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MCN Fleet: Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE's good, bad, and ugly

Published: 15 November 2018

Familiarity murders your perceptions. Spend too much time on one bike and the abnormal becomes the ordinary, while irrelevant niggles get amplified to distraction. So, I’ve been deliberately mixing it up lately, riding everything from Yamaha’s bonkers Niken, to slapping in some joyous miles on my 1998 VFR800F. And doing so has helped me to look at the H2 SX more objectively. 

Gourmet carvery

In the first of a series of ‘I’m not a luddite, but…’ observations, I’ve been reminded how good the big Kwak’s non-semi-active Showa suspension is. Jumping between bikes reveals just how well it manages its own mass, and mine, on roads as diverse as the newly billiard-smooth A1 section of my commute, to the incessantly rippled, bumpy and potholed back lanes out in the sticks. The only time it ever gets caught out is in severe compressions, when it’ll fire even my bulk clean out of the saddle as it unloads. The rest of the time it allows great composure, firm support and impressively sporty corner carvery; without ever trading the comfort you’d expect from a sports-tourer.

That’s all been assisted by the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II tyres I’ve been running for 4000 miles. They’re only just beginning to look used and have at least 1000 more miles before squareness will impede progress. Impressive. 

Room for improvement

The little niggles that have reared their head as the mileage increases, and the weather changes don’t detract from the ride, but they’re worthy of mention. Almost every day includes night rides now and that exposes the less-than-brilliant headlight. It’s not a candle in a hurricane, and the cornering lights add serious value (and, well, light), but with a frontal area that could balance Kim Kardashian’s rear area, you’d think they could have managed a more potent day-maker.

The brakes aren’t amazing, either. I’ll be asking the dealer to check them over when it goes for its service. The fronts are great until you really need power, then they’re mediocre. And the rear is pathetic. Time for different pads, perhaps?

The quickshifter can be temperamental, too. If you linger anywhere near the lever on down-changes, then try another the lever won’t play ball. The same is true on the way up. It’s also not as deft or as pleasurable to use as those on either a Ducati or a Triumph. MkII version, please.

Talking of upgrades. There are so many buttons on the left bar that operating them at night is like trying to use a scientific calculator behind your back. Backlit is the new black. Time for an update. 

I’m not a luddite, but…

My last heightened observation isn’t a complaint, it’s just something that struck me on a wet morning commute. Since my first week on the H2 I’ve changed neither the dash view, nor the power mode, nor the traction control setting. Many thousands of pounds of tech, and I just use one setting all the time. I’m genuinely not one of those pub bores who rails against ABS or TC intervention, and holds their right hand up proclaiming that it’s all the control systems they need; I just don’t get why you’d want your bike to deliver less of anything. I’ve never once felt the need to dial anything down come rain or shine.

It’s definitely love, though

It might sound like I’m moaning but I love almost everything else about the H2. That engine, that chirping and whining soundtrack, the way it blitzes time and space, messes with other riders’ perceptions of what a pannier-wearing tourer can do, and leaves me grinning like the village inbred after a cross-country A-road assault sets it apart from almost everything on the road. It’s a very worthy winner of MCN’s Best All-rounder award.

 


 

Tyred and emotional

It’s easy to ignore the warning signs and to be tight with your wallet, but nothing improves your riding enjoyment more dramatically than fresh rubber.

I went well past that point with the SX’s Bridgestone S21s. The rear had been looking pretty worn for 1000 miles before I decided that it’d had enough. The tread was vanishing from the middle band, and there were small nicks and cuts all over the place. Worse was that after 3200 miles of abrasion between the road and 200bhp, they were now sapping my riding enjoyment. Every tip-in was accompanied by a tiny spike of insecurity as the lip on the transition point gave that fleeting moment of grip uncertainty.

They’d performed pretty well, though. Wet or dry, I never had any grip issues, and beyond taking a few miles to really warm up and the way that the front tyre’s profile slowed the steering more than I’d like, there was little to find fault with. They were past their best at 2500 miles though, which isn’t a lot these days. You could argue that a 256kg bike with a 111kg human smearing 200bhp into the tarmac is going to have that effect on any tyre, but the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa IIs I’ve replaced them with (£289 per pair, plus fitting) are coping far better.

After nearly 3000 miles there’s the nascent beginning of a lip on the rear that can be felt if you run your hand over the tyre, but their overall condition is dramatically better like-for-like. They also ride better. They’re faster to feel secure from cold, and offer more dynamic steering and feedback.

I have to keep an eye on the pressures, though. Just a couple of psi off can lead to an unpleasantly soft sensation from the rear-end, and the same under heavy braking at the front. But keep the pressures up and they’re consistent and confidence-inspiring, wet or dry.

And at this rate they look likely to deliver at least 4000 miles from the rear; around 30% more than the marginally cheaper (£253) S21s.


 

A very full day in the saddle

We’ve been in love with the idea of sports-tourers ever since Honda wheeled out the VFR750F and the camps of ‘sporty but comfortable’ were first able to coexist in one bike. But, however you try to dress it up, you’re buying a compromise; sacrificing the best of each world for an imperfect combination of both.

The Ninja H2 SX promises to deliver the most visceral and explosive fast touring package ever. But can you really go corner carving for a whole day in the saddle – or is it just marketing clap-trap?

