Back in 2009, the superbike world was changed completely by the introduction of the BMW S1000RR. The new standard was set and it seemed like everyone was sent scrambling to reach the benchmark. But, as we all know, things aren’t always what they seem. Sure, Kawasaki was trying to make their litre Ninja competitive with the S1000RR (reviewed here), but they had their sights set past superbikes. Kawasaki says the 1972 H2 Mach IV, the namesake of the modern H2, was introduced to disrupt “a sleeping motorcycle market”.
The modern H2 (and H2R) does something a little different. Since it’s hard to say the motorcycle market has been sleeping, the modern machine essentially created an entirely new motorcycle market and class: the hyperbike. At the time Kawasaki made some fairly lofty claims, stopping just short of saying the bike will reach light-speed, where space contracts and clocks stop ticking, and I was skeptical. But, after spending the past week with the 2016 Kawasaki H2, I’m writing this review from approximately nine minutes and 28 seconds in the past (please send stock tips).
When the H2 first rolled into my driveway at an idle, my brain started running a loop. “What the hell is that? It’s a spaceship. What the hell is that? It’s a spaceship. What the hell is that?”. Up until that point I had yet to ever see the bike in person, and my eyes were struggling to make sense of it. The reflections bouncing off of the black chrome (or “Mirror Coated Spark Black” paint as Kawasaki calls it) scattered little “ghosts” all across the ground gave the sense that the bike was projecting its own force field around it.
With the acceleration this bike is capable of, a force field would be a welcome addition to the H2’s spec sheet. Actually, my first twist of the throttle brought to mind the 2001 CGI movie Final Fantasy, where some skydiving soldiers had a “high density gas” launcher in lieu of a parachute, which deployed a gelatinous blob for them to land in after free-falling several thousand feet – forget airbags, this bike needs that.
Before we get too far into discussing the performance of the H2, I’d like to start with my gripes. I’ve already placed the bike on a pedestal, so let’s knock it off that before I put it back up again. Firstly, the gauge cluster. It’s a calculator display, which you shouldn’t find on a $28,600 motorcycle – especially not when the Yamaha R1S I reviewed a week prior had a cluster which rivals the display on an iPhone, for about $12,000 less. The key is also very thin, and feels not half as robust as the rest of the bike commands it to be.
Next, the turn signal controls – they need to be turned downwards slightly to prevent you from having to relax your grip or contort your hand when signalling/cancelling, and there isn’t much feedback on the in-press. Lastly, the paint. While it is beautiful, it impossible to keep spotless and without swirl marks. Everything shows, and that’s just the nature of chrome. For this reason, Kawasaki should at least give buyers one more colour option.
Gripes aside, back onto the pedestal; the H2 delivers far more performance than most humans can or ever should handle. Acceleration was enough to pause my trusty iPod Classic, through a combination of both g-force and some rapidly tightening denim. Other riders told me that the bike appeared to teleport 100 feet in front of them during hard acceleration: One second I was next to them, then they blinked, and I reappeared up the road. That’s how it feels when you’re riding it too – you look far far ahead (wherever you’d like to be in the next .8 seconds), twist your wrist very slightly, and you’re there, the supercharger chirping to announce your arrival.
The way this motorcycle accelerates is comparable to nothing I’ve ever experienced that doesn’t have jet engines and wings. There’s no coincidence that the track-only H2R replaces its mirrors with wings, anything with 160hp more than an H2 will desperately need downforce. (Come to think of it, the H2R is the equivalent of adding an S1000R’s worth of power to the already mind-bending H2…)
Many of the people I’ve discussed the H2 with have all thought the same thing: the H2 is only a straight-line machine. While on first impression I was tempted to write the bike off to the same assumption, I was going to encounter some form of turning if I spent the week riding it. Truth told, the H2 is hard to corner, but the reason for that lies not in any fault of the bike. It’s hard to corner because it’s intimidating as all hell. The bike will dive in predictably, feels remarkably planted, but when you’re dealing with forced induction on a motorcycle, any chop on the throttle will quickly send you wide of a turn.
Experiencing boost in an apex is incredibly humbling, and it’s a quarter-inch away every time you turn in. This can lend to some reservations in twisty territory, but like anything, confidence will come with experience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the H2 isn’t mastered in a week. What really surprised me about this bike, is that despite the godly amount of power in your right hand (#NoContext), it’s still easy to manage in daily traffic. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely zero desire to experience rush-hour on it. What I’m trying to say is that unlike some of the other sport bikes out there, the H2 isn’t constantly begging you to unleash all hell upon the tarmac.
Get your head checked if you’re considering it as a commuter bike. It’s perfectly content cruising on the highway at 110km/h in 6th gear, or just going on a milk run in town. Though the throttle demands caution and smooth movement, the bike isn’t all Mr. Hyde. The seating position allows for long rides with very little strain on your wrists. Another departure from most sport bikes, you sit in the H2, almost upright, rather than perched above the gas tank, leaning downwards. My initial impression of the H2 was that it would be uncomfortable, and terrifying to ride. My current impression of the H2 is that it is very comfortable, and terrifying to ride.
In closing, buying a 2016 Kawasaki H2 is a lot like bringing a porn star to your prom. It’s completely overkill, with capabilities far beyond your skill level, but my god, do people ever make some flattering assumptions about what you’re hiding in your trousers.