Within your first five minutes of a visit to a Kawasaki showroom (this past summer, your correspondent spent five months on one) you know the space is in need of a major refresh. And I’m not speaking to paint, tile or light fixtures; rather, it’s the hardware in almost desperate need of a reboot, with virtually everything but Kawasaki’s new Mule UTV looking a little out-of-date – or out of step. Kawasaki, to be sure, isn’t alone. With the economic downturn, much of Japan, Inc.’s 20-something male demographic simply went away or went back home, often to parents not inclined to let the boys bring their toys. Into this not-quite-vintage emporium Kawasaki will launch its Ninja H2R, a grab-your-*ss shot at anybody and everybody building motorcycles in the superbike segment.
The tag ‘H2’, of course, has been used before. Nixon was in office, Watergate simply a mixed-use development, and emission control still in its infancy when Kawasaki introduced a 2-stroke, 750cc triple. This bike came immediately after Kawasaki’s 500cc H1 Mach III, intended as an ‘impolite gesture’ to the dominant machines of the era and Honda’s still-fresh 750 four. The H2, when compared to its ½-liter predecessor, was simply more of the same: an outrageous display of power, the subtlety of an exploding hand grenade, and a chassis dynamic that was anything but dynamic; it was, instead, a bloody handful. But like Blower Bentleys, Flathead Fords and George Herman Ruth, there’s something intrinsically attractive when awesome power is packaged within an almost fragile veneer; that, then, was the early H2.
This H2R, which draws its alphanumeric name (but little else) from the race version of the earlier, 2-stroke 750, is built around a 998cc inline four. Equipped with a supercharger, Kawasaki claims an output ‘in the region of’ 300 horsepower; this, of course, comfortably exceeds the power available to the owner of Kawasaki’s ZX-14 (something under 200) or Suzuki’s vaunted Hayabusa, and closely matches that of a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger V6. Admittedly, those are base model ponycars, but with curb weights roughly 10 times that of what we’ll project the H2R to weigh. The supercharger allows the engine to remain more compact than one normally aspirated but with a bigger displacement. And despite the Ninja’s ‘R’ designation, we would expect a production, streetable version to be available to the unwashed – albeit credit-worthy – masses in the not-too-distant future.
Kawasaki is justifiably proud of the amount of engineering work done within its own corporate house. The blower was designed with the assistance of other companies within Kawasaki Heavy Industries ‘zip’ code, including the Gas Turbine & Machinery Company, Kawasaki Aerospace and Kawasaki’s Corporate Technology Division. Keeping it in-house helps match the engine’s power dynamic to that of the supercharger, while providing something to do for all the men and women wearing the white lab jackets.
Unlike the design ethos of forty years ago, the Ninja chassis is designed to actually provide stability at the speeds which today’s Ninja H2R is capable. And while a long wheelbase is typically a starting point for that stability, Kawasaki’s engineering team wanted a compact footprint for the sharper handling necessary in race environments. With that, Kawasaki engineered a new trellis frame, providing – and we’re quoting here – “the strength to harness the …power of the supercharged engine, and balanced flex to help stability for high-speed competition riding.” Those riders surviving the H2 of 1972 will be amazed.
Since styling from Japanese companies inevitably needs a tag, Kawasaki has dubbed the H2R’s styling concept Intense Force Design. While subjective, we think Kawasaki’s descriptive of the design as offering a ‘functional beauty’ is spot-on. And that ‘s good; having neither the skill or inclination to actually pilot the H2R in anger – and feeling rather silly simply taking it for a spin – I’d rather park it in my living room, enjoying its functional beauty over a beer or bottle of wine…
We, along with thousands of others, think the H2R announcement represents a sea change for Kawasaki and its dealer network, especially if it portends a host of new intros over the next few model years. At present, no pricing for the H2R or its street-based stablemate has been suggested; nor has the availability of Kawasaki’s zero percent financing been mentioned.