Automorbit, Motorcycle – There are a million ways to skin a cat, as they say, and the field that is the 900cc-ish middleweight naked bike segment is a perfect example. Just take these two cats. After we put the KTM 890 Duke R and Triumph Street Triple R head-to-head, Burns gave us flack for not throwing the Kawasaki Z900 in the mix. I still don’t think it quite has enough to top its Austrian or British counterparts, but it’s peppy enough and should be thrown up against something – if for nothing else than to shut John up.
Just in case you forgot, for 2020 the Z gets a revamp which you can read all about in John’s First Ride Review. Now, I realize some of you may be too lazy to click that link and read what’s different about the old Z compared to the new one. So here’s the story in a nutshell: some styling tweaks to round the edges off some of the Sugomi styling, revised chassis settings around the swingarm lead to better handling, better suspension, and Kawi added a fancy TFT dash and LEDs all around. Power remains the same from the 948cc Four – 115.5 ponies at the wheel when we dyno’d this bike which, really, is plenty to have a good time.
So when searching in the $9,000 range to find something to put against the equally-priced Kawi, BMW’s new-for-2020 F900R jumped out at us (ironically, Johnnie rode that bike at its intro, too) BMW’s no stranger to the middleweight nakedbike market of course, but the newness of the F900R made it the perfect fit. Kinda.
The F900R’s 895cc engine gives up some in displacement, and its parallel-Twin engine lacks the two extra pistons you see on the Kawi, too. BMW says it makes 99 horses and 67 lb-ft at the crankshaft. When Burnsie put the adventure-y F900XR on the dyno (same engine, remember) it put down 85 hp and 53.7 lb-ft. No surprise, then, to find the smaller-engined BMW down on power compared to the Z900.
Weights are about the same, with the Z tipping the scales at 467.5 lbs (claimed) and the BMW only 2.5 lbs less. This all looks good until you realize the BMW only carries 3.4 gallons of fuel compared to the Kawasaki’s 4.5 gallons. Knowing this, it bugs us that BMW chose to skimp on fuel capacity, but by the time you need to find a gas station you’re going to want a break from the bike for a minute or two anyway.
Another interesting point: normally BMW outfits its press bikes with practically every option on the list, claiming these are the options people usually buy anyway. Not so with our F900. Apart from the Dynamic Pro ride mode and incredibly clear TFT display, there’s no quickshifter or electronic suspension here. Our bike was relatively spartan, with minimal suspension adjustments available. In this regard it was actually very similarly equipped with the Kawasaki, itself equipped with a TFT, ABS, ride modes, and traction control.
Ostensibly, this test is about putting the Kawi and BMW against each other, but since JB’s been harping on and on about how good the Kawasaki is, I had to see for myself if Burns was blowing smoke.
The short answer is… well, no. Not really. Once you twist the wrist it’s hard to deny the Kawasaki’s 30-horse advantage. Whenever I was on the BMW I just knew JB had a wide, sh*t-eating grin under his helmet every time we hit a straight section and that he’d leave me for dust. Power comes on smoothly, even in the sportiest ride mode, and there really isn’t much fuss going on underneath you. It’s a prime example of how refined Kawasaki, and Japanese motorcycles, in general, have become.
While I can’t deny the power and the effective counterbalancing of the Kawi’s internals, this is exactly the reason why it didn’t strike a chord with me. The BMW sounds just so cool, with its 270-degree firing order. You hear that engine screaming a lot, too, since it begs all 85 horses that make it to the ground to try their best to stay with the Kawasaki. It’s a futile effort, but at least, it’s also fairly smooth. Not quite as smooth as the Kawasaki, but now we’re starting to split hairs. Burns says the BMW sounds like a Ducati, which it kinda does, much to the chagrin of both BMW and Ducati owners, probably.
When the Z900 isn’t placed next to it, the F900R’s power deficit isn’t nearly as apparent. Nobody’s going to mistake it for a speed demon, but it scoots along nicely. Neither bike has a quickshifter, so shifting the old-fashioned way feels a little refreshing. Both sets of gears click into place without any fuss, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t happy to have the respective gear position indicators on each.
Power aside, a big difference between the two is just how each bike places the rider. The Kawi feels a little cramped for my taste. The bar is narrow (a huge annoyance), and my right heel hits the exhaust shield when I put my toes on the pegs – another huge annoyance. John didn’t seem nearly as bothered by the whole thing though:
Gee, I dunno. The BMW maybe has a tad more front contact patch feel, but they’re both great backroad bikes. For me the Kawasaki felt more balanced and quicker to react to inputs. Did I mention how with all that midrange torque, it loves to blast off corners? My criteria are rather simple. On the Kawi, I was giggling and having fun riding. On the BMW, I was sweaty and having to work to keep up with Troy on the Kawi. Different strokes I suppose.
