I don’t really get nervous when riding different bikes, and it’s not really in my nature to worry about things, but I must admit before taking the H2 SX SE out, the butterflies were certainly let loose. I’ve ridden fast bikes before and I’ve also ridden expensive bikes before, however, I have never really ridden an expensive, heavy and powerful bike before. At 260kg’s, 200hp from the supercharged engine and a price tag of 18 grand, it certainly was daunting.
I remember watching Kawasaki’s launch show at EICMA back in November, and thought it seems to be the in thing now to add a Tour version to an existing model. Add a funky name, some hard or soft panniers, a different badge, maybe a comfort seat, heated grips and a bit more of a screen and it is good to go as a whole “new” bike. However, the H2 was never designed to do any of that, nor was it designed to tour on, or carry a pillion, so just glueing a pillion seat and adding panniers isn’t an easy task. Simply adding a pillion seat and panniers to an existing H2 wasn’t going to cut the mustard as the tolerances on the H2 are so fine for it to be as fast as possible for one person. With the ZZR1400, becoming an ageing beast, and not likely to hit the next batch of Euro5 rules, a new way of thinking was needed. That way of thinking must have been to strap a Saturn V rocket thruster to two armchairs. Now if your mind hasn’t wandered away thinking how good that would be, your probably thinking that if the ZZR won’t hit euro5, then a Saturn V will have no chance, so the idea as good as it was needed toning down a touch.
Everybody knows that the H2 and H2R’s supercharged 1000cc engine was ballistic, I’m not lucky enough to have ridden either, but I have seen videos and seen them in the flesh and it really is something special to behold, but would it work on a bike where outright speed and acceleration isn’t key?
Supercharging does give other benefits, large displacement engines can often be thirsty, so putting in a smaller capacity engine equipped with a blower, can give the economy figures a good boost. No pun intended. Contrary to what Americans always say, there is a replacement for displacement. The engine is still the same supercharged 1000cc 4 pot, although detuned from the racetrack focused H2R and the roadgoing H2 to make only 200hp, and bucket loads of torque, but when compared to a standard superbike where the power tends to be very peaky, this is super smooth, linear and very, very usable. Much like some old two strokes where there was a powerband of usable power, I find that most superbikes also have a pow, however,It is much larger and broader than bikes of the 2 stroke era, were powerbands seemed to be one or two lines on the rev counter, whereas modern bikes seem to be midrange and high end focused again I presume to fueling and emissions. Supercharging however poses the opportunity to smooth out some of the peakyness but keeping the horsepower high.
The chassis is a work of art. The trellis frame looks fantastic and whilst most of it is hidden by the fairings, parts are still visible. The frame and rear subframe have been beefed up to account for the extra weight of a passenger and luggage by thickening the chassis tubes, and the suspension has had subtle geometry tweaks, to make it more favourable for longer distances with a weightier bike. Simple adjustments like moving the steering head forward allowing greater steering lock, which is handy for town riding. The beautiful single-sided swingarm is kept and has been lengthened, ever so slightly just giving more stability. The suspension is fully adjustable front and rear which you would expect, with a remote adjuster on the rear handy for adding or removing a few clicks easily depending on passengers and luggage.
I took the H2 SX SE model out for a few hours, the SE being the top spec version, complete with a stunning TFT dashboard which is a masterpiece, Cornering lights, heated grips and an up and down quick-shifter to name a few perks.
The dashboard really is a work of art, it is so pretty. So much data is available to the rider it’s more science than anything. Everything from inlet temperatures, boost pressures, lean angles, throttle percentages and so on and so on. The cornering lights are a very clever idea, using the previously mentioned lean angle sensor to progressively illuminate lights on the fairings. I’m not completely sure of the reason why, they don’t really add anything during the day, maybe at night in the dark, they might illuminate more but as this is untested I will refrain from comment. I can’t decide if it is just a gimmick, but mainly I was just using them as a ballsyometer, with my mates to see if I could get all 3 illuminated before chickening out.
Also equipped with cruise control, cornering ABS, Traction control and anti-wheelie and adjustable rider modes, all of which are not really necessary but very nice to have. Launch control too, but this was disabled on the demo bike, so couldn’t test it, even if I had the stones to try.
The styling is fantastic, it looks mean and aggressive exactly how it should be. The ZZR looked mean and aggressive, but also ugly from the wrong angle. I can’t seem to find that angle with the H2. The metallic green paintwork complete with metal flake give it a stunning glimmer in the sunlight and the black, diamond cut wheels stand out in contrast. Its angular fairings look mean but not quite as mean as the H2 and the H2R. Despite the aggressive styling wind protection is very good. The mirrors are spot on and provide ample view behind, not that there will be anything to look at in them.
The handling is great for such a large bike, I genuinely felt like I was riding a sports bike, it certainly felt it, the brakes were good, initial turn in was great due to the high clip-on bars with a good feel from the front end. Some of the engines adjustability proved interesting with different levels of engine braking. Some, a bit, and none. I quite enjoyed having none, mainly because I loved the noise from dropping a few cogs and powering around the corners.
One of the only gripes I do have is about the windscreen. For a touring bike, I found it very low, and it is non-adjustable, like some other touring style bikes. I’m a shorty, and when sitting in a normal riding position the screen only really stopped wind draft up to my chin, an inch higher would have kicked it nicely over the top of my head cutting down on some noise, and buffeting, ideal on a long-distance tourer style bike like this. I had no issues with comfort, a good balance between comfort, but with a sporty position. The only other real gripe was the switchgear on the handlebars. It seemed a little fiddly and awkward with gloves on. Not sure if it was just me being hamfisted, but the buttons for the cruise control didn’t seem to press easily. The button itself pressed, but the button didn’t seem to engage or it was awkward to press down enough with thick gloves on, I’m hoping its user error.
Back to the engine, and I have deduced that H must stand for hyper speed. This bike is ballistic which normally is not good for a road going machine, but this is a useable ballistic. It cruises nicely at Mach 1 and gets there in no time at all. The engine provides good pull low down which makes overtaking a doddle. Normally I slate modern bikes for how rubbish they sound, and how awful the cans look. This is an exception, the can looks good, and it has a decent noise from it, Akrapovic does an aftermarket system, which I have seen, but not heard, but I imagine it makes it sound even better. The noise is addictive, especially when coming off the throttle and the supercharger squeals and whines. That noise is not just audible to the rider and pillion though, even others I was out with complimented how obscure but awesome it sounded.
I completely forgot to look at fuel economy figures, so haven’t got any valuable input on that apart from the fact I put a tenner in the tank when I got the bike, did 100 miles of brisk-paced riding, and handed the bike back with more than I had left with. That is about as scientific as that bit gets, but what do you expect for something as big and as powerful as Thunderbird 2.
Overall my thoughts are that this bike is a serious piece of kit, Kawasaki say it isn’t a direct replacement for a ZZR, which feels true. The H2SX does have more sit-up position, but not as sit up as a Z1000, but then not as racey as a ZX10R. A happy medium, despite the smaller windscreen I would still be happy to rack up the big miles, and boy it does that easily.
Price starts at £15,100 for the base SX with £18,100 for the more tech-laden SX SE version, with additional performance, touring and performance touring variants. With many other common tour bike options being around the similar price tag, the H2SX really could become the common bike seen at service stations up and down the French autoroutes.