2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2 First Ride Review + Video

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Supercharged halo bike at 180 mph!

Last time I was at Auto Club Speedway, the MO crew was testing the three fastest streetfighters, and it was a rush to see speedometers creep past 160 mph on the banked front straightaway. This week I watched numbers rush past 175 mph on the same track, this time aboard the quickest-accelerating production vehicle on the planet, Kawasaki’s 2015 Ninja H2.

2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2

Editor Score: 90.0%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 12.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.5/10
Value 8.25/10
Overall Score90/100

Unique is an adjective often misused, but the supercharged H2 certainly qualifies as a proper example. This came into sharper focus when Kawi denied my request to take out a ZX-10R for a couple of laps after sampling the H2 at Auto Club Speedway. Team Green believes the H2 doesn’t compare to a 10R, despite the fact that they are both 1000cc four-cylinder sportbikes produced by the same company.

Okay, I get it when Kawi states the H2 is something different than a superbike – there is no other supercharged production motorcycle on the market. The H2’s 24.5-degree rake and 103mm trail is fairly typical for liter-size sportbikes, but its 57.3-inch wheelbase is an inch or two longer. And the 525-lb claimed curb weight (full of 3.9 gallons of fuel, about 23 lbs) puts the H2 in a different weight class.

Press materials describe the H2 as a hyperbike and “the ultimate road-going motorcycle,” not “the ultimate roadracing motorcycle.” The H2 wouldn’t be an ideal choice for a trackday, as a 10R would likely thrown down quicker lap times while liquefying less rear-tire rubber.

This ZX-10R was serving only as a camera platform. The H2’s ergos are slightly more relaxed than a 10R.

That said, it’s ceaselessly entertaining when you’re swinging the biggest club on any straightaway: (“Buh-bye, S1000RR…”) And, for the right rider, that could be all he or she needs to want to plunk down the $25k needed to purchase the H2. Don’t think of the H2 as a ZX-10 with 80 extra pounds. Best to think of it as a 160-lb lighter VMax with about 20 extra horsepower and vastly superior agility. Or a 60-lb lighter ZX-14R with far better track manners.

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And don’t think of it as overpriced, either. The relentless hype surrounding the H2 might’ve made a few of us a little jaded, but the super Ninja is truly a magnificent machine when seen in the flesh, with fit and finish levels of a lofty order. A close examination makes me think $25k might be a good value.

Two massive intakes flanking the H2’s LED headlight feed air to the supercharger mounted behind the 998cc engine’s cylinder bank. LED lighting also resides in the mirrors and tail lights.

Let’s start with the striking paint adorning the H2, which uses a layer of pure silver to create the mirrored finish over the black base coat. Kawi says it’s the first time the paint process has been used on a production motor vehicle.

Kawasaki Japan Tour

Next up is a chassis unlike any previous Kawasaki, using a trellis-style steel frame and a single-sided aluminum swingarm. The frame tubes are works of mechanical art, with laser-cut radii carefully fitting into their mates, then robotically welded before finishing welds are laid down by skilled hands in a special section of Kawi’s Akashi factory. The H2 also boasts some tasty machined nut and bolt finishes, most visible on the steering stem nut and rear hub nut.

The H2 has a bespoke instrument panel with displays for the typical (digital speedo, tripmeters, gear-position indicator, clock), plus various fuel consumption readouts, a boost indicator, intake air chamber temperature and a lap timer. The analog tach is cool, as it’s animated by backlit rpm numbers lighting up as the needle moves around the dial. Oh, and if you thought Kawi’s Economical Riding Indicator was silly to include on the ZX-14R, it’s also on the H2.
Lots of cool stuff on the H2, including new switchgear, Brembo radial-pump clutch and brake levers, an Öhlins electronic speed-sensing steering damper and a 43mm Air-Oil Separate Kayaba fork. The AOS system makes its way from motocross into the streetbike world for the first time – it’s designed for minimal friction/stiction as the fork slides through its travel. Preload, compression and rebound damping are easily adjusted on the fork caps.

The H2’s high levels of finish detailing will make its owners happy, but the true lure of this Ninja is its unique engine. A supercharger (and turbocharger) increases performance by pressurizing intake air, cramming in more oxygen molecules to allow more fuel to be injected for a bigger bang. A supercharger can be a positive-displacement type or a centrifugal unit driven directly from the engine, as opposed to a turbo which is spun by exhaust gases. The H2’s supercharger is a centrifugal type that uses a turbo-looking impeller spun by a planetary gearset driven by the crankshaft.

