Over the last 15 or so years of testing motorcycles, there have only ever been two models that have given me pause due to the sheer absurdity of their spec sheets. The Suzuki Hayabusa, and more recently, the Kawasaki Z H2. I approached both models with utmost respect and caution, like a rodeo rider about to hop into the chute with a bucking bronco on meth. They are completely different motorcycles, but in both cases I was surprised at two things: how serene and composed they could be at low speeds, and how absolutely ridiculously, incomprehensibly quickly they accelerated once you had the moxie to roll back the throttle.
The H2’s 998 cc powerplant has spawned its own little offshoot from the family tree. In addition to the “regular” Z H2 we tested, there’s the new H2 SE we announced recently which gets new Brembo Stylema brake calipers along with Kawasaki Electronic Controlled Suspension (KECS) featuring Showa Skyhook technology. We haven’t ridden it yet, but the setup is said to improve handling by self-adjusting to road conditions in real-time. The H2 SX SE and H2 SX SE+ provide more comfort and protection for touring. Then there’s the Ninja H2, Ninja H2 Carbon and Ninja H2 R jump up substantially in price while being offered in limited quantities.
Available at an MSRP of $19,599, the Z H2 we tested was outfitted in a special edition colour combination (Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Graphite Gray/Mirror Coated Spark Black) which brought the MSRP up to $20,199.
Firing up the supercharged inline four-cylinder engine with a claimed output of 200 hp and 101 lb-ft of torque, the exhaust note was surprisingly docile. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. As I mentioned in an Opinion piece I penned earlier this year on loud pipes, I shared how I was pulled over by Toronto’s finest in Yorkville one evening who directed me to have the exhaust tested by awaiting bylaw officers. Thankfully for me and my wallet, the Z H2’s simply gargantuan exhaust pipe only registered 78.5 dB. Had it cracked 92 dB, I would have been on the hook for a $500 fine.
While it may be quiet at idle, the engine’s meekness doesn’t last once it is exercised, particularly when the supercharger kicks in. In my experience, heavier, bigger displacement motors will have torque down low, while most sport bikes require some time to spool up to get into the meaty part of the powerband high in the rev range where things get mighty twitchy. Well, the H2 simultaneously has boatloads of power seemingly from a standstill then continues to pour heaping mounds of coal on the fire up to its 11,000 rpm redline.
The strange part is just how effortlessly, smoothly, and yes, swiftly, its 239 kg (527 lb) of mass accelerates. Your brain is forced to readjust to a new, different sensation of velocity. No wonder Kawasaki refers to it as a Hypersport rather than a Supersport. I’m likely dating myself with this reference, but the few times I had the opportunity to really stretch its legs, I couldn’t help but think of the 1987 film Space Balls. The evil Dark Helmet commands his spaceship’s crew to engage its hyper jets, at which time they pass the threshold of Light Speed, beyond Ridiculous Speed to Ludicrous Speed. Rolling off the throttle, the supercharger flutters, cooing like a morning dove. The process of winding it up and letting it spool down is addictive. This enthusiasm resulted in experiencing 6.67 L/100km over the course of the week, which is surprisingly good. The TFT display provides an average fuel economy reading, as well as a tach and speedometer, fuel gauge, clock, gear selection, trip meter, and ambient temperature.
There’s more to the Z H2 than simply mind-bending acceleration and easy wheelies, which is good because there’s only so much of that you can do before getting arrested. The bike features cruise control and various ride modes. Such robust acceleration must be equally matched by braking prowess if things are going to remain remotely civilized and the Z H2 delivers by offering dual semi-floating 320 mm discs with Brembo four-piston calipers up front and a 260 mm disc with a single-piston caliper in the rear
Shifts are smooth, precise and effortless, perhaps bested only by the new 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R equipped with the Quickshifter+. Riding them at different times throughout the summer, I’d like to do a direct head-to-head to see who really comes out as king of the hill. With an MSRP of $19,999 for the KTM, they are just begging to be cross shopped.
Having the Zed at my disposal for the week, I figured I’d take it on a little road trip up to a cottage with some friends. Given the lack of fairing and saddlebags, I strapped my Kiega pack, rain gear and a sleeping bag to the tiny pillion. The handlebars felt a bit narrow for me, but otherwise the upright riding position and 19L fuel tank meant that I was able to contentedly cruise on the highway for hours on end with friends riding larger touring bikes. The suspension is firm, and the seat offers little in the way of padding though, both of which will start to wear on you over the course of a long ride if the road is riddled with bumps. There are many aftermarket seat upgrade options if you plan on riding longer than a couple hours at a time and the suspension is manually adjustable.
The Z H2 gets a Showa SFF-BP 43 mm inverted fork with rebound and compression damping as well as spring preload adjustability. The Uni Trak, gas-charged shock also offers compression and rebound damping with spring preload adjustability. I haven’t ridden the new SE version, but it ups the ante (and price) with Kawasaki’s Electronic Controlled Suspension (KECS) with Showa Skyhook technology.
The passenger quarters are smaller and less accommodating. Without grab rails or much padding to speak of, its likely only suitable in a pinch for short trips with someone who you don’t mind grabbing onto you tightly. If any of these elements are seen remotely as shortcomings, the SX SE and X SE+ models both solve the aforementioned challenges by providing a variety of creature comforts like added wind protection, electronic suspension, grab rails and clean quick release saddlebags – to name only a few, starting at $25,399 and $29,199 respectively.
Rather than ride back to the city on 400-series highways, I opted to spend the day exploring the rolling hills and winding roads that connected small towns throughout cottage country. Manually dialling in the suspension for smooth asphalt and topping up the tank, there was nothing else to do but ride. Needless to say, 239 kg (527 lb) and 200 hp make for a spirited and entertaining ride. It’s a wonderful feeling when you have the right bike for the roads you’re riding. Acceleration is shocking, and yet somehow predictable and manageable. Rather than being twitchy at high speeds, things feel planted and stable. It is also very easy and enjoyable motorcycle to ride slowly, yet you likely won’t want to.
My only gripe about riding the Z H2 isn’t about the motorcycle at all, but rather the lack of places where its true potential can be unlocked and enjoyed without ending up in handcuffs. It’s just begging to be taken to a racetrack to enjoy a lapping day. Its upward capabilities exceed the legal limits in this country but feel accessible and within reach for the rider. Taking its performance for granted however, would be a mistake. Bestow upon the Z H2 the immense respect it deserves, and you shall be rewarded accordingly.