Showroom Showdown: Four neo-retro bikes

This year, there are four hot new neo-retro models arriving in Canada.

Although there are significant differences between them, the Kawasaki Z900 RS, the Yamaha XSR700, the Honda CB1000R and the Suzuki SV650X are all aimed at grabbing sales in the same segment.

Which one is for you? Nobody’s had the chance to ride them all back-to-back yet, but we can look at the spec sheets to get an idea of what Canadian motorcyclists can expect. 

One note, before we begin: We didn’t mention the Honda CB300R here, because it’s a lot smaller than the other models. Same for the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401: the Svartpilen and Vitpilen 701  are both supposed to arrive in Canada this year, but so far, no pricing has been announced. So for this armchair comparo, we’re sticking to the Japanese models.

Engine

These bikes have very different engines. The Yamaha XSR700 uses a liquid-cooled parallel twin, derived from the three-cylinder motor used in the MT-09 series. The SV650X uses a liquid-cooled V-twin, the latest evolution of the 650 cc motor Suzuki first debuted in 1999. The Z900 RS uses an inline-four, based on the engine Kawasaki used to power the very modern Z900 naked bike starting in 2017. The Honda CB1000R is also using a liquid-cooled inline four, derived from the CBR1000 RR motor, but detuned.

The Honda CB1000R has the hottest motor in this group, thanks to its superbike roots. It’s also the most modern-looking.

Even though it’s detuned, the CB1000R kills the competition when it comes to claimed horsepower, putting out 143 hp at 10,500 rpm. Next-closest is the Z900 RS, putting out 110 hp at 8,500 rpm. The XSR700 and SV650X are in the same ballpark: the Yamaha makes a claimed 73.8 hp at 9,000 rpm, and the SV650X makes 75 hp at 8,500 rpm.

Of course, the CB1000R also has the largest engine, and the Z900 RS isn’t far behind.

When it comes to torque, the CB1000R is again the king, making 77 lb-ft at 7,750 rpm. The Z900 RS is rated for 72.6 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm, a bit less torque, but also at less rpm, arguably making it a little more pleasant to ride. The XSR700 puts out 50.2 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm, and the SV650 makes 47.2 lb-ft at 8,100 rpm.

The XSR700 is the lightest machine in this comparo, as is typical of Yamaha’s MT lineup.
Weight

The XSR700 wins here, with a curb weight of 186 kg. The CB1000R is 212 kg, and the Z900 RS is 214 kg, probably due to the usage of more old-school materials. The SV650X is 198 kg — ,less than the Honda and the Kawi, but arguably a bit porky when compared to the XSR700.

Suspension

The CB1000R has fully adjustable inverted Showa forks and monoshock, and the Z900 RS has 41 mm inverted forks with compression, rebound damping and spring preload adjustability; the rear shock has rebound damping and spring preload adjustability. The XSR700 and SV650X both have standard telescopic forks: the XSR700 shock is adjustable for preload, but otherwise, the suspension is non-adjustable on these bikes.

While suspension satisfaction is subjective. it’s probably safe to say the Honda has the most advanced suspension here, and the Kawasaki is close. The Yamaha and Suzuki will both carry lower MSRPs, and with suspension, you get what you pay for.

The Z900 RS has a fairly upright seating position, with the rider canted a bit forward.
Ergonomics

Whether or not a motorcycle fits a rider is another subjective question, especially when you take factors like seat comfort into consideration. Speaking of which — the SV650X has the lowest seat height, at 790 mm. The Z900 RS is close, at 800 mm. The CB1000R has an 830 mm seat height, and the XSR700 is the highest of the bunch, at 835 mm.

The Honda, the Kawasaki and the Yamaha all have wider handlebars and seem aimed at a more upright seating position. The Suzuki seems to lean towards a cafe racer stance (no pun intended), with tipped-down, clip-on handlebars.

Features/Electronics

As these are all naked bikes with retro styling, there’s no luggage to review, or stereo systems, or anything like that.

Because it’s derived from a superbike, the CB1000R is packed with more electronic trickery than the competition here. The Honda has four riding modes: Standard, Sport, Rain, and one that’s customized by the user. Engine power, engine braking and traction control are all adjustable as well, along with two-channel ABS and assist/slipper clutch.

