Way back in the 1970s, when disco ruled and ABBA topped the charts, the Universal Japanese Machine, or UJM, was king of the roads. 40 years later, it appears the UJM has returned in all its glory as the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS, priced locally at RM67,900 for the base model, and RM69,900 for the Special Edition.

Right about now we will be seeing angry retorts from paultan.org readers about how this machine is over-priced for rolling nostalgia and this is all, well, someone’s fault. But as they say, thankfully, Malaysia is still peaceful, and we have the chance to ride our wonderful highways with the latest addition to the retro bike fad.

When Kawasaki Motors Malaysia launched the Z900 naked sports a year or so ago, one thing that struck us was the four-cylinder mill would make a good basis for a retro bike. While some might like the Sugomi design trend, riding a motorcycle that looks like a Transformer is not everyone’s cup of motor oil.

Thus, the announcement of the Z900RS made us sit up, and seeing it in the flesh at the EICMA show in Milan, Italy, last year made us want to ride it all the more. What would be the same, and what is different?

When Kawasaki handed us the keys to both the Z900RS and Z900RS SE, the boys from paultan.org put the pair of retros through the paces. To say we had some expectations for the way these bikes would perform would be putting it mildly, as the author has pretty much ridden every naked four-cylinder Kawasaki made since the appearance of the first Z1.

First off, this review will be for both the Z900RS base and SE models, as they are mechanically identical. Same engine, same running gear, same styling, with the differences being cosmetic.

The biggest differences between the two are obvious: colour and graphics. The base Z900RS comes in matte black with green graphics in a more modern style – the fuel tank putting us in mind of a giant beetle.

Meanwhile, the SE version is more in keeping with retro styling, with Candy Orange stripes adorning the Candy Brown paint on the tank. It also comes with metal accented mudguard stays, radiator side plates and an airbox cover, chrome exhaust can and chrome strips on the wheels – these items being omitted or painted black on the base model.

That just about covers the cosmetics and it is now time to get into the engine room. For the Z900RS, the power plant, as can be safely assumed, provides more power down low compared to the Z900, in keeping with the retro street style of this machine.

Power in the liquid-cooled, DOHC, 948 cc, inline-four engine has been detuned, from the 125 hp in the Z900 to 111 hp at 8,500 rpm in the RS, with peak power now happening lower down the rev range. Torque is about the same at 98.5 Nm, but the Z900RS peaks below 7,000 rpm while the Z900 carries it to 7,700 rpm.

As can be expected, engine behaviour is completely different between the Z900RS and the Z900. The Z900 feels peaky, and requires large handfuls of throttle to deliver the goods, while the Z900RS comes in at a more relaxed pace.

Don’t mistake the Z900RS for being docile, though. With enough provocation, the Z900RS will lift its front wheel and there is enough power to make us wish for ABS and traction control – both of which are standard here – that could be switched off.

However, the Z900RS is not a hooligan bike by any stretch – you’ll be wanting to look at its Z900 stablemate for that one. Instead, the key to the Z900RS is its torque curve, which is almost as flat as a tabletop.

At any throttle opening you care to name, the Z900RS’ 948 cc engine will deliver an engaging kick-in-the-pants, as it were. As we were to discover, the RS has taken one of the best things the older Kawasakis delivered, fistfuls of torque, and translated it into the modern day.

Getting on the Z900RS, the rider will find the seat placed at 810 mm, a suitable height for most Malaysian riders. We were informed by Kawasaki Malaysia that this is actually the low seat option from the catalogue, with the 835 mm “standard” seat now becoming the “tall” option.

That inch of difference will allow average Malaysian riders to find a suitable seat height and further enhancing the Z900RS as an “every rider’s” bike. The seat itself is a single piece affair, compared to the split unit on the Z900 and very much in keeping with the retro style.

Lifting the Z900RS off the side stand, you will be aware of the bike’s centre of mass being somewhat tall, especially with a full tank of 17 litres of fuel. Setting off, the starter brings the inline-four to life, and you click the six-speed gearbox into first.

Then you’ll shift back into neutral, and back into first. And again and again. Kawasaki boasts of something called a Positive Neutral Finder on the Z900RS and we can tell you it flat out works.

