$9,000/900cc Showdown – BMW F900R vs. Kawasaki Z900 vs. Yamaha MT-09

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Naked bikes (or as I’d prefer to call them, standards) are one of the few bright spots in motorcycling these days. The 900cc segment is quite popular, and it’s heating up at the $9,000 price point – BMW’s just released an all-new F900R, while Kawasaki has given their Z900 a solid refresh. Yamaha’s MT-09 is soldiering on just with a new paint job, so when Nathan and I originally took a day trip to Jalama Beach for one of their amazing burgers, we only planned on comparing the BMW and the Kawasaki…

If you’re vaguely near Santa Barbara and need an excuse for a day ride, go find this burger. Nathan also gives his seal of approval to the onion rings.

We encountered this statue of motorcyclists in Santa Paula, so we had to stop and emulate them. The statue commemorates Thornton Edwards and Stanley Baker, two motorcycle cops who saved hundreds of lives by racing ahead of a flood caused when the St. Francis Dam burst in 1928. For a great short story on Thornton, check out this article on Motorcyclist: “There was no way to warn everyone in time. Instead, Edwards woke the occupants of every third house, instructing them to warn the neighbors on each side. It was a decision that would save hundreds of lives.

It was a great day, but something was missing…

See, the utter insanity of the MT-09 simply cannot be ignored. So after we got back home, we roped in a buddy who requested to be anonymous (because who wants to admit to being a friend of mine?), went for another ride, and kept swapping bikes to see which one we liked best. Here are my thoughts – for reference, it’s important that you understand that what I’m looking for in a mid-sized standard is all-around competency and the best option as a daily ride.

So if you’re reading down below and don’t agree with me, that’s fine – just understand where I’m coming from! Let’s get started:


The $9,000/900cc Showdown: BMW F900R vs. Kawasaki Z900 vs. Yamaha MT-09
Photos by Nathan May


DRIVETRAIN

While each manufacturer calls their offering a 900, the actual displacements are 847cc (Yamaha), 895cc (BMW), and a 948cc cheater (Kawasaki). A few ccs here and there isn’t a big deal – the true differentiation is in feel due to engine layouts. BMW’s gone with a parallel twin, Yamaha with an inline triple, and Kawasaki with an inline four.

Let’s start with some numbers:

3rd Place: BMW F900R
The BMW isn’t bad, but it’s just not as good as the other offerings here. 99 is a more-than-adequate amount of horsepower, but it in this case it comes paired with a more-than-adequate amount of vibration and the whole thing is a bit coarse. Nathan liked the vibes, noting that it gave the BMW a little character. I didn’t mind it…until I got on the other bikes.

Photo by Kevin Wing

What I’ll never get sick of is the BMW’s exhaust note, which gives off more of a revvy V-Twin vibe than a P-Twin one due to the 270 degree crank.

But you won’t be able to enjoy that sound for too long before you have to pull into a gas station, because the F900R carries just 3.4 gallons of gas. Nathan and I averaged 39.8 miles per gallon with it, yielding a range of 135 miles. That means you’re typically looking for gas around 115 miles, and that’s flirting with dealbreaker-territory for me.

The F900R has two riding modes: Road and Rain. “Road” is fine and balanced more towards boring . If you ditch the $8,999 premise of this comparison, you can get the “Ride Modes Pro” option which adds an IMU as well as two more riding modes: Dynamic and Dynamic Pro – the latter allows you to customize how much the rider aids can intervene. But BMW, in its infinite wisdom, won’t sell you Ride Modes Pro as a standalone option – it’s part of the $925 Premium Package which also includes Gear Shift Assist Pro, ABS Pro, Dynamic Traction Control, Dynamic Engine Brake Control, and Keyless Ride. I hate all the “Pros” in BMW nomenclature as of late.

Our test bike was oddly spec’d in a way that you cannot configure from BMW USA, as we had Dynamic mode (but not Dynamic Pro) without the other features. Dynamic was by far my favorite of the three modes as it was responsive and the fueling was consistent. It would be an excellent tune if the bike was limited to one ride mode, and in my mind it makes “Road” redundant. I quickly settled into Dynamic and left it there permanently. I understand that BMW wants to make money (and their margin on this bike at $8,999 is very small), but how they’re charging to “unlock” software features in hardware that’s already installed is corporate behavior that rubs me the wrong way – and it looks like it’s only getting worse. BMW’s not the only company that does this, mind you (KTM charges $750 for a quickshifter and software unlock called the Tech Pack on a bike that already starts at $18,699), but it’s the only guilty party in this comparison.

