Kawasaki’s new Ninja H2 SX SE takes on the MCN250 test route
Is Kawasaki’s new Ninja H2 SX SE the ultimate do-everything road bike, or a one-trick pony hamstrung by its headline-grabbing supercharger?
Lust is rarely a slave to logic. Whatever the allure; eyes, mouth, face, or... something else, there’s always a primal physical attraction to suck you in. Kawasaki’s Ninja H2 SX SE lacks subtle beauty, making do instead with a muscular brutality and Transformers angularity that will appeal to some, but it’s what’s hiding up its skirt that really turns me on. When the original Ninja H2 made its debut the buzz was all about bold power claims from the revolutionary supercharged 998cc engine. But while it was one hell of a ride, it lacked refinement and usability. There were many ponies, but only one trick, and that got boring after the twenty-fifth time you’d
slowed down just so you could surf the adrenaline of nailing it again. Kawasaki’s end-game was always to take their in-house developed supercharger tech and democratise it for the masses, and this is their first attempt. Don’t let the Ninja H2 moniker fool you, this isn’t a loosely disguised original wearing a different dress. They ride nothing like one another in the areas that matter. Where once the engine’s delivery was a sledgehammer that brutally wiped out the tarmac between you and the horizon, it’s now one of the most pleasing powerplants on the road. Glutinous dollops of torque and power mean that it’ll pull from 2500rpm in sixth with the sort of surging drive that an electric train would be proud of. But get the blue bar climbing on the dash as the supercharger’s impeller accelerates through the sound barrier, and it feels as visceral as a superbike mill. It’s that lightness and emotive aggression in the engine that defines the ride, but doesn’t dominate it. You never lose the sense of the SX’s mass, but the speed at which the engine picks up its skirt fools your brain into shedding 50 kilos off its measured weight. The illusion is perpetuated by how the SX handles, and the subtle support afforded by the electronics packages, too. There’s no semi-active suspension and that’s a tick in the ‘pros’ column for me. Very few electronic systems work without distracting quirks (BMW’s Dynamic ESA being one exception), while the SX’s wellcomposed mechanical hardware delivers great consistency and feel. On bumpy back roads and billiard-smooth A-road sweepers along the MCN250, the SX feels pliant and composed. The support under braking is excellent, especially for such a big bus, and its stability and mid-corner security mean you soon find yourself pushing harder than you might have expected possible. There has been criticism over its lack of conjoined rider aids, but I’m not jumping on that bandwagon either. I’ve covered over 3000 miles on this bike, and with the exception of a few miles in the various modes for the sake of research, it lives in full power mode, with the traction control set to the least intrusive ‘1’. Wet or dry, I’ve found no need to stray from those settings.
The only throttle criticism is how it picks up from completely
closed at low speed, where there’s a resistance that you learn to preempt by picking up the throttle early as you exit tight corners or roundabouts, erasing that falling sensation before the drive arrives. But the action is silky, and the electronic safety nets superb, especially the deft intervention from the anti-wheelie. With so much mumbo in your right wrist, the SX will lift with ease under hard acceleration, and by the time you factor in crests, bumps or wilful brutality, the front tyre can spend a lot of time separated from the tarmac. But rather than cutting the puppet’s strings and thumping you back to terra firma, the anti-fun systems gently lower the angular nose without ever really robbing you of forward momentum. The ABS and traction control work similarly seamlessly when provoked, but you’ve got to be pushing, or braking, very hard to make either intervene.
Much of that is down to the overall chassis package. The steel trellis frame absorbs and controls
‘It’s a near-perfect halfway house between touring softness and superbike rigidity’
‘Practicality combined with an undertone of pure menace’
with enough flex and tension to enable both grip and riding comfort, delivering a near-perfect halfway house between touring softness and superbike rigidity. The balance that engenders then directly contributes to less reliance on the well-honed rider aids. But none of this explains what makes the SX feel so special. It’s arguably lacking the headline spec, bells, whistles and cocktail umbrellas that others rely on. It’s not a conventional beauty, either. And yet you feel privileged on board. There’s an oozing aura of build quality and slickness, a soundtrack that’s as addictive as any illicit injected concoction, and the ever-present sensation that something special is happening.
The diversity of the MCN250 ought to expose multiple weaknesses, but it merely underlines its versatility. There’s nowhere where it feels frustratingly ill at ease and so many places, from empty sinuous B-roads to bolt-upright motorway schleps, where it feels born to do it.
It’s the very embodiment of a sports-tourer: neither one thing nor the other, but a perfectly balanced bastardisation of both. A devastatingly effective road bike that delivers practicality combined with an undertone of pure menace.
KAWASAKI NINJA H2 SX SE TOURER £18,899
Good chassis manners and big grunt make it fun through corners