Kawasaki gives the venerable Z900 the SE treatment, but is it all that special?
Kawasaki is not immune to the hot up-culture. They’ve done it with their ZX-10R/ZX-10RR’s, their supercharged H2 line-up, their dirt weapons in the KX450 and KX450SR and now the upscale style is filtering through to the everyday street line-up in the Z900 ABS and this Kawasaki Z900 SE.
Indeed, most manufacturers have two iterations of their best-selling bikes (think Yamaha MT-09/MT-09 SP and KTM 890 Duke/890 Duke R), with the higher-spec models usually getting engine, suspension, brakes and electronic upgrades.
So what has Kawasaki done to the Z900 ABS to warrant the SE tagline?
Well, they’ve done up two of the four aforementioned sectors of the motorcycle in new brakes and suspension, with the main chassis, engine and electronics remaining the same as the base model.
Costing your hop pocket an extra $1500 at $10,600 MSRP over the standard Z900 ABS, the SE variant comes with new 41 mm fully-adjustable Showa forks and a flash S46 Ohlins shock that comes with preload and rebound adjustability.
The brakes have been heavily breathed upon, too, with the ancient, conventionally-mounted four-piston Nissin calipers and master-cylinder turfed for more modern Brembo M4.32 calipers and a new Nissin master cylinder.
It’s a good thing Kawasaki has gone after the brakes and suspension for the SE, because if you’ve ridden one of the base models you’ll know they leave more than a little to be desired.
Oh, and your $1500 gets you that beautiful Kawasaki green and black metallic paint job and green frame (dubbed Metallic Spark Black/Candy Lime Green). The base models get rather drab-looking Pearl Robotic White/Metallic Spark Black, or the Metallic Matte Twilight Blue/Metallic Spark Black colorways.
Everything else on the Kawasaki Z900 SE is the same. You get an identical 948 cc inline four-cylinder motor pumping out around 125 hp and 73 lb-ft of torque, the same tubular steel chassis and subframe and the same electronics that include four riding modes of Rain, Road, Sport and Rider (where you can adjust the High and Low power levels and the traction control independently).
The Kawasaki Z900 SE is devoid of a ride-by-wire throttle, which also means it’s devoid of cruise control. And it’s also missing a quickshifter for its six-speed gearbox, which is becoming par for the course these days for bikes costing this much and something it really should have.
The SE’s new suspension makes for a much more composed ride, although it is a fair bit stiffer over the Z900 ABS. This will be good news for riders weighing north of 170 lb (before putting on gear), as the chassis now holds itself up much better under brakes and through the first part of the corner. Riders under that weight may find the ride a little stiff, but the tradeoff for cornering performance should be worth it in anyone’s book.
The brakes are a vast improvement over the units found on the Kawasaki Z900 ABS. Although the base model will still stop easily enough, it’s the feel at the lever on the SE that’s the big winner for me. What you ask for at the brake lever you pretty much get, because there’s still an ABS system sitting between your right fingers and the calipers clamping the discs.
Like many Kawasaki systems, I found the ABS application a little too early when really pushing hard, but for 95 percent of riding circumstances, the system is just fine.
With the four variable riding modes, the Kawasaki Z900 SE can be almost any bike you want but I preferred to leave it in Rider mode and turn the TC off (for wheelies, duh), and the throttle connection is mapped rather well.
Spin the four-cylinder north of 6000 rpm and the Zee begins to gnash its way north, eating the next 4000 rpm in an instant and that glorious, banshee induction roar taking over (it’s worth the sticker price just to hear that on the regular).
The lack of a quickshifter here is really noticeable, as you should be able to bang up the gears and not have to roll off the gas on a ‘premium’ naked bike. It gives the feeling Kawasaki has pinched a few pennies when it really shouldn’t have.
The same can be said for the lack of cruise control. Yes, it has a cable throttle so cruise control is a no-go, but Yamaha’s MT-09 SP (its closest competitor) is only $300 more and comes with both a quickshifter and cruise control, so you can see why I feel Kawasaki didn’t bring the full A-game to the SE party. But, hey, there’s no cruise control on the Concours ZX-14, the bike that has no excuse not to have it, so, go figure.
The Kawasaki Z900 SE is a good bike, but to be a true premium offering— even a middleweight one on the end of the class capacity scale — it needs a few extras thrown at the customer. Should Kawasaki do this, they just might have a class winner on their hands.