Awesome [awsuh m] adjective: Causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear: an awesome sight.

—Dictionary.com


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.

This is what awesome looked like in 1991.

This is what awesome looked like in 1991.

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.

Maximum MOron Alexander enjoying ZX-14-flavored awesome at very high speeds at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He says his suspension was completely compressed (causing the reduced cornering clearance and fireworks show) because of the high g forces exerted on the bike during a 180-mph top-speed run. I say it may be … well … there was an unlimited shrimp buffet at the hotel the night before. Just sayin’.

Maximum MOron Alexander enjoying ZX-14-flavored awesome at very high speeds at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He says his suspension was completely compressed (causing the reduced cornering clearance and fireworks show) because of the high g forces exerted on the bike during a 180-mph top-speed run. I say it may be … well … there was an unlimited shrimp buffet at the hotel the night before. Just sayin’.

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.

Troy Ibbeson with his "normal" collection.

Troy Ibbeson with his “normal” collection.

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.

2015 BMW S1000RR First Ride Review

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale First Ride Review + Video

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.


Gabe Ets-Hokin is a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. He is known for his two best-selling novels and for developing a philosophical system he calls Objectivism.

  • fastfreddie

    It’s scary how quickly you get used to high speed.How fast can a H2R go before it hits that wall called atmosphere.220MPH?250?It’ll be exciting the first few times before meh kicks in.

    But acceleration is sweet also.Somehow that’s harder to get bored of.

  • http://www.proteusmusic.com/ MrBlenderson

    This article really nails it. Although I do think my 250 is AWESOME.

  • Jack McLovin

    Beautifully written Gabe, Especially the opening paragraph.

  • Dr. Johnathan Twinkletits

    Is anyone else a bit disappointed by the 200hp of the H2? It seems like naturally-aspirated literbikes are making similar power without the weight penalty and cost of the supercharger. Am I missing something?

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      Anybody disappointed by 210 hp in a motorcycle needs psychological help! Seriously!

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        But on second thought, Kawi could have kicked it to 230 or 240. But they do have to conform to that 187-mph agreement.

      • Dr. Johnathan Twinkletits

        That’s not what I meant. I meant that it doesn’t seem like a lot for a supercharged literbike when naturally-aspirated literbikes are making similar power for less money and weight. Either way, it’s more power than I want or need!

    • Deodorant

      Its not the power. Its the torque delivery. Watch the first ride videos of owners riding their new H2’s. I can tell you i wish i was on the seat experiencing that! But… with the H2 and H2R engines being very similar, it’ll be easy to get more power if 200hp starts to bore you.
      https://youtu.be/vhtBY6K2WCU

  • Craig Hoffman

    It would be interesting to overlay the street H2’s dyno chart on a naturally aspirated competitor’s. My guess while the peak numbers may be relatively close, the H2’s curve towers over the naturally aspirated bike’s all through the range, giving it even more of that effortless thrust that liter class bikes are loved for. Casual growling thrust at 5,000 rpm is cool and the H2 is likely king in that department, and of course there is 200 hp (which is enough for anybody) on the top end for those times when cows and horses are your only witnesses.

    Bonus for owners at high elevation like me – compensation for elevation induced power loss via forced induction. If I had the money to blow, I could “justify” one of these :)

  • JMDonald

    Because screw you, that’s why. Best sentence award 2015.

  • Craig Hoffman

    It would be interesting to overlay the street H2’s dyno chart on a naturally aspirated competitor’s. My guess while the peak numbers may be relatively close, the H2’s curve towers over the naturally aspirated bike’s all through the range, giving it even more of that effortless thrust that liter class bikes are loved for. Casual growling thrust at 5,000 rpm is cool and the H2 is likely king in that department, and of course there is 200 hp (which is enough for anybody) on the top end for those times when cows and horses are your only witnesses.

    Bonus for owners at high elevation like me – compensation for elevation induced power loss via forced induction. I got rid of a bike that ran hard at sea level when I moved to Colorado. It felt lame at 8,000 feet, running up a hill, into a headwind. Replaced it with a liter class bike that is not so diminished by the wide open spaces, thin air and big hills of Colorado.

    Life is a grind. To escape that BS, the bike needs to effortlessly thrill on command, to make its rider the absolute and all powerful ruler of their domain, all without a lot of gearbox scrounging. If I had the money to blow, I could “justify” one of these H2s 😉

    • Stuki

      I’m sure anything is possible, but unless they’re overgeared, most single speed mechanical blowers do their best work at higher revs. Compared to a normally aspirated engine of same size, there could be “some” gains everywhere, but bottom end gains are usually much easier to achieve by just making the engine bigger. Or fitting an exhaust turbo of the right size. At only 8.5/1 mechanical compression, the engine would need quite a bit of help from the blower down low, just to reach parity with a same sized NA engine compressing 13/1. Not to mention a 40+% larger one, like the ZX-14 has. Anyway, I haven’t ridden the bike nor dynoed it, so what do I know. Lots less than the combined engineering teams at Kawasaki, that’s for sure…..

      Being Japanese, Kawi is very likely engineering and tuning for “feel” on this bike, at least the street going version. So, part of the wow!!! may well be a very aggressive throttle at low revs. Which they can do to abandon now that TC keeps things within reasonably safe boundaries.. Published Dyno runs are always done at full throttle. Which is rarely how people ride powerful bikes on the street. Or even track in lower gears, absent highly sophisticated electronics.

    • Jason Evariste Cormier

      I’ve seen one graph so far. Bone stock it made 202hp and 97 lb/ft at the wheel on a Dynojet rig. That’s enough to make you realize Kawi is understating the numbers significantly, and the reviews so far are so milquetoast you’ll never get a sense of how bonkers these things are.

  • crimsontiger6

    People always talk about power and top speed but the torque is where it’s at. That’s what I love, the push you back in the seat stretch your arms torque.

  • 12er

    Clayton? I’ll be right over.