Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900 in the test

31 Pictures

The Honda CB 1100 RS.

A feast for the eyes: Visually, the Honda is lovingly designed down to the smallest detail.

Classic: two filigree instruments, easy to read, flanked by the essentials of LCD accessories.


Mattes on Funkeldem: tank emblem and paint as a further indication of the sublime workmanship of the CB.

Modern: four-piston radial calipers bring a whopping 256 kilos to a standstill at any time.

Review: The chrome and design make it clear in which decade the CB 1100 RS is at home.

Loving and practical: a helmet lock on the left side of the frame.

Perfect: The processing of the fat aluminum swing arm is a pleasure. Take a closer look.

CB 1100 EX: the more classic variant, with 18-inch spoked wheels, more chrome, less sport.

The Kawasaki Z 900 RS.

See enough, the second: the tank as a steak, rear rump, bench, fine wheels, well-dosed chrome, the silhouette as a side dish.

Also classic, but daring more modern: also two watches, but more digital in between. Chic.

Adjustable and smooth: the clutch has a servo and anti-hopping function.

If you have TC you also have to adjust: left handlebar fitting of the Z.

Also four-piston radial, but pinches a corner better than the CB.

Construction kit: The swing arm is the only prominent identical part to the affordable Z 900. The rest is premium.

Bad Mutti: The RS is based on the Z 900, whose tubular space frame has been heavily modified.

The Yamaha XSR 900.

Beauty and the eye of the beholder: Mad Max likes that. Many others recommend the XSR as a pure retro hit.

More techno than retro: the XSR speedometer is small, at least halfway legible, but a bit cheap.

Half classic: you know round headlights, the rest of the design language is a bold mix.

Not at all classic: The Yamaha stoppers bite vehemently and with a crystal-clear pressure point.

Documented a solid but not sensational workmanship: matt shimmering XSR aluminum tank.

Good and cheap: not a feast for the eyes, but easy to use.

This view is perhaps the most impressive illustration of the XSR’s design dilemma.

Bad Mutti II: With the MT-09, the XSR also has a middle class naked as an active driving basis.

MOTORRAD test result: 1st place: Kawasaki Z 900 RS, 2nd place: Yamaha XSR 900, 3rd place: Honda CB 1100 RS.

Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900.

Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900.

Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900.

Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900.

Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900

Japanese retro bikes put to the test

Three current Japanese who optically orient themselves towards the past, but whose technology – sometimes more, sometimes less firm – comes from the present. Nippon retros on 17 inches are recommended as pretty driving machines. So no fluffy impressions, but tough facts: Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900 in a retro comparison test.

F.before everything was simpler, clearer. To put it simply, the motorcycles wanted “good" be, so work in terms of driving pleasure or utility. They were subjected to the most objective test possible. With performance, measured values, points and ranking at the end. A simple, honest thing. Then retro got more and more fashionable and things changed. "As good as possible" lost its meaning, no longer worked properly. Classic or retro motorcycles were and are to be enjoyed, some to look at, at least somehow for the feeling. These machines evade objective testing and appeal to subjective tastes. Impressions have been written about them. With “crackling engines", "Good vibrations" and wandering gauze in the café. These machines are then forgiven for minor and major weaknesses. “Doesn’t have to drive well, it should move." Is authentic. The latest representatives of Japanese retro bikes, however, no longer want to fit into this admittedly greatly simplified scheme.

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Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900
Japanese retro bikes put to the test

Technology comes from mid-range naked bikes

After initially hesitating to face the new wave in the land of the rising sun, Yamaha with the XSR 900 and Kawasaki with the Z 900 RS are delivering machines whose optics are in one way or another based on the past, their technology but comes from extremely active mid-range Nakeds. Somehow they are already feeling good, but want to be good again with powerful engines, precise 17-inch chassis and sporty components. Driving machines that face the tough test. Honda is also taking part, buckling the CB 1100 as RS instead of narrow 18-inch models, also using wide 17-inch slacks. Assembling radial brake calipers, blackening the engine and fenders, pushes the CB 1100 into the middle of the segment of the dashing retro, despite stereo struts and air cooling.

Honda CB 1100 RS, Kawasaki Z 900 RS and Yamaha XSR 900.

Despite all the supposed sportiness, however, the unheard-of presence of the Honda CB 1100 RS wants to be recognized first. Apart from the dip tubes of her telescopic fork, which, with its golden coating, tries a bit dishonestly to arouse associations with a certain Swedish suspension specialist, everything is just right about her: great metallic paintwork on a beautifully made tank, a leaky appearance of a lot of brushed aluminum and some Chrome, wonderful surfaces and welded seams as well as a swing arm that could be placed in the living room as an art object. Honda also remembers old virtues with its helmet lock and main stand, even a small windscreen wiper on the oil level control glass has been installed.

