Kawasaki drops some clothes and shows off its supercharger.
By Abhi Eswarappa
“We don’t make lawnmowers, and we’re not very good at pianos. What we excel at is engineering.” Martin Lambert is Kawasaki Europe’s PR Manager, and he’s not mincing words as throws some shade at Honda and Yamaha. Now, those companies make some mighty fine motorcycles, but Kawasaki’s got something that no one else has chosen to match: a supercharger.
Kawasaki brought Cycle News and four other U.S. publications to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to show off the newest member of its supercharged H2 family—not because they expect many people to track these bikes, they just want to save all of us from getting thrown in jail.
LVMS is right next to Nellis Air Force Base, so we’re getting buzzed by an assortment of fighter planes and cargo jets. Normally I’d be staring up at the sky, mouth agape, but right now my attention is focused straight ahead as the digital speedometer on my Kawasaki Z H2 surges past 150 mph.
The supercharged 998cc inline-four engine is producing 197 horsepower at 10,500 rpm and the shift light starts flashing in my peripheral vision so I flick the quickshifter up into sixth. The speed keeps climbing as I briefly see 165 before I run out of straightaway. Jesus, this thing is fast. And with no wind protection, it’s very visceral, too.
VIDEO | 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Review
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Review | Joining The Family
The Z H2’s performance is surprising, but its existence is not. The Z H2’s Project Manager (Koji Ito) himself says that “this is one of the most predicted motorcycles we’ve ever built.” Many riders have expected this since 2015, when Kawasaki initially shocked the motorcycling public with the supercharged production engine in the H2/H2R. Three years later, they released the sport-touring H2 SX SE, and now naked-bike enthusiasts can rejoice.
Even though many motorcyclists have seen the Z H2 coming, we asked Ito what he thought would surprise riders about it. His response was simple: “this isn’t just an H2 without a fairing.” Kawasaki believed that simply taking the bodywork off would still leave a bike with a performance envelope that would only be interesting to a very narrow customer base. So, while the engine internals are the same, there are serious changes to almost everything surrounding the motor.
Kawasaki has made more changes than you may expect in its quest to give the Z H2 a street focus. The steel trellis frame is all-new, tuned more for low- and mid-speed handling than outright top speed as in the H2, or luggage capacity as in the H2 SX SE. This behavior is paired with a slight increase in rake compared to the H2 (24.9 vs. 24.5 degrees).
The swingarm is also different. Gone is the single-sided unit found across the rest of the H2 lineup, and it’s replaced with a ZX-10R-style swingarm that flanks both sides of the rear wheel. It’s stronger, lighter and it’s cheaper, too—more on that later.
In addition, the intake and exhaust are model-specific, and the fueling map and final drive gearing were revised to emphasize the low- and mid-speed focus. These revisions mean that peak torque is achieved 1000 rpm lower than on the SX. The motor is just as powerful, but the lack of wind protection makes the experience a bit more dramatic.
Even with all of that, the most significant difference is the price. The H2 costs $29,000. The H2 SX SE will set you back $25,000. But the Z H2 is by far the cheapest way to get yourself a production supercharged motorcycle, as it costs “just” $17,000. That’s not cheap, but it’s a bargain compared to any other ~200-horsepower naked sportbike.
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Review | H2 vs. Z H2
The result is a motorcycle that’s much more forgiving than you might expect. Ito-san calls it “friendly,” which sounds like a stretch for a supercharged supernaked that makes 197 hp/101 ft.-lbs. of torque and weighs 527 pounds, but he’s not wrong. When it comes to these power figures, tractability is much more important than an additional horsepower or two. The Z H2 delivers on that front thanks to good fueling (despite a tiny hiccup when you’re closing the throttle) and a suite of electronics with a laundry list of acronyms: KTRC, KCMF, KIBS, KLCM, KQS, KECC. Simply put, that alphabet soup lets you know that a Bosch IMU is managing traction, braking, launch control and even how high you’re allowed to wheelie to ensure that you’re not overwhelmed by the power unless you absolutely want to be.
The Z H2 is fast in a deceptive way—oftentimes you won’t realize how fast you’re actually going until you look down at the gauges. Part of this is due to the supercharger, which gives you V-Twin torque to complement the expected inline-four top end. Note that the 998cc Z H2 makes 101 ft.-lbs. at 8500 rpm, while a KTM 1290 Super Duke R needs much more displacement to make 103 ft.-lbs. at 8000 rpm. The Ducati Streetfighter V4 (1103cc) 90 ft.-lbs. and you’ll have to rev up to 11,500 to access it. The Z H2’s engine is a stunner, and it’s ruined other inline-fours for me.
