Kawasaki H2 SX SE: Supercharged touring for the superbike refugee
Story: Mat Durrans
I’m in third gear, the corner is more of a kink followed by a second gear hairpin but the hero blobs on the footpegs are buried in the track surface. And it feels great, and safe, and fast.
The hairpin arrives, I’m hard on the brakes and starting to turn, trailing them deep into the corner, footpeg scraping once again before getting on the power for the blur that is the next straight.
Yes, I’m at a track, which is most obviously not this bike’s natural home, but short of riding another 200km in search of a road corner, this is my best option for exploring the H2 SX SE’s handling.
I’m glad I made the effort, and in a perverse way, I’m also pleased I didn’t opt for full leathers. My road riding kit has protection, but no knee-sliders, which is just the way this bike will be ridden on the road. The venue – Red Star Raceway – is a tight circuit that is more like a back road scratcher’s paradise and so I treat this occasion as a closed roads test, if you know what I mean.
Think H2, and immediately the supercharged engine is, understandably, what will dominate your thoughts. It is what sets this bike apart from the crowd, but more on that later.
First, let’s get this handling stuff out of the way.
This is, at just over 260kg, a heavy bike – for a sport bike. Evaluated as a monster sport-tourer against models like the ZX-14 and Hayabusa, it’s on the money. However, don’t expect superbike levels of handling because of the extra 70kg or more that it carries compared to the top sporting tools of the day.
By the same token, there’s no need to consider this bike a straight-line-only machine; as I discovered at Red Star this is a bike easily capable of carving through corners both fast and slow. This is good news for those who enjoy long distance touring for the delights that lay at the end of your journey – somewhere sunny with great roads waiting to be exploited.
The hardware responsible for this ability is as much as we saw on the original, more sporty H2, with a steel trellis frame that features thicker tubing for greater strength. The rear subframe has also been beefed up so it can take the weight of a passenger and full luggage.
Suspension on this SE version of the H2 SX is fully adjustable, though to be fair I never felt the need to start fiddling. There’s obviously a decent compromise setting built into the upside-down forks and rear monoshock because even with riding a smooth track and some typically rough South African country roads the bike never felt out of its depth.
The ride quality is good, but definitely veers towards the sporty side of the equation compared to some of the more luxurious tourers, but that’s exactly what you need with a sport-tourer that has such obvious sporting pretensions.
The riding position also effectively straddles that line between sport and touring; there’s enough weight over the front end for you to feel in control on the track but the handlebar position isn’t so committed that you can’t handle a couple of hours of road riding without begging for the journey to end.
Legroom isn’t cramped, but then neither did I find it generous for my 1.82m frame. Longer stretches in the seat did make my (previously broken) knees complain. Make of that what you will.
The H2 SX is a big bike, both to look at and sit on, but once on the move and you’re into the groove on a twisty road it isn’t particularly tiresome to get up to pace. The sculpted seat and the surprisingly narrow waist of the bike means your legs aren’t splayed too wide and there’s no overriding sense of bulk to inhibit your natural riding style.
Wind protection is good for high speeds without needing to lie more flat across the tank in a full-on racing crouch. The seat is plusher and the screen a touch higher on this SE version than the base SX and both work a treat. In fact, the screen might even work too well because the protection offered means it’s easy to sail past the 230km/h mark without tucking-in at all. When I did slouch into a more pronounced racing position it was a doddle to keep out of the way of an indicated 299km/h breeze.
Instrumentation at first looks like it’s going to be a bit of a mission to get your head around, the many handlebar mounted buttons were enough to send a Luddite shiver down my spine. But they turned out to have a logical presentation and despite my aversion to anything more complicated than a 1995 cell phone I soon got to grips with its technological offerings.
It undoubtedly helps that this SE version comes with a colour TFT screen as standard, and it works in conjunction with those myriad buttons to provide an easy to use system. It’s bright, simple and for a Kawasaki, it’s pretty stylish. Forgive the slight snark, but Kawasaki hasn’t always been great when it comes to a quality dash layout.
Right, about 800 words down and I’m ready to talk about the bit with which you probably wished I had begun this report. The engine. The supercharged engine. The heart and soul of the H2 family and the reason this bike generates so many headlines.
But, are those headlines merely tabloid sensationalism and, to coin a phrase of our time, fake news?
No, any headlines this bike has generated are well deserved. It may not make any more horsepower than the latest superbikes at 201hp, but that’s not the whole story behind the H2 SX. In fact, it’s not even the main part of the story because the supercharger that is bolted to this 998cc in-line four-cylinder lump makes itself felt much lower down the rev range than where you find peak power.
I’m tempted to say it’s all about the midrange torque, but although that is indeed impressive and hugely useful for rapid road riding, there’s no getting away from the fact that it just never seems to fade away. The urgency of the delivery remains even as the rpm hit five figures. It is, in a word that is undoubtedly overused in motorcycle journalism, relentless. But because of the extra boost in proceedings provided by the forced induction, it really does live up to that description in a way that a normally aspirated engine simply can’t match.
Let this engine have its head through the gears and you will undoubtedly end up grinning like a nervous paraglider on the edge of a vertigo inducing precipice. You may know what’s coming, and you know you want to experience it, but that doesn’t stop that knot of fear and anticipation churning deep in your gut. If you’re into speed and adrenaline, but you want it in a package that won’t cripple you or a passenger, there’s no bike quite like it. There’s certainly nothing that pumps power like this beastie while remaining so uncannily smooth; that’s a surprise to me since I usually expect (justifiably so) a level of vibration at certain rpm with Kawasaki’s motors.
It’s not perfect though, there’s a slight hesitancy to the throttle, and the bugbear of modern fuel injection systems raises its head when you’re rolling on and off the throttle, especially in higher gears. It’s not bad, and it feels better than the first SX I rode nearly a year ago now, but it is there.
I can forgive it this fairly common affliction because it counters this irritation with one of the best (for a juvenile like me) sounds in motorcycling. Roll off the throttle with high rpm in play and you will be rewarded with the fluttering sound of the supercharger’s blades breaking the sound barrier. It’s fantastic, and it doesn’t cost anything extra. If you don’t like it then you need to look for a more sedate tourer, and hope you find your lost soul somewhere along the way.
With all this intoxicating performance on offer the one thing that simply can’t afford to be anything other than top notch is the braking. No worries here though, because the radially mounted callipers combined with 320mm discs mean huge power. Thankfully that has been achieved without any compromise on the level of feel on offer. Throw in an accomplished ABS and you have a set of supremely capable brakes.
A major advantage of the SE version of the H2 SX is the addition of a fill auto-blipper gearchange, It’s good, easily coping with rushed down changes at the track and always slotting in the next gear with the upshifts without too much fuss. As is the case with these systems it does tend to work more efficiently the higher the revs, so in a perverse way it gets smoother the harder you’re riding.
This bike took me by surprise just a little, possibly because I got to spend a good few days with it and rack up some proper kilos. It is an accomplished sport-tourer that lies very much at the sporty end of the scale, yet it still has enough comfort and gadgets to be a realistic proposition for long days in the seat.
The engine is a genuine classic; smooth, powerful and yet as easy to use at low (legal) speeds as it is at highly illegal velocities. The fact that it can provide a compliant ride on the road and yet happily blast out a few fast laps at the track is a range of abilities that not many bikes can match.
It’s not exactly cheap at R310,995; but I also don’t think that it’s too expensive for what it offers. If you’re after outrageous performance in a package that doesn’t demand an undignified racing crouch from the rider, and you value being a bit different and enjoy unusual engineering then this is most definitely a bike worth considering.