There’s no experience in motorcycling quite like blasting along a twisty road in the hills near Lisbon on the Ninja H2 SX. Exiting the mostly slow turns, Kawasaki’s supercharged sports-tourer responds with admirable smoothness to a twist of the throttle, feeling notably more controllable than the outrageous Ninja H2 from which it’s derived.
Yet once its boost gauge gets moving, the SX catapults forward hard enough to drain the blood to my boots and make its front wheel feel almost permanently light. That’s until I shut off for the next bend and the Ninja slows with a distinctive fluttering sound from its fast-spinning supercharger.
The Ninja H2 with which Kawasaki stunned the motorcycling world three years ago would feel as quick and make a similar sound with its supercharger. But that single-seat superbike wouldn’t feel as rider-friendly or comfortable, and nor would it be carrying my bag and waterproofs in a pair of colour-matched panniers.
While the Ninja H2 was an exotic, no-expense-spared sporting flagship designed to showcase its forced-induction technology, the H2 SX is the first stage in Kawasaki’s attempt to bring supercharging to the masses. The firm certainly has form in developing successful sport-tourers. Eight years ago, the naked Z1000 was tweaked and given a fairing to create the versatile Z1000SX, which was a hit and has remained popular ever since.
This new SX is versatile too, albeit much more powerful and firmly on the sporty side of sports-touring. Despite being detuned slightly from the Ninja H2, it still makes a claimed 197bhp. It has a more relaxed riding position, provides more wind protection, and is designed to be more economical and cooler-running, as well as more comfortable.
The H2 format of 998cc, double overhead camshaft, four-cylinder engine and tubular steel trellis frame is retained, but major components are new. The engine is tilted forward in the frame, whose main tubes are larger diameter for extra strength, and reinforced with extra tubing at the rear. The steering head is moved forward to add steering lock and increase wheelbase, which is also stretched by a longer single-sided aluminium swing-arm.
New engine parts include camshafts, crank and cylinder head, as well as the supercharger itself, whose impellor blades are angled slightly less steeply. The aluminium airbox is smaller, and intakes are narrower. Compression ratio is actually higher (11.2:1 from 8.5:1), which project leader Hiroyuki Watanabe says helps improve combustion efficiency and therefore reduces fuel consumption.
That can only be a good thing, although you’ve only got to climb aboard the fairly low seat, reach forward to clip-ons that rise above the top yoke, and start the engine to hear its menacing, gravelly rumble to get the hint that this bike is best at going fast, not saving fuel. Its rider’s view, in the case of the H2 SX SE launch bikes, is of a fairly low screen (though it’s still slightly taller than the standard model’s) and a TFT display alongside a rounded, analogue-style tacho.
The SE, which at £18,199 is three grand more expensive than the standard model, also comes with heated grips, cornering headlights, machined wheels, a two-way quick-shifter and a centre-stand. Both models also have cruise control as standard, but the H2 SX doesn’t follow the Z1000SX in having an adjustable screen, and there’s no wind protection for the rider’s hands.
On a cold morning in Portugal I was glad of the SE’s hot grips, but less impressed by the wind noise on a brief stretch of highway, which some simple screen adjustability like the Z1000SX’s might have helped reduce. (Watanabe says that such a fast bike would have required a very strong and therefore heavy system.) But my most vivid impression was the smoothness of the throttle response, in contrast to the abrupt Ninja H2.
The SX was infinitely easier to control, pulling strongly from low revs, kicking harder in the midrange as its boost pressure rose (from the standard 100 per cent on the display), and going ballistic at around 8000rpm. Acceleration from there towards the 12,000rpm redline was jaw-dropping, and I was glad to be able to click through the box with the aid of the reliable shifter as the Kawasaki tore super-smoothly forward with as much force as a ZZR1400.
It slowed hard too, thanks to radial four-pot front calipers biting 220mm discs, albeit with the ABS system kicking in slightly earlier than some Bosch set-ups do. Perhaps that was partly because the front Bridgestone S21 doesn’t have the grip of super-sticky rubber, although both tyres were fine in bends, even on a few footrest-trimming laps of the Estoril circuit.
The Ninja felt slightly unwieldy on track, though only as much as you might expect of a sports-tourer that weighs 260kg with fuel, so is 9kg lighter than the ZZR1400, and has suspension designed as much for comfort as control. The fuel is shut off rather abruptly when you close the throttle, which can result in some pitching. The same was true on country roads, where the bike covered ground rapidly but felt slightly vague in tight bends.
But that same plush suspension gives excellent ride quality, and firming up the rear shock slightly with a few clicks on the remote preload knob had the Kawasaki feeling slightly sharper. It felt most at home on flowing main roads, where it was reassuringly stable – even when the throttle was being held wide open and the scenery was disappearing backwards at a pulse-quickening rate.
As a high-speed roadburner it has much more than performance to offer. Its riding position is slightly more upright than the ZZR’s, and respectably roomy. The two-part seat seemed pretty comfortable, despite being fairly thin and usefully near the ground. A pillion gets two strong grab-handles, plus room in the accessory GIVI panniers that each hold a full-face helmet.
Kawasaki says that it’s more economical than the ZZR1400, almost matches the Versys 1000 and that its homologation economy of almost 50mpg means the 19-litre tank is good for a range of almost 200 miles.
That might well be true, and some riders were getting over 40mpg when we rode on the press launch. But my enjoyment of nailing the throttle and being hurled back into the seat at every opportunity brought consumption under that figure, and under 30mpg at times, so you can’t expect to use all that supercharged 200bhp performance and not burn plenty of fuel. Which is surely fair enough. At least the Ninja H2 SX gives the option of a reasonably sensible ride or ballistic craziness, depending on its rider’s mood.
Whether the H2 SX brings supercharging to the masses remains to be seen. The Z1000SX is more practical, less expensive and still fast enough for most riders. But it doesn’t drain your blood to your boots in the same way when you crack open the throttle, or make that addictive fluttering sound when you close it. If you want the Ninja H2 experience with panniers, only the Ninja H2 SX delivers.
|Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX [SE]|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled supercharged transverse four|
|Bore x stroke||76 x 55mm|
|Maximum power||197bhp (200PS) @ 11,000rpm|
|Maximum torque||102lb-ft (137N.m) @ 9500rpm|
|Front suspension||43mm usd telescopic, 120mm spring travel, adjustment of preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Rear suspension||Single shock, 139mm wheel travel, hydraulic adjustment of preload, plus compression and rebound damping adjustment|
|Kerb weight||256kg [260kg]|
|Fuel tank||19 litres|
At £15,099 for the base model and three grand more for the upmarket H2 SX SE, it’s also considerably less expensive than the original supercharged four, let alone the even more exotic H2R. And although the H2 SX comes in metal-flake green (in the higher spec SE model’s case only) or black paintwork, rather than Ninja H2 unique mirror finish, it’s still a strikingly sharp-edged machine.