Introduced in 1984, the Kawasaki Ninja brand has always been one with a no nonsense attitude to performance. Ninja cut its teeth racing fighter jets in Top Gun. Ninja had nailed 150mph quarter mile speeds when an Apple or a Blackberry were still one of your five a day. Ninja has won a world superbike championship or two, and has no doubt enjoyed the odd crazy night out with the lads along the way. Ninja is a badass. Now in its thirties, brand Ninja knows what it likes. It has developed a reputation that it needs to uphold and is showing little sign of slowing down as it reaches middle age. Completely the opposite, in fact.
We won’t keep up with the tenuous man and boy references, put simply, you’re ten minutes away from reading about what it feels like to ride the fastest-accelerating production vehicle ever built. Ever ever ever. I’m going to confidently say that there’s a solid chance that by the time I reach retirement age, this thing will still have that accolade stuck to its fridge.
2015 has been billed as the year of the SuperBike. The new Yamaha R1, the Ducati 1299 Panigale and the BMW S1000RR have all thrown their new hat into the ring, you can read about them here on SuperBike. With Aprilia, MV and EBR all planning their own routes to success, it’s safe to say that the 1000cc sports bike category has never been as busy. It has certainly never been as fast. So, how do you stand out? Bold new graphics? Not good enough. How about a range of swanky accessories? Pfft, I don’t think so. Maybe a little head work and two extra horse power at the top end? That just won’t cut it either. Maybe, you could do what Kawasaki has done and design an outrageous brand new bike, with an in-house supercharger design coupled to a 998cc in-line four cylinder motor. One that’s wrapped in the sexiest metal ever seen from any Japanese manufacturer. Then, when you’ve built that, build it a road legal brother.
I’m almost spitting these words onto the screen, trying to skip the important bits of the story so I can tell you what it feels like to have a 325bhp Kawasaki H2R pinned in fourth gear, with the bars weaving a traction controlled tale in my hands, but it’s important that you understand the why before we get to the how.
The plan was simple. Kawasaki tasked its design and engineering teams to come up with a bike that made 300bhp and was capable of exceeding 300kph. What they didn’t do was toy with a ZX-10R, neither did they drag a ZZR1400 into a storeroom and kick the door shut. Using expertise drawn from diverse areas within the Kawasaki Heavy Industries company, the H2 project is ground-up new. The aerospace division, the corporate technology and the gas turbine divisions all contributed significantly. From its single-sided swing arm (the first ever seen on a Kawasaki) to its carbon fibre aero foils that pack downforce onto the bike to keep it from flying away at ultra high speed, everything on the bikes is new. In fact, nothing on the H2 is there unless it absolutely needs to be. Function would absolutely dictate form.
That function manifests itself in two models. The road going H2, a 200bhp supercharged superbike with the most incredible amount of drive available from zero revs, but with track friendly manners to spare. Then there’s the H2R. H2R is a technical jizz fest, nothing has been spared and nobody on the project has held back. Take a quick spin through the images and familiarize yourself with them (if you haven’t already done so over the last few months), the one with the LED headlight and the mirrors is obviously the H2, the evil looking fucker with the carbon fibre ears is the R.
Technically, the headline figures of H2 appear familiar, underwhelming even. Once you start flicking through the specs, you could be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t much difference between one of these and a typical 1000cc sports bike. Supercharger aside, the weight and power don’t exactly fill you with excitement. 200bhp is the benchmark figure that naturally aspirated 1000cc motors run to. The 238 kilo kerb weight is also nothing to get too fizzy about. Those figures are often the first two that anyone asks about a bike and if you’re going to base your opinion of the H2 on these numbers alone, it’s probably best you just stop reading now and bugger off back to whichever bullshit forum central you came from.
The technical features these bikes have are mindboggling. We’ll give an overview of the electronic and chassis highlights available now and then we can get on with the riding impressions. There’ll be plenty of follow up features on the website over the next few weeks where we can cover the surrounding elements of the project.
