MCN Fleet: Kawasaki Z H2 takes a trip back in time
I don’t need to be asked twice by a mate to go out for a ride, especially if it involves riding the Kawasaki Z H2. We were between the two lockdowns and my mate, Andy and I were having chat in the pub about bikes as investments. Andy had decided money in the bank was doing nothing, whereas motorcycles that had already hit rock bottom were only going to go back up again.
Over the past few weeks, Andy had sent me links to websites with bikes for sale, after a lot of no, no, no, we finally got to a yes! It was a 1957 Triumph Tiger 110 - up for about the right money and looking nicely standard. And the best bit? The man selling it was an old friend of mine, Ian Hatton, who runs Verralls Motorcycles down at Handcross, in West Sussex.
The plan was set: We were going down to view the bike, riding from Lincolnshire - a 300-mile round trip. It was all sounding great until the day before, when the forecast changed, the temperature dipped and rain was almost guaranteed. Now my addition of the heated grips made sense after all the hot weather we had enjoyed.
The time had come to set off and the Kawasaki dash was indicating it was only seven degrees, while the sky was indicating it was going to piss it down. With warm hands and tucked in behind the screen, well, as much as I could be, the Z H2 was proving a good mile muncher.
Part of the route took in the M25, not my favourite road, but needs must. With so many speed restrictions and 200 horses on tap from the supercharged engine, it is very easy to find the speed creeping up, so I deployed the cruise control to help keep my licence intact. The Kawasaki system holds your set speed until you cancel it, brake or twist the throttle. It’s a helpful addition on such a powerful bike.
After 130 miles it was onto the more enjoyable B-roads, and a search for a petrol station as my fuel light had come on. I had forgotten how stressful it can become trying to find fuel on a bike that is on the thirsty side (retuning less than the average 37.1mpg today due to over-exuberance), while having only a 19-litre tank. I managed to find one and fill up with only a litre to spare.
Arriving at Verralls, we were ready for a well-earned cup of tea while having a look around this Aladdin’s cave of veteran, vintage, post-vintage and post-war motorcycles. As we looked round the showroom containing 40 or more bikes dating back to as early as 1907, it was easy to see how motorcycles have evolved over the years.
The Tiger 110 that we had come all this way to see was an absolute peach, so it wasn’t long before Andy was parting with his cash. With the day being eaten up looking at bikes and discussing their finer points, it was time for the return journey, and this time I had already planned a fuel stop at Duxford, just off the M11, to take the anxiety out and allow myself to enjoy the ride back.
Update five: Another puncture on the Kawasaki Z H2!
It feels like only last week that I was looking at my rear tyre, fat and splodged out at the bottom. Here we go again. I blame these punctures on Covid, and I will tell you why: with everyone now taking staycations they are having work done on their houses, so there are vans clogging almost every street.
With every opening of the rear doors, there is always a stray nail or screw that drops into the road. These are the ones I keep picking up, and it’s not a cheap hobby at £140 a tyre plus fitting.
On the plus side though and perfectly timed, a new set of fitting kit/adapters for my Abba stand arrived through the post, so I can now use the Abba superbike stand on the Z H2. Last time I took the rear wheel out I used a paddock stand and bobbins. Not only was it a bit tricky getting the 239kg bike up on the stand on my own, there was always that constant worry of dropping it.
New adaptors in place and the superbike stand fitted into the swingarm pivot, it’s time lift bike into the air and what an absolute joy it is. The telescopic extension lever provides all the leverage you need to raise the bike up, without it feeling like it will end up on its side. The job of taking the wheel out is now so much easier, too.
Thanks to the pesky punctures I am on my third Pirelli Diablo Rosso III rear but the original front has shown very little sign of wear, if any, in just over 2000 miles. I am still very impressed with the sheer amount of grip they manage to find, even now we have returned back to the cold damp, greasy roads of the British autumn.
So far during my time with the Kawasaki Z H2, the two punctures have been the only downers, literally. I have been keeping up with the odd bit of maintenance: adjust and lube the chain, check the tyre pressures, when they are not completely flat. Also, after a while the ignition switch got a little sticky, but a good dowse with WD40 and it is silky smooth again.
Update four: Living for the twisty thrills on the Kawasaki Z H2
This year’s motorcycling calendar has been a disaster, with one event cancelled after the other. My annual moped run on the first May bank holiday was one of the first Covid victims. Undeterred, the group decided to re-book for September.
Finally, the time arrived, my little 1975 Honda SL125 was thoroughly prepped and tested, ready for a 350-mile trip around Derbyshire. Brimming with confidence I set off to the start, which I nearly made, if it hadn’t been for the electrics packing up. Bugger! With the bike back in the garage, and my socially distanced friends well and truly distanced, I came up with Plan B.
I would go on the Kawasaki Z H2. Not exactly meeting the rules, I was a mere 875cc over the limit but to be honest I hadn’t seen it written anywhere that you couldn’t have a supercharger. I planned to meet the others for lunch, and with a two-hour head start, I had better take the long way around.
I know the most direct route to Derby, but I needed to take my time and enjoy the ride. For this I called on the assistance of my TomTom Rider 550, using the 'Plan a thrill' function on the extra winding mode. After an hour of riding some amazing roads that I didn’t recognise, I arrived at a place I did – only a 20-minute ride from my house, perfect when you need to elongate your ride.
The Z H2 was surprisingly at home on the back roads the TomTom took us down. The bike can be hustled along giving a smooth ride, only getting slightly compromised when I hit a long line of rippling bumps that caused some confusion in the rear shock which struggled to cope – unlike the forks, which coped really well.
