Kawasaki Z900 vs. Triumph Street Triple R vs. Yamaha FZ-09 Comparison Review

An improved former CW Ten Best Standard meets the new guard

When Yamaha intro­duced its FZ-09 in 2014 it lent legs to an emerging super-middleweight sport naked category. Having enjoyed stellar sales from the start, a significant component of the 847cc inline-triple's recipe for success was the incredible performance value Yamaha offered at an astonishing $7,990. While a rising cost of living index may not fully account for the current model's $1,000 price creep, in Yamaha's defense it has shored up the 2017 FZ-09 with a fully adjustable fork, traction control, ABS, slipper/assist clutch, LED lights, and fresh styling.

Timely updates no less as this "high" middle ground segment now sees Kawa­saki and Triumph turning up the heat with new entries for 2017.

Kawasaki has sharpened its focus, replacing the Z800 and Z1000 models with an all-new 948cc inline-four-powered Z900 offering competitive engine and chassis performance for $8,399 (without ABS) and $400 more for the antilock brake version.

super middleweight naked bike group action
Kawasaki Z900 vs. Triumph Street Triple R vs. Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen

Triumph answered the call, replacing the long-standing 675-based Street Triple with a trio of new variants displacing 765cc offering model-specific engine and chassis tune. While the entry-tier Street Triple S best fits this comparison in price ($9,900) and spirit, we had to run with the ($11,200) R model due to deadlines and current availability. Highlights on the list of R upgrades include hotter cams yielding increased peak power and torque, a slipper/assist clutch, additional selectable throttle maps, fully adjustable Showa suspension, and a stunning 5-inch color TFT instrument pod.

Each of these sport naked bikes has urban-friendly upright ergos well suited to around-town duties.

Joining me on a seat-swapping head-to-head road ride was Assistant Editor Will Steenrod and guest tester Joe McKimmy, an accomplished off-road rider who identifies as a road bike “begin­ner.” Our route involved a good mix of city, freeway, and back roads with a douse of wet weather for added measure.

Each of these sport naked bikes has urban-friendly upright ergos well suited to around-town duties. Shorter riders will likely find the Z900’s low seat height and easy footing at stops to their liking. Sitting a bit down in the bike also has an added effect of masking the extra pounds the Z900 packs, though the trade­off is twofold with the least seat-to-peg legroom and thinnest saddle padding of the group. Good news is that Kawasaki sells an accessory Ergo Fit Extended Reach seat with an inch of added cush. “I’m a bit too tall for the stock seat,” 6-foot-4 Steenrod noted. “The accessory seat sounds right up my alley.” Even at 5-foot-10, I share his sentiments.

kawasaki z900 static side view
Kawasaki Z900Jeff Allen
kawasaki z900 on road action
Kawasaki Z900Jeff Allen

Polar opposite, the Triumph has the longest reach to the ground and positions the rider atop the bike with its more forward lean posture placing added weight on the rider’s wrists. It’s only fair to mention that the R is available in a Low Ride Height configuration with unique suspension and seating setup.

All three bikes run very smooth at a 75-mph freeway pace that sees the Kawasaki and Yamaha each registering 5,000 rpm and the Triumph spinning 1,000 rpm higher. The Kawasaki wears rubber-covered pegs with damping weight affixed beneath to quell toe tingle while the Triumph and Yamaha make good with grippy knurled sportbike footrests. McKimmy noted the right-side passenger peg/exhaust mount on the Z900 interfered with his boot heel when riding on the balls of his feet.

Triumph and Yamaha each have an attractive taper-style handlebar that provides a more inspired cockpit appear­ance than the Z900. The Street Triple’s dynamic TFT dash also takes the prize in form, function, and customization, though each bike here provides all the essentials including gear-position indicator, trip computer, and more.

triumph street triple r static side view
Triumph Street Triple RJeff Allen
triumph street triple r on road action
Triumph Street Triple RJeff Allen

As the least expensive of the lot the Z900 forgoes electronic rider aids, a feature none of us missed due to its displacement advantage producing the most power and torque here coupled with superb throttle control and linear delivery. On-the-fly navigation of electronic ride mode and traction control setting on the Triumph and Yamaha makes finding a suitable configuration quick and easy. Yamaha has tempered the FZ-09’s edgy response that drew complaints in the past with our general consensus finding its medium “standard” map preferable.

Triumph has done a super job calibrating its delivery modes labeled Rain, Road, and Sport, each offering full power output but with different throttle sensitivity. Even the Rain setting proved very usable, giving a connected feel without any initial lag or lull often characteristic of neutered delivery maps. “So good that I would use it as a two-up ride mode,” Steenrod remarked.

With pleasantries behind, the gloves came off once into the mountain roads east of San Diego. Yamaha’s updated fork, slipper clutch, and ABS have made headway in providing a more settled and controlled corner entry feel, but when pushing the pace the FZ-09 remains the skittery nervous Nellie here. At 145 pounds wet, McKimmy found the suspension “a little soft and unsettling” while 200-pound Steenrod observed the FZ-09 as “undersprung in the front and rear making the bike dive under braking and squat when on the gas.”

yamaha fz 09 static side view
Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen
yamaha fz 09 on road action
Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen

Having ridden the Street Triple RS at Circuito Catalunya at the press launch, I was mightily impressed with its steadfast chassis stability. The R model also delivers confidence-instilling feedback and composure at a sporting pace.

“Overall I’d say the suspension on the Kawi was the best,” Steenrod surmised, with agreement from McKimmy and myself. “It was supple enough for highway use and stiff enough for canyon carving. A very fine line to tread, but the Z900 does it with ease.” Despite weighing more than the others, the Kawi proved itself a capable dance partner with a planted yet nimble character.

Choosing the right bike for you may hinge on brand loyalty, ergonomic preference, or perhaps even trackday aspirations.

Featuring a slipper/assist clutch as well, our ABS-equipped Z900 also scored high marks for having the most consistent and controllable braking feel. The FZ-09 binders drew complaints for being a bit grabby, while our Triumph test unit appeared to suffer from a hint of air in the system causing inconsistent lever travel and firmness.

Choosing the right bike for you might hinge on brand loyalty, ergonomic preference, or perhaps even trackday aspirations. We can speak to the latter two. The clear chassis performance edge goes to the Street Triple R; it truly feels like a supersport with a high bar. While overall ride comfort (as tested) points to the FZ-09, it’s the Z900 that tugged our heartstrings given its price, performance, and all-around usability.

kawasaki z900 studio side view
Kawasaki Z900Courtesy of Kawasaki
triumph street triple r studio side view
Triumph Street Triple RCourtesy of Triumph
yamaha fz 09 studio side view
Yamaha FZ-09Courtesy of Yamaha
super middleweight naked bike static group
Kawasaki Z900 vs. Triumph Street Triple R vs. Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen

THE NUMBERS COMPARED

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT MATCHUP COMPARO

super middleweight naked bike group action
Kawasaki Z900 vs. Triumph Street Triple R vs. Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen
super middleweight naked bike static group
Kawasaki Z900 vs. Triumph Street Triple R vs. Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen
super middleweight naked bike static group
Kawasaki Z900 vs. Triumph Street Triple R vs. Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen
super middleweight naked bike group action
Kawasaki Z900 vs. Triumph Street Triple R vs. Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen