One of the questions I’ve heard frequently asked about the Kawasaki Ninja H2 and H2R can be summed up with one word: Why? Why the H2R? It doesn’t fit the requirements of any international racing series. It’s not street legal. And why the H2? Isn’t it just a detuned H2R, designed not to break the European and Japanese manufacturers’ gentleman’s agreement of keeping streeting machinery to under 186 mph (300 kph)? As if a motorcycle we expect to make in the neighborhood of 200 horsepower and go right up to an expected software-limited top speed can be called detuned. That’s before we even consider the massive torque bump the supercharger should deliver.
Discuss this at our Kawasaki Ninja H2 Forum.
Well, after watching 26 teaser videos, receiving tweets from factory test riders and racers about speeds well in excess of 200 mph, reading the product details from EICMA, and, now, after attending the U.S. unveiling of the Ninja H2 last night at the Japanese American National Museum, I think I can answer the question as to why Kawasaki built the H2 and H2R: Because it can. Because Kawasaki Motorcycles is part of Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) which, as Shigehiko Kiyama, President of Motorcycle & Engine Company and Senior Vice President of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd., explained on the opening page of the H2’s collectible, hardcover press kit, “Tapping into the technological know-how possessed by the KHI Group, [the Ninja H2] has elevated motorcycle technology to a new level.”
While certainly the campaign is designed to build excitement for what is sure to be a groundbreaking motorcycle, Kawasaki is doing more than simply promoting its flagship bike. Kawasaki is wrapping the H2 in the mantle of KHI’s combined engineering capabilities which, in turn, is reflected back and seemingly intensified, as are the winding roads seen reflected in the H2’s mirror black chrome paint in the H2’s press photos.
The term flagship is tossed around in the motorcycle industry quite a bit. I’ve taken part in a ton of shootouts that had the word flagship in the title. Usually, we, in the motojournalism biz, are looking at the flagship model of a certain category of bikes, like cruisers or sportbikes, meaning the biggest, bestest, most expensive bikes in the class – the bikes each manufacturer wants to represent them as the best they offer in that group. Brands often have a flagship product representing how they want the public to see the company as a whole (Think of what the iPod and iPhone did for Apple). If you consider any of the major motorcycle manufacturers, you likely know intuitively what model carries the corporate banner.
However, if you go back to the origin of flagship, the term seems even more appropriate to Kawasaki since KHI builds ships and other large-scale marine products. According to Dictionary.com, the first definition of flagship is “a ship carrying the flag officer or the commander of a fleet, squadron, or the like, and displaying the officer’s flag.” (Consider why Yamaha made such a big deal about Valentino Rossi being integrally involved in the testing of the new R1 and even featuring photos of him riding the R1 in his signature helmet and leathers.) Once you dig down beyond the definitions directly associated with ships/planes and passenger companies, flagship means ”the best or most important one of a group or system.”
As I sat through the keynote speech by KMC COO Richard Beattie and the physical unveiling of the H2, I noodled over why the company had gone to the expense of gathering so many company officials and press members to an exceptionally impressive location. Why would Kawasaki provide traditional Japanese entertainment in the form of Taiko Drummers and a Shodo Calligraphy demonstration followed by food from a world-class Japanese chef and reveal essentially no new information other than seeing the H2 in the flesh and another promotional video.
As the evening wound down and I continued to puzzle over how nothing new had been revealed, it hit me that what Kawasaki was promoting (other than bringing general media into the loop about the top-of-the-line Ninjas) was shown in the opening video for the event, which was appropriately entitled the KHI Company Kickstart video.
