Wait, what? What is UJM again? I didn't know the term until it was brought up now that I was riding this 2018 Kawasaki Z900 RS.
The term, UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle), was first coined in the '70s to describe the common styling of the Japanese motorcycle imports arriving in the USA at the time. As it happens, the term UJM was first coined in a motorcycle review of the then-new Kawasaki Z650. UJM's feature naked styling, but are characterized by an upright riding position. As the name suggests, they're used for a variety of purposes from running errands, commuting, to simply cuising.
The Z900 comes with an all LED headlight, tail light and signal lights
The first time I hopped on this bike when I picked it up on Wheeltek's Kawasaki Makati showroom, everything seemed weird. Turning the bike on street corners requires a little bit of muscle, the throttle feels 'switchy' – like an on or off switch with every gear change. The tank feels wide on the crotch, too. Maybe that's just me. I guess too much dirt riding had already made me used to narrow tanks.
The Z900RS was directly inspired by the Kawasaki Z1 Super Four 900 from 1972 — an iconic UJM that helped popularize Japanese motorcycles in America back in the day. This current version is powered by a 948cc, liquid cooled inline-four cylinder engine that produces 111 PS @ 8,500 rpm and 98.5 Nm of torque @ 6,500 rpm. It is mated to a 6-speed gearbox with chain as final drive.
The elegant instrument cluster features an analog speedometer and RPM gauge, with a multi-function LCD screen in the middle that shows the gear indicator, trip meters A and B, fuel range, average fuel consumption, ECO indicator, Kawasaki TRaction Control (KTRC) 1, 2 or OFF, clock, and radiator temp. The Z900RS’ tear drop tank is huge and fills up to 17 liters at the brim. The back bone is a trellis made from high tensile steel.
Stopping power is provided by dual 300 mm semi-floating disc brakes with 4-piston calipers on the front while the rear has a single 250 mm single piston caliper. The front has an adjustable preload and damping upside-down fork with 41 mm of travel; the rear enjoys a horizontal back-link gas shock absorber, also with adjustable preload and damping.
What does a ‘floating disc’ mean? To put it simply, because of metal expansion during high friction heat, a non-floating, one piece disc brake may ‘warp’ because of constriction while the 2-piece floating or semi-floating disc brake can freely expand during extreme heat then shrink upon cooling. These brakes can be seen in other high-performance motorcycles and the Z900RS is definitely one of them.
Though my initial impression of the throttle was 'switchy', it was a feedback that was supported by my friends who own or have ridden the Z900RS. It is common for inline-fours to have a powerband starting from the mid to high rev range, but the Z900RS can crawl from the low end of the rev range up to the top. When changing gears, the 1st to 3rd gears felt 'short' so to speak, and the Z900RS can crawl (on a flat surface) from 35 kph on 6th gear! Kawasaki did a great job on spreading the bike's torque across the power band. The engine's mapping was tweaked for minimal fuel at idle, hence the 'switchy' throttle response, according to Kawasaki. But that's ok. By the third day, a third of the twist of the throttle at every shift fixed the on/off switchy throttle feel.
As with most if not all 'big bikes', being stuck in traffic is hard, and can get hot in the leg area. But get moving and the heat is much more tolerable.
The handlebar is wide, wide enough that I felt I was riding an adventure bike with a good upright position. On the second day of riding the Z900, I was already at-home with the controls and was maneuvering in and out of traffic with ease, thanks to the lighter pressure you can apply on the bike's wide handle bar.
I wasn't able to test the Z900RS' KTRC, thanks to the fine weather while the bike was on loan with me. I did not wish to test the KTRC's response to slippery surfaces though, but as they say, it's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. The Z900RS is also equipped with Kawasaki's innovative assist and slipper clutch — another must-have for high-performance motorcycles.
Personally, there's so much to like about the Z900RS besides the bike's Candytone Brown / Candytone Orange color scheme. I'm talking about the little things that can make riding, especially out of town rides more desirable. For example, there are tie-down spots where a rider can secure his bags during long rides. There is also a helmet lock, and my personal favorite which I think should come as standard in all motorcycles, the lighter socket underneath the seat. In this age of mobile phones and GPS for navigation, a lighter socket/ USB port is very indispensable.
As I have said above, the Z900RS felt weird during our first encounter, but after the "getting to know each other" stage had passed, it was a joy to ride through the rest of the 350 kilometers when the bike was with me. I wish I could have clocked in more kilometers because I was really enjoying the bike and as with all the bike reviews that I have done, the saddest part was always returning back the bike.
During the Z900RS' stint with me, my average fuel economy was 17 kilometers per liter — still pretty impressive for a liter bike considering the traffic situation here in Metro Manila. The Z900RS is also reasonably priced at PhP630,000 taking into account that it is packed with lots of rider-must-haves. Can the Z900RS become one's daily bike? Yes! It is a Kawasaki and is 'Made in Japan', it should be reliable. Does it live up to the Z1 legacy? Yes it does.