The bloody explosion of liquid death on my visor snapped me to attention, the momentary shock causing me to sit up and roll off the throttle.
After a 280 km/h crash, the late, great Barry Sheene was once asked, “What goes through your head when you crash?”
“Your arse… if you’re going fast enough.”
I was reminded of that quote as my gloved hand cleared the former insect from my field of view and I contemplated the supercharged, 1,000 cc inline-four currently fluttering, burping, and screeching beneath me. That’s the thing about the 2016 Kawasaki Ninja H2 – it makes you think of things like that.
I’ve ridden many litre bikes, but nothing as genuinely frightening as this. Bench racers will scoff. The BMW S1000RR I rode last year has about the same peak horsepower and 30 kg less weight – so they figure it’s faster. I thought that too, right up until I cracked the throttle for the first time. If those other bikes are superbikes, this is a hyperbike.
The H2 pours on thrust so enthusiastically it will trigger delirium. It’s instantaneous acceleration the likes of which very few bikes can ever match. Sure, the peak horsepower is down, but the supercharger sucks in air and turns it into “holy crap” faster than you can say “Whoops” or "Oh dear…".
This is the sort of motorbike your insurance company talks about in the small print you don't read. This is the type of risk your mother warned you about. You know that cliff all your friends were jumping off? Welcome to the precipice.
There is a three-stage traction control. Right now I’d usually tell you about how I turned it all off so I could do epic wheelies and skids like a hero because I’m so awesome… but I’d be lying. I left it on level two the entire time – and it still threw the front wheel in the air with reckless abandon (on a closed course).
The back wheel would spin in third if you used too much throttle and dropped the clutch at the wrong moment – there are some people who say this happened exiting a construction zone at 80 km/h. More than once I was grateful for the sculpted pads where a pillion seat would usually be as they kept my body firmly in place.
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There’s “only” 200 hp here, and “only” 98.5 lb-ft of torque. I say “only” because the track-only H2R on which this is based is good for 310 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque. I used to think I’d rather ride the bike with that engine in it, but now? Not so much.
Kawasaki’s new flagship is a heavy beast, too, at 238 kg, but we should note that it's lighter than a Suzuki Hayabusa at 266 kg. The weight makes it perfect for the long, rolling corners I set out to find in north-eastern Ontario and Quebec.
Over two days I put more than 1,500 km on the bike, avoiding the highways as much as I could as I toured from downtown Toronto to just east of Montreal, before doubling back past the St. Eustache circuit to catch some CSBK action on the way home.
My mission was simple: Find some corners.
But first, the highway. The H2 eats up highway miles like the Cookie Monster eats cookies, the riding position is surprisingly comfortable but the seat expectedly firm. If I had one wish it would be a speed limiter button or a cruise control switch because it was too easy to sneak into naughty-naughty territory if you weren’t paying eager attention to the speedo. Fuel consumption is an issue too, I did worse numbers on this bike than many an SUV on the freeway. #WorthIt
The overall sense of riding the H2 in a straight line, however, is one of frustration. Sometimes, a highway is a prison.
Once the road got twisty the H2 knuckles down to work. You don’t hustle this big Kwaka through the corners, you coax it in. You don’t stand it up on exit, you roll on throttle and let the bike make its way back to vertical. On older, sharper Kawasaki products like the ZX-6R I’ve experienced large amounts of bump steer and head shake – not so here. Perhaps it’s the sheer size and weight of the bike but the H2 is utterly unflustered by even tree-root-size bumps mid-corner. The factory Öhlins damper likely helping there.
Handling-wise, the H2 is smooth and progressive, the chassis easier to ride than the prodigious engine would suggest. It’s also more comfortable than you’d think, easily soaking up big bumps without transferring that force to your tailbone like many other sport bikes do.
Kawasaki says the H2 is built around a trellis frame specifically to make it more compliant - a conventional twin-spar frame they say gets too nervous - especially with the 300 hp H2R engine. The clip-ons are higher than you might expect and the seat thicker - all to cater for the more mature rider likely to buy this bike. At $28,600 you need to have significant disposable income. Still, Kawasaki have sold more than expected. Including some people who've bought the $58,300 H2R and the road-going H2 - because why not have both? Right?
My path took me along the coast of Lake Ontario, across a river on a ferry, through what felt like several hundred kilometres of construction and past some of the most iconic historic villages in the country. I had a burger at George’s Fish and Chips, and a ham-and-cheese croissant at a quaint little Euro-style coffee shop in Oka.
I stopped at the Ruins of St. Raphael’s church in South Glengarry, I helped put out a fire near Williamstown and danced along highway 148 in Quebec.
Together the bike and I saw some of the best of this province and the one where the signs say “Arrêt”.
So where are all the cool photos?! Funny story that. You see, when one travels for an evening one wears a backpack. When one accelerates heavily with the zips on that backpack not properly fastened, the backpack opens. And the several-hundred-dollar camera inside it bounces down the road. Of course, you might not notice this at first. Or second or third. In fact, I don’t know if I lost my camera on the Long Sault Parkway, where I last used it, or near Coburg, where someone bothered to tell me finally that my backpack was open. So the photos are gone. What you see here are the few I snapped on my phone just for a lark.
Kawasaki H2 – humbler of humans, master of mayhem, killer of cameras. Hider of evidence.
Bench racers beware. 7/4/2016 1:00:50 PM 7/4/2016 1:00:50 PM