Test Ride: 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE

For some, the greatest thing about Kawasaki’s glorious 210 hp sport-touring flagship will be the sheer power that blows most everything else into the weeds.

It might also be the relative comfort of the ride, or the electronic safeguards that keep the bike from sliding or flipping, or even just the high-quality, tactile finish of the entire machine.

For me though, it’s the digital display that shows the maximum lean angle of the bike. I’ve not seen this on anything else (and feel free to mention any others in the comments), and it’s the equivalent of those G-Force meters that some cars include on their displays.

That’s a pretty impressive lean angle over to the left, and the right’s not too shabby, either. Mark must be a Real Man.

Almost every time that I rode this bike, I’d try to see just how far I could get it over into a lean. And the beautiful part is that if I did get into trouble, the traction control would step in and save the day. This really is a very intelligent motorcycle.

None of this means the H2 SX SE is a plaything that can be treated lightly, or ridden by a newbie with more money than sense. It’s a freakin’ supercharged H2, after all, albeit tuned back for more comfortable road manners than the 264 hp Ninja H2 and its 300 hp track-only H2R sibling.

There are actually three different versions of the SX and none are cheap. Fortunately, none feel cheap, either. For 2019, the basic SX costs $21,999, which is a $100 bump from the 2018 model. I rode the 2018 SX SE, which lists for $25,299 and will also cost an extra $100 for 2019. And new for this coming year is the SX SE+, which costs a hefty $28,999 and includes the electronic suspension from the ZX 10R sportbike.

The trellis frame stretches everything out farther than the H2 sport bike, though not as far as the ZX-14R.
What’s the difference?

I rode the Ninja H2 briefly on the road last year and was unimpressed, but that’s only because it was a short journey and I was cramped onto a bike that urged me to open it up and lose my licence. The H2 SX is a touring version of that machine, with a new trellis frame that lengthens the wheelbase for a more comfortable ride, and an engine that’s been tweaked for more “useability” and better fuel consumption. The compression ratio is higher, and the intake ports are smaller; the supercharger’s impeller is also redesigned for more torque in the mid-range.

You need proof the panniers will swallow a full-face helmet? Here you go. They’ll cost about $1,300, though.

The SE version adds a taller windshield and some fancy cornering lights, an upgraded TFT display, a quickshifter that works both up and down through the gears, electronic launch control, steel braided brake lines, heated grips and a centrestand. If you want the colour-matched 28-litre panniers that slip on and off easily (and which are each large enough to hold a full-face helmet), they’ll cost about $1,300 extra.

The SX SE has a curb weight of 260 kg (573 lbs), which is 4 kg heavier than the SX and 22 kg heavier than the racier Ninja H2. It’s 5 kg lighter and a little more compact than the ZX-14R, however, and it’s intended to be the all-rounder of Kawasaki’s big sport-tourers.

Mark looks pretty comfy on the SX SE, though he’s at a nicely relaxed speed here. Anything faster would need a better camera.
How does it ride?

I loved riding this bike, though it took a while to figure out all the electronic adjustments that are possible. Both the inverted front fork and the KYB rear monoshock are fully adjustable for compression and rebound, with a separate preload adjuster on the back. At the handlebars, the traction control (KTRC) can be set to one of three modes, with increasing intervention, or switched off completely. What’s more, once you’ve selected your level of traction control, the bike will keep it there even after turning the ignition off (except if you’d switched off the KTRC completely, when it will revert to Mode 1 to rescue you).

There’s also a three-stage Power mode, which is roughly equivalent to full, three-quarters or half power, to cut everything back in traffic or in slippery conditions, and even a mode to allow either light or non-existent engine-braking. I left the Power on full and the KTRC on Mode 1, and was happy all week.

So many adjustments, so little time. KLCM is Kawasaki’s launch control – looks like Mark was getting ready for a quick start…

Fortunately for me, and not so much for you as a reader wanting a complete review, the weather was dry and warm throughout my week with the H2 SX SE. I never got to test the traction control on wet roads, though it did step in a few times when there was sand in the corners. It also was available during those hard leans to see how much of an angle would be recorded on the TFT panel, but if truth be told, I wasn’t brave enough to really push it on a public road.

This is not a flickable bike, in the same way the Ninja ZX-10R would flick its 206 kg of wet weight left and right through corners, but it was always predictable: set it up in the right lane position, lean it in and everything was smooth and linear through to the other side. There were no surprises with the throttle on the entry to a corner (I kept the engine braking at “light”), and a steady roll-on at exit pulled everything through without any jerkiness or snatching. It helps that the traction control would monitor all my inputs and help out by matching them with the lean angle and engine speed and tire slip, quite unobtrusively.

The ABS brakes had no problem at any speed, and leaning ABS let me pull on them in the corners when needed.