With that said, this is a big motorcycle: 527 pounds curb weight, 32.7-inch seat height, 5-gallon fuel tank—there’s minimal bodywork but this is not a minimalist bike. That applies to the components and the electronics, as well.
Brembo is assigned most of the braking duties: two radially-mounted four-piston calipers biting on a pair of 290mm discs up front and a two-piston caliper paired with a 260mm disc in the rear. Another concession to price is a Nissin master cylinder, but the braking performance doesn’t seem to suffer. Kawasaki put a chicane into the NASCAR oval at LVMS for multiple sessions, giving us the opportunity to brake from 160 mph to 30 mph repeatedly—the Nissin/Brembo combination was strong, predictable and fade-free throughout. The electronic aids ensure that you can apply full braking pressure without any thought to modulation and the Z H2 will confidently rein you in with minimal rear-wheel lift.
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Review | The Running Gear
Showa handles the suspension with SFF-BP (separate fork function, big piston) inverted forks and a monoshock that felt well-matched to my 200-pound frame. Kawasaki engineers added 2 clicks of preload to the front and 1 on the rear for our time on the track—annoyingly at this price point, there’s no remote adjuster for the rear, so you’ll have to bust out your tools if you want to do the same. And it was fine in all situations except when 700+ pounds of bike and rider were compressing into 20 degrees of banking at triple-digit speeds. I don’t have an issue with this, as I don’t think many Z H2 riders will be putting their bikes in that situation.
What they will be doing is covering lots of street miles, and I can confidently state that’s where the Z H2 excels thanks to a half-day ride out to Valley of Fire State Park and back. The (more expensive) competition may have stiffer suspensions, lighter curb weights and lower lap times at the track, but Kawasaki has done a tremendous job building a motorcycle for the street—a bike this fast should not be this easy to ride. When you’re taking it slow, the Z H2 is calm to the point that you could easily forget what it is capable of. I’m 6’2” and felt the ergonomics were comfortable, though I would have appreciated slightly lower pegs.
As a motorcycle that’s fun to ride, the Z H2 is tremendous. But the styling is somehow simultaneously a bit bland and a bit ugly for a flagship bike that Kawasaki says they want to steal business from the Europeans with. Team Green’s trademark Sugomi styling doesn’t work for me here, and the U.S. only gets one colorway option: a green frame with varying shades of grey/black bodywork. The rear looks much better than the front—good thing that’s what most people will be seeing when you’re on the boost, anyway.
Besides, you won’t be worried about the style when you’re behind the bars. You’ll be too busy admiring how well the Z H2 works. With the Streetfighter V4, 1290 Super Duke R, and even the MV Agusta Brutale 1000, 2020 is going to be a very good year for people that like to go fast on naked bikes. But only one of them has a supercharger. CN
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Review | Rideology Mobile App
Flying around the oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there were times when I was wondering how fast I was going but not able to look away from the track for fear of missing my braking marker. Thankfully, Kawasaki offers a mobile app called Rideology, which keeps track of your speed and a whole lot more.
Pair your phone to your bike via Bluetooth and you’ll have access to vehicle information such as the fuel level, odometer reading and maintenance schedule. You can also select your desired riding mode or set the traction-control level/power output of the customizable Rider mode.
Whether you’re on the street or the track, just tell your bike when you’re starting and stopping your ride. Along the way, the app tracks an impressive amount of real-time information: speed, selected gear, rpm, miles per gallon, brake pressure, boost pressure, throttle percentage… there’s lots to explore!
GPS tracking was all over the place on my phone and the app crashed several times, but it was exciting to review the data from our laps on the NASCAR oval. Whether you want to look back at your maximum lean angle or just see how much fuel is in the tank so you’ll know if you have to stop at a gas station on your way to work in the morning, Rideology has you covered.CN
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, supercharged, four-stroke, four-cylinder
|Bore x stroke:
||76 x 55mm
||Wet multi-disc, manual
||Trellis, high-tensile steel
||Showa SFF-BP Fork with adjustable compression and rebound damping, spring preload adjustability
||Uni-Trak, Showa gas-charged shock with adjustable compression and rebound damping, preload adjustability
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
||Dual semi-floating 320mm discs w/radial-mount Brembo M4.32 4-piston calipers
||260mm disc with 2-piston caliper
||Pirelli Diablo Rosso III, 120/70 R17
||Pirelli Diablo Rosso III, 190/55 R17
|Steering head angle:
|Weight (curb, claimed):
||Metallic Diablo Black/Metallic Graphite Gray/Mirror Coated Spark Black