Finding neutral at a stop, rolling to a halt, or snapping it into neutral and back into second to push the rear end out with some Body English, the Z900RS has a very nice gearbox. If you’re a newbie, you will like the positive neutral feature which makes choosing the right gear at stops a breeze with the very light assisted clutch pull requiring zero effort.

Snapping through the gears on acceleration on the Z900RS, you find yourself shifting up a little earlier in the rev range compared to the Z900. We remarked on this earlier in our first ride report and it is very much a function of the way the RS is tuned.

If you are entertaining thoughts of a swap to the Z900’s more powerful engine, forget it. The Z900RS carries a completely different trellis frame in terms of fit and sizing, and there is no way the Z900 engine will sit. Not without some judicious custom work, anyway.

Riding the RS around showed this is an easy bike to handle and ride, fast or slow. Whilst on the move, the bike doesn’t show its 214 kg wet weight, but bringing it to a stop in a hurry called for a strong squeeze on the lever to work the radial-mounted four-piston calipers on 300 mm brake discs in front.

ABS and traction control are standard fitment though, compared to the omission of the latter on the Z900, and we hope to see its inclusion here soon. This will probably mean a price hike for the Z900, but it is a cost we think is worth it.

As we took the Z900RS through the paces, we found it fairly comfortable at medium pace, with slow riding on rougher surfaces betraying a hint of too much rebound. This can now be rectified with the fully-adjustable forks in front, and the rear monoshock which allows for preload and rebound adjustability.

At very high speed though, unless the surface is racetrack smooth, the front fork will show a bit too much compression damping. We left the Z900RS in standard suspension settings while it was in our hands and we suspect it is tuned for a rider weighing at least 95 kg.

Since the author weighs 82 kg, the behaviour of the suspension falls into line with our assumption. Dropping the Z900RS into corners, some effort is needed at the bars, although the wide handlebars make it somewhat easy.

Not as much as some, but more than its cousin, the Z900. The rider will get used to the steering effort eventually, and truth be told, we did not notice it as much after a few days.

The Z900RS will require you to trust the handling, though. We found feedback from the OEM-fitment Dunlop Sportmax tyres a little vague when on the edge.

Nothing wrong with them during highway riding and zipping along in town, but when pushed hard in the bends of Ulu Yam and Bukit Tinggi, there were points where we wondered if we would be chewing armco for breakfast. To their credit, the Dunlops never gave out or gave up, but trying to get them scrubbed in was hard work.

In the seating stakes, we found the saddle to be nicely wide, and adequate for medium to long distance comfort. The handlebars placed the rider nicely upright but with the drawback of getting the full force of wind blast right in the chest.

If you intend putting the Z900RS to performing over longer distances, think about adding a wind shield of some sort. While you’re at it, slap a top box on the back and a pair of throw-over saddlebags, and you have the makings of a good touring bike.

Inside the cockpit, the pair of round analogue dials fit the design style of the Z900RS well, though the numbers were a little small. We deduced engine and road speed from needle position rather than actual readings.

With LED lighting back and front and a USB port located under the seat, the Z900RS is pretty much a 1970s motorcycle brought straight into the new century. That it does look the part with the retro paintwork and tank is pretty much icing on the cake.

Simplicity being what it is, the Z900RS is, like its UJM forebear, designed to fit a variety of roles for a variety of riders. That it does not particularly stand out in any particular aspect but, instead, competently does the job it is tasked with while looking suitably retro, is not a negative.

So, who needs the 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS, in either the standard (RM67,900) or SE versions(RM69,900)? One thing we would like to note is there is a rather more special version of the Z900RS, the Cafe Racer, which we had a look at in Milan.

In the Malaysia market, competition in the big retro stakes comes from Triumph with its Bonneville T120 twin at RM79,900. BMW Motorrad has a quartet of R nineT boxer-twins with the base model, the Pure, being priced at RM82,900.

Those are twins, though, and in the inline-four retro bike stakes, Kawasaki stands alone in the local market. If you’re a rider who wants a do-it-all bike with manageable, controllable performance and is easy to handle without the sharp-edged modern styling, take a good look at the Z900RS.