As you might expect for bikes that are as capable as these two, electronic rider aids feature in abundance.
KTRC – A new version of Kawasaki’s traction control system. It has three modes: 1 is the rack riding setting, 2 is the street riding setting and 3 is the wet weather setting. There is also a rain riding mode which, when activated, caps power and torque, as well as defaulting the traction control to number 3.
KLCM – It’s launch control, it has three levels and it has a tougher job than an ISIS PR manager
KEBC – Engine brake control.
KIBS – Intelligent Anti Lock Brake system. A revised version of the existing KIBS as found on the ZX-10R
KQS – The H2 is the first production Kawasaki fitted with a quick shifter.
Ohlins electronic steering damper. Using data fed to the damper ECU from the rear wheel speed sensor, the damping increases as speed rises to provide stability.
That trellis frame is one that’s designed to be able to cope with the stresses that a motor such as this one creates. In creating the power in the way that it does, it also creates a magnificent amount of heat, this heat needs to be dissipated effectively and constantly and a traditional aluminium beam frame would have trapped too much of that heat within its slab sided flanks. Using what can only be described as porno quality welding, varying diameters of pipe were used in order to ensure the necessary stiffness was achieved. An aluminium subframe bolts off the back of the trellis frame, this being a rider only proposition means that there’s no ugly pillion pegs dangling about the place.
The aerodynamic function that these bikes require continues behind you and the laughing daysack perch has been replaced with a rear cowl that helps smooth airflow. Adjustable side plates also reduce air resistance as well as providing your ass with a bump stop when you’re bracing your body on the brakes. Speaking of the brakes, H2 and H2R share monobloc Brembo four pot calipers with 330 mm semi floating discs. From the master cylinder down, all the parts are matched and balanced by hand by Brembo, in the same way that a blueprinted engine would have balanced pistons that match each other as close as possible within the accepted tolerances. Out the back a single 250 mm disc surrenders to an opposed two-piston caliper. The brakes cling onto a stunning pair of five spoke wheels with a freshly spun five-stud hub on the rear. When you’ve bought yours and you’re up Kwik Fit having some new rubber levered on, you can tell the spotty little oik that the knurling on the inside of the rear wheel rim is to prevent the tyre from spinning on the rim due to the massive torque forces generated. Suspension is taken care of by KYB. For the first time on a road bike and using tech pinched from the MX world, H2 features AOS – an air oil separate cartridge style fork. Fully adjustable and 43 mm in diameter, the forks promise a smooth action that is man enough for the job of feeding back to the rider. A fully adjustable Uni-Trak linkage KYB monoshock keeps a stable hand on everything going on round the back.
Our trip to the Losail circuit in Qatar to ride the bikes was a strange one. As is the norm, moto journos travel the globe in packs, foraging for cold beers in airports and often seen shouting our mouths off about whatever takes our fancy. This trip was different. Nobody knew what to expect. We’d all seen the same YouTube video as everyone else of the H2R running up on the dyno. Flames spitting and power bulging, it was clear there was little point having a benchmark bike in mind. This would be an altogether unique experience and it really showed in the excitement and lack of noise that normally follows us lot around. Even after we’d arrived and checked into a hotel, nobody had confirmed if we’d even get a shot on the H2R. To be honest, I arrived thinking I’d just be happy with a spin on the H2. That thought was dumped when I saw a row of H2Rs on tyre warmers, sitting on paddock stands and clearly being prepped for a ride. Goodygumpdrops.
The presentation was solid gold Kawasaki. “We don’t do pianos. We don’t do lawnmowers. We do power!” I did my best to keep launch fever at bay, but it was hard when there was a H2R sat within arm’s reach. The headline figures were read out and the build process broken down into stages. Though there are a few bikes still available in the UK, both models have sold fantastically well. This is a very exclusive bike and getting to ride it before anyone else in the world was an incredible privilege. After some quick adjustments on the lever span and a minute to acclimatize to what the easy to read clocks were telling me (did someone say boost gauge?) I was ready to go. I just hoped it’d be everything the hype had hyped about it. I soon found out. Fuck me did I find out.