2nd Place: Yamaha MT-09
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I spent a lot of time playing with the confusingly-named ride modes on the Yamaha. In order of madness, they go: A mode, Standard, and B mode. I don’t think that makes any sense, but it’s fine once you learn it.

When I say “madness”, I mean it. Every time I rode this thing in A mode, I wondered if Yamaha’s legal department was on vacation when the MT-09 was in development. The throttle response is so direct that it renders first gear borderline pointless unless your life is all about wheelies, and when combined with a suspension that’s too soft (more on that later), it can be tough to be smooth. For most people, STD mode is the way to go. Power addicts won’t be left wanting – you’ll still get full output and easily loft the front wheel, but the initial uptake is smoother and easier to live with. B mode results in a notable dip in power right after idle and is best left for inclement weather. In other words, there’s a distinct difference between the modes, and I like that because it feels like Yamaha was smart enough to take advantage of what ride modes can offer. With the BMW and the Kawasaki, there isn’t enough of a difference between the Sport/Dynamic and Road modes, but Yamaha pushed their A mode to an extreme (again, the throttle response is amazing) for people that enjoy that style of riding so they at least have the option. It’s too much for me on a day to day basis, but I like that it exists.

Yamaha also has the decency to provide you a little extra in the gas tank with 3.7 gallons of capacity.

There are plenty of riders out there who love triples as a blend of their favorite characteristics from twins and fours, but they just don’t resonate with me as much. I don’t have a single bad to say about the CP3 engine in this bike, I just thought the Z900 offered up similar grunt down low and was more fun to wind out. It must be noted that both of my colleagues on this ride put the Yamaha in first place, but I’m the one writing this, so…

Winner: Kawasaki Z900
In a nutshell, the Z900 is the smoothest and most powerful of the three options here. It’s a wonderful “real world” motor as it’s docile when you need it to be and fast when you want it to be. The only flaw is a slightly snatchy throttle, but that only came through to me when riding aggressively (though I guess that’s exactly when you don’t want it). It seemed to bother my riding buddies more than it bothered me, though no one considered it a serious issue.

The BMW’s exhaust tone is my favorite, but Kawasaki is doing things with induction noise that no one else can match right now. Accelerating from a tall gear with a heavy throttle hand exaggerates the guttural growl, which can’t compete in volume with the higher pitched exhaust once the tach sweeps past 6k or so.

The Z’s implementation of ride modes is weak. Rain makes sense, as you have the highest level of traction control intervention and power gets cut to approximately 55%. But the only difference between Sport, Road, and even the customizable “Rider” mode is the amount of traction control – the throttle responsiveness and power output is exactly the same. At that point, just ditch the modes and have riders tweak the TC. I kept it in Rider the entire time, as that’s the only setting that lets you make changes to the traction control (while stopped) setting for the occasional wheelie.

Kawasaki gets a bonus point because the tank holds a very reasonable 4.5 gallons.

ERGONOMICS

3rd Place: BMW F900R
Though the BMW has the least powerful motor, it has the sportiest riding position, and that feels like a mismatch. On the flip side of things, if you only ride canyons, you’d enjoy how BMW laid out this motorcycle. There’s quite a reach to the bars (BMW apparently designed this for someone with ape-like arms), and thanks to this page I estimate that there’s about 27 degrees of forward lean.

The seat height is 32.1 inches.

The seat’s also too firm for my liking, but that’s a characteristic shared with the other two bikes in this comparison.

2nd Place: Yamaha MT-09
If you’re not spending time on the freeway doing 75+ miles per hour, the Yamaha is the clear winner here (but my daily commute means I’m on the freeway for 20+ minutes each way, and I love getting out of town on the weekends). I’m sitting nearly bolt upright (6 degrees of lean) with a riding position that would be right at home on the MT-09’s touring cousin, the Tracer 900.

It’s the tallest of the trio with a seat height of 32.3 inches. Combine that with the flat seat and the handlebar position and you get a bike that you could comfortably ride supermoto style, if you wanted to.

I didn’t want to.

The shape of the seat means there’s plenty of room for you to shift around and the cockpit is spacious. The caveat is if you’re doing a lot of 75+ mph riding, then the MT-09 turns you into a sail (but if you’re doing that kind of riding, you’re probably not looking for a naked bike or you’re buying a windshield). Also, when you yank on the throttle, you really have to hold on to the tank with your legs, otherwise you’ll start sliding back on the flat seat.

