Kawasaki hosted a shindig in Malibu, California, yesterday showing off the latest addition to its ever-growing Z family lineup. This time it’s another retro-inspired ride based off its gorgeous Z900RS but with a Lime Green twist.
To celebrate the occasion, Kawasaki invited four-time national and 500cc GP champ “Steady” Eddie Lawson for a quick walk down memory lane. Lawson and Muzzy’s Kawasaki shared much success during the early ’80s aboard the KZ1000R—the motorcycle the Cafe is styled after. Lawson won two back-to-back championships in ’82 and ’83 against stiff competition.
“AMA Superbike was extremely competitive,” Lawson remembers. “Kawasaki put in the effort, and they had the commitment to make it happen—which was incredible at the time. Because Honda and Suzuki threw everything they had at us.
“Freddie Spencer, Wes Cooley, and Mike Baldwin—there were a lot of fast guys on fast equipment. But Kawasaki hired all the right people,” he says. “Rob Muzzy and Gary Mathers, they gave us whatever we needed. In three short years, we won four national championships [two on a 250 and two on the 1000].
“I see a bike like this and it brings back such great memories,” Lawson continues with a grin. “It’s so cool to have a retro bike like this. They did a great job with it. I want one, by the way.”
Of course being a champion has its share of perks, so to thank Lawson for his service, the Green Team gifted him his very own Vintage Lime Green machine to ride.
The underpinnings of the Cafe are shared with Kawasaki’s other retro ride that debuted earlier this year, the Z900RS. But the Cafe gets a few aesthetic tweaks, including a slippery-looking front cowl, different handlebar, seat, and brushed aluminum exhaust finish. The engine case covers are also different, with the letters “DOHC” etched outside, hinting at the valve train that controls this 948cc inline-four.
Although we didn’t have an opportunity to ride at the unveil, we did swing a leg over it and noticed that, in spite of the different handlebar setup, the ergonomics and seating position are very similar to the RS’ upright position. Although it appears racy and hard-edged, it’s likely to be a comfortable and relaxed mount.
“When I raced 500 GP bikes and I rode on the street, I liked an upright high-handlebar bike—because I was on the street and I preferred that,” Lawson says. “When I was on the racetrack I wanted the crotch rocket. That’s kind of how I look at street riding. I think these upright bikes are the best kept secret.”
The Cafe goes up against other neo-classic café-inspired bikes, like Triumph’s Thruxton, Yamaha’s XSR900, and Ducati’s Scrambler Café Racer. However, the Kawasaki stands apart, showcasing the rich history and heritage of its classic inline-four engine configuration.
Having spent time on the new RS during the US press introduction earlier this year, I can say it’s impressive how much character and emotion engineers were able to squeeze out of this engine. Japanese inline-fours sometimes get a bad rap for being boring; not so with this one. The roar of the intake paired with the sweet melody emitted from the 4-into-1 exhaust is literally music to a motorcyclist’s ears, regardless if you’re a seasoned vet or just getting started.
And that, in essence is why this genre of motorcycle is so cool. They provide all of the nostalgia of an old bike (aside from the smell of gasoline from a leaking set of carburetors) while boasting all the modern amenities of a new ride such as fuel injection, compliant real suspension, and big brakes with ABS. Quite simply, with bikes like the RS and its Cafe brother, you can have your cake and eat it too.
“Back then it was just crazy,” the double Superbike champ shares. “It was all motor and no tire. The tires were rock hard—they were absolutely horrendous. But we didn’t know any different; that was just the they were. There was no grip. Today’s bikes—I go out on street tires that are ten times better than our race tires were.
“I think it is great that they can blend modern and still make it look retro. I love that look. For me it brings back fond memories,” Eddie sums up.
Interested in a new Z900RS Cafe? Better act fast; Kawasaki says its only bringing a “couple hundred” in to the States with the dealer order period beginning in June. Bikes will start trickling into dealerships later that month. Of course, stay tuned for a first ride review when we get our hands on a test unit.