Weird things you notice getting on the H2 and taking a ride for the first time: The engine cranks longer than most new bikes before it starts. The idle has a loping growl, as though it is disinterested in that mode of operation. In certain light, the LCD information display is impossible to read. If you are 6-foot-2 like me, your hands are lower than your knees, like a sprinter ready to fire out of the blocks. The non-assist slipper clutch has a firm lever and great control.
Also, there is an ECO mode. The little icon pops up when idling along with the butterflies barely cracked, indicating the bike’s most efficient operation, because there is nothing like saving the planet on a 190-hp supercharged motorcycle.
"There is nothing more fun in life than rapidly changing throttle position on this bike."
I admit to riding the bike with the ECO icon showing on rare occasion. But at part throttle, the engine pops, flutters, grunts, and coughs occasionally, and if an open road is in front of you, there is nothing to do on an H2 but devour it. And there is nothing more fun in life than rapidly changing throttle position on this bike. Apply full throttle in second or third gear and the explosion of force and acceleration will challenge your ability to comprehend such movement. The supercharger whistles and twitters and chirps when you manipulate the throttle in the course of riding, but rolling in deep sets the engine to its most favored and focused use.
ZX-14R? Hayabusa? Meh. Gruntier, yes, but also somehow more flaccid feeling and also less agile. The H2 is just so sharp. Hammering this thing off the line is the only way to live. Well, it’s one great way to live, especially with that killer clutch feel. But it’s also amazing to waltz up to 8,000 rpm in third, two bars of boost showing on the dash (you think so, anyway), and roll it wide open for ohmygodisthat132mphbeforemynextbreath?!
Why, yes, yes it is.
Quickshift click fourth on this slick dog-ring trans without rolling off and note that the “Boost” intake temperature gauge is in the range of 250 degrees, which at the max boost of 20.5 psi ought to pressure-cook a whole chicken, or a certain breed of hawk, in very short order. Even tastier if you add a bit of liquid smoke. Aftermarket, we’re talking to you.
That temp gauge gives you a good idea of the big action happening on the intake side of this powerplant. Compressing air causes it to heat, and when that billet-aluminum impeller zings up to its almost 130,000-rpm maximum, the experience gets heated in more ways than one.
Inevitably, I swapped to our Yamaha YZF-R1 long-term testbike and the Aprilia Tuono 1100 V4 Factory while we had the Kawasaki. After the H2, they both feel sort of cute in a straight line, yet both are work-class-fast motorcycles and not that far off in quarter-mile performance. The H2’s time of 9.62 seconds and terminal speed of 152 mph put it among the fastest streetbikes we have tested, but the numbers don’t convey the experience of rolling on the throttle on the road. No other production motorcycle feels quite like this.
Olympic powerlifters are some of the most flexible, catlike athletes in the world, able to exercise extreme athletic force with a precision of technique to throw back-breaking, femur-crushing weight around with apparent ease. This isn’t exactly how the H2 behaves on a winding road. Steering takes some effort. The bike, without gas, weighs 501 pounds. You always feel this when turning the bars while in motion.
An R1 will filet this H2 on a back road. The Yamaha slices and dices entries, apexes, and exits in a light and precise way that makes this H2 feel more Hummer than superbike. Don’t misunderstand, the H2 feels good to ride fast in corners—especially through big sweepers—and chassis feedback is really good, but you’re sort of reveling in the circumstance of it all and really just setting any corner up (using excellent Brembo monoblock brakes) so that you may enjoy sighting your exit once again and exploding off the apex using your desired level of traction control. Which you should not turn off when intending to exit corners.
The KYB AOS-II Air-Oil Separate cartridge fork and KYB shock deliver top-quality damping with great control and supple, responsive action. It’s a bit odd that electronic suspension, now prevalent on higher-end motorcycles, is not used here, but we were all thankful for the effective Öhlins electronic steering damper—the front wheel springs eternal, and there is no drama setting it back down no matter how fast you’re going.
But the big picture on the chassis is that it likes you to invest yourself in cornering and rewards a rider active in the saddle: hanging off, using good body position, and precise, decisive movements.
In slow corners, though, abrupt throttle response conspires to upset your precise, decisive movements. It’s not just the initial hesitation either because all that “on-ness” in the engine room really gets the bike going in a too-thrilling way sometimes. This was engineering intent, as stated by a Kawasaki engineer to Don Canet on the H2 and H2R initial launch at the Losail Circuit in Qatar. They were going for thrilling and they got it.
And, except in slower corners, most of the time I liked it. The 998cc inline-four has a kind of urgency and violence unlike any motorcycle I have tried. The 380-horse Hayabusa I once rode sort of swelled and then exploded with power, like most turbo bikes. Impressive, and overwhelmingly fast, but imprecise. That’s the thing about the H2: It is violent, it does explode, but the combination of electronic aids, quality damping, and a chassis designed to function in this package puts it all in a box you can get your hands around, if not your head. It’s like having a container that somehow holds the infinite universe, allowing you to peer in and plumb the depths of creation, yet you can keep a lid on the whole thing and hold it like a jewel in your hands. Too weird sounding? I’m telling you that the motorcycle will change how you think about performance.