The Z900 RS has adjustable traction control (two levels), assist/slipper clutch and ABS as well.

Neither the XSR700 and SV650X have traction control or switchable engine power delivery modes, but they do have ABS. The SV650X has Suzuki’s Low RPM Assist, which is supposed to make riding easier at low rpms by smoothing out the throttle.

The SV650X looks pretty similar to the standard SV650, but there are a few retro styling touches.
Aesthetics

Again, this is subjective, but most buyers will find the Z900 RS has the most retro appeal of all these bikes, with excellent fit/finish as well (it’s also available with a cafe fairing, as the Z900 RS Cafe, for more money). The Honda has retro lines, but looks more like a retro sci-fi vision of the future — something you’d see in Blade Runner, or an ’80s Japanese anime film. Arguably, this is the future of motorcycle design, but for now, it’s fairly cutting-edge.

The SV650X has a bit of a ’70s vibe (tuck-and-roll seat pan, cafe fairing), but overall, it’s really just a dressed-up standard SV650, with maybe a bit of a GS450S vibe? As for the XSR700, it’s billed as a neo-retro, and Yamaha has gone to great pains to compare it to the classic XS650, but while it may be that bike’s spiritual successor, it doesn’t look much like it. There’s a round headlight, old-school paint schemes and a seat strap, but it looks like much of the stuff coming from the modern custom scene: retro paint, a round headlight, and a vintage seat design, but not really convincing overall as a throwback model.

There are markets for all of these variations on the neo-retro style, but the Z900 RS is probably going to sell the most bikes based on looks alone. Other features will draw buyers to the other machines; the retro looks will just be a bonus.

Pricing

These bikes might be in the same category, but they are quite different, and pricing varies considerably as a result. Pricing hasn’t been released for the CB1000R yet, but we’d expect it to be somewhere between the CB1100 ($13,299) and BMW’s S1000R ($15,600).

That would likely put it higher than the Z900 RS ($12,999), its closest competition in this group.

As for the XSR700, it’s priced at $9,599, considerably higher than the MT-07 it’s based on ($8,299).

The lowest price is the SV650X, which has an $8,299 MSRP. With that price tag, the Suzuki is likely the bike that will sell on its cost, as it also comes with a five-year warranty at that MSRP. However, if a buyer wants the more glamorous lines of the Kawasaki, the technology of the Honda or the performance of the Yamaha, the bare-bones Suzuki becomes a harder sell.

9 thoughts on “Showroom Showdown: Four neo-retro bikes”

  1. I’m waiting for the *REAL* retro bikes to make the scene…. Kick starters, carbs that fall off, dim yellowish headlights, tube-type tires, squeeze-and=pray brakes, 3-inch wheel travel. Those were the days!!!!! 🙂 🙂

  2. I suspect tacking $1000 dollars on existing bikes for a retro look isn’t going to work with buyers and prices will be adjusted mid-season. I like them all though. I just don’t feel good about being played by the manufacturers.

  3. The Kawi just doesn’t look ‘right’ in the photo (above).
    It’s the 17″ front wheel!
    Just like a Bonneville with 17″ cast front wheel, it looks unbalanced and sad.
    I could live without a 100/90-19 (and the inner-tubes heheh) but I’d need an 18″ on the front of that Kawi.
    The enormous rear wheel and tire completely dwarf the tiny front wheel, look again at the photo…
    Doesn’t look at all like a 1973 Z1. That much is certain.

  4. I like the Kawi but it’s very expensive especially since it’s based off an existing model

    I really hope honda prices the bike well (~$13,000)… Might steal some of the kawis sale

    1. I know, right? But they already did that with the SR400 in the US (really never went out of production) and the price is too high to sell in Canada.

  5. The Honda is not the least bit retro it is baked but it has the same angular Lok of modern makers
    The kawi is the most accurate redition of a true to form 70’s retro The Suzuki is its own look. Has been since it’s inception and the Yamaha kinda sorta looks like a 60’s British twin but not really
    As you say all will appeal to different demographics
    JP

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