Lunchtime debate: Is Kawasaki H2 inspired or insane?

Visordown’s anonymous industry expert asks: Can a supercharged superbike be something more than just vanity?

THERE’S always been an element of schoolyard braggadocio about the top end of the fast bike market. A generous slice of ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ based purely on spec sheets.

And Kawasaki’s H2 has jumped straight to the top of the pile in that game of grown-ups’ Top Trumps with a set of numbers that will be sending journalists scrabbling for new superlatives and even definitions. After all, ‘superbike’ and ‘hyperbike’ have already been overused, so what’s the H2? An uberbike? A tyrannosaurabike?

At the time of writing we’re still waiting to hear the road-going H2’s power figure. It’ll be a long way down from the H2-R’s 300bhp, but you can be pretty certain that anything sporting a 14,000rpm, supercharged, 1000cc four-cylinder engine will make more power and torque than you’re ever, in your wildest dreams, going to either need or, in truth, be able to use.

So is the H2 just a bit of publicity-hunting? A willy-waggling exercise by Kawasaki? A lashed-together shortcut to take the wind out of the sails of Honda’s vapourware ‘road going RCV’ project?

Of course it’s all of those things. But it’s also so much more. In fact, it could be a significant turning point for the bike market in at least three ways.

1: It’s a glorious frivolity. While I’m all for sensible, practical, affordable and real-world-usable bikes, the world still needs that lunatic fringe. However much I like and respect bikes like the SV650 or the MT-09, they’d never have made cut when a teenaged me was picking posters for his bedroom walls. Only a handful will ever get the chance to own a Kawasaki H2, but I bet there will be thousands of future motorcyclists who, a decade down the line, lay the blame for their enthusiasm squarely at Kawasaki’s door. While other firms are trying to get us excited about worthy-but-dull electronic intangibles like traction control systems, semi-active suspension and anything else they can make into a confusing acronym with a little light on the instrument panel, Kawasaki has just turned up and said: “Hmm. That’s cute. We’ve got those too. Now look at the size of our SUPERCHARGER!”

2: It’s unconventional. Even brave. I’ve spoken before in these columns about the way today’s motorcycle designs lack the breadth of innovation that was a feature of the 1980s, when two-strokes mingled with turbo bikes in dealers. Yes, todays machines are an order of magnitude better in almost every respect, but they tend to follow a predictable pattern. The H2 is blindside. A bucket of cold water over the industry’s head. A statement that you don’t have to conform to existing classes, and particularly not to spurious race-orientated classes, when you just want to make a really good bike.

3: This is the biggy. It’s visionary. Yes, a 300bhp track-only bike is pretty pointless. And a road-going version isn’t much more sensible. But I’ve been banging on for years (as Visordown ed Steve Farrell will attest) about the fact that forced induction – turbos or superchargers – are inevitably going to be the way future bikes manage to continue to improve. And it’s not some dim, distant future, either. Soon, bikes will face much stricter emissions rules, and to meet them without diminishing the performance that we’ve become accustomed to, manufacturers are going to have to look to turbo or supercharger tech. When car-style CO2 limits start to be applied to bikes, as is sure to happen within the next few years, the current template of high-revving, big-capacity sports bike engines simply won’t cut it. Car makers are already being forced into using turbos for virtually anything fast. And the side effect is that the cars they’re making have also become more usable, more efficient, more powerful and faster than ever before. Ignore the H2’s 1000cc, four-cylinder layout. That’s the old-school still shining through. It’s the compressor bolted to the back that really matters. Now imagine if Kawasaki cut that engine in half and made a 500cc parallel-twin with 150bhp – surely that’s the future?

We already know that other firms are beavering away on their own forced-induction bike designs. They’ve been working at it for years, because they also know that the law is likely to force them in that direction. Kawasaki’s step in actually putting one into production, even before it’s forced to, is a masterstroke. The H2 might be an irrelevance when it’s considered in isolation, but in a few years we will be listing it as the machine that turned the tide towards a new generation of turbo’d and supercharged bikes that eliminated the bad memories of the 1980s turbo machines and made the idea of forced induction desirable again.

Now, tell me how wrong I am.