Timed to perfection, I arrived at the lunch stop at exactly the same time as the others, having had a great ride. After lunch and having apologised for the rather new, rather large and rather supercharged Z H2 I would now be riding for the weekend, we were ready to go. Taking my place at the back, now at a much slower pace from the rest of my ride, I found the Z H2 surprisingly happy tootling along at 40mph; not many other 197bhp fire-breathing monsters would be happy with this.
This was the first time I had put the Z H2 into service as a touring bike, with an SW Motech Legend Gear 48-litre touring tail bag strapped to the rear, heated grips set to low and the very comfortable riding position that comes as standard, the Kawasaki was proving to be a great workhorse, albeit one with a lot of flare.
The ride home offered up two options: ride with the others at a snail’s pace, or set the TomTom to a super-winding route. However well the Z H2 does low-speed riding, I just felt I needed to let the bike off the leash on amazing roads in some of the UK’s most spectacular countryside. My two-hour ride home on my regular route was converted to four and a half hours, seeing every corner of Derbyshire. This was definitely my best ride this year, thanks TomTom and Z H2.
Update three: Puncture is just a chance to get to know the Z H2 better
After all the daily restrictions we have got used to living with, it felt quite weird riding in a group of six. I had met up with five others from the MCN team at Wansford for a socially-distanced 100-mile loop of the local area before stopping off for a cup of tea in the car park of the local transport café.
It was nice to chat face-to-face, rather than looking at a load of little faces on a screen. I waved my goodbyes and set off on my short ride home but almost immediately I sensed the bike didn’t feel right. I took it slowly and stopped at the first safe place to take a look. It was then that I noticed a shiny metallic spot on the rear tyre. Yep, I had picked up a nail but the puncture was only slow, so I nursed it home.
I had only done 1000 miles on the Pirelli Diablo Rosso 3 tyre, but it had to be replaced because the culprit had penetrated through the middle of the tread. I was more than happy to go for the same tyre as when I’d been ridding the Z H2 in heavy rain, I was amazed how good they were in poor conditions. Riding on a greasy looking country lane the tyre would just grip and drive forward at the point I would have expected it would try to break away and the electronics would kick in.
My local tyre dealer was going to fit and balance the new Pirelli, but would prefer a loose wheel – not a problem as I had already fitted bobbins to the swingarm. With the rear off the ground, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to remove the back wheel. Someone has really thought about this bike. I had a Honda VFR1200 some years ago and suffered a rear puncture while touring around New Zealand and getting the wheel off involved removing a section of exhaust!
With fresh rubber fitted it was time to put it all back together. It was refreshing to see that the rear spindle was well greased and not dry and crusty; I could not believe how light and well made it was, too. With everything tightened and double checked, it’s back to the fun bit - riding it!
Update two: Kwak doctors go to town on the Z H2
This has to be the most powerful bike I have ever looked forward to living with, producing 197bhp with a 101lb.ft of torque. I couldn’t wait to experience the re-worked H2 engine for myself – especially after my colleague Michael Neeves, who rode one at the launch in Vegas, told me how much he thought I’d enjoy the bike.
Unfortunately, I was going to have to delay getting my hands on the Z H2. The bike was ready to be collected, but due to the Covid-19 lockdown, I just had to pretend that the Kawasaki did not exist, not easy when I had seen photos and watched clips of this magnificent beast in action. I was just going to have to wait.
Then the Government finally lifted some of the restrictions just enough that I could go and collect the Z H2 and try it for myself. Approaching the bike, I noticed it’s actually bigger in the metal than I expected, with a seat height of 830mm it suits my 6ft1in frame very well. It’s a big bike, so gives me a bit of room which should make it more comfortable on some of the longer journeys that I’ve got planned for the future.
At last, my chance to have a ride, and I can honestly say the Kawasaki beat my expectations; the brute of a bike I was expecting turns out to exude both power and finesse. You can tootle around in sixth at two thousand revs effortlessly, then in the same gear wind it on without a single grumble with the pace quickening rapidly until it reaches fever pitch when the supercharger kicks in and the whole mood of the ride changes. 197bhp is awesome!
Even with not much time with the bike, I have managed to get the 500 miles needed to book in for the first service, which is actually at 600 miles, this I would reach after the 100-mile ride down to the Kawasaki headquarters. The plan was to leave the bike with them for a few days so I could get some extras fitted.
I wanted to make the bike more usable day-to-day, a four litre tankbag for odds and sods (£206.95 plus £18.95 bag bracket), a bigger screen just to take the pressure off of my neck and heated grips (£288.95), a must these days for all-year motorcycling. The 12v power outlet (£61.95) is a necessity too, as there is always something demanding a charge up.
The last two items are just self-indulgent, a rear seat hump to replace the pillion seat (£213.95) and last but not least the Akrapovic Titanium sports exhaust (£1033.95). I now just have to make a few personal adjustments to the control leavers to fit perfectly. I will update you how I get on with my new additions on my next report.
Update one: Introducing the Kawasaki Z H2
This Kawasaki Z H2 will be the most powerful bike I’ve ever had in the garage, producing 197bhp married to 101ftlb of torque. I’m looking forward to experiencing the re-worked engine which, according to Chief Road Tester Michael Neeves, I will 'thoroughly enjoy.' Should spice up my commute!
The rider Simon Relph, Senior Designer, 54, 6ft 1in. Daily rider, 45 years of experience, owns 29 bikes. Simon.firstname.lastname@example.org
Bike specs 998cc | 198bhp | 239kg | 830mm seat height