Driving performance of the Honda not convincing

The longer you look at the Honda CB 1100 RS, the more subtle details there are. Like the engine, which is really the last of the big air-cooled four-cylinder guild, with its ribs bulging out of the frame as well as that of the CB 750 Four at the time. A breeding bull from a motorcycle. "Breeding bull" is then also the key word for ergonomics and driving behavior, but unfortunately not the performance of the RS. The former is still consistently in order: The CB is expansively wide and long on the tank, allowing the driver to reach far forward towards the not too high, medium-wide, but very pleasantly cranked handlebar. You can definitely make friends with it: great bench, dignified comfort, ample space, even in second place.

Visually, the Honda is lovingly designed down to the smallest detail.

The handling of the Honda CB 1100 RS turned out to be less friendly. Unfortunately, there is no other way to put it, the 17-inch transformation is not a good thing in terms of driving behavior. It is true that its spoked wheel sister, the CB 1100 EX, always shows the ample vehicle weight of 256 kilos and a comparatively long wheelbase. This surfs on its narrow 18-inch model but with a certain harmony, a grace – which the RS has lost. Smaller wheels, wider tires, that in theory means quicker turning and more grip, but also more necessary lean angle. In practice, the RS resists anything that is more than a slow pace, and its abbreviation leads to the absurd. With enormous use of force, she wants to be brought on course, staggering once in an inclined position then more than tipping, behaves generally top-heavy, and on top of that stands up clearly on the brakes. Since the mounted Dunlop Roadsmart 3 is a good tire, the problem is obviously an imbalance between frame geometry, steering head angle, caster and the new wheel / tire dimensions. Because, to make matters worse, the lean angle is still weak, even very clean, appealing, comfort-oriented spring elements and the good brakes save little.

Wonderfully soft gear and smooth clutch

In terms of engine performance, the fat Honda CB 1100 RS would have a little more pedigree. First the plus side: The four-valve engine runs nice and smooth and cultivated, delivers a sonorous, ticking, slightly asynchronous retro soundtrack, which actually knows how to acoustically resurrect the old days. And from the lowest revs it hangs wonderfully swingingly on the gas. Acceleration, top speed and especially the pulling power of the engine, which is geared too long, leave room for improvement, especially in a direct comparison of this strong field. You never notice its full 1,140 cubic meters in the engine.

Classic instruments at Honda.

In order to keep up, you have to milk it vigorously, which in turn does not match the dignified character of the Honda CB 1100 RS. One thinks he has to suck his ignition mixture through long, thin straws. The engine is also only allowed to turn down into third gear, in the higher gears the electronic throttle lets it run against an invisible wall at 180 kilometers per hour. For a motorcycle like this, of course, only marginally important, but still unnecessary in view of the Honda’s perfect straight-line stability. Although the secondary virtues of this motor do not completely undo all of this, they reconcile a bit: The CB has a wonderfully soft, pleasant gearbox, a smooth, finely adjustable clutch and, from this model year, an extremely useful anti, given the rather high braking torque of the drive -Hopping function.

What does the Kawasaki Z 900 RS do?

Compared to this, the Kawasaki Z 900 RS is a dynamic revelation. It starts with the seating position: Honda and Kawa are not worlds apart, which is also not too wide, but boss-wise, “I own the country road"-Handlebar carries – this has a significant impact on the driving experience. The contact is noticeably closer, the seat bench is also well padded, but the tank is shorter – that looks more assembled, more compact, much more active – but thanks to the lower footrests, it is still exceptionally comfortable. The water-cooled 948 in-line quad then comes into service with a subtle growl. You can truly hear that Kawasaki has done sound design here for the first time in the company’s history. With a full displacement bass, throaty airbox tubes and subtle, but very erotic hissing, it sounds less like old school, but rather cool in a modern way – and at a fully socially acceptable volume. This sound alone is a reason to buy.

The Kawa is also more than impressive in terms of looks.

Even better is what it generates in terms of performance in addition to sound. Already powerful at the bottom, bearish in the middle, enduring at the top – the torque curve (tamer control times, lower compression) compared to the Z 900 has permanently changed the character of the engine, primarily due to the noticeably higher flywheel mass. As you could see in the top test of the last issue, it did not quite win at the bottom what it gave above. The new direction fits the concept perfectly. Especially since the drive continues to spurt perfectly: unobtrusive direct throttle response, low-vibration operation, smooth anti-hopping clutch and a transmission that is in no way inferior to that of the Honda. A cream drive unit. But it plays the second main role, because the excellent handling of the Kawasaki Z 900 RS is the real pound of Kawasaki’s classic homage.

Components work in harmony

The Kawasaki Z 900 RS circles neutral, nimble, extremely binding and stable, knows neither tilting nor pitching moment, but only wonderful directional stability. The frame geometry, initial tires (Dunlop’s GPR 300 as a very positive surprise) and high-quality spring elements work in perfect harmony here. The now fully adjustable USD fork in particular offers a great compromise between comfort and firm guidance with its wonderful responsiveness.

Kawasaki Z 900 RS: classic too, but daring to be more modern.