I’ve ridden Losail before, on the Fireblade SP launch a few years ago. I was confident I knew my way round well enough and rolled down pit lane on a slick-shod H2 like I owned the place. Turn one is a long lazy 180 degree right-hander, just before the apex I went to pick up the gas. At that point, I pretty much pissed my pants. The drive was so ginormous and instant that I nigh on jumped off like I’d been tazed. Torque, like no other bike I’ve ever ridden, flowed from throttle hand to rear tyre in a millisecond. It wasn’t fueling poorly, it wasn’t snatchy as such, there was just so much more of what I was used to that I spent the first two laps with eyes the size of dinner plates staring at my hand each time I wound on some gas, just to make sure I wasn’t being a dick and unknowingly sticking the thing on the stop. I wasn’t and this bike just got awesome. Through the right-left-right-right flick in the middle of the track, the weight of the bike was obvious, but not an issue. You don’t ride this bike thinking it’s like a ZZR or a Hayabusa, you ride it thinking it’s like a ZX-10R or a GSX-R and that’s a good thing. Round the last right hander in third gear, eyes burning a dot on the hazy horizon, I went for the stop and hoped that I was about to experience everything I’d imagined in the few months since finding out I was on this trip.
The drive from 6,000rpm in third gear was insane. Absolutely unbelievably mind-bendingly weird, to be precise. I chucked fourth at third and fifth barged in briefly before top gear was engaged. I was on the stop in top and on my first lap hit the braking zone doing just on 185mph. On my out lap. Those beautiful looking brakes mock my first entry into turn one, I couldn’t tell if the slipper clutch was slipping as I was too busy thinking about getting back to the apex at turn one. Now, where a lap before the torque had poked me in the chest and called my pint a puff. I braced myself and went at it again and for lap after lap the first turn became a bit of a game. Sometimes I’d win and we’d rail round, knee down and bike squishing on the super sticky Bridgestone slick, other laps I’d fanny out and the bike would laugh at me while I got it back onto a line in time for turn two.
H2 is a physical bike to ride fast, not necessarily because of the weight, but the weight and speed combine like no other bike. You’ll find after a full day that your normal track day muscles won’t be aching, it’ll be new ones. It’s like the difference in fatigue between doing a weights session compared to going for a long run. I’d built the launch of this bike up so much in my head that one lap before the end of the first 20-minute session of many that day, I rolled down pit lane with cottonmouth and a heaving chest. I gulped water down and shook my head, trying to rattle words out of my mouth that just weren’t ready to be released yet. I was speechless.
I made some notes, drank some juice and thought about what to think about for the next session. I decided that concentrating on smoothing everything out was going to be the key to figuring the bike out. I spend the next two hours recalibrating my right hand and trying my hardest to ride as fast as possible. Not once do I get used to the power or feel that it needed more or less of anything. The riding position is more relaxed than you’d think. Sustained high speed riding was the challenge, not super-sharp lap times, so you get an easy to use blend of what works on track with what works when you’re riding all day. When we break for lunch, I haven’t missed a gear all day, I haven’t felt the need to adjust any of the suspension but I have laughed out loud and sworn at the bike lots. It’s an incredible piece of kit. The three stand out elements for me are the drive (obviously) the brakes and the amazing fluttering sound of the supercharger. On the overrun it sounds like a bird in a cage, chirping and fluttering away underneath me. Flat out upshifts emit a sound that you could never tire of hearing. It’s an addictive sound, like no other road bike I’ve ever heard. The fuel tank on the bike is 17 litres, in case you care. I didn’t really get a chance to calculate fuel economy, as I was mostly too busy staring at the boost gauge and giving my senses a kicking.