The tallest of the three – 32.3″ seat height.

Winner: Kawasaki Z900
On the flip side, the Z900 has a large height difference between the rider and the passenger – it’s a mini backrest and it locks you in place if you slide back against it. Shorter riders will also appreciate the lower seat height. Finishing up the measurements is a lean of 17 degrees on the Kawi:

The seat is 31.5″ high – lowest of the group, and more welcoming for shorter riders.

If you spend a lot of time on the highway, the Z900 is the best of the trio. But on any of the bikes, a break is welcome after about 40 minutes. It’s not pictured, but depending on your boot size you may find that your heel bumps up against the exhaust, which can be annoying.

HANDLING

3rd Place: Yamaha MT-09
As mentioned above, the MT-09 feels like a large supermoto, and that means it’s best enjoyed in an urban environment where you get to point-and-shoot. It’s very light on its feet and you’re able to wrestle it around easily because the upright ergonomics give you good leverage on the bars. It doesn’t hurt that the MT-09 weighs 425 pounds wet, a solid 40 pounds less than the other two bikes here.

The adjustable suspension is on the softer side, which means the ride is surprisingly plush in the beat-up roads of a major city, but it also means that you can feel the suspension (especially the shock) wallowing a bit in higher speed sweepers. You can feel this motion affect the precision of your right hand, and if you have the throttle in A mode then the whole experience can get choppy in a hurry.

Another disappointment is the OEM tire choice of Dunlop Sportmax D214s. They’re adequate, but that’s about it. And while I haven’t encountered rain recently, I know from prior experience that the D214s aren’t great in the wet. They’re only available as an OEM tire, which is typically a polite way of saying they’re cheap. In the last year, Dunlop has released a newer model with a similar use case called the Sportmax Roadsmart II, which I find to be a quality upgrade. It also coincidentally happens to be the OEM fitment on our 2nd place finisher.

2nd Place: Kawasaki Z900
Kawasaki used to use the Sportmax D214s, but with this 2020 update they’ve gone for the Roadsmart IIs. They’re a noticeable improvement.

It was much easier to narrow the chicken strips on the Kawasaki compared to the Yamaha.

Both the Yamaha and the Kawasaki have adjustable suspension, but I felt like I was able to get more out of the latter. Stock settings are too soft for my liking (particularly in the forks) but after I nearly maxed out the preload and rebound I felt much better. I came off the Yamaha thinking it needed an aftermarket shock. I came off the Kawasaki thinking that I just needed to play with the suspension adjustment a little bit. It’s a decent compromise between comfort and handling, and I suspect you’d only feel like you were pushing the suspension’s limits if you were getting aggressive on a track, though I’m not sure how many naked bike owners are going out of their way to take advantage of that opportunity.

The Z900 weighs 467.5 pounds.

Winner: BMW F900R
Surprisingly, the F900R actually feels like it would do great in a trackday environment (even if the other two bikes would leave it behind on every straightaway). If you were only traveling on curvy roads, the BMW would be the way to go: the ergonomics get your weight over the front wheel and the suspension (while non-adjustable in the forks) is wonderfully set up for cornering. It’s a bit stiff for commuter duty but if the road surface is smooth, the F900R is a treat in the twisties.

From a tire standpoint, BMW splurged a bit with Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21s. These are great sport riding tires and are more than capable of track duty.

Though the BMW weighs a couple of pounds less than the Z900 (465 lbs), it feels heavier when it comes to changing direction as the steering geometry of the F900R requires more effort. This also means that it holds a line very well and it feels planted. I generally prefer the lighter touch of the Z900, but in a series of corners it’s hard not to appreciate the aggressiveness of the F900R.

My one gripe with the BMW here is a wiiiiide turning radius. Nathan asked me to go through some corners on all of the bikes for photos, and when I was making u-turns to keep making passes the F900R often required a three point turn while the other two bikes could clear the u-turn without a problem.

FEATURES

Let’s look at both the quantity of features as well as how user-friendly they are.

3rd Place: Yamaha MT-09
Yamaha is well behind in the feature department, though it’s with stuff that doesn’t really matter. The important components are there – ABS, traction control, and as discussed earlier, ride modes that actually differ. You can change the ride mode on the fly, but you’ll have to be stopped to change the traction control setting. Annoyingly, if traction control is disabled when you turn the bike off, the bike will automatically enable it when turned back on.

