Over the past few months, the motorcycle world has been eagerly pawing over every article related to Kawasaki’s new supercharged monster, the H2. First the teasers came in a trickle and then a flood until the initial release at Cologne a few weeks ago of the Ninja H2R and we weren’t disappointed. The H2R was a 300hp track only weapon. It looked ridiculous yet gorgeous at the same time. It had more power than perhaps a handful of humans alive today could actually properly use, but who cares? The Ninja H2R is a bike very few will ever ride, but everyone could admire what Kawasaki had delivered.
But we had to wait until yesterday for the street legal version, the Kawasaki Ninja H2. Everyone was expecting the bike to have less horsepower – there was no way Kawasaki could sell a bike to the masses with that much power without massive blow back from governments who feel the requirement to control what people can and can’t do. Maybe 250 horsepower? 230?
The actual figure? 200hp – or 210hp with ram air at speed. When compared to the Ninja H2R and all the associated hype, you can’t help but be a little disappointed by that number. Don’t get me wrong – 200 horsepower is a massive amount and it’s far more power than is realistically usable on the street. But it gets worse.
The Ninja H2R, with it’s extensive use of carbon fiber weighs 216kg (476 lb) – not exactly catwalk model thin, but it still comes out with a power to weight ratio of 1.39 hp/kg – a massive number. The BMW HP4 has a power to weight ratio of 0.97 hp/kg. But the Kawasaki H2 tips the scales at 238kg (525 lb) – that’s heavy. It means the power to weight ratio falls to 0.88 hp/kg – a figure surpassed by sportsbikes a long time ago.
By way of comparison, let’s look at another headline bike that was also released yesterday – the 2015 Yamaha R1. The R1 has the same capacity engine and same amount of cylinders but no supercharger. It pumps out 200hp and given that it also has ram air, probably hits about 210hp like the Kawasaki too. But it only weighs 199kg and therefore has a power to weight ratio of 1 hp/kg. Add in the fact that the Yamaha will cost $16,490 compared to $25,000 for the Kawasaki and I’m left scratching my head as to what is this machine for and who would want to buy it?
Don’t get me wrong – the characteristics of this bike will be unique, and I’m sure once you get the Ninja H2 on a dyno, you’ll see a near instantaneous delivery of power and torque from the supercharged engine compared to the linear increase on a normally aspirated motor. But when we’re talking about similar bikes that can accelerate to 60mph in around 2.5 seconds, are you really going to notice (or need) that torque so readily?
So why did this happen? Why has Kawasaki made one incredible machine, the H2R and one overhyped bike, the H2?
As we said at the outset, a major consideration for Kawasaki is politics. There’s long been a gentleman’s agreement between all manufacturers not to make bikes capable of more 300 km/h for street use. Many bikes are now electronically limited to that speed and no doubt whatever horsepower figure the H2 was going to have, it would be limited. But imagine the shrill cries from busybodies and spinsters if word got out into the tabloids that Kawasaki was selling 250hp motorcycles to 18 year olds to kill themselves on. Unfortunately, in this day and age, the nanny and wowser brigade has a large impact on public sentiment and no doubt there would be no shortage of politicians trying to capture the limelight to denounce such a hooligan machine.
Similarly, environmental restrictions have played a part. Emission limits would curtail the maximum horsepower achievable, as would noise limits. The exhaust sound level of the H2R at the time of factory shipment is 120 dB/A using Auto Cycle Union (ACU) guidelines. The maximum permitted noise level in many US states is around 82 dB. Consider that decibel measurements are logarithmic and not linear, 120 dB is extremely loud. The exhuast system on the H2 would severely curtail power to bring sound level down.
A third and probably decisive factor in the handicapping of the H2 compared to the H2R would be reliability. Yes, supercharged bikes have existed before and supercharged cars have been available for decades. But the H2R is a cutting edge machine – at 300hp it’s a massive leap in motorcycle technology and abilities. And that no doubt comes at a cost to longevity and reliability. Here’s some of the details you’d want to be aware of for the Ninja H2R:
- No warranty. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
- The bike requires a service inspection after every 15 hours of of engine operation above 8,000 rpm. That’s in addition to regular periodic maintenance which isn’t yet disclosed.
No consumer would accept these restrictions on a street bike. And thus, Kawasaki had to turn the dial down from 11 to 6 in order for the Ninja H2 to actually survive everyday use and be practical for the mass market.
So is there no future for supercharged bikes? Are the Ninja H2 and H2R one off machines, like so many supercharged bikes before them? I hope not. There’s no doubt the Ninja H2R is an amazing machine, and if the hype surrounding both it and the H2 wasn’t so huge, I probably wouldn’t be so critical of the H2. But hopefully, Kawasaki sticks with it and we see the technology improved. It would be great to see it get used in smaller capacity bikes, say around 600cc. Kawasaki should be applauded for doing something different – let’s just hope they can make something more realistic for the mass market in the near future.