In a straight line the Z H2 is a super naked in every sense of the word, but where its rivals, like the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory, KTM’s new 1290 Super Duke R, Yamaha MT-10SP and BMW S1000R are pared to the bone for the track and obsessed with lap times, the Kawasaki has some bulk to it.
It stomps on the scales at a claimed 239kg, full of fuel, but don’t get too hung up on that seemingly stodgy figure. The Z H2 doesn’t feel clumsy or ponderous and instead it nudges easily into corners with the lightest touch on the bars and anyway, for the road, a bit of weight isn’t a bad thing. It gives the Kawasaki a reassuring feeling of solidity and the ride quality is all the better for its ability to waft over bumps, like a tourer.
Up the ante and the Z H2 remains balanced and predictable with lots of mechanical grip and feel built into its new trellis frame (the engine is a stressed member) and double-sided swingarm (all other H2s have a single-sider). There’s enough control and feedback from the suspension and stickiness from the Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tyres (special stiff-carcass versions to take the extra weight and power) to take liberties with the front into corners and scrape the pegs at full lean. And with traction control up there with the best road-going superbike systems, you can take unimaginable liberties with 197bhp in complete safety.
New monobloc Brembo M4.32 four piston radial calipers (and Nissin master cylinder combo) aren’t lacking in feel or reassuring power, but on track it’s easy to get the ABS to chime in under very heavy braking. But on the road it’s hard to fault its poise and handling, but push the Z H2 to the extreme and a race-tastic super naked will dance through a corner, but who cares when you can whoosh right back past it down the next straight?
Like all big Kawasakis it’s unflappable at high speed and although top whack is around 175mph, its minimal bodywork and tiny clock screen offers so little wind protection you won’t be visiting those naughty numbers for long.
It might be drafty, but it’s roomy and all-day comfy. The high and wide 19-litre fuel tank gives the Z H2 a satisfying sense of solidity, the seat is plush, 'fat' bars are canted naturally towards you and low pegs give knees an easy time.
Cruise control is standard, which not only keeps a check on your speed on the boring bits, it takes the strain off your arms and wrists. Pillions get a generous amount of legroom, too…if you’re mad enough to perch yourself on the back.
Why a super naked needs to have quite so much power is unclear, but we salute Kawasaki for giving us so much of it. Making just 3bhp less than its ZX-10R sister, the Z H2 force-feeds your senses with unrelenting, genuine superbike levels of acceleration when you hammer its monstrous motor through the gears.
Addictive and something you never quite acclimatise to, the Kawasaki howls like a tuned racer on the throttle and off it the supercharger chirps like a deranged budgie.
But the biggest surprise isn’t the Z H2’s elegantly ballistic performance, but how easy all that supercharged thrust is to dive headlong into and that’s all down to the boffins. Kawasaki engineers have immaculately crafted the 998cc inline four’s power curve and programmed its new six-axis IMU-controlled electronics to cleverly pin the front wheel to the floor, without you ever feeling its silicone leash pulling you back. Crack the throttle and it just goes - your only job is to try and hang on.
For a motor so potent that Kawasaki test riders said it twisted the Z H2’s chassis in the early stages of development, it’s unbelievably civilised and predictable. Think Z900 with a wheelbarrow to carry its big kahunas and you won’t be far off the mark.
For normal riding the Kawasaki is as docile as a roadster with half the power. Its controls are light as a commuter’s, its MotoGP-derived ‘dog ring’ gearbox crisp, the up/down quickshifter precise and with 101ftlb or torque to play with there’s never a shortage of instant shove when you need it.
There’s a slight jerk picking up a closed throttle at low speed, but from there the supercharged delivery is gentle at low revs, making it easy to manage for slow speed work. Power builds gently through the midrange, before the supercharger gets into its stride and the next thing you know the Z H2 has grabbed you by the lapel and pinned you to its 12,000rpm redline.
How Kawasaki’s boosted the Zed’s power curve
Kawasaki has pulled off the neat trick of making the Z H2’s 998cc inline four as powerful as a superbike, but with the kind of torque figures you’d only ever expect see in an engine with much larger capacity. It’s ZX-10R-meets-ZZR1400.
The secret is to go down the forced air induction route. An exhaust-driven turbo has too much lag, so Kawasaki went for a supercharger and their 2015 Ninja H2 was the first production motorcycle to use one. Chain driven from the crank it’s geared to run at 9.2 times the crank speed, forcing-feeding the motor with air to boost power.
Packaging the supercharger small and light enough to suit a motorcycle engine was always the clever bit and Kawasaki has proved it has worked reliably in the original H2 and H2 SX sports tourer. But for a naked roadster with a top speed limited by neck muscles, you need midrange grunt.
A balancing act between engine’s compression ratio and boost pressure the Z H2’s motor not only makes a formidable 197bhp it produces the same 101ftlb of torque as the SX, but it’s delivered 1000rpm lower in the revs. It shares the SX’s 'balanced' supercharger – a 69mm diameter, 5-axis CNC machined forged aluminium impeller, featuring six full height and six half height blades, which maximises power lower in the revs and improves fuel economy. The system is so efficient it doesn’t need a clunky intercooler.
Clever use of electronics also bolsters the big Zed’s midrange and not only does ride-by-wire facilitate goodies like traction and cruise control it also let Kawasaki’s engineers carefully manipulate the throttle valves to map the fuelling to give the smoothest possible power curve. Longer exhaust headers, shorter final gearing, stronger cast pistons and a straight air duct all contribute towards more acceleration when you twist the throttle.
The Kawasaki is in the super naked league when it comes to cost, but it’s neatly finished, well screwed together and judging by H2 owner reviews its supercharger technology is robust.
To run the Z H2 will be on par with any big bhp machine. You’ll need to keep it fed with hot and cold running fuel, tyres and insurance won’t cheap, but there isn’t anything about its supercharger that will make it any different to live with than a normally aspirated machine. Engine service intervals are generous at every 7500 miles.
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Of all the H2 family the Z H2 comes with the most feelgood factor and not only is it rapid, friendly and spacious, it’s well equipped, too - as you’d expect from a naked that isn’t exactly cheap.
It’s lack of a fully adjustable rear shock, or semi-active suspension is a bit of a disappointment and ride quality isn’t the last word in plushness as a result, but the Kawasaki has plenty of other toys to shout about.
There’s the supercharger, of course, Brembos, Pirellis, LEDs all round, that beautifully crafted tubular steel frame, deep paint finishes and a whole raft of electronics: lean sensitive traction control and ABS, anti-wheelie, launch control, cruise control, quickshifter and autoblipper.
Kawasaki’s latest generation TFT colour dash is crisp, uncluttered and bursting with information from speed, to gear position, revs and boost pressure. It links to your phone to log trips, view vital statistics and set the riding modes.
It also has three rider modes (Sport, Road and Rain) with varying levels of engine power and traction control intervention. An extra Rider mode lets you mix and match settings, including turning off the TC for wheelies and shedding rear Pirelli rubber.
Ninjas are faired and Zeds are nakeds in Kawasaki’s model range, but their divisive Sugomi styling still rules the roost. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that and the design must be popular, or else Kawasaki wouldn’t do it. But, like a Yamaha MT-10, it’s is nicer to sit on the Z H2 than to look at.