The most obvious feature that this lacks compared to the other two is a TFT dash. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s a sign of how the MT-09 is aging a bit – Yamaha’s got a TFT dash in the touring-sibling Tracer 900GT (as well as in the R1), and it’s overdue to come to the MT. The current dash works just fine, it’s just underwhelming after you’ve spent time on the other two.

The other thing that the Yamaha lacks compared to the Kawasaki and the BMW is a phone app, but I could not care less about that. All the phone apps from motorcycle manufacturers are varying levels of mediocre, anyway.

On the positive side, there are plenty of factory accessories available – soft side bags, hard trunk, a quickshifter, electrical outlet, center stand, and even heated grips, so you can make this very practical from a daily rider’s perspective.

2nd Place: Kawasaki Z900
As part of the 2020 refresh, the Z900 gets a nice TFT dash, the same unit that’s on the H2 and the Versys 1000. You have to stop to adjust the traction control level (again, which can only happen in Rider mode), but I appreciate that Kawasaki will keep TC off on a power cycle. You can therefore leave TC off in Rider and then swap between Sport mode and Rider mode to effectively change the traction control while riding, but the fact that I even have to bother with that is stupid. In addition, the menu buttons (little rubber nubs on the bottom corners of the dash) are not nearly intuitive enough.

Where the Z900 falls flat is with factory accessories, as there aren’t many (and the only luggage option is a tank bag). Obviously there are aftermarket luggage options out there, but I’m disappointed Kawi doesn’t offer something on the dealer floor.

Kawasaki has a phone app but you have to remember to turn it on and off each time you want it to track your ride, and I feel like it only makes sense on a track at this point, anyway.

Winner: BMW F900R
BMW’s phone app is the strongest here – it automatically tracks your rides for you and automatically links the photos you take to GPS coordinates on your ride map. That has nothing to do with its first place finish in this category, as you hopefully have seen by now that I don’t put much value on the apps. Beyond that, the F900R offers the most and is by far the most intuitive – it’s a runaway winner in this category. The standout is the gorgeous dash, which BMW has wisely been implementing across the board after introducing it in the S1000RR and R1250GS. It’s vibrant, easy to read, and it comes with two main views:

Regular

Sport

If you prefer the Sport view, just know that you’ll have to select it every time you start the bike up as the BMW will not remember your preference. It exhibits the same forgetful behavior with the traction control setting, however the BMW is the only bike that will let you turn off traction control while moving. It’s also the only bike of the three that allows you to turn ABS off, if you wish. I never did.

Here’s my mini-rant with turning traction control on/off – somewhere in the legal departments of Kawasaki and Yamaha (and too many other companies) there’s someone who believes it’s safest to require someone to come to a stop before changing the setting. I do not understand this line of thinking, because it’s not how it works in the real world. Let’s say you’re riding with a couple of buddies and you feel like showboating a bit. Before you set off, you turn off traction control so you’re ready for your moment in the sun. At some point down the road you loft the front wheel, feel like a hero, and bring it back down. Are you now going to pull over and make your friends wait while you sit there holding a button for three seconds to turn traction control back on? Or are you just going to continue riding until the next time everyone comes to a stop, and ride without the safety net for however long that may be?

Manufacturers know that some percentage of riders will turn off traction control (especially on hooligan-adjacent bikes like the MT-09 and Z900), so the solution should be making it easy to turn on and off again as quickly and easily as possible. Making it difficult just means riders are going to keep it disabled for longer than necessary. The BMW renders this whole point moot because you can turn TC back on as soon as you want without having to stop – and that’s how it should be.

The BMW also deserves special mention because of the long list of options: GPS prep / Heated grips / Tire pressure monitor / Cruise control / Saddlebag mounts / Dynamic Traction Control / Dynamic engine brake control / Keyless Ride / Gear Shift Assist Pro / Ride Modes Pro / ABS Pro / Adaptive headlight / Dynamic ESA / Anti-theft system

Of course, if you were to equip all that (and if you were to get this in the better red/white color scheme), you’d be spending $12,590 – and that’s before you got any sort of hard luggage to slap on to your newfound mounts. I know not everyone agrees with me, but I’m a huge fan of lockable hard luggage on motorcycles, especially on a daily.