The answer had been present in many of the previously released videos: The H2 is all about showing how the synergies amongst KHI’s many companies can create products that no other company can. Oh, and they built what looks to be a pair of kick-ass motorcycles. If you’re wondering why now, how does in celebration of the Ninja’s 30th anniversary strike you? This summer Kawasaki announced the 30th anniversary of the machine that essentially created the sportbike market, the Ninja 900, through the unveiling of the 2015 30th Anniversary Ninja ZX-6R, ZX-6R ABS, ZX-10R, and ZX-14R. The only thing that Kawasaki could do to outdo those special editions of those already formidable anniversary models was create a bike that could, from what we can only surmise from spec sheets, beat the ZX-14 at it’s own game of raw acceleration, in addition to being a bike that is quicker (because of the fatter, supercharger-enhanced torque curve) but not faster (because of the assumed, self-imposed top-speed restrictions), a little bit lighter, better handling and cutting edge in every way possible (rider adjustable engine braking, launch control, traction control, and intelligent ABS that alters the ABS function based on engine dynamics and lean angle on top of just the traditional wheel speed).
Other manufacturers also use anniversaries to release special motorcycles and make broad statements about what motorcycling means to their company. (BMW’s Munich unveiling and worldwide release of the nineT had a similar feel.) Kawasaki’s previews of the H2 have focused largely on the technology – but Kawasaki is a technology company. Still, the press kit speaks of a passion for riding in a way that even an Italian manufacturer can relate to: “Neither practical tool nor race machine, the Ninja H2 was created purely to offer the joy that comes from deftly controlling a motorcycle and expertly tracing an elegant line.”
As you would expect from a technology company, the overall tone is one of form following function, whether it be the aerodynamic wings on the H2R or the blades of the supercharger’s impeller that – despite spinning at up to 130,000 rpm, being capable of pumping 44 gallons of air per second and increasing the atmospheric pressure by 2.4 times – doesn’t require an intercooler for air about to enter the combustion chambers.
So, while the unveiling of the H2 was short on empirical information when compared to the H2R, Beattie revealed a few little tidbits about the differences. For example, only one intake on the H2’s nose is operational while the H2R utilizes both nostrils – a difference fairly apparent from the previously released photos. The engine maps are different – file that under painfully obvious, given the drastic differences in power delivery requirements in street versus closed course environements. Oh, and the H2 has lights and a license plate, but I have to think that I – and you the reader – wasn’t the intended audience for this unveiling. I’m preaching to the choir, here. We already know tons of information about the H2.
Kawasaki was opening the eyes of the non-motorcycle press last night, showing titles like DUB Magazine, Men’s Journal, Motor Trend, Road and Track, Snob Magazine, Super Street, and The LA Times – the public that is largely unaware of this beast whose components are working their way down the production lines as this is being written. The motorcycle press was invited to simply share in the celebration, learn a little about Japanese culture, and provide one more opportunity for the H2 and H2R to be put in front of salivating enthusiasts.
As I was gathering my gear to ride home at the end of the event, I made a passing mention to Kevin Allen, Kawasaki Manager, PR + Brand Experience, of my feelings about how the H2 highlights the relationship between KMC and the other divisions of KHI, and was given such an impassioned response that I got out my recorder and asked him to repeat himself. While this statement is a little more measured and refined than his unrehearsed comment just moments before, it captures the essence:
“Kawasaki’s motorcycle and engine division utilized some of the other divisions for technology advancement with this product. While it’s not something that we can tap into on every occasion because those companies have other things that they need to produce and technology they need to develop, it demonstrates what is possible and that we have the intelligence and the know-how within our organization to tap into whenever the need arises.”
Because language is always evolving, like technology, and new ways of expressing the same old thing are constantly required, the term flagship is beginning to sound a bit dated. Instead, PR folks talk with increasing frequency of the “halo effect” a product can have over buying public’s impression of the company that designs and produces it. Again, Apple’s iPod and iPhone can act as a kind of shorthand to understanding this. I firmly believe that Kawasaki isn’t just building two impressive motorcycle models; Kawasaki is machining its halo – with the same attention to detail as the H2’s supercharger impeller blades. Fortunately, the devil will be in our right wrists.
We await with bated breath.