If anyone asked me of what do I think of the recently-discontinued Z800 motorcycle by Kawasaki, my response has always been: “It’s a great bike, smooth acceleration, and smooth exhaust note, sounding more like a Honda than any Kawasaki I have rode previously. But it is heavy when it comes to a stop, or trying to navigate your way out of a rush hour traffic congestion”.

And the above response of mine hasn’t change for the past 4 years since the Z800 was introduced to the Malaysian market by Kawasaki Motors (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd (KMSB).

One thing that I have come to understand with most Japanese-made products is: Whenever the first of its kind, whether revolutionary or evolutionary is introduced to the global market, it has some shortcomings-on-purpose, which gives owners as well as potential buyers an excuse/reason to upgrade to the successor model.

The same notion applies to the Kawasaki Z800 especially when one takes into consideration of Kawasaki’s racing heritage over the past few decades, which included bragging rights courtesy of the numerous world championship titles it had won from several classes.

The constantly nagging question for the Z800 all these 4 years is/was: “Why in the world did Kawasaki made a naked sportsbike that have great specifications but also a lot of unnecessary fats (weight) to go along with it?”

The successor to it (if any) should be lighter, more compact and faster with improved horsepower, as the predictions go. Well, for the record, that’s just what Kawasaki did.

Say Hello to the new and improved successor – Z900. Definitely lighter. And faster.

The magic words in the official press release by Kawasaki after the new Z900 was unveiled at the 2017 EICMA Show held at Milan in Italy, were “lighter by some 20 kg over the Z800” – these by themselves, were music to my ears and sights to behold to my eyes, from the official photos released during that annual showcase for motorcycles.

Somehow or some way, what I had read from that press release gave me enough reasons to believe it 95% as the truth, with the remaining 5% will be based on my own experience once I get the opportunity to sample a unit here in Malaysia.

Well, that day of reckoning came and went. On April 19 & 20 to be exact, as part of KMSB’s official media test ride for the Z900 as well as the Versys X-2550. The invited media were split into 4 different groups of A, B, C and D, with Group A n B on the 19th and Group C and D on the 20th. I was selected for the 20th on Group C. And the first ride of the day in the morning was with the Z900 while Group D was allocated the Versys X-250.

After the compulsory media presentation of the 2 new bikes and safety briefing by the accompanying marshals/traffic police, we were on our way to be flag-off for the ride. The moment I started the engine of the Z900 SE variant, the super smooth exhaust note it unleashes more or less confirmed my hunch the bike is definitely better than its predecessor.

For the first 1/3 of the test ride, I had the Z900 SE mostly on 6th gear – the engine, while super smooth, doesn’t feel weak even when riding at 80-90km/hr, and it could go faster than that just by a mere twist of the throttle without having to reverse the gears a notch or two. In fact, there’s no need to reverse the gear into 2nd or 3rd until the entourage came into a mild congestion area where there were just too many vehicles unsure of when to give way to us, prompting the need to go for lower gears as we went from the usual 80-90km/hr down to 20-30 speeds, and you can’t do that without the bike stuttering or jerking on 6th gear!

Default tyres on the Z900 SE are the same Dunlop Sportmax D214T as fitted to the Z800 and the recently-introduced Z650 and Ninja 650 models. However, initial feeling with the rubber was sluggish, which could be due to them haven’t got up to working temperature or the extra weight of the Z900 SE over the 650 duo had made the former less grippy on slippery tarmac. Couldn’t verify which is which then.

As the convoy ride rules go, the entourage would follow the speed limit set by the lead marshal or traffic police, and the only place where we were allowed to unleash the Z900’s full power would be after entering Latar Highway towards Rawang and back to our base at Templar’s Park Golf Resort. In other words, we were merely cruising with the Z900 for ¾ of the routes.

That isn’t an issue for me as most of the time I would be merely cruising around within medium speeds with any new motorcycle I am reviewing, and there’s no need for a top speed adventure once I reached that threshold if/when the opportunity comes along.

Averaging between 127km and 137km/hr once we entered the 2/4-segment of the routes where I could feel that the Z900 SE did live up to what Kawasaki itself has assured potential customers from the initial press release in Milan, Italy.

I am very familiar with the entire route used for the Z900 media test ride. In fact, I was planning to retain whatever speed we were doing on the long straights and using it to navigate the fast corners approaching during the 2/4-stage but that idea was dashed as one member of the entourage got carried away, powered past me and several others to put himself just behind the leading marshals and went from the left side to the right side (which was the path I was in), then realized he couldn’t make the corner at that speed, did a hard braking and I had to follow suit.

That quick reaction on my part prompted the ABS-equipped front brakes to do its work perfectly synched without the Z900 SE wobbling nor attempting to sliding the rear wheel which could cause skidding. And I did that with just the double front brakes, not even applying the rear type. After that, I maintained the 130km+ cruising pace until we reached Pantai Remis beach front for the compulsory group photo session.

Resuming the group ride after the Pantai Remis stopover, it was cruising mode all the way till the entrance of the Latar Highway, the segment where we were allowed to unleash the might of the Z900 Standard and SE variants. Being a naked sportsbike, there’s always the curiosity of the Z900 being able to go faster than 200km/hr as it has no protection against the wind pressure at higher speed. As I was riding the SE variant throughout the entire route, I found it has no issue in dealing with the extreme wind pressure as the bike goes faster than the cruising speed we had been doing earlier.

Whether the Z900 Standard variant is able to counter the added wind pressure remains to be seen as I had no time to sample it on the same ride. But will do a separate ride of it another day. Stay tuned for the update.

How fast did I manage to clock on the SE variant the moment we were allowed to go faster on Latar Highway?

This I am not able to verify as I was concentrating on ensuring there’s stability, vibration (if any) as the Z900 SE easily went from 139km/hr on 6th all the way to beyond 200+km. All I could recalled are two things:

  1. A) As the Z900 SE picks up speed, everything else became a blur including the surrounding
  2. B) The rearview mirrors images didn’t suffer any vibration as I could see some of the riders attempted to keep up from behind

The others later informed me that they did between 221km/hr and 230km/hr and still couldn’t keep up with the Z900 SE unit I was riding. That means I was on a faster level than the rest of the entourage put together. All I recalled was the leading marshal ahead of the entourage who was the “distant guideline to judge how fast we could ride on Latar” becoming nearer and larger for as long as I held the throttle open even though there’s still a bit more room to go even faster. Eventually I closed the throttle and resumed cruising mode the moment the lead marshal did the same.

As mentioned earlier, the Z900 SE was stable and smooth all the way despite doing 200+km/hr. While it became lighter as the speed increased, there’s no feeling of the bike being swept aside or the steering geometry turning wobbly due to the extreme wind pressure.

With the full throttle experience accomplished, we had reached the completion of the test ride, and headed back to the Golf Resort upon exiting Latar Highway. I must say the Z900 test ride was much more enjoyable than the what I had experienced with the Z650 model. In fact, the Z900 ride was done within 2 weeks from the Z650/Ninja 650 test event, and I even rode the Z650 collected from KMSB a day earlier for my individual review to the Golf Resort for that Z900 event.

VERDICT: This First Impression Ride was all done on the Z900 SE. Whether there’s any difference in overall performance between the Z900 Standard vs. the SE variant remains to be seen. That will be on another review ride for the near future. The new Z900 SE is way better than the Z800 in all aspects. Well done, Kawasaki.

Stay tuned for further review rides on both the Z900 Standard and SE variants.

Posted by Philip Chong

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