2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE : More Than We Need, All That We Want

Text: Jesse Kiser • Photography: Kevin Wing

In 1972, Kawasaki set the pace for performance when it introduced the H2, a 750cc, 60-hp, two-stroke bullet that notoriously earned its “Widow Maker” nickname. The age of the Hyperbike is still upon us, and Kawasaki’s new H2 touring motorcycle, based on that simple ’70s two-stroke, hits the highways with 200 hp, saddlebags, a supercharger, electronic launch control, a quick shifter, and a ,000 price tag.

The Ninja H2 SX lives up its H2 name as an outrageous performer, but gone are those dangerous days of its predecessor’s unruly suspension and lackluster brakes. Instead, Kawasaki has given us a well-mannered, classy motorcycle, with a relaxed street character, but intense acceleration at almost any rpm.

Three Little Ninjas: H2R, H2, H2SX

Three years ago, Kawasaki engineers decided the H2 should return to form again as the fastest production motorcycle ever, the Ninja H2R, when they designed the hyper-efficient supercharger, the Ninja’s secret sauce. Supercharger companies had claimed it couldn’t be built. So, engineers turned in-house to the Kawasaki Gas Turbine and Aerospace Technology divisions to manufacture it. 

The next year, the engineers decided to make it street legal. Enter the H2, scrubbed of 100 hp but $ 25,000 cheaper. After that, Kawasaki wanted one that could be ridden every day. And now we have the H2 SX ready to take its place on the podium. 

“It’s a balanced supercharged engine,” said Product Manager Croft Long, “balanced between acceleration and fuel economy (it’s roughly estimated to get close to 200 miles from the 4.5-gallon tank).” The Ninja H2 SX is also more durable—a Ninja H2R service manual requests a complete engine overhaul at 15,000 miles—and features a one-year warranty. This new motorcycle is built as a touring hyperbike with a new engine, chassis, ergonomics, and bodywork—sharing a limited number of parts with its brothers. 

Engine 

Inline-four cylinders require high revs to make horsepower, and the H2 SX has a magical solution for that—a supercharger. The engineering goal was to produce a more street-friendly power curve (meaning more power lower in the rpm range), compared to the other Ninja H2s. 

The new cylinder head features revised intake and exhaust ports, and new camshafts. There’s significantly higher compression—11.2:1 over the H2’s 8.5:1—along with a redesigned, stronger piston. The more efficient combustion chamber produces less heat, so there’s only one oil jet per piston, resulting in a 300-percent reduction in the oil-pump volume.

Kawasaki accomplished its power goals, with 100 hp accessible at 6,500 rpm, and a full 200 hp at around 10,500 rpm (12,500 rpm redline). That’s significantly lower than other H2 models.

Supercharger 

The SX’s thrilling speed is accompanied by a symphony of sounds. The supercharger whistles at a steady 6,000 rpm, and chirps during aggressive downshifts—often followed by joyous giggles inside the helmet. Kawasaki engineers say this chirp is a miniature sonic boom and a very purposeful noise, as a “sound hole” was designed to accommodate it inside the air duct.

Built using a 5-axis CNC machine, the forged-aluminum propeller blade features six blades at the tip and 12 at the base. “It’s artistry in metal,” said Long. After five attempts Kawasaki engineers perfected the H2R supercharger propeller; the H2 SX took seven tries. The supercharger direct-planetary gear spins 9.2 faster than the crankshaft. Revs build directly with pressure, as does that symphony of sounds.

The engine is incredibly smooth and feels like it’s never being overworked, thanks in large part to the supercharger. I never felt that shift-me-now vibration.

Chassis 

The new, more rigid trellis frame now boosts an extra 200-pound carrying capacity (430 pounds in total), and the new wheelbase has been lengthened 30 mm, with a 15 mm longer swingarm. And to lower the center of gravity, the frame tilts the engine two degrees forward. 

Quick Shifter

The ECU-controlled, electronic, contact less quick shift allows for buttery shifts, even during normal riding. It allays the pendulum effect of bouncing helmets when two-up, too. 

How to Ride it 

The H2 SX SE features the same sophisticated electronics as Kawasaki’s other premier sportbikes, with a Bosch IMU measuring six-degrees of axis (Kawasaki adds its own 6th degree, most use five degrees). Data is collected and utilized through the Kawasaki Cornering Management Function, Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC), wheelie control, and Kawasaki Intelligent Braking, with all working together seamlessly. 

I considered the best selection to be Mode 2, with medium power and light engine braking. This allowed for mild wheelies, controlled wheel slip, and less jerk when coming off throttle. 

Mounted beside the analog tachometer is Kawasaki’s first color LCD screen, which monitors boost pressure, speed, lean angle (with your recorded maximums), tilt angle, and gear position. 

The Ride

The H2 SX SE feels surprisingly nimble at speed, but at low speeds, it’s hard to hide the weight. Unloaded curb weight is 573.3 pounds (not including bags). 

The 32.9-inch seat height and narrow, die-cast sub-frame corresponded to my 6’3 frame with an easy reach. The high-mounted footpegs are a sport bike trait, which transcends the touring aspects of the motorcycle, but the rest of the rider triangle feels relatively roomy.

It has a more upright and relaxed position than the ZX-14R, but it’s not as upright as the Ninja 1000. After roughly six hours of riding, my wrists and rear were sore, and I longed for the ergonomics of the Ninja 1000, which is targeted as more tourer than sportbike. 

SX/SX SE Pricing 

The Kawasaki H2 SX SE comes standard with a center stand, side lights (which light up according to lean angle), cruise control, grip warmers, braided brake lines, launch control, quick shifter, two-tone seat, clear-coated wheels, premium color scheme, and knee pads—all items not included on the H2 SX standard model.

The standard model Kawasaki H2 SX retails for $ 19,000. I tested the $ 22,000 H2 SX SE, with Kawasaki Accessories one-key, quick-release 28-liter saddlebags ($ 1,214.76). Price as tested, $ 23,214.76. 

Results

There are few trade-offs with the H2 SX SE, only the price and lack of long-distance touring comfort—it’s still a sportbike—but you’re going to get more motorcycle than you’d expect, or maybe need.

Looking at the competition, the 2018 Gold Wing has far better long-distance touring traits, but it’s down 100 hp, and up to 270 pounds heavier (depending on the model). The Yamaha R1 is way down on price, but also down on power, and Yamaha doesn’t offer hard saddlebags. 

A Ducati Multistrada 1260 may be a better comparison, even though, visually, they bear no resemblance other than the number of wheels. However, pricing is similar (1260 S retail, $ 20,995; 1260 S Pikes Peak Edition, $ 24,995), but the Ducati is down 50 hp. The Ducati Panigale V4 retails for $ 21,195 and has approximately 12-15 more horsepower, but that peak power is at 13,000 rpm, whereas the Kawasaki makes peak closer to 10,000 rpm and peak torque at 8,600 rpm. And the Kawasaki offers saddlebags. 

Does the industry need another bike like this? For me, I don’t care, because I want a bike just like this.