Awesome [aw–suh m] adjective: Causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear: an awesome sight.
In my last column, I wrote about riding a slow bike fast, rather than a fast bike slow. But even I understand that small motorcycles are not the Alpha and Omega of moto-experience. Folks who constantly misuse words like awesome and literally aside, nobody will ride a Ninja 300 and declare it “awesome” (or worse yet, “literally awesome”). Some of us like to experience acceleration. Mind-numbing, pants-peeing, brain-bending, vision-blurring acceleration. Acceleration that changes your view of the world. Acceleration that makes you start quoting from Also Sprach Zarathustra and hearing kettle drums over the roar of windblast. Some of us want to feel that power and also have piles of cash lying around. Not me, God knows, but many. Apparently, there are enough of them that Kawasaki built a motorcycle to fit their needs.
Actually, pulling back a bit, Kawasaki has built many motorcycles to fit the above-mentioned needs. Kawasakis handle well enough, sure, but the brand is known best for building powerful engines that frequently offer class-leading acceleration. Some of us measure performance in lap times and 60-80 roll-on times, but for some it’s all about that almighty quarter-mile time and top speed, symbolic as they are. Call it bragging rights, call it the need to know you have the fastest, whatever that urge is called, know that if you have it, you will probably find release in a Kawasaki dealer.
Remember the tank capacity or seat height of the original ZX-11? Probably not. But you do remember that it was the fastest production motorcycle for most of the ’90s. It made a claimed 145 horsepower and could go about 170 mph. Kawasaki kept in that vein with its ZX-14, which made 187 (claimed) hp and was limited (by way of the “gentleman’s agreement” between Japanese OEMs) to 186 mph. But the cake was truly taken when Kawasaki announced the Ninja H2 and H2R, products intended, I’m sure, to give Kawasaki’s products-liability attorneys immediate aneurysms. The $50,000 H2R is no-holds-barred, a supercharged 310 hp literbike – but you can’t ride it on public roads. The $25,000 H2 is softened to make it street legal – it makes only around 200 horsepower. Why do consumers need these things? Because screw you, that’s why. Because going that fast is (here it comes, and please note correct usage) awesome.
When I saw a press release from Kawasaki informing us the first H2s were in the hands of consumers, I just had to ask – who the F is going to buy these things? Troy Ibbeson, that’s who. He lives in the sunny town of Clayton, California, about 30 miles inland from San Francisco. A lab technician for the local water district, he calls himself “a normal working-class guy,” but a look inside his garage (and under the tarps in his backyard) reveals anything but normalcy – he has a huge collection of motorcycles, including all the different sizes of Ninja – 250, 500, ZX-10R, ZX-14 – as well as four dirtbikes and four jetskis (his wife was a competitive jetski racer).
“When the new H2 came out, I asked, ‘how could they possibly make anything faster, better, more torquey than the 14?’” he told me over the phone. That’s when he decided that if “they can do something so groundbreaking, I have to have one.” Ibbeson plunked down a deposit at Contra Costa Powersports in nearby Walnut Creek and proceeded to become a pain in the ass, passing by the dealership daily to see if an H2-sized crate had arrived. And then, one Friday, he got the word it was there. After signing paperwork, he went for his first ride on the bike. “The dealer set it in rain mode, then I took all the controls off.” He found the bike every bit the beast he expected: “I hit 3rd gear at 5,000-6,000 rpm and the front end was off the ground the whole time. There’s no lack of power anywhere. At 7,000 or 8,000 rpm you’re flat out flying.”
So now we know who would buy one of these, but once you have one, what do you do with it? “Ride it,” says Ibbeson. He won’t take it on the racetrack so he can brag about lap times, or strap it to a dyno.
“I don’t worry about numbers, I just take pleasure in riding my bikes.” He just likes the experience of threading the bike through the curves of his local two-lane roads, of surfing those waves of torque, of hearing the supercharger whine under acceleration. When he parks, he can gaze upon the mirror-finish paint and know he owns something that’s as exclusive, exciting and rare as a Ferrari – at a fraction of the cost. And that’s the real reason an enthusiast would want an H2, or indeed, any one of the ultra-high performance megabikes we’ve written about at MO – the KTM 1290 Duke, for instance, or the BMW S1000RR, or the new 205-hp Ducati Panigale S 1299. It’s awesome.
As Ibbeson said, “we’re lucky to live in this time period,” a period that makes such incredible technology and power available to an ordinary schlub.
Sure, he’d draw plenty of pleasure riding his ZX-14, or even his 250 Ninja, but there’s a lot to be said for awesome, especially when it’s waiting in your garage.