And it’s not a bad streetbike for popping down to the shops. Engine heat is managed okay, the seat is pretty comfortable, and the ride is, you know, nice. The fueling issue can make the mellow riding experience a little herky-jerky sometimes, but, really, you could live with this bike every day. The old line Cycle editor Cook Neilson wrote about using fine scotch as paint thinner comes to mind.
How is it parked? I rolled the H2 into the yard, a good distance from my front patio so as to contemplate the motorcycle in the filtered late-afternoon light of a backlit sunset through oak trees. It’s not pretty. It’s much longer than photos portray. That single-sided swingarm ranges out behind, and, damn, look at all those links in the chain. (There are 118 versus 112 on a ZX-10R, for example). Even in sweet light like this, the H2 looks like a robot embodiment of a dark creature, glistening with sparkling, green blood.
It’s a positive that it doesn’t use any gasoline when parked. Fuel economy was pretty dismal, though I admit that we rode this bike very hard almost all the time. The lowest fuel mileage was 24.8 mpg, which with a 4.5-gallon tank means 111 miles to empty. It will feel like a long way if you do it a quarter-mile at a time. Other tanks were in the 30-mpg range. Of course, I can take this bike to task for this, but it must be noted that the Aprilia Tuono 1100 Factory also tested delivered an even more dismal 27-mpg average.
"The H2 looks like a robot embodiment of a dark creature, glistening with sparkling, green blood."
For the notional $25,000 entry fee for this 2015 model (notional because all H2s were sold last year), there is no other motorcycle like this. I was prepared to be let down because the spec of the $50,000 H2R is significantly higher than that of this streetbike in terms of horsepower (310 claimed hp) and weight (49 claimed pounds lighter), but there is no disappointment in the H2 in terms of pure, brutal experience. There also is probably no letdown for those people who have the money for one because we expect 2016 models to be announced soon, though no official announcement had been made as of this writing.
The one thing for sure that let me know the H2 is one of the fastest, most intense motorcycles I’ve ever experienced? I spent all my time riding around with the turn signal on.
|MANUFACTURER||Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA|
|WARRANTY||12 mo./unlimited mi.|
|ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN|
|ENGINE||liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline-four|
|BORE & STROKE||76.0 x 55.0mm|
|VALVE TRAIN||DOHC, four valves per cyl., shim adjustment|
|VALVE ADJUST INTERVALS||15,000 mi.|
|INDUCTION||(4) 50mm throttle bodies|
|OIL CAPACITY||4.7 qt.|
|BATTERY||12v 8.6 ah|
|WEIGHT: TANK EMPTY||501 lb.|
|WEIGHT: TANK FULL||529 lb.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.5 gal.|
|RAKE / TRAIL||25.0° / 4.1 in.|
|SEAT HEIGHT||31.8 in.|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||5.0 in.|
|LOAD CAPACITY (TANK FULL)||227 lb.|
|SUSPENSION & TIRES|
|CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL||4.7 in.|
|ADJUSTMENTS||compression and rebound damping, spring preload|
|CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL||5.3 in.|
|ADJUSTMENTS||compression and rebound damping, spring preload|
|FRONT TIRE||Bridgestone Battlax RS10 120/70ZR-17|
|REAR TIRE||Bridgestone Battlax RS10 200/55ZR-17|
|1/4 MILE||9.62 sec. @ 152.01 mph|
|0-30 MPH||1.2 sec.|
|0-60 MPH||2.6 sec.|
|0-90 MPH||4.2 sec.|
|0-100 MPH||4.8 sec.|
|TOP GEAR TIME TO SPEED:|
|40-60 MPH||2.8 sec.|
|60-80 MPH||2.7 sec.|
|MEASURED TOP SPEED||183 mph|
|ENGINE SPEED @ 60 MPH||4098 rpm|
|AVG. RANGE INC. RESERVE||126 mi.|
|FROM 30 MPH||32 ft.|
|FROM 60 MPH||124 ft.|
|30 MPH INDICATED||29 mph|
|60 MPH INDICATED||58 mph|
Blake Conner, Senior Editor
Sometimes a bike comes along that reprograms the brain and demonstrates what quick really means. The Suzuki Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZX-14R come to mind. The H2 is in this company. But then I recalled that our BMW S1000RR only makes 8 hp fewer, is 85 pounds lighter, and beat the H2 to 180 mph (admittedly with a race pipe). It turns out that the H2 has only joined the party but isn’t really the guest of honor.
Don Canet, Road Test Editor
Kawasaki has provided some of the more memorable thrill rides in the 25-year span I’ve worked at CW. One of my first assignments was testing the 1990 Ninja ZX-11, a bike that utterly blew my mind at the time. The first-generation ZX-10R was a handful on the road course, and the ZX-14R remains the quickest production bike I’ve tested in the quarter-mile. The Ninja H2 is keeping the grass green and the fire alive.
Mark Hoyer, Editor-in-Chief
What do you do with a 227-pound tank-full load capacity? That’s what this highly focused sporting motorcycle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating allows for in the saddle. I chuckled at this only a little because this is not a two-up motorcycle or one to throw saddlebags on, so it’s understandable. So what would I do with a bike that has a 227-pound load capacity? Strictly speaking, I’d have to ride naked.