Johannesburg - There were no superbikes around in the 1800s when historian John Dalberg-Acton coined the phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, but his famous quote about politicians could well have been coined for the two-wheeled world of the 21st century.
The motorcycle industry’s obsession with power has resulted in machines so fast they can just about affect the earth’s rotational speed, and the race to produce the biggest, baddest superbike reached a new peak in 2014 when Kawasaki uncaged the H2R, a track-only machine gunned along by a supercharged 998cc engine with a demented 300hp of thrust (224kW in metric terms).
It was soon followed by a tamer street-legal version that dropped the “R” along with 75kW of power, and this Ninja H2 is now available in South Africa for a retail price of R310 000.
Selling alongside the much less expensive ZX-10R and ZX-14R, the H2 is Kawasaki’s halo model, a technological showpiece for the Kawasaki Heavy Industries Group which has its fingers in many different technology pies. The supercharged engine was designed with knowhow sourced from many arms of the company, and its aerodynamic mirror stays were designed by Kawasaki’s Aerospace Company. As homage to this collective in-house effort, the H2 is the only Kawasaki to wear the River Mark, the symbol of the KHI group.
It’s built on a trellis frame, painted in a contrasting green to stand out. This helps to give the bike an “industrial” look, and it’s not heavily faired so that much of the mechanicals are on display.
It also has Kawasaki’s first single-sided swingarm, and a special paint coating that glimmers with a chrome-like finish.
OUT-BULLIES THE OPPOSITION
We were among the first South African publications to swing a leg over Kawasaki’s H2 demo model and test for ourselves the potentially corrupting influence of that supercharged engine.
I’ll get straight to the point: I can’t begin to imagine what the bike feels like with an additional 75kW, because this “neutered” street version is just barking-mad fast.
With 147.2kW (154.5kW with ram air), the H2 actually makes similar power to rivals such as the BMW S1000RR, Ducati Panigale 1299, and Yamaha R1, all members of the 200 (Horsepower) Club; the bike world prefers talking horsepower instead of kiloWatts.
The horseshoe in the H2’s boxing glove, however, is that with 133.5Nm it out-bullies the opposition in torque output, and the supercharger also gives it an advantage over its normally-aspirated competitors at power-sucking high altitude.
Yanking the throttle opens the gates to hellacious thrust that makes you wonder how this can be legal on a public road. It’s a basically linear power delivery with no distinct “step” from the supercharging, but from 8000 revs to its 11 000rpm power peak the bike really surges with saddle-blazing urgency. I’ll stick my neck out and say there’s probably no production bike today that’ll match the H2 in an overtaking-acceleration shootout.
The H2 gulps distance with impressive stability, tracking straight and true at mega velocities. Even with some bumps in the road there’s no sign of twitching from the handlebars, thanks to a standard-issue Ohlins electronic steering damper.
There’s not much sound coming from the exhaust, which has a giant tailpipe nearly the size of a luggage pannier, but the supercharger whistles away like Terry Moss’s old WesBank Modified Audi, giving this Kawa plenty of vocal charisma.
A speedshifter allows clutch-free upshifts to be made with the throttle yanked wide open. It feels clunky when used at low speeds, which, in addition to a heavy clutch, makes the bike being a bit of a handful in stop-start urban commuting. But when the road opens up and you can finally give it stick, the gearshifts move with the smoothness of a boy band through teenage groupies.
As with all mega-powered superbikes these days, the H2’s thrust is managed by a suite of electronics. Along with ABS brakes, traction control helps keep this rip-snorting beast in contact with terra firma and it has several levels of intervention that can be set by the rider, including a rain mode. There’s also launch control that prevents wheelspin and embarrassing unintended wheelies when blasting off the line.
A racetrack would be the ideal place to experiment with these settings but as I didn’t have one handy and tested the H2 only on public roads, I left it in full “nanny” mode. It still accelerated with foam-at-the-mouth intensity, but I noticed the traction control light flickering away at times.
The H2’s heavier than a ZX-10, which I suspect will still make a better track bike, but apart from the transmission clunkiness around town, it’s an unexpectedly user-friendly beast. The saddle’s at a medium height so you don’t have to straddle the bike on tippy-toes, the seating position’s not as hunched forward as a typical superbike so there’s not too much weight on your wrists, and the screen makes a very effective windbreaker when you tuck behind it.
There’s no room for a pillion, however; the H2’s hedonistic pleasures are to be experieced solo only.
The H2 is truly a special machine, the pride and joy of the company, and its power and supercharged whistle absolutely do have a corrupting influence.
Still, it’s a hefty 120 grand price premium over a ZX-14 - which also has oodles of power.