Discuss this at our Kawasaki Ninja H2 Forum.

When Kawasaki was developing the H2, it sent out specs to various supercharger manufacturers for bids on the project. It turns out that none believed they could do it. Eaton, which provides superchargers for Kawasaki Jet Skis, apparently said, “It’s impossible. It can’t be done.” Doing without the weight and packaging concerns of an intercooler was a big hurdle to overcome.

The supercharger is nestled between the rider’s knees. The assembled unit and its cast aluminum housing weigh less than 10 pounds.

So, Kawasaki designed the H2’s supercharger in-house, thanks partially to Kawi’s aerospace division – which is also involved in production of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, supplying carbon-fiber fuselage sections and the compressor component of the Rolls Royce engines. The impeller is a sweet piece of billet aluminum, with 12 blades precisely cut by a five-axis CNC mill. It spins at 9.2 times crank speed, so it’s turning nearly 130,000 rpm when the engine is at its 14,000-rpm rev limit. The result is intake air pressurized by 2.4 times. Just two people are dedicated to assembling the superchargers at the factory.

Heat is the enemy of any high-performance engine, and that’s especially true on a boosted one – pressurizing anything creates heat, and performance falls off as intake temps rise. Intercoolers are typically used to shed excess heat, but they require extra space a compact sportbike doesn’t have. The H2’s centrifugal charger design is said to be very efficient, so less heat is generated, but the engine still required many upgrades to handle higher temps.

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An aluminum airbox is able to handle the boosted pressure while also drawing out heat. The engine’s water jackets extend to areas not typically cooled, such as between the valve seats, spark-plug holes and exhaust ports. Exhaust valves are made mostly of Inconel, an exotic, heat-tolerating metal. Its radiator is said to flow 1.5 times the air of a normal rad, and it’s augmented by a liquid-cooled oil cooler flowing the engine’s 1.3 gallons of oil, 35% more than a typical liter-class engine.

A cast-aluminum subframe supports the tailsection. Nice finish detailing on the rear wheel with machined highlights. A detail you can’t see is the knurling on the inside of the rear wheel to prevent the tire slipping from the supercharged torque.

This special engine has a few other notable features. One is a patent-pending design that sees the upper injectors spray fuel onto stainless steel nets positioned over the intake funnels. This is said to create a more uniform fuel-air mixture as the fuel is sucked into the intake funnels while also promoting fuel misting, which helps to cool the intake air and increases efficiency.

The H2’s transmission is also exceptional, using dog-ring gears as employed in MotoGP and F1. Typical moto gearboxes use shift forks to slide gears into new positions, but all gears stay in place in a dog-ring tranny – only the dog rings move as they slide into position to engage the next gear. This design reduces weight of the moving parts and delivers lighter shift effort. The H2’s trick tranny is bolstered by Kawasaki’s first use of a quickshifter for clutchless upshifts but without an auto-blip downshift function like the latest Panigale and BMW S1000RR. .

So, how much power does this thing have? Kawi claims 200 PS (197.2hp) at 11,000 rpm and 133.5 Nm (98.5 lb-ft) at 10,500 when rated at its crankshaft. Big numbers, but not any bigger than those claimed by Ducati for its new 1299 Panigale: 205 hp and 106 lb-ft.

There’s nearly 200 horses being delivered to the ground by the H2.

We think Kawi’s numbers are quite pessimistic. Our friend Brock Davidson at Brock’s Performance recently tested an H2 on his dyno, logging peaks of 194 hp and 96 lb-ft. of torque at its rear wheel. Lopping 10% off Ducati’s figures to convert crank hp to rear-wheel hp would translate to about 184 hp and 96 lb-ft., which can’t quite measure up to the 287cc-smaller H2.

The Ride

The H2 is an intimidating machine, and not just because it will be the second-most powerful motorcycle I’ve ever sampled. It’s also the one and only H2 Kawasaki Motor Corp. owns – the other motojournos waiting for their shot at this rare animal would lynch me if I crashed it.

It feels slimmer than it appears, and there’s less of a reach to the bars than a ZX-10R. A 32.5-inch seat height keeps me on my toes. Fired up, it sounds indistinguishable from a 10R. I head out and note an unmistakable chunky feeling relative to a normal literbike. Also heavy is the power on tap, pulling supernaturally – even in the midrange – like a bigger engine.

