Need horsepower? Need speed? Here are two bikes brand new for this year that fit the bill perfectly, Kawasaki’s manic supercharged Z H2 and the very long-awaited Ducati Streetfighter V4 S.
Photography by Kit Palmer
The year 2020 will go down as one of the suckiest, crappiest years in history. Not since the second World War has there been such universal panic and fear, perpetuated by global mainstream media that feeds off the despair and spews bad news forth at a record rate, rather than focusing on something that could brighten your day.
We need motorcycles now more than ever. Motorcycles are a source of joy, your own social distancing vehicles, and when you take out the global pandemic affecting our everyday lives, 2020 has actually been a great year for riding new and very, very fast motorcycles.
A couple of weeks back, we threw a leg over the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S—a machine I must put my hands up and admit I knew I would love; I was just surprised by how much I did. This is a barnstorming bike from Bologna, instantly my favorite Ducati, even ahead of the staggering V4 R.
However, over in the East, the Kawasaki Heavy Industry crew were not sitting on their laurels. Far from it. With hearts full of supercharged zest, the Japanese have launched the fourth motorcycle in the H2 lineup in the Z H2. Modeled on the H2 SX ultra-sport touring machine of 2018, the 998cc inline-four Z H2 is the very first supercharged naked bike built by a major motorcycle manufacturer and available to the public. It comes packing 197 claimed horsepower and a thumping 101 lb-ft of torque, complete with that evil, menacing rattle from the supercharger that makes you feel you’re constantly being chased by rattlesnakes.
The two are extremely different from each other, both mechanically and dynamically. The Ducati comes to the game with its 1103cc V4 taken from the Panigale V4 S, punching out a whopping 208 claimed Italian ponies and 90.4 lb-ft of claimed torque. The kicker, if you’re looking for outright speed, is the Ducati revs to a glorious 15,000 rpm, a number that if you reached it in any gear, you better hope there are no police around.
However, the same can be said of the Kawasaki, whose acceleration can simply be described as moronic. It’s not that the Kawasaki accelerates faster than the Ducati, it’s that it feels dramatically faster. The centrifugal-type supercharger rams air into the combustion chamber at up to 100 meters per second and the result is nothing short of astonishing.
You feel a divine being while on the Kawasaki, as the speed increases so fast, it’s hard for your brain to keep up. Second, third, fourth, fifth gears are thrown at the machine in a frantic left-foot dance with the Kawasaki, whereas the Ducati is a, dare we say it, a more sedate ride—which is a daft statement, I admit, considering how brain-meltingly fast the red bike is.
At low speed, the Ducati has better manners with a nicer throttle response, but the Kawasaki’s low-down torque is more buxom, and for a motorcycle that accelerates as hard as the Kawasaki, it’s a relatively pleasant beast to ride around town, the supercharger’s noise more a purr than a rattle.
On the other hand, the Ducati is a nicer ride at traffic speed. As the Ducati loves to get revs thrown at it, the power below 7000 rpm could be called unintimidating/soft, although there’s plenty there when you need to crack the throttle in almost any gear and scare pedestrians with that mighty V4 roar.
It’s difficult to find a weak spot in the Ducati’s arsenal, simply because the Bologna engineers have done such a good job mapping the throttle response that you’re lured into a somewhat false sense of security. With the Kawasaki, you’ve got the supercharge rattle to accommodate you—you know the bike is just waiting to be unleashed. For those with four-wheel experience, the Kawasaki is like a Mazda rotary, always hunting, always wanting the go pedal to be pushed. The Ducati on the other hand is more a worked Corvette V8, using good ol’ cubes to launch you forward.
Both bikes come with variable riding modes (four for the Kawasaki including the variable Rider mode and three for the Ducati), so you can vary the power output as much as you like. The electronics on the Ducati take weeks to fully explore—you’ve got everything from a Bosch IMU, riding modes, nine-level traction control, Cornering ABS, wheelie control, launch control, engine-braking control, slide control, rear-cylinder deactivation to stop excessive heat getting to the rider in traffic, and, importantly, the Öhlins Smart EC electronics metering the NIX30 fork and TTX36 shock.
For the Kawasaki, you get an IMU, three-stage traction control, launch control, the Kawasaki Cornering Management Function—which helps to maintain chassis balance while leaned over when you grab a handful of brake, preventing the chassis from standing up mid-corner—engine-braking control, and the Kawasaki Intelligent Brake Control, a system that works by combining ABS and rear-wheel-lift control under heavy braking.
The electronics on both machines are superb at street speeds, although I suspect we’ll see a bigger difference at the racetrack. Ducati has this game pretty well licked, but there’s just so much to adjust and play with, you’ll want to book out a weekend just to try them all.
Kawasaki’s electronics are a little more rudimentary, but the application of traction control in the first setting is very smooth considering there’s just so much grunt on offer.
One thing the Kawasaki ups the Ducati on big time in the electronics department is the fitment of cruise control. For Ducati, this is a major omission, especially considering the $24K price tag and the fact that this is supposed to be the ‘real world’ version of the Panigale that people will use to ride to work with on freeways. Cruise control should be standard fitment on the Ducati, full stop.
