Motorcycle Test By Adam Child ‘Chad’
Photography by Simon Lee
Kawasaki’s Z H2, a supercharged 998cc inline four producing 197bhp and 137 Nm. However, despite its amazing, match-winning engine output, the Z H2 is anything but a race bike, and hides a split personality. This ridiculously aggressive H2 can be as docile as the friendly old dog that frequents the local streets, but with a snap of the throttle, will turn around and bite your leg.
Love the chirp
The impeller on the Z H2 is smaller than the H2’s, but it’s sill spinning very quickly (with a 9.2 ratio impeller-to-crank speed), quickly enough to break the sound barrier and create a brilliant chirping sound. This occurs from around 6000 rpm and upwards, even at standstill, and is most noticeable when you close the throttle at high rpm.
While every other major manufacturer seems to increase capacity in search of extra power, Kawasaki has opted for a different and highly addictive alternative, a supercharger.
Kawasaki’s first supercharged bike, the H2 (and H2R) launched in Qatar back in 2015, was a colossal 220 hp statement of intent – I know because I was one of the first outside Kawasaki to ride it.
The H2 was then refined, calmed and re-shaped as the H2 SX, a sports-touring mile muncher, which despite its sleek bodywork, shares many similarities with the new naked Z H2.
The Z H2 uses the SX’s 69 mm diameter ‘balanced’ supercharger impeller to help deliver a huge vat of mid-range torque and low to mid-range power. Don’t be fooled; they haven’t added too much water to a quality Scottish malt, this Z H2 will double the length of your arms with a half-twist of the throttle.
That 197 hp peak figure is just 3 hp shy of Kawasaki’s benchmark superbike, the ZX-10R, while its peak torque, delivered at 8500 rpm, 1000 rpm earlier than the H2 SX, is 137 Nm versus 115 Nm for the ZX-10R sportsbike. The result is instant thrust that’s hard to keep up with at first. The rear tyre finds plenty of grip thanks to sophisticated electronics, so you just sit back and wait for the bike to try and rip your arms from their sockets.
But there is that flip side. Flick into one of the softer rider modes and the angry tiger transforms into a lazy house cat. The throttle response is smoother than an Italian waiter’s chat-up lines. Even a relatively new rider could jump on the Z H2, ride to the shops and back and never feel intimidated. The original H2 was a little sharp on the throttle, but, as with the H2 SX, that has been ironed out with the Z H2.
Rider aids and electronics
Obviously power is nothing without control, and Kawasaki has delivered. There are four rider modes – Sport, Road Rain, and a specific Rider mode which lets you pick and mix the rider aids and settings to your personal taste.
You can even turn off the traction control of you’re brave enough. The pre-programmed rider modes change the engine power, its character and traction control intervention. The rider aids are changeable on the move, and everything is clearly displayed on the latest TFT full-colour dash.
The electronics are excellent, sophisticated and hard working – they have to be on a bike that will try and lift the front wheel in the first three gears. But the intervention is smooth not dramatic; not a power cut but a control.
In addition to the conventional riders aids, the Z H2 has launch control, cruise control, cornering ABS and an up/down quickshifter. The only negative aspect is the new switchgear, which takes a little getting used to.
The ingredients are all there: Showa 43 mm SFF Big Piston forks, which are fully adjustable, a single Showa rear shock, now connected to a double-sided swing-arm not a single-sided unit like its supercharged siblings. Brakes are impressive Brembo M4.32 monobloc items.
Kawasaki stresses this isn’t a track bike, On the road the handling is impressive, stable and predictable. The weight is noticeable, you can’t throw it around like a conventional lightweight naked, but it’s not bad. On the road, even at a brisk pace, I had few complaints, while the Rosso 3s gave great feedback at knee-down levels of lean. On the track I’d want to play with the suspension to get the right set up, but for 90% of the time the ‘showroom’ set up works.
It’s just fun
Like a ZZR1400 or Suzuki Hayabusa, it’s almost impossible to ride slowly and legally, it’s so much fun. It has bucket loads of torque, but you can’t help but dance on the quickshifter to get the supercharger spinning again, which results in eyeball popping acceleration. Crack the throttle in second gear and 100 mph passes all too easily. You have been warned.
Let’s not mention the weight: At a claimed 236 kg the Z H2 isn’t a featherweight, but in Kawasaki’s defence it was never described or intended as such. On track, there are lighter, sportier super-nakeds with less power that would certainly show the Kawasaki a clean pair of heels if the track was twisty enough.
However, despite the on-paper weight, the Z H2 carries it well, the suspension copes quite reasonable, and the extra kilos do add some stability and a sense of reassurance. The only downside is the bike’s physical girth; it’s noticeably wide around the fuel tank, which is a constant reminder of the weight of the bike.
Looks are subject to interpretation, but juding by social medi reactions the fan club for the Z H2’s styling is small. I wouldn’t describe the Kawasaki as ugly, but it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s taste.
I like some aspects of the bike, the non-symmetrical face and huge air-duct on one side of the headlight in particular.
The trellis frame not only keeps the motor cool but looks attractive, the clocks are clear and the Brembo M4.32 calipers add an air of quality.
The Z H2, like all recent bikes from Kawasaki, does have a feeling of quality. But I’m unsure about the look of the front end, the verdict is still out. What do you think?
At $23,000 in Australia, the Z H2 is quite aggressively priced in comparison to international markets. In the UK this bike costs the equivalent of $30,000 AUD.
Ducati’s larger 1200cc V4 Streetfighter is a lot more expensive, does have a little more power but less torque.
The downside to the Supercharged Zed is its running costs. Rear tyres don’t last long if you like to play a little. Then there is the fuel consumption; get the supercharger spinning and it will drink quicker than Trev at a press launch.
The limitation isn’t the engine but how strong your arms are. I can see the Z H2 appealing to Suzuki Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZZR1400 owners, a modern B-King for 2020 perhaps.
It’s refined, riddled in the latest rider aids, and the supercharger is very addictive.
Running costs are going to be high, but if you want something fuel efficient buy a Honda C-90.
If you can live with the looks, you’ve got one of the fastest accelerating bikes on the road.
Kawasaki Z H2 Review Specifications
Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke In-Line Four
Bore x Stroke
76 mm x 55 mm
DOHC 16 valve
6-speed, Return, Dog-ring
Suspension – front
Showa SFF-BP forks.
Suspension – rear
New Uni Trak, Showa shock
Wheel travel – f/r
120 mm / 134 mm
Brakes – front
Dual 320 mm Discs
Brakes – rear
Single 260 mm Disc
Wheel Size Front/Rear
17M/C x MT3.50 / 17M/C x MT6.00
Tyre Size Front/Rear
120/70ZR17 M/C 58W / 190/55ZR17 M/C 75W
L x W x H
2,085 mm x 810 mm x 1,130 mm
147.1 kW (197 hp) @ 11,000 min
137.0 N.m (14.0 kgfm) / 8,500 min
Metallic Spark Black with Metallic Graphite Gray and Mirror Coated Spark Black
Yorkshire born Adam Child, or Chad as he’s known in the industry, is a multiple UK record holder, former MCN senior road tester and has been professionally bike testing for 20-years.Chad has attended more than 350 bike launches, covering over a million road test miles, he is also an international road racer, with race wins at Oliver's Mount, podiums in New Zealand and two top ten Isle of Man TT finishes.Chad is just as happy elbow-down on a race track, kicking up mud off road, or restoring classic bikes. Chad launched his own company, Chad76Media in 2019, and you can follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram.
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