0 miles

It’s 4:30am. The satnav is pre-programmed with a 721-mile route, and it says I’ll be home again in 19-hours’ time. Dropping down from Stamford along the A47 as dawn does its best to properly break I’m cosseted from the chill morning air well enough, while my head is fully above the screen’s reach. There’s no real hint of which part of me will hurt first as time and distance take their toll.

65.7 miles

The run in to Matlock Bath always feels like the gateway to playtime. It’s 6:01am as I pull up to grab a quick photo, the first time I’ve had to put my foot down since pulling off my drive. Matlock’s deserted and after the tedious roads around Nottingham, the H2’s nose is sniffing the air and sensing sportier roads ahead. It’s a big boat, but the combination of supercharged grunt, Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II tyres, and climbing temperatures, mean it’s delivers a good approximation of a sportsbike on the beautiful Dales roads.

171.3 miles

A fuel stop at Lancaster services reveals my left knee feels quite pleased to be straightened out, but the big H has just blitzed the only bit of planned motorway on the route with superb arrogance. Rush-hour Manchester passed in an ebbing and flowing tide of heavy traffic, fast gaps compressed by the H2’s surging delivery, and filtering facilitated by its relative litheness.

200.1 miles

The first glimpse of Windemere through the trees, and the fast sweeping roads of the south Lakes give way to the tighter undulating A592. The increasing motion of twisty roads means I’m feeling comfortable, eager for more corners as the A591 sees the pace pick up. The H2 is in its element, knitting fast flowing corners together with seamless drive.

263.7 miles

The long route through the Lakes lands me at the Scottish border past Carlisle at 10:47am, after 263.7 miles. Dawn’s cool 9-degrees has become 28. Nothing aches. Wrists, back, bum and knees are all still happy, and with the A7 to Edinburgh ahead, there’s little chance of stiffening up. The belief holds true, with 90 more miles of H2 heartland roads delivering us into Edinburgh.

354.4 miles

A couple of laps of the city get the H2’s fan working as it tries to shed heat, but it feels neither lardy nor unwieldy in the middle of a busy city. We’re soon out on the A1, heading for a quick fuel stop and lunch at Berwick, before diving south.

I’ve done this route so many times, but it feels shorter on the SX. I’m crossing the Tyne Bridge before I have time to take stock, then Sunderland’s mini-me version via Souter Lighthouse. 500 miles on the clock, and there’s a dull ache in my knees, but nothing more.

600 miles

The trip ticks through 600 miles over the North York Moors between Whitby and Scarborough. I’ve been stretching my legs out in turn regularly, thighs burning a little now, and knees still aching. My lower back feels tight, too. But it’s minor discomfort, nothing more. The low sun lights up the Humber Bridge as we cross into Lincolnshire for the final plunge down the A15 to home. Whether it’s the allure of the final push, or reinvigorated riding movement, the aches have completely disappeared, and the last 100 miles disappear with the sun.

714.5 miles

Home. The trip says 714.5 miles, the clock says 10:30pm. Exactly 18-hours in the saddle with nothing but fuel breaks – and I feel fine. The H2 SX might be a compromise, but it’s a bloody good one. The comfort is impressive, and on fast flowing A and B roads it’s sporting prowess never fails to deliver. Maybe compromise isn’t such a dirty word after all.

 


 

Kawasaki’s psychotic super-tourer sucks, bangs and blows harder than most

Whirr, surge, chirp, pssshhh. Whirr, surge, chirp, pssshhh. The H2’s relentless wind orchestra has all the dogged insistence of the Titanic’s string quartet as it melodically blasts out its special brand of pressurised music to accompany your every throttle input.

It’s an addictive tune, an ear worm that begs you to whistle along as you knit corners together with glorious surges of midrange that propel you to a rushing top-end. It’s addictive, and after only a few hedonistic miles the message is clear: Kawasaki’s Ninja H2 SX is all about that supercharger.

Not a one-trick pony

In most other senses this superbike-tourer is largely conventional, not to mention practical. There’s plenty of legroom for my 5ft 11in frame, the riding position is focused but comfortable, the panniers excellent, weather protection adequate, the seat cosseting, and the quality impressive. The view over the clocks is marginally old-school, but saved by the quality multi-display TFT dash and neat features like the boost and braking force gauges, and the dangerously teasing lean angle readout. I’d still rather see a nice big flatscreen dash though, and the lack of integrated navigation and media connection feels like an oversight in 2018.

The dash’s inability to give you a believable range indicator, fuel reserve countdown, and actual average fuel consumption (it’s burning juice at 42.6mpg, by the way) also annoys as a functional faux pas for a modern sports-tourer.

Suck, bang, cue the blower

But as your eyes strain across clear tarmac to the horizon and your right wrist drops, the SX’s other charms and faults are all forgotten. The roar of air being forced into a space it can’t fit into without being squeezed builds like a jet-fighter throttling up, the blue boost bar starts to colour itself in, and your vanishing point begins to change by the millisecond.

But it’s not brutal, coarse, or switch-like (as it was on the first Ninja H2). There’s just a rising tide surging you forwards at a pace that will catch you out if you don’t keep half an eye on the big numbers rapidly multiplying on the dash.

It’s riotous

Without the blower the SX would be a quirky and effective – if otherwise unremarkable – sports-tourer. And there’s a lot to be said for its beautifully thought-out simplicity. The lack of pointlessly endless riding modes and frustrating semi-active suspension are rather pleasing, leaving your brain clear from distractions to concentrate on the ride. But with the blower it becomes a martial artist in a suit, a wanton compressor of air, a riotously entertaining autobahn-shrinking sleeper.  

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