your bike, you should smile; you have found the right bike. The worst thing you can do is settle for a bike you don’t truly feel a connection with.

I am a one-motorcycle guy – truly monogamous. Having two bikes is hard to juggle. I think a small, fast motorcycle that is good-looking, handles well, and has a classic appeal is what I always
wanted, and I think I have found it.

Stay with a motorcycle that has stood the test of time. A bike that’s made you smile, given you a thrill, and stuck with you through thick and thin. A solid, well-built motorcycle is a thing of beauty.

Be smart, and cover that motorcycle so no one steals it at night. Buy your motorcycle expensive accessories, and take it on trips to exotic lands. Up or down, thin or flush, treat your motorcycle well.

Respect it, and it will return to you amazing experiences, expand your world and open your eyes.

Understand that this is a partnership. From the first ride to every terrible bump in the road, stay with that reliable bike and remember she is your one LOVE.

Happy Valentines Day, Mrs. Sterling.

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OPINION

History is littered with esoteric three-wheelers, but is now their time to shine?

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Motorcycles enjoy an elegant relationship with the laws of physics.

To stay upright they depend on the gyroscopic effects of wheels in motion and constant corrective steering inputs which when put together result in an elegant balancing of forces. But once the wheels stop turning, they will fall.

There is however, another solution.

One of the most unusual threads to emerge over the past decade of motorcycle design has been the return of the three-wheeler. A strange and unnatural looking vehicle at first glance, the three-wheeled motorized cycle has been with us almost from the beginning. The first car, Karl Benz’ Patent Motorwagen, was a three-wheeler. Bicycles in 1880’s Paris were fitted with two rear wheels to make them practical delivery vehicles for postal and grocery delivery. Motorcycles evolved from bicycles, starting about the same time, so people experimented with tricycle layouts right away.

Throughout most of the 20th century, three-wheeled motorcycles remained a curio

Over the past century, the motorized tricycle has seen some modest success, largely as a low-speed, light commercial transport. Notable in the genus’ family history is the 1966 Ariel 3, a scooter fitted with two rear wheels that hinged with the rest of the chassis, allowing the scooter to lean in corners like a regular bike while the rear wheels remained horizontal. The Ariel 3 was a failure but Honda bought a licence for the patented layout, beginning a leaning three wheel dynasty that continues to this day with the Honda Gyro, Japan’s takeout delivery vehicle of choice.

Throughout most of the 20th century, three-wheeled motorcycles remained a curio, typically nothing more than home-brewed or limited-production aftermarket conversion kits for conventional motorcycles by small companies, often using car parts on the rear end. In the late 1970’s, the All Terrain Cycle (ATC) hit the dirt with the promise of making the exploding motocross market safe for kids and grandpa, only to end with nearly 1,000 deaths , and the voluntary ban on ATC production by the major manufacturers.

The scandal of the ATC hinged on one inconvenient fact: three-wheeled vehicles are inherently unstable in parabolic (turning) motion. While the unassisted single-track motorcycle flops on its ear at a standstill, the laws of physics turn decidedly in their favour once they roll along, transforming the motorcycle into a paragon of predictable handling at virtually any speed. By contrast, vehicles with three points of contact are balanced at rest and low-speed, but become prone to tipping when loads change suddenly, such as high-speed cornering, especially downhill.

A three-wheeler in parabolic motion produces an undesirable combination of high torque forces on both the roll and yaw axis that are only too happy to overcome gravity and toss you into a ditch. Sidecar riders know this, which is why they have to adopt counterbalancing body postures when cornering to prevent a roll over, particularly on inclines. Even still, it takes little force for the inside wheel to “unstick”, or lose contact with the ground, which causes the center of the vehicles’ roll axis to move further to the outside of the turn, overloading the remaining two wheels.

Presented in 2007, Canada’s Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) launched the Can-Am Spyder reverse tricycle. It looked a lot like the snowmobiles that the company was famous for it did not lean when cornering. The rider sits astride the Spyder and operates handlebars as on a motorcycle, but all of the wheels are always perpendicular to the ground.

A three-wheeler in parabolic motion produces an undesirable combination of high torque forces on both the roll and yaw axis that are only too happy to overcome gravity and toss you into a ditch.

Reverse trikes such as the Can-Am Spyder and Polaris Slingshot have some significant handling advantages over their ATC predecessors. Because they have two wheels up front, they generate substantially more grip when it is needed most, such as during changes in direction and under braking.

However, the sole rear wheel travels along the centre of the roll axis, and so can act as a pivot point during high energy turns, levering the inside wheel off the ground and flipping the vehicle . This is all mathematically predictable, so has been engineered out by using sophisticated electronic counter-measures, without which high-powered three-wheeler are incapable of executing predictable, safe, high-speed turns without flipping. It is a reality of the laws of physics.

The three wheel space is getting lots of attention of late. In 2015 Honda presented the Neowing concept, a leaning three wheeler powered by a hybrid system including an inline four cylinder gasoline engine and a battery powered electric motor. Yamaha upped the game with the Niken, another leaning three wheeler billed as a “corning master”, powered by the triple from the best-selling MT-09.

With these products it seems highly likely that the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturers will pursue this esoteric corner of the market. It makes sense, and suggests that the holy grail of motorcycling sensation and added safety have been discovered.

According to BRP, the company has sold over 100,000 Spyders. When asked if new entrants from Honda and Yamaha might inspire BRP to try to lean in, Can-Am’s Brian Manning responded “We are pleased with the platform as it is. Those are different products.”

Motorcyclists looking for thrills without spills may find the leaning three-wheelers attractive. Perhaps smaller and less expensive variants may even bring in newcomers to the sport who have stayed away because of fear. With constant talk of autonomy and the ever-present threat that governments may legislate mandatory occupant safety requirements on motorcycles, the leaning three-wheeler may provide an outlet.

Evidence suggests that, for now at least, leaning is not what the marketplace is asking for.

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