2018 Kawasaki H2SX/SE and Z900RS

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: Kawasaki

You’ve gotta hand it to Kawasaki. In the midst of a lot of industry handwringing over declining sales and questions about how to draw new riders to the fold, Kawasaki used the IMS show in NYC to double down on their bread and butter: fast bikes. They had four new models to show (Ninja 400, ZX-10R SE, Z900RS, and H2 SX SE) but we’ll focus on the machines most suitable for a weeklong getaway.

Z900RS

The headliner at the Kawasaki booth (and one of the biggest stars of the entire IMS show) was the throwback Z900RS. Paying homage to the legendary Z1 from the early 1970s, the groovy two-tone paint job and teardrop tank made everyone smile, harkening back to the days when they had more hair on their heads and less in their ears.

The Z900RS has all the components of a modern standard: 948cc inline four, 41mm upside-down forks with adjustable compression/rebound, rear shock with adjustable rebound and preload, traction control, dual 300mm front discs with ABS, and cast wheels that evoke spoked wheels but look a lot easier to clean, thankfully. The bike is also loaded with neat design details sure to delight curbside oglers. The only retro-styling miss is the absence of twin rear shocks, with Kawasaki opting instead for a nearly horizon linkage layout that may work, but it makes the rear end look cantilevered and—gasp—modern! Surprisingly, this is the first Kawasaki with an acoustically tuned exhaust. Every one of the Kawasakis I’ve ridden has had a nice snarl built in.

Ninja H2 SX (SE)

If the Z900RS is the visual successor to the Z1, then the H2 SX is its performance successor. The Z1, after all, was a high-tech beast, the most powerful Japanese 4-cylinder 4-stroke when released, raced at Daytona, and breaking 24-hour endurance records. And this latest supercharged Ninja continues that tradition. Derived from the H2 superbike, the SX features a revised 998cc supercharged engine, along with a frame, bodywork, and ergonomics more suited to its street-oriented mission. Typically, this means a motor tuned for better midrange torque and ergonomics that can be measured in hours of comfort, not minutes. The 43mm inverted forks (adjustable for compression/rebound damping and preload) hold up the front, while a 40mm KYB shock (remote reservoir, high/low speed compression/rebound damping, remote preload adjuster) supports the rear. The H2 SX also features electronic cruise control and LED lighting. Of particular interest to touring fans, the optional hard panniers for the SE model, which will make the bike perfect for a really fast weekend away or a supersonic Iron Butt ride.

At the top of the SX line, the SX SE offers key additions appealing to long-distance riders: LED cornering lights, FT color dashboard, launch control, a quick shifter, steel-braided brake lines, heated grips, a larger windscreen, and a centerstand.

The Z900RS starts at $ 10,999, the Ninja H2 SX at $ 19,000, with the SE rolling off the floor at $ 22,000.