It’s not just technology, though. Little touches like the easy-to-access valve stem make you feel like BMW put additional thought into making the F900R easy to live with on a day to day basis.

Remember when BMW used to provide a proper tool kit with their bikes? All three of the bikes in this comparison offer up the bare minimum.

STYLING

Frankly, these are all pretty terrible for different reasons. My choice of prettiest least-ugly changed almost daily.

I love the Yamaha’s Ice Fluo color scheme, but the face looks like a robot alien. There’s also black or blue options, and I give Yamaha kudos as they’re the only company here that doesn’t charge more for the color choices.

Here’s Team Yamaha Blue, but the Ice Fluo of our loaner is my favorite. Photo from Yamaha.

The Kawasaki also looks like a robot alien but the black/grey bodywork with green frame doesn’t work for me. For $300 extra they’ll sell you an interesting blue variant (they call it Candy Plasma Blue/Metallic Matte Fusion Silver), but I don’t really like it either.

Photo from Kawasaki.

The BMW has the least “alien” face, but the headlight is too small compared to the rest of the body. Our loaner is in a boring black but there are some better blue ($125) and red ($250) options.

Nathan on the Sport Style: Hockenheim Silver Metallic/Racing Red

They’re just all so bad. Which do you prefer, and why?

OVERALL

Again, I’m looking for the best overall bike, the one I’d want to live with day to day.

One way to define the bikes in this trio is to look at the wheels – the more color you see, the more exciting it is to ride:

But my overall rankings skew a different way…

The last place finish here does not mean it’s a bad bike. It’s just not as good for being a daily rider as the other two. One has to assume that an update to this bike is coming soon with a slight restyle, a fancy dash, an IMU, and hopefully a suspension upgrade.

If you ride all three of these and come away wanting the Yamaha the most, you may be a lunatic – it’s the clear winner if you just want the highest jolt of adrenaline each time you get on your bike. But if you’re like me and are searching for the best overall package, look elsewhere.

You will rate this higher if…
…you have a mohawk on your helmet prefer spending time on one wheel instead of two.

Check out the 2020 Yamaha MT-09!

Nathan came away from the launch of the F900R with positive thoughts and I felt the same way when I first got on it. But after spending time with all three, I think you’d really have to be a BMW fan to buy it over the Kawasaki. Some riders will appreciate the aggressive ergonomics and stiff suspension, but the chassis is writing checks that the engine can’t cash.

In addition, a few things give me pause about the long term reliability of the Chinese-built motor. When we first got the bike, it frequently wouldn’t fire up the first time if it had been sitting for a few hours (though it started without fail the second time). This got better with some miles (it doesn’t happen any more) but the same thing happened with a BMW F900XR loaner that we had a few months ago. There’s some flecks of oil on the exhaust tip. And at some point, there was a minor coolant leak:

My two personal BMW’s (R1150GS and K1200R) each have 90k miles on them and have basically been flawless, maintenance-wise. I don’t feel confident that the F900R could match that.

You will rate this higher if…
…your life is about carving canyons or you’re willing to spend another couple of grand to get luggage and a ton of additional features but you forgot that the Triumph Street Triple RS and KTM Duke 890 exist.

Check out the 2020 BMW F900R!
I’ll never fall in love with the styling, but I am in love with what the Z900 offers at $9,000.

With the criteria of finding the best overall package if I could only have one motorcycle, the Z900 stands out from the BMW and the Yamaha thanks to the strong-and-flexible motor, relative comfort, solid suspension, and excellent maneuverability. It’s an approachable bike to ride but it’s incredibly competent – in fact, I’d argue it’s a better motorcycle than the flagship Z H2 for most people.

I was at the Kawasaki press launch when they first released the Z900 in 2017, and their slogan for the bike at the time was “Refined Raw.” It looks like they’ve since dropped that alliterative bit of marketing, but I think the concept still applies – there’s enough excitement for most people but it’s refined and easy to live with. It’s an impressive overall package.

You will rate this lower if…
…you like being incorrect.

Check out the 2020 Kawasaki Z900!

P.S. Aprilia would probably like me to remind you that they make something which almost fit into the price/displacement category here – the $9,399 Shiver 900. I don’t think it’s fair for me to try and slot it in here seeing as I haven’t ridden one in a couple of years, but I absolutely adored the feel of its 93 horsepower V-Twin motor and I think it would hold its own in this comparison. Just something else you should consider test riding if you’re shopping in this segment.

Thanks for reading!


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