The BMW is much more agreeable to me, with its wider bars and unobtrusive pegs. The former is a real treat when hitting up the canyons, as you can really leverage the bike to your will and bend it into corners. You really have to put in much more effort with the Kawi thanks to the narrow bars.
Otherwise, JB and I agree both chassis square up nicely in the corners. Both feel planted, secure, and composed mid-corner. Both work just fine for a spirited pace, but clearly the $9k price point is met because something had to give, and it’s the suspension. Neither come with much suspension adjustment; both offer rear preload and rebound adjustment, but at least the Z900 lets you play with rebound in the front, too. Then again, for $9000, what do you expect?
If we’re being realistic here, both machines are going to spend more time tooling around on the streets versus playing in the canyons. And to be quite honest, both bikes will do the job just fine. The open cockpits of each don’t have much to obscure your view of traffic ahead, their narrowness makes lane sharing easy (if you’re allowed to do that kind of thing where you live), and the wind blast on each is mostly bearable, with forward cants in the riding position that help you cut through the wind instead of get blown back by it. Neither bike has cruise control, so longer freeway drones will get boring and tiring. But, hey, nine-thousand bucks…
With that, we’ll have to split hairs to draw some kind of defining line between the two.
First and foremost, the BMW’s smaller tank has the potential to leave you frustrated if you’re trying to eke out the most mileage possible. The F900 is internally very well balanced, but the nature of parallel-twins – especially those spinning at 270-degree firing intervals – means a few vibes will ultimately find their way to your hands. You feel it at freeway speeds and when the engine is spinning fast in the twisties, but it’s not unbearable or annoying.
You really feel the difference in vibes when you hop off the BMW and onto a Japanese inline-Four. The Z900 purrs along as smooth as buttah and just hums along. Clutch pull is light (lighter than the BMW), too.
For me, I’d still take the F900R as my daily for similar reasons why I liked it for sporty riding. The cockpit feels more open and agreeable to me, the wider bar makes it easier to maneuver through traffic and congestion, and the exhaust routing doesn’t have my right foot cocked at a weird angle. Better still, I really dig staring at the BMW’s TFT display. It’s the same TFT used on a bunch of BMWs, and in my opinion, just might be the best screen in the game today.
As you’d expect, Johnny doesn’t quite agree with me. He admits the BMW is nice, but his preference leans green. He’ll tell you why:
In the pics they’re both a bit cramped for tall guys, but they are sportbikes, so? I grazed a footpeg on the Z once or twice and that was it. Both bikes have taller seat options. My right foot had no issues with the Kawi, and if you’re commuting on your bike or doing any distances, then the green bike’s taller handlebar and flyscreen are better than the BMW’s vibes and nothing. Compromises. At least you’ll get to stop every 120 miles to fill it up. I hate ICE motorcycles that give me range anxiety.
Well, there is one big difference…
If you’re sensing a theme here, it’s that both machines are very evenly matched. In fact, both John and I agree both bikes are good options for the price, but their little features splits JB and I down the line on opposite sides. Yes, the Kawasaki’s power advantage is real and it’s substantial, but the BMW has a big advantage in the braking department.
The combination is quite simple for BMW: 320mm discs and four-piston calipers mounted radially. The Kawasaki wears 300mm petal-type discs and axially mounted four-pot calipers. Compared to the Z900, the F900R scrubs off speed much faster, and with better feel, than the inferior Z. Ridden separately the Kawasaki stops well enough, but it’s not until you ride the BMW back-to-back that the F900’s superior stopping power becomes glaringly obvious.
If you’ve come this far in the test then you might be yelling at your screen, asking how we could have possibly forgotten about the Yamaha MT-09. It’s similarly priced, styled, and equipped – shouldn’t it be included? Well, yes. However, while the Kawasaki got a revamp for 2020 and the BMW is new for this year, the only real change Yamaha has given the FZ-09 recently is a new name: MT-09.
We’re big fans of the three-cylinder in the Yamaha, but without anything really new to report on it we left it out to focus on the new and significantly revised. Still, if we were to imagine it was included here anyway, neither John nor I would place it as our winner.
So then, who is the winner? With JB siding one way and myself going the other, what’s the overall verdict? It depends on what you’re going for. The Kawasaki offers dependable, reliable Japanese engineering, with more power and, if we were to guess, probably lower operating and ownership costs. But I thought the cockpit was a little cramped, the narrow bar is annoying, and the Z’s smoothness took away from its character.
Meanwhile, the F900 might be down on power, but it still makes plenty. The spacious cockpit was more comfortable to me (even if the seat itself is a little on the wooden side), and the combination of brakes and crystal-clear TFT screen exude a sense of quality you don’t see on the Kawi. Its small tank is a let down, though. Ultimately, I’ll say what I always say in times like these: if you’re shopping between these two, then the right choice is the one you think looks better and puts a bigger smile on your face.