And the shock absorber with progressive deflection, which is located deep in the frame, is already known from the Z 900 as being very good. The stereo struts of the Honda CB 1100 RS with their golden reservoirs look chic, but the simpler central strut clearly offers more modern functionality. Although the Kawasaki cannot be accused of being visually understated. Its external advantages are obvious anyway and have also been extensively recognized in previous tests. Therefore, it can be summarized: Although their workmanship does not quite reach the enormous level of the Honda, their consistently coherent appearance ensures consistently happy reactions everywhere.

And the Yamaha XSR 900?

Which, and thus to the Yamaha, does not apply to the same extent to the XSR 900. Fortunately, it is not the job of motorcycle magazines to make a final judgment on design, because that, thank God, remains a matter of taste. But the fact is: The matt, dark Mad Max paintwork of the Yamaha XSR 900 does not create the same external effect as the conventionally beautiful Kawa and Honda. The Yamaha also seems too built-in in places. The MT-09 base with its modern cast aluminum bridge frame bears the retro style less naturally than the modified tubular space of the Z 900 or Honda’s classic double-loop construction from the outset.

The Yamaha XSR 900 is the cheapest of the three retro bikes tested here.

Two things, however, relativize this statement: First, Yamaha offers by far the cheapest offer in this field for around 9,500 euros, around 2,500 euros separate it from the Kawa, a whopping 3,400 even from the Honda CB 1100 RS. Second, when it comes to driving dynamics, the Yamaha XSR 900 easily overshadows the already strong Kawasaki Z 900 RS and is therefore recommended for fans of highly refined driving dynamics. It also owes this to its MT-09 base, which makes it by far the lightest motorcycle here: 196 kilos with a full tank, compared to 216 the Z 900 RS, not to mention the CB. The XSR does not show the great neutrality and serenity of the Kawasaki, but drives a bit nimble, in any case more greedy – and thus encourages you to burn adrenaline at every moment.

A real retro racer

The 847 cubic crossplane three-cylinder makes a huge contribution in the truest sense of the word. The actually smallest engine in the field makes the thickest jaws subjectively and objectively, even outclassing the Z 900 RS drive. Three-cylinder design with larger individual cubic capacities, the low weight, the unconventional crossplane mode of operation and a comparatively short gear ratio (which, however, is no problem even at higher speeds due to the finely ground, yet low-vibration running) – the Yamaha XSR 900 drives just like yours MT-09 sister, this side of the full liter actually everything in the ground.

More techno than retro: the XSR speedometer is small, at least halfway legible, but a bit cheap.

One then also likes to look after the engine that its throttle response (three driving modes) became little by little less harsh, but hard load changes and an unsatisfactory choppy gearbox are still part of the 09er DNA. The rather average chassis performance of the Yamaha XSR 900 with still some pumping from the shock absorber does not have a negative impact, because tightening the rebound damping of the same calms the chassis of the XSR immensely. The front fork is more taut than comfortable, which should also appeal a little more sensitively – however, given the comparatively low purchase price, one likes to overlook this.

Which bike brakes best?

The Yamaha has only two real points of criticism: it is largely unsuitable for pillion rides, and when it comes to control electronics, it has to admit defeat to the Kawa. The Yamaha XSR 900 offers the driver an upright, compact seating position with a narrow waist, narrow handlebars and coherently firm upholstery. On the other hand, the pillion sits like a frog due to the far too high pegs, which the Yamaha engineers have shown more humor than knowledge of human anatomy when they are attached.

When comparing the brakes, the Kawasaki has the lead.

As far as ABS and traction control are concerned, the Yamaha XSR 900 reveals a certain shirt-sleeved feel: Both regulate quite roughly and with significantly longer intervals. At level two, the TC intervenes more often to slow down the fun, but at level one it largely leaves the driver calm. The beastly performance of the Yamaha brakes the ABS into trouble here and there, whereby the rear mostly remains on the ground, but the braking stability suffers. The Kawasaki Z 900 RS decelerates a little less vehemently, but more easily dosed, but above all more stable and with absolutely contemporary ABS, whose traction control, which is also adjustable in two stages, thanks to the finest control intervals and precise intervention, further extends the lead of the Kawasaki. The deceleration performance, braking stability and ABS of the Honda CB 1100 RS are unspectacularly good and you don’t miss traction control in it.

And the winner is?

Conclusion? Even as an RS, the CB 1100 remains a retro bike in the sense outlined above. "As good as possible" doesn’t matter to her a bit, even on 17-inch models she remains a rather charming, but lazy boulevard strollers for friends not only of classic optics, but also of such technology. The Yamaha gives the antithesis: It doesn’t care about “conventionally beautiful”, the XSR is a driving machine of the purest water with a more contemporary, let’s say independent look. And it’s cheap. Ultimately, the Z 900 RS manages the feat of combining both – each in a slightly softened form: great design, elegant appearance, top suspension, pressure, sound, brake. Clear test victory.

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