In corners, it’s best to carry a gear high and rely on supercharged torque to carry you out rather than dealing with abrupt throttle response at high revs. In the simplest terms, the H2 steers like a heavy ZX-10R or a very light ZX-14R, although there’s a lot more to the equation than just mass.

A normally aspirated engine tends to be predictable, but there’s always a bit of uncertainty with a boosted one. The H2’s throttle response feels almost normal when revs are in the bottom half of the tach, just responding with more grunt than expected. As revs rise toward the top end, response feels progressively less linear, and throttle reapplication can be sharp.

Despite an alphabet-soup’s worth of electronic rider aids, the H2 is exhausting to hustle around a racetrack. It requires a strong push at the bars to make quick steering transitions, its high-rpm throttle abruptness kept this rider nervous, and braking zones were difficult to divine – and became longer – after experiencing the H2’s intense acceleration, so it’s both mentally and physically draining and near the bottom of bikes I’d want to endurance race.

Pointed at a straightaway is where the H2 does exactly what you’d want from a supercharged literbike, inhaling asphalt at a rate unprecedented for a production vehicle. Most impressive was the long run onto the banking between the oval track’s turns 4 and 1, where the H2’s acceleration never relented. Its accelerative force at 150 mph seemed about equal to a ZX-10R traveling 30 mph slower. After getting a particularly strong exit onto the straight, I glanced down at the speedometer as I neared my braking marker and nearly soiled myself as I saw 177, 178. Yup, f-f-f-fast!

Pushing past 170 mph … The rear of the seat uses adjustable hip-supporting padding that helps keep the rider from becoming detached from the H2 under acceleration.

Scrubbing big speed is handled by a pair of Brembo’s stellar M50 monoblock calipers clamping large 330mm front discs. This is a setup similar to the Ducati 1299’s, but they don’t seem as impressive on the Kawi. Initial bite is weaker, and a Brembo rep told me the H2 uses HG pads compared to the HH pads in the Ducati. Also, the Ducati has about 100 lbs less weight to slow down.

Varying levels of engine/braking effect can be set via Kawasaki Engine Brake Control (KEBC), and the H2 also has rider-adjustable antilock braking. KTRC traction control is a welcome feature on a bike with as much twist as this. There are three levels of TC, and within each, three more levels for a total of nine. Mode 3 is for wet pavement, mode 2 is for dry roads, while mode 1 is for use on a racetrack.

It was interesting to feel the difference between the positions of TC mode 1. The neutral/middle position allowed decent wheelies, while the + setting kept the front tire earthbound.

I also gave the launch-control mode a test. KLCM gives riders a choice of three modes, each allowing a rider to launch from a stop with the throttle held wide open, with revs being held at a predetermined level. I’m not even sure which mode I was in when I launched, but the system worked flawlessly. With its help and the quickshifter, I bet mid-to-low 9-second runs are totally doable. And I want to find out! .

Riding Kawasaki’s Supercharged Ninja H2/H2R: Rickey Gadson Interview + Video

After just two sessions aboard the H2, I’m salivating for more time on this truly unique sportbike. Its $25k MSRP is in no way overpriced for something this special and this fast. It will go down in history as a landmark motorcycle – as Kawasaki intended.

“It’s the McLaren F1 of motorcycles,” said Alex Dell, Kawi’s Senior Product Quality & Evaluation Specialist. ”It just moves the soul. It’s an amazing machine.” And that’s not just empty words from a shill. Dell has purchased an H2 for himself.

+ Highs

  • Mega motor
  • Uniquely fantastic
  • Lovely finish details

– Sighs

  • Kinda bulky
  • Snatchy throttle response at high revs
  • No autobahn nearby
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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2 of 23 comments
  • Meaty Midrange Meaty Midrange on May 15, 2015

    When all the hoo-rah about the bike first hit I wondered if it was just really good marketing hype.Seeing it at AIM and then the Progressive show removed any doubt. This is the bike most of us will regret not buying. The only other bike that's hit that note for me was the 916.

  • Tom Tam Tom Tam on Aug 13, 2020

    I agree with Oren, It's most likely bugatti of motorcycles. Big, heavy and fast on straight just like Veyron.