First Ride

First ride: Kawasaki Ninja H2 and H2R review

The Ninja H2R will probably remain the most sensational motorcycle I’ve ever ridden

KAWASAKI'S Ninja H2 and H2R have to be two of the most intimidating motorcycles I’ve seen in a long time.

They’re sharp and aggressive. There’s oodles of carbon fibre dripping off the R. And each is finished in a unique mirrored paint mixed with a layer of pure silver. Both have 998cc engines mated to a whopping great big supercharger, and as if that wasn’t enough, the track-only H2R has aerodynamic winglets to keep it on the ground at high speeds. 

In a world where bikes are sold on the merit of mind-numbingly boring MPG figures, high service intervals and convenient 0% finance deals, it’s nice to know there’s a counter-balance out there in the form of a 240mph production motorcycle capable of physically taking off in sixth gear.

The build-up to the launch was just as serious as the bikes. Each week saw a new teaser video followed by the occasional audio clip of what sounded like an H2R tearing a dyno apart.

And for a change, it was clear Kawasaki wasn’t even remotely interested in making the pair sound suitable for novice riders either. The press conference for the H2s was devoid of any mention of A2 restrictor kits and the like. Instead it was littered with promises of intense acceleration, huge power output, and a riding experience unrivalled by any other motorcycle.

It’s fair to say Kawasaki had our attention.

The funny thing is, bike launches tend to consist of small groups of slightly overweight men, each one more immature than the next, riding like 16-year-olds who’ve just bought (stolen) their first moped. Wheelies get pulled, so do stoppies, and there’s obviously the occasional skid for good measure too. It's all good fun.

But this press launch was different. I couldn’t tell whether it was nervous excitement in the air, or perhaps just respect for the machines; whatever it was could be felt by all as it wafted around the pit garage at the Losail circuit in Qatar. Everyone was serious. Everyone.

Having now ridden both machines - somehow unscathed - words are waiting to pour out of me to describe in detail just how sensational the H2R is. But like Kawasaki’s teaser campaign, I’m going to make you wait a bit longer.

And so we swung a leg over the H2 for the first track session of the day. And what do you notice first? Well, the stainless steel exhaust system is whisper silent, the seat tapers in at the front helping the bike feel incredibly narrow, and that mirror-finish is clever in ways even Kawasaki engineers couldn’t have imagined. Catching my reflection in the tank, I noticed I’d forgotten to zip up my leathers seconds before riding out of the pits in the excitement of it all.

Losail is a featureless circuit with no elevation changes and numerous sections that look identical to the last. Fair enough I guess, it’s difficult to expect much else from a track located in the middle of a desert. Temperatures over 30 degrees meant that heat haze glimmered over each corner, twisting and turning every apex into a moving blur. Having never ridden there before, it’s fair to say my lap times weren’t going to have any GP riders worrying. But messy throttle inputs can occasionally be handy, and in this case they highlighted the settled nature of the H2’s chassis. Unlike the new Ducati 1299 Panigale, which pogos forwards and backwards on jerky throttle inputs, feels stiff, and constantly wants to sit up unless you’re 100% committed, the H2 feels compliant and forgiving, even when you don’t know where the next corner is.

Much of that is thanks to the H2’s candy green trellis frame and the fully-adjustable KYB suspension that manages to seamlessly intertwine composure, comfort and confidence at any speed.

But you’re here to hear about the supercharged engine. 

Now, if you flew to Japan and told Kawasaki engineers that the H2 was merely a ZX-10R with a supercharger bolted on, you could expect a slap in the face. A large, painful one.

The engine is new from the ground up and was designed specifically for the supercharger that was also built completely in-house by Kawasaki’s motorcycle, gas turbine and aerospace divisions. That means the supercharger is tailored to the H2; it’s lightweight and so efficient it doesn’t even need to run a bulky intercooler. It means you get a large spread of power just about anywhere and everywhere. 

It also means this bike is ******* quick. 


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