Kawasaki’s 220kW track-day special
Cologne, Germany - Once in a while a manufacturer makes a quantum leap into the future that redefines the way we see motorcycles.
Edward Turner did it in 1938 with the Triumph Speed Twin, Soichiro Honda did it in 1967 with the CB750 Four and, five years later, Kawasaki did it with the H2 - a 748cc two-stroke triple.
It wasn't just that it delivered a howling, smoking 55kW - it was how it did it. It had a power band like a light-switch, marginal brakes, weedy, under-damped suspension and a tubular-steel frame that flexed visibly in hard cornering.
It was, in a word, insane. But in the right hands it could reel off a standing quarter-mile in 12 seconds flat - faster than any V8 muscle-car of its time. In 1972 it was probably the fastest-accelerating street-legal vehicle you could buy, and it cost less than a Volkswagen Beetle.
And in 1975 it spawned the H2R, which very nearly took Gary Nixon to the 1976 Formula 750 world title.
So when Kawasaki decided it was time to give the motorcycle world another wake-up call, the name chosen was H2R, and the yardstick was, again, intense acceleration.
The Kawasaki whitecoats looked at the current power kings - the BMW S1000 RR and its own ZX-10R - each of which is good for about 145kW, and raised the bar by half as much again. The target for the new bike would be an unprecedented 220kW - 300 horsepower in the old language.
HOW'D THEY DO THAT?
The concept was relatively simple - a 998cc, twin-cam transverse four with forced induction - but to pull it off took input from almost every division of Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
The machinery division, whose everyday focus is incredibly precise industrial robots, crafted custom components to near-impossible tolerances to enable them to withstand brutal boost levels, the gas-turbine department created a one-of-a-kind centrifugal supercharger (essentially half a turbocharger) and the aerospace division designed and wind-tunnel tested the carbon-fibre bodywork.
A jackshaft driven by a gear cut into one of the crankshaft webs provides the drive for the supercharger; the rest of the engine is quite conventional, with four valves per cylinder, stick coils, piezo-electronic indirect fuel-injection into the inlet ports and a rather old-fashioned straight-through exhaust system.
For it was decided quite early in the design process that the H2R would not be street-legal - which freed the project team from a whole raft of noise and emissions regulations.
Having produced an engine no bigger or heavier - but with 50 percent more power output - than that of the ZX-10R superbike, they dropped it into an equally off-beat frame. It's easy to build stability into a hard-accelerating drag machine with a long wheelbase, extended rake angle and a low centre of gravity - but Kawasaki wanted a track-day machine, one that would also go round corners.
So they took a leaf out of the Italian designers' handbook, with a trellis frame made from short, stiff pieces of thin-wall high tensile-strength steel tubing, using the latest computer analysis technology to make it absolutely rigid in the horizontal plane but with a specific level of flex in the vertical plane to avoid transferring road bumps and crosswinds into the bike's trajectory.
And that word is used deliberately: the carbon-fibre bodywork you see here owes very little to conventional motorcycle practice. It was designed by the aerospace division of KHI to use the airflow generated by speeds in excess of 300km/h to push the bike back into line when outside forces threaten to induce terminal instability in the short-wheelbase, quick-turning chassis.
MARK OF RESPECT
The result was everything they wanted: a track-day special as agile as a 600cc supersport machine that accelerates harder out of corners than anything this side of a space shuttle, and is stable at the kind of speeds usually achieved only by specialised straightliners on salt.
As a mark of respect, the suits that run Kawasaki Heavy Industries have permitted the project team to use the group's River Mark logo - which dates back to the 1870s and is only applied to products with historical significance.
The H2R is on show right now at the Intermot motorcycle expo in Cologne; whether it will be offered for sale is uncertain but it's known that there is a street-legal H2 version ready to premiere at the Eicma motorcycle show in Milan in four weeks time - and that the H2 will be released in South Africa in January 2015.
Whether or not you ever ride one, just knowing that it exists is enough to change motorcycling forever.