After dark, those fancy cornering lights really do work well. They’re three lights, one above the other, which come on in order depending on the degree of lean to better illuminate a curve. Tip the bike over by 10 degrees and the top light throws its beam in a fixed direction alongside the headlight; tip over by 20 degrees and the centre light throws another beam a little more to the side, and at 30 degrees, all three lights illuminate to increase your visibility to the curb. Clever stuff.

Great power, and great responsibility

For all its electronic, ass-saving wizardry, however, the H2 SX SE really is all about that massively-powerful engine. Twist the throttle on a straightaway and the bike will hurl you forward like a starship. The mid-range torque pulls hard from below 4,000 rpm and then the supercharger pulls even harder at about the mid-point, all the way to a peak at 10,000 rpm and on to the 12,000 rpm redline – at which point, you’ll be illegal on any road in Canada, in any gear.

The SX comes with only a sidestand, but the SX SE includes a centrestand as standard.

Having said that, I hope we’re now beyond the “how much is too much” argument for power. Of course, nobody needs 210 hp or anything like it, but when such prodigious power is made available in such a well-managed package, the more the merrier.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the H2 SX SE was that you didn’t need to ride it hard or fast to enjoy it. Others have criticized the seat as not being comfortable for extended rides, but I had no trouble with it; it’s available with a 15 mm-lower option, too, for shorter riders. The taller windscreen worked well to keep off any blast, as did the full fairing, although the seating position was a little more upright than you might expect.

The standard cruise control – missing so noticeably on Kawasaki’s Concours tourer – worked well and easily from a switch on the left handlebar, while the clutch lever on that bar was little used. It’s very light to the touch, but the quickshifter often made it redundant.

However, there are no self-cancelling indicators. In fact, Kawasaki doesn’t offer self-cancelling indicators on any of its motorcycles. Why not? I asked at Head Office and nobody could explain why not. Even my 10-year-old Harley has self-cancelling indicators that combine with a lean sensor to stop the flashing after a short time. I think every single car in North America switches off its indicators — why don’t Kawasakis?

Mark’s still looking pretty relaxed. Guess he hasn’t twisted that throttle hard yet.
Is it worth it?

So who would want this motorcycle? Somebody with some cash in the bank, for a start – it’s not cheap, and bikes that cost $10,000 less can also serve up great power. Kawasaki clearly believes there are plenty of well-heeled riders in the sport-tourer market, though, since it’s bringing out the SE+ in 2019 for $29,000. And after all, the kitted-out Honda Gold Wing is almost $10,000 more than the SX SE, and Harley-Davidson CVOs are $50,000 and up. The money’s out there.

For the price, though, you get a supercharged touring bike that offers both unprecedented power and the cutting-edge technology – straight from World Superbike – to help make the most of it. A production motorcycle this advanced just wasn’t possible even five years ago. Maybe, in another generation, we’ll take it all for granted, but I don’t think so. This bike will always have a special place on the road.

Don’t expect that rear tire to look so clean and well-treaded for long…
2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE Key Specs

Pricing: $25,399
Engine: 998 cc supercharged inline-four
Curb weight: 262 kg
Power: 210 hp @ 10,000 rpm
Torque: 137 N-m (101 lbs.-ft.) @ 9,500 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,480 mm
Length: 2,135 mm
Seat height: 835 mm
Brakes: Dual semi-floating 320 mm discs, with dual radial-mount, monobloc, opposed 4-piston at front; Single 250 mm disc, with with 2-piston at rear
Front suspension: 43 mm inverted fork with rebound and compression damping and spring preload adjustability, and top-out springs.
Rear suspension: Uni-Trak, gas-charged shock with piggyback reservoir, compression and rebound damping adjustability, remote spring preload adjuster, and top-out spring.
Tires: 120/70ZR17M/C (58W) front, 190/55ZR17M/C (75W) rear

8 thoughts on “Test Ride: 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE”

  1. Does the Kawasaki have grip warmers with options to plug in a heated vest if needed? I believe this may be my replacement for my aging K1300S when the time comes since BMW no longer has a true sport tourer that weighs less that 700 Lbs. I believe the only thing I will miss will be the shaft drive.

    1. No heat off the engine that I ever noticed, and I rode in hot weather. Fuel range isn’t so great though, and I should have mentioned this in the review. The tank holds 19 litres, but I only saw average consumption of 8L/100 km, which is about 35 mpg Cdn. In theory, this gives a worst case range of less than 240 km. In practice, the low fuel light would come on soon after 200 km.

  2. I really hate to be that guy in the comments section as I have owned many less than attractive motorcycles BUT, why does it have to be so damned ugly? Otherwise, nice bike. If I am going to drop that kind of money though, I expect it to look the part. I might not look the part, but at least my bike should!

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