The 2022 Kawasaki Z900RS SE pays homage to the 1971 Z1 900 with retro-modern aesthetics.
’Tis time to look at motorcycling through rose-tinted glasses. Or is it? We all love a good look at the past, right? Seems life was easier, simpler, and in many ways, it was. Perhaps Kawasaki’s done this better than anyone. Indeed, they have one hell of a back catalog on which to gaze and draw inspiration, and a few years ago in 2018, they came up with a gem in the Kawasaki Z900RS.
Channeling the god-like motorcycle that is the Z1 900 from 1971, the 900RS did a brilliant job of closing the divide between old and new. Old aesthetics matched to current technology is a winning formula in motorcycling these days, and in truth, the bike didn’t need a lot to bring it forward into 2022.
That hasn’t stopped the Big K from giving the retro ride a freshen-up, mind you. Rummaging through the parts bin, Kawasaki’s effectively taken the Z900 SE and thrown the RS’s 1970s clothing on it, creating a thoroughly modern ride with an Ohlins S46 shock, beautiful yellow and black paint and a ride experience I kept going back for again and again despite the two other press bikes I had in the garage.
The motor is unchanged from 2018. The four-cylinder 948cc lump is geared quite short, but admittedly doesn’t really get going until 3500-4000 rpm. Yet, it provides mountains of torque from there until 7000 rpm, and it’ll pull a third gear wheelie at the slightest flick of the clutch.
You can leave the RS in fourth gear for pretty much every application except leaving the lights and freeway riding. It’s a wholly flexible motor with well-chosen gearbox ratios and more than enough power to do the job.
Despite being a retro ride, it’s a shame Kawasaki hasn’t given the RS a few modern touches like a quick-shifter (at least on the upshift), heated grips, or cruise control, something I feel a bike of this $13,449 MSRP warrants. The gearshift isn’t the smoothest out there but if you’re gentle with it, it’s not so bad.
The chassis is almost an exact copy of the Z900SE. It’s got the same tubular steel trellis chassis, same swingarm, and the same suspension, so ride quality is basically identical. The big difference is in the ride position. You’re much more on top of the RS in the traditional naked bike style championed by the OG Z1 from the 1970s. There’s no weight at all on your wrists and you’ve got that big ’ol bench seat under your ass that’s by far one of the most comfortable on the market today.
The Kawasaki Z900RS SE will hustle through corners just fine but to ride it in that style kinda misses the point. This is a bike in which you can just sit back and enjoy. It’s got mod-cons like traction control and ABS and the power to rip wheelies and charge like a modern bike, but you can tell it doesn’t want to. Those halcyon days are behind the RS. It just wants to cruise and enjoy the ride, not break lap records. And you can’t really blame it for that.