With the EICMA press conferences still running, it's a bit hard to predict the star of the show, but the "most intriguing" crown already belongs to Kawasaki's H2 – the road-going version of the racetrack 300 horsepower H2R unveiled at Intermot.
Despite it's track-only H2R brother's prior fanfare, it won't have any more horsepower than the new Ducati Panigale 1299, or either of the MotoGP replicas (Honda's RC213V-S or Yamaha's R1M) but it is NOT a racetrack machine.
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Just as the bike from which it borrows its name foretold of the potential of large-capacity two-stroke road bikes with unprecedented performance a third of a century ago, Kawasaki is sending a message about the potential of the next generation of supercharged road bikes with the remake of the 1972 classic.
Not many Kawasakis over the years have carried the Ninja name. It is reserved for "special" motorcycles, such as the second-coming of the Kawasaki 900, which appeared on the family tree back in 1984. Just as now, when Kawasaki rolled out the original Ninja to the world press at a racetrack launch at Laguna Seca that year, it shook the motorcycling world. The new H2 wears both names, plus it carries the Kawasaki "River" emblem.
The honored KHI River Mark is a long-time Kawasaki symbol that dates back to the 1870s. When founder Shozo Kawasaki was running his shipping business, he created a flag which he flew from the ships he owned. The H2 wears the mark, and whilst it won't mean much to you yet, my guess is that very few motorcycles will carry this honor.
The H2/H2R is hence a whopping technological statement from Kawasaki about its technological heritage and know-how with a raft of new technologies either purpose-created for motorcycles or adapted from other distant empires within Kawasaki Heavy Industries' (KHI) vast industrial realm.
Much of the Ninja H2’s advanced technology was developed with cooperation from other companies in the KHI Group. Kawasaki Heavy Industries is one of the world's largest companies, with assets of US$11,447,592,000.
The H2's supercharged engine was designed with know-how sourced from many arms of the company. Motorcycles only make up a small percentage of the company's turnover, but because the bikes are the most prominent consumer product to the general public, the H2 is a statement about the whole company and it augurs well for the experience we'll get when this baby hits the road. It's not a race bike but a very special new type of road bike designed to manifest the company's technological excellence into one recognizable lump.
The supercharger used in the Ninja H2 was designed with assistance from the KHI Gas Turbine & Machinery Company, Aerospace Company, and Corporate Technology Division.
The impeller is formed from a forged aluminum block using a 5-axis CNC machining center to ensure high precision and high durability. With a diameter of 69 mm, it features 6 blades at the tip, expanding to 12 blades at the base. Grooves etched into the blade surfaces help direct the airflow. The impeller’s pumping capacity is over 200 liters/second, with intake air reaching speeds of up to 100 m/s. After passing through the supercharger, air pressure is increased to as much as 2.4 times atmospheric pressure.
The H2's piston crown shape was determined with experience gained from the 18-cylinder Green Gas Engine power plant, which boasts a generating capacity of 7.5 megawatts.
The H2's aerodynamic mirror stays were designed by Kawasaki’s Aerospace Company using the latest CFD analysis technology.
The specialist website created to introduce the new H2/H2R has just had the H2 section go live, and between the EICMA presentation and the technologically in-depth web site, I'm seeing a very different animal than the pure-bred racetrack bikes from Ducati, Honda and Yamaha.
The most obvious differences are the preposterously meaty mid-range and additional weight. The H2 delivers 140.4 Nm at 10,000 rpm but with the supercharger kicking in early, that mid-range is going to be much stronger for much longer than its Japanese cousins from Yamaha and Honda, and broader than the Ducati 1299's similar peak torque figure (the 1285 cc Panigale S shades it for maximum output with 144.6 Nm at 8,750 rpm).
The Kawasaki H2 has a curb weight of 238 kg. While this would be noticeable riding at ten-tenths on a flat smooth racetrack, it's not going to make much difference in the real world of cars, potholes and innocent bystanders where riding on the limit will get you dead or incarcerated. Slightly more weight will also make for a road bike that's less nervous and although it will be very fast, it's forte is acceleration and everything appears focused on delivering the most breathtaking, hand-of-god acceleration ever.
Kawasaki has always made excellent sports roadbikes, but the H2 promises a new level of excellence. Perhaps the most interesting aspect as far as I'm concerned personally, is what the engine represents.
The supercharged engine is not something new to Kawasaki. It has been building supercharged engines for a very long time, but it's the more recent implementations in the company's Jet Skis that are the most relevant. The big forced-induction jet ski motors are close to bulletproof and endure far greater abuse than it's possible to dish out to a motorcycle. You can't hold a motorcycle flat out for ten minutes at a time anywhere, but with jet skis, you can, and do, and 60 mph on water is quite some thrill. Check the image gallery and you'll see the detail that has gone into building this engineering masterpiece. Every small detail has been considered. This is a very robust powerplant, and when the hackers get inside this one, who knows what sort of horsepower mischief might be achieved.
Just as the V8 engine became the blank canvas for generations of hot-rod builders, this engine may well become the blank canvas for today's software engineers and ECU hackers, the artists of the twenty-first century. In order to accommodate the 300+ horsepower output of the Ninja H2R, the whole engine has been designed to be handle stresses 1.5x to 2x greater than on a naturally aspirated liter-class engine. Kawasaki has confirmed that the only differences between this motor and the 300+ horsepower H2R are the camshafts, head gasket, clutch and ... software.
There are many other highlights we'd love to cover in more detail, but in the interests of brevity, we'll publish now and update later.
One that does warrant mention before we close though, is the paint.
Kawasaki has always been Team Green, but this might be in for some changes in the coming years because the finish on the H2 and H2R is different and very, very practical.
If you're a klutz or regularly throw your bike down the road ("guilty, yer honor" as is our company treasure Loz Blain), you probably belong to the ratbike customization school. If you care what your bike looks like, you want it to look pristine at all times. The new Kawasaki paint scheme is made for the second category of riders.
Developed specifically for motorcycles, its metallic, mirror-like appearance may look similar in images to expensive custom jobs, but this is its first use on a mass-production vehicle in the automotive or motorcycle industries. The glass-like surface is created in the same way as a mirror with a chemical reaction between a solution of silver ions and a reducing agent which forms a layer of pure silver. It does not use aluminum flakes to generate a sparkling effect – it presents as a uniform metallic surface, quite similar to the finish on parts of McLaren's Formula One cars.
Nor is it done by robots. Each layer of paint is applied by a human and there are twice the number of clear coats – two on most, four on those with decals) so the finish continues to present impeccably after considerable use.
The promo video for the Kawasaki H2 Ninja is below.
View gallery - 42 images