Best Naked Motorcycle of 2020: Kawasaki Z H2

Best Naked Motorcycle of 2020 winner Kawasaki Z H2

Perhaps it’s time to change the category’s name since both bikes mentioned here surely classify as hyper-nakeds. With both of these bikes, you get big, burly engines mounted to aggressively styled chassis. For riders who believe that too much of everything is just enough, 2020 is the year for you in naked motorcycles. To our eyes, the Kawasaki Z H2 embodies the best of this category and achieves it through a unique powerplant, making it worthy of the Best Naked Motorcycle MOBO. When we have one in the MO Garage Complex, the boys are always fighting over it. Here’s why:

First, you take a modern 998 cc DOHC four-valve per cylinder inline-Four, which produces plenty of power for your typical naked bike, and then Kawasaki ups the ante in the form of a 69mm planetary gear driven supercharger impeller that is, thanks to five-axis CNC machining, sculpted out of a single chunk of forged aluminum. This impeller, with six blades at its tip and 12 blades at its base, is so efficient that, like all members of the H2 family, the Z doesn’t need an intercooler. The result is a claimed 197 hp of arm-stretching power. Still, as much as the Z H2 delivers mind-altering top-end acceleration, the beauty of the machine is that it is equally happy trolling around town at less threatening engine speeds. However, the chirping you hear from the supercharger on deceleration is a constant reminder at what power is available at any rpm – with just the twist of the wrist.

2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Review – First Ride

But be forewarned, when you pull the Z H2’s tail it does everything short of taking flight. Fortunately, it has the five-axis electronics package to keep it’s front end within reach of the ground while the wheelie control prevents things from getting totally out of hand. The Nissin master cylinder pairs with a set of Brembo M4.32 radial-mount calipers for braking power commensurate with the Z H2’s ability to generate speed. The suspension, an equally capable Showa SFF-BP Fork and Showa Gas-Charged Shock,  does its job without being flashy about it.

Out on the open road, the Z H2 easily settles into whatever task you ask from it. It’s comfortable and controllable in the urban canyons as you make your way to the freeway. Once the city is well out of your rearview mirrors, the Z is as amiable as any other fire-breathing 1000cc inline Four, happily playing point-and-shoot between corners. However, if you find yourself on a long, straight deserted highway, we won’t blame you if you can’t resist the urge to tuck yourself down behind that minimal bodywork and allow the supercharger to force-feed the engine and treat you to mind-bending acceleration.

With all this performance on tap, perhaps the most exciting feature of the Kawasaki Z H2 is the MSRP. Starting at $17,500, the Z H2 is $6,500 less than the runner-up Ducati Streetfighter V4S ($2,500 less than the base model). For these reasons, and more, the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 is the Motorcycle.com Best Naked Motorcycle of 2020.


Best Naked Motorcycle of 2020 Runner-Up: Ducati Streetfighter V4

Best Naked Motorcycle of 2020 runner-up Ducati Streetfighter V4

While I understand the case for the Kawasaki taking top spot in this category, I pushed hard for the Ducati Streetfighter V4 to be the winner. No, it doesn’t have a supercharger, but this bike absolutely took my breath away, similar to how the Z H2 took Evans’ and John’s. As I described in my review, it is simply relentless. The revs on the 1103cc V4 climb so fast, and the subsequent return of speed comes at you so quickly. It’s everything you can do to mentally process the world, and this motorcycle, and react appropriately. It’s a task you can’t maintain for long as it’s so consuming. And that’s what makes the Streetfighter V4 exhilarating.

2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4S Review – First Ride

I think you should consider the Ducati the co-winner instead of the runner-up, but I suppose contests and competitions don’t exactly work like that. In case you didn’t know, the Panigale V4 on which the Streetfighter is based, has been heavily criticized by owners and critics around the world, including us, as being so track focused. On the street, it simply wasn’t a very enjoyable bike to ride. The power and character from the engine was never in doubt, though its biggest fatal flaw continues to be the enormous amount of heat it spits out to the rider, forcing them to avoid stopping at all costs to get any wind flow possible to move the heat away.

With the Streetfighter V4, heat simply isn’t an issue. That’s a remarkable thing to say considering the lack of bodywork compared to the Panigale V4 would have you assume engine heat would radiate directly to the rider – but it doesn’t. One clever trick Ducati employed was to deactivate the rear cylinders when the bike comes to a stop.

Beyond Ducati’s ability to tame the heat, the Streetfighter continues to impress with its (dare I say) mild manners during regular street riding. We all knew this thing would be a beast when fully cracked open, but usually motorcycles built to be wild animals remain so even during the boring bits of riding when you don’t want them to be. Not the Streetfighter. Ducati have somehow managed to make this machine into a bike one could conceivably commute on during the week, and destroy their local canyon road or trackday on the weekend. It’s simply incredible.

Alas, every competition needs a winner and a loser. And by the narrowest of margins, the Streetfighter V4 came in second place. But it surely wasn’t for a lack of trying.


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