Over lunch we wonder how many prospective owners will get the opportunity to ride the bike in anger as we have, and of those people, how many will shy away from the thing after the first roundabout exit. Part of me thinks it’d add to the mystique that these bikes will always have, part of me also hopes that nobody from the Daily Mail ever gets offered a lift home from work on one. Yes, the power figures are similar to a few of the other big sports bikes out there, but no, it doesn’t deliver that power in anywhere near the same way. This is the fastest bike I’ve ever ridden.
Right up until lunchtime finished. Then I rode the H2R. The track-only H2R is lighter than the H2. At 216 kilos, it weighs less than a Z800, but it has 325bhp. As unbelievable as the H2 is, we collectively realize that while the R is lighter than the H2, it also has a power increase equivalent to an entire 600cc sports bike on top. It’s MotoGP trumping. It’s also loud. As the tech guy blips one in the garages, some people run to their ear defenders, some people stand and smile with their fingers in their ears. Each time he gives it a pump of gas, my stomach vibrates and an involuntary giddy smile appears on my face.
I spend the next twenty minutes being rag dolled by my new favourite motorbike. The slight difference in weight makes a big difference. This feels even more like a sports bike. The brakes, suspension and chassis are identical but the power this bike produces in comparison to the H2 is completely different. I instantly add 25kph onto the top speed I was managing on the start finish straight. The fluttering sound of the supercharger is harder to hear thanks to the bonkers loud exhaust. Tucking behind the screen is easy, I’m comfortable, not cramped and not straining to get out of the windblast. It’s the perfect place from which to sprawl out and unleash the fury. This is the most physically demanding, attention seeking, brutally accelerative motorcycle I’ve ever ridden and my life as a biker will forever be one that draws pointless comparison with this bike.
It’s weird, in my haste to go as fast as possible, I found I’d made the change from the kind of rider that uses traction control as a limit rather than a gauge, I completely forgot to be bothered about the fact the bike was working the traction control underneath me. When I used to ride my 2011 ZX-10R on track, when the traction control cut in I would generally view that as the acceptable limit of where I was happy to push to. On the H2 and the H2R especially, I think my brain just assumed that it’d be ridiculous to assume that the bike would be able to do what it was clearly very good at unless I put a little more faith than usual in the rider aids.
Now, I’m certainly not about to start larging it about lurid opposite lock corner exits, but coming off the long knee down left hander out the back of the circuit in third, taking fourth and sticking the throttle on the stop was something that little old me managed on more than one occasion. The bike settled into a tiny weave, traction control saving my life countless times a second. I’m riding a bike with drag racing power, on its ear, letting the bars weave in front and the slick do a similar thing out the back and my collarbones were completely oblivious. It’s an incredible feeling, one that I wish you could all experience to see just how completely stand alone these bikes are in comparison to anything else on the market.
Before I know what’s going on, the last session of the day is on me. It’s nighttime and the floodlights are doing an amazing job. The laps tick down, to be honest my body is pretty drained but each time I roll onto the big start finish straight, I can’t help but bang it back on the stop and feel that supercharged rush one more time. As crazy as the Kawasaki H2R is and as much as I want one, it’s the road-ready H2 that’s the game changer. It absolutely deserves the right to bear the cherished river emblem from Kawasaki. Regardless of whether you think it should have more power or less weight, until you ride one yourself you’re going to have take my word that these bikes live up to every single ounce of the hype. All of it.
At a glance
The Kawasaki H2 costs £22k, the H2R is £41k, you can buy one here if you’re quick.
The mirror coated black paint has a layer of real silver in it.
The H2 makes 210bhp with ram air at 11,000rpm and 133.5Nm of torque at 10,500rpm
The H2R makes 326bhp with ram air at 14,000 and 165Nm of torque at 12,500rpm
The compressor wheel on the supercharger spins at more than 140,000rpm
The test riding team have recorded a speed over 221mph on the H2R
Handily for you lot, I got to ride it and so did SuperBike dep ed Chris Northover. He was shooting it for our good friends at Bike World TV. Here’s what Chris thought, enjoy.