Test ride: Kawasaki Z900 bold, naked streetfighter

Motoring journalist Andy Russell test rides the Kawasaki Z900…

I find riding a naked bike strangely nostalgic, a purer form of motorcycling without being cocooned behind a fairing.

When I took to two wheels, longer ago than I care to remember, unfaired motorbikes were the norm. Perhaps naked then was more akin to them being the bare essentials because fairings tended to be reserved for the bigger-capacity bikes that were way out of my price range.

Now – much older, if not wiser, and enjoying my creature comforts – motorbikes with fairings or big screens and some protective bodywork cladding float my boat… until I rediscover the exhilaration of being on a naked bike again.

Once I’ve got over feeling rather exposed, with nothing in view in front of the handlebars other than the headlight, I really appreciate that sense of being in tune with your steed.

Without that extra bodywork it feels compact and more nimble while the rush of wind brings out the full impression of performance.

One naked performance bike that combines huge country road fun with commuting capability is the Kawasaki Z900.

It stands out from rivals with Kawasaki’s bold Sugomi styling and the latest models’ green and red painted frames. This mean machine’s styling won’t appeal to everyone but it grew on this sceptical biker.

As well as the smart styling, all-LED lighting makes the Z900 highly visible.

At its heart is a sweet 948cc, four-cylinder engine, the same as that in the retro Z900RS, but developing 125PS rather than 111PS and virtually the same torque at 98.6Nm but at higher revs.

I am not tall but the Z900 does not feel big. It is easy to get your feet on the ground even if you have short legs.

The riding position is good, slightly prone so you lean forward with the footrests set back. That helps brace the rider against wind resistance at speed and it is surprising how much that small cover over the instrument panel helps deflect wind away from your head. That said, a pillion passenger perched on the back might not be so comfortable!

The engine has a smooth power delivery and is impressively flexible, pulling strongly from 3,000rpm even in sixth gear. There is no need to keep going up and down the box, although it’s not a hardship with the slick shift and light clutch action.

Three-mode traction control and full or low (55%) power settings are easily adjusted to suit the conditions. Sport, Road and Rain traction control settings are joined by a manual Ride one which can be set independently for personal tastes.

Wind on the revs and you are treated to the full effect of the rorty, sporty exhaust note that adds to the pleasure rather than being intrusive.

My test, with a mix of town and country road riding, returned 47mpg, pretty close to the official claimed 49.6mpg.

The TFT instruments are clear, logical and easy to take in at a glance on the move.

Despite a 212kg kerb weight, the Z900 does not feel heavy, whether riding or just wheeling it around, because it is nicely balanced.

That balance comes to the fore on twisty roads with the Z900 flowing through bends, leaning and lifting in and out of corners with little effort so it’s not tiring to ride.

The brakes can match the performance with plenty of bite when needed but progressive enough not to be snatchy in urban traffic.

The Z900 is priced from £9,149 with the Z900 Performance from £10,049.

If you want a naked streetfighter that’s highly entertaining, but equally at home in slow-moving traffic, Kawasaki’s Z900 fits the bill and is comfortable enough for longer trips too.