Picture this: London, 1969 – the Ace Café. Somebody starts playing a new song on the jukebox, and somebody else jumps on his bike and screams off into the night. The aim is to ride to a given point and back before the end of the song.
That was the beginning of what became known as café racing, and before long people began to customize their bikes in the hope of shaving a precious seconds off their time. Unsurprisingly, the bikes became known as café racers.
The style is very much in vogue these days, and when Kawasaki developed their retro Z900RS, bringing out a café racer version was the logical step. Enter the Kawasaki Z900RS Café.
Design-wise it harkens back to the 1970s – in fact, if you saw the original Mad Max film, you will have seen Z1000s that look very similar.
Those styling cues – the huge round headlamp in the handlebar-mounted fairing, the teardrop-shaped tank, the split-level single seat and the iconic up-swept tail piece – have been carried over to the Z900 Rs Café. Visually it is a tour de force of pure nostalgia.
But just below the surface lies a modern motorcycle. The 948cm³ motor pushes out a respectable 82 kw, and with a wet weight of 215kg the bike is no slouch.
It accelerates with meaning from even low down in the rev range, making it not just a fun ride in the twisties, but also in rush hour traffic where engine flexibility really matters. Like its other z900 stablemates, the Café delivers its power right in the part of the rev-range where you’re doing most of your riding, and it just keeps going if you decide to stray into the naughty side of the speed limit.
With 25.4 degrees of rake and 3.5 inches of trail, the Café is nimble in the corners. Inverted front forks – adjustable for rebound, compression and preload – are joined by a coil-over rear shock with a step-less rebound adjuster and variable preload to allow you to adjust the bike to your liking. And just in case you still have misgivings about the Café’s ability to deal with being ridden in anger, there is a slipper clutch that acts as both a back-torque limiter and a self-servo mechanism.
On the front wheel, a pair of radially-mounted four-piston calipers are charged with the job of squeezing the 267mm rotors and slowing you down. ABS comes standard and, thankfully, isn’t overly sensitive – an issue that plagued the Z100SX I used to own.
The brakes are happy to forgive imprudent use, but after some time of constant, heavy braking they have a tendency to fade slightly. However, replacing the standard brake lines with steel-braided ones is an easy fix for the problem if this is your riding style.
Ergonomics are not exactly sport-bike level, but the seating position is canted forward noticeably, which allows you to tuck your helmet in behind the bikini fairing by simply lowering your head.
That said, the Café is comfortable enough that longer highway stints are not an issue, especially since the seat offers unexpectedly good support and a decent amount of room to spare, despite the step-up arrangement.
On paper, the slightly lower seat (compared to the standard RS) means that there’s a very small reduction in legroom, but I didn’t even notice it in the real world.
While the Café may have had its inspiration in the street racing culture of the 60s, it is as close as you get to the ultimate urban sportster – it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it promises – and delivers – oodles of fun.
As a retro bike, it is the right mix of old school and modern. It is styled to attract attention, but when you hit the road it translates in to a genuinely quick, enjoyable ride.
Manufacturer: Kawasaki Model: Z 900 RS Café
ENGINE Type: 4 cylinder in-line liquid-cooled displacement: 948 cm³Maximum Power: 82 kW @ 8 500 rpm Maximum Torque: 98 Nm @ 7 700 rpm
Fuel supply system: Electronic fuel injection
Fuel type: Unleaded Premium 95 Octane RON
TRANSMISSION Type: 6-speed, return final drive: Chain DIMENSIONS:
Overall length x width x height (mm): 2 100 X 865 X 1 150
Kerb weight: 215 kg
CAPACITIES Passengers: 1+1Fuel tank: 17 litres
BRAKES Front: Dual disc, 267 mm diameter Rear: Single disc, 216 mm diameter
SUSPENSION Front: Telescopic fork (upside-down)Rear: Horizontal Back-link swing arm
WHEELS & TYRES: Tyre, front: 120/70ZR17 M/C (58W)Tyre, rear: 180/55ZR17 M/C (73W)
PRICE: R168 995