The major area of separation between the Kawasaki and the Ducati comes down to the twisty bits. The Kawasaki weighs a claimed 527 pounds of curb weight (full tank) and the Ducati measures in at 458 pounds with a tank of gas, and you for sure feel the Kawasaki’s girth when the road gets twisty. It’s a three-point factor with the Kawasaki—the extra overall weight and the softer suspension of the conventionally operated and adjusted Showa Big Piston Fork and Showa shock over Ducati’s electronic Öhlins, and the bulkiness of the Kawasaki’s front end.
The Kawasaki has a lot of weight up high with the intake for the supercharger on the left and the mass of headlight and bodywork giving the chassis a top-heavy feel when you begin to turn in. The Ducati, on the other hand, has very little bodywork in front of the fork and above the rear wheel, giving the chassis a lovely light feeling at the bars. You need to pick your lines and stick with them on the Kawasaki, whereas the Ducati feels like it can change lines as quickly as you change your mind.
Once you’re in the corner, the Kawasaki is ultra-stable, which is a requirement if you’re going to fully explore the supercharged goodness on acceleration. It’s a machine that loves a trailing rear brake to stop the rear suspension from squatting over-aggressively under power, but it’s not exactly light on its feet.
Couple this with the fact that you’re a touch more cramped on the Kawasaki compared to the open stance of the Ducati, and the red beast begins to show its overall superiority. The Ducati’s ride position is super relaxed—your chest is opened up, arms widened—it’s a bit dirtbike-ish compared to the Kawasaki, which has the rider’s hands closer together and knees at a more acute angle. As such, long-day comfort is not as nice on the Kawasaki compared to the Ducati, although if you’re under 5’10”, you’ll probably find the Kawasaki a good option.
The Ducati’s Öhlins suspension is a step above the Kawasaki’s Showas. The electronics are variable in either Fixed or Dynamic mode, and the individual riding modes of Street, Sport and Race give variable suspension stiffness characteristics. You’ll be able to find any suspension performance you like at the touch of a button on the Ducati. If you’re not used to changing clickers on the Kawasaki’s suspension, you’re stuck with what you’ve got.
Despite the fact that you’ve got to spend a not inconsiderable $7995 more to get the Ducati in your shed and the fact that it offers no cruise control, I’d still take the Ducati over the Kawasaki. The ride on the red bike is just superb, and it trumps the Kawasaki in overall handling.
The Kawasaki is an excellent highway bike for shorter riders, but it feels bulky in comparison to the svelte Ducati. Both bikes are the very best each manufacturer can throw out in the high-performance naked-bike game, however, there needs to be a winner, and in this test, that bike is painted red. CN
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 / Ducati Streetfighter V4 S
||$17,000 / $23,995
||Liquid-cooled, supercharged, 4-stroke inline-4, forward-rotating crankshaft 4 valves per cylinder / Liquid-cooled, Desmosedici Stradale 90° 4-stroke V4, rearward-rotating crankshaft, 4 valves per cylinder
||998cc / 1103cc
|Bore x stroke:
||76 x 55mm / 81 x 53.3mm
||11.2:1 / NA
||EFI / EFI
||197 hp / 208 hp
||101 lb-ft / 90.4 lb-ft
||6-axis IMU, Kawasaki Cornering Management Function (KCMF), Kawasaki Launch Control Mode (KLCM), Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC) 3 power modes (Low Middle, Full), 4 ECU riding modes (Sport, Road, Rain, Rider) / 6-axis IMU, 3 Riding Modes, Power Modes, Cornering ABS EVO, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) EVO 2, Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC) EVO, Ducati Slide Control (DSC), Engine Brake Control (EBC) EVO, auto tire calibration, Ducati Power Launch (DPL), Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) up/down EVO 2, Full LED lighting with Daytime Running Light (DRL), Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) EVO with Öhlins suspension and steering damper, Quick-adjustment buttons, Auto-off indicators
||6-speed / 6-speed
||Wet multi-disc / Wet multi-disc
||Trellis, high-tensile steel / “Front Frame” aluminum alloy
||Showa SFF-BP fork fully adjustable / Öhlins NIX30 fork fully adjustable with TiN treatment, Öhlins Smart EC 2.0 event-based mode
||Uni-Trak, Showa gas-charged shock fully adjustable / Öhlins TTX36 shock fully adjustable with Öhlins Smart EC 2.0 event-based mode
||4.7 in. / 4.7 in.
||5.3 in. / 5.1 in.
||Dual semi-floating 320mm discs w/radial-mount Brembo M4.32 4-piston calipers / Dual 330mm semi-floating discs w/radial-mounted Brembo Monobloc Stylema (M4.30) 4-piston calipers
||260mm disc, 2-piston caliper / 245mm disc, 2-piston caliper
||Pirelli Diablo Rosso III, 120/70 R17 / Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II 120/70 ZR17
||Pirelli Diablo Rosso III, 190/55 R17 / Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II 200/60 ZR17
||65.1° / 24.5°
||57.3 in. / 58.6 in.
||32.7 in. / 33.3 in.
||5.0 gal. / 4.2 gal.
|Weight (curb, claimed):
||527 lbs. / 458 lbs.
||Metallic Diablo Black/Metallic Graphite Gray/Mirror Coated Spark Black / Ducati Red
VIDEO | 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 vs 2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S