For Kawasaki it seemed that 2017 would be a rather quiet year, and its Intermot presence more or less seems to confirm this. There are important updates across the range indeed, but they're mostly focused on making the most of a roster filled with effective and popular models.
The Ninja 650 receives an important revamp with new frame and equipment, then there's also an even more track-oriented RR version of the ZX-10R superbike that was fully renewed last year, next to a collectible carbon-clad H2 variant, and the extensively refreshed Z1000SX.
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As for big news, this will probably have to wait a few weeks. Currently Kawasaki offers the Z1000 and Z800 streetfighters, but this could change if we translate correctly what it implies with the two new Z-models scheduled for debut at EICMA in Milan, Italy, on November 8.
Z900 – Z650
Amidst Kawasaki's Intermot-related press releases, a surprising teaser announced two new Zeds – Z900 and Z650 – that could signal groundbreaking changes for both the Z and the ER model families.
The bigger of the two runs on a downsized version of the current Z1000 four-cylinder motor, scaled down to 948 cc thanks to a reduction in cylinder bore. Equipped with an assist and slipper clutch, and tuned according to the new EU4 emission rules, the new engine will output 123.6 hp (92.2 kW) with presumably stronger torque than the Z1000.
In terms of styling and equipment, the new Z seems to closely follow the current model's cues. The teaser photo at hand reveals that the Z900 will use conventional four-piston calipers at the front, instead of the 1000's radial ones. The press release acknowledges that the front 41-mm inverted forks and rear shock are adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping, so gone is the fork compression setting of the Z1000 as well.
Announced at 210.5 kg (464 lb), this weight would translate to shedding almost 10 kg (22 lb) off the Z1000 – should it refer to the mass of a fully fuelled motorcycle.
The most important feature of the Z900 (and the 650) is the new steel trellis frame, which comes into contrast with the twin-spar aluminium chassis of the 2016 models. According to Kawasaki, this change starred in the upcoming bike's successful diet, and can hopefully enhance the Zed's sport attitude as well.
A range that simultaneously includes the Z1000, Z900 and Z800 sounds rather improbable. Logic would suggest that the 900 will lead the sport naked model family, escorted by the entry-level Z650 – in a role that the Z800 is arguably too powerful to play.
As far as the Z650 is concerned, if it weren't for the new frame it would be just another motorcycle built around the proven 649 cc in-line twin engine of the ER-6. With the latest trellis frame making its production debut with the new Ninja 650, we might as well assume its mitigation to the rest of the family sooner or later.
Kawasaki also disclosed that at EICMA we shall be introduced to a special second Z900 model. Given that Kawasaki doesn't shy away from direct mentions to the legendary Z1 in the Z900 press release, could this by any chance be a tribute to the original 1972 903 cc icon?
Last year Kawasaki introduced a new ZX-10R which helped to further cement its World Superbike Championship dominance, but the competition keeps building up strength. In view of the recently unveiled new Suzuki GSX-R1000R, Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP/SP2 and the updated BMW S1000RR, Kawasaki responds with the ZX-10RR.
In this even sportier version, the cylinder heads have been modified to accept higher-lift camshafts, as the crankcase has been reinforced to ensure reliability when the engine is race-runed.
Kawasaki also throws in a set of lighter aluminum Marchesini forged wheels, optimized suspension settings and an updated quickshifter that supports downshifts as well as upshifts.
Designated as a single-seater, the ZX-10RR will be supported by a series of model-specific race parts. Painted only in Winter Test black scheme, it is targeted mainly to racing teams and will be manufactured in very limited numbers.
Built around the naked Z1000, the SX variant adds aerodynamic protection and a riding position that transforms the streetfighter into a very capable sport tourer. For 2017 the Z1000SX receives a series of updates that will benefit both its sport and the touring sides.
The 1,043 cc in-line four-cylinder powered model gets an assist and slipper clutch, and also receives the same Bosch inertial measurement unit that is used in the ZX-10R, adding selectable power modes, three-level adjustable traction control and cornering ABS to its list of talents.
Kawasaki also worked on the bike's looks, with redesigned fairings that combine enhanced aerodynamic protection with more aggressive lines and incorporated new LED headlights. The instrument panel is also new, in order to accommodate information from the new electronic systems, including an adjustable shift light and gear position indicator.
The long list of updates of the Z1000SX includes more comfortable seats for both passengers, and a new integrated pannier-mounting system. These, along with the improved aerodynamics and a gracious 19-liter fuel tank, should make for a very efficient sporty tourer.
The fourth motorcycle to rely on Kawasaki's 649 cc twin-cylinder engine is a middle-weight sportbike that mimics the lines of the Z1000SX, powered by an engine of proven reliability and very high degree of adaptability – from the roadster ER-6, or the sport adventure Versys 650, to the cruiser Vulcan S. The in-line twin is of course now compliant with the latest European rules, so we can expect some minor power losses when Kawasaki releases the relative figures.
Similarly to the Z650, the big news here revolves around the new frame, which makes its first official appearance in a 2017 Kawasaki. Although focused on delivering efficient performance at a reasonable price, besides the basic brakes and non-adjustable (except for rear preload) suspensions, the new Ninja scores an assist and slipper clutch, as well as the Bosch 9.1M ABS as standard.
Since Kawasaki calls it a Ninja, it is by definition part of the Supersport part of the company's line-up. In essence though, the Ninja 650 is most effective in commuting duties, garnished with sport touring dexterity.
For 2017 Kawasaki introduced some updates for its two supercharged sportbikes, starring a new Ohlins TTX36 rear shock absorber and upgraded electronics by the implementation of a new inertial unit by Bosch.
The new variant that was first introduced at Intermot is the H2 Carbon, which is little more than the basic 200-hp H2 with a carbon cowl and a color scheme that until now was exclusively available with the 300-hp H2R. In fact the new H2 version simply provides customers the chance to get their hands on a bike that looks just like the unique H2R, but costs a fraction of the money and, most importantly, is road legal.