RID­ING

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Know It ► Buy It ► Ride It ► Love It -

I’VE LONG WANTED to sling a leg over an H2, but now the chance is here I’m not so sure I want to. Triple fa­natic Kenny Crowdy’s re­stored Us-model H2A is gor­geous, but from when I thumb the choke lever on the right switchgear and give that big kick­start lever a swing, this chunk of 1970s-chic met­alflake and chrome be­gins the in­tim­i­da­tion process.

Firstly, it’s loud. Not so much the ex­haust note – though the stan­dard chrome pipes do make a good noise as they blow smoke on warm-up. The en­gine’s the main of­fender here – a com­bi­na­tion of pis­ton-slap, in­ter­nal gear noise and the res­o­nance from the cool­ing fins vi­brat­ing makes a right racket, and the dour-faced of­fice work­ers fil­ing past the PS bike park shoot looks of dis­ap­proval.

The mo­ment of judge­ment is long too – it’s a cool day and the air-cooled lump re­sists warm-up. Fi­nally, I’m happy with the read­ing from my hand-on-cylin­der tem­per­a­ture mea­sure­ment, and click the gear lever down.

Of course, with an H2 noth­ing hap­pens. All five gears are up, with neu­tral at the bot­tom. With first se­lected cor­rectly, I fi­nally get un­der­way. Even the small throt­tle open­ing needed to pull away sig­nif­i­cantly height­ens the din and at­tracts more scorn.

It’s a big bike that suits my 6ft, broad­shoul­dered stature. The ‘cowhorn’ US ’bars are high and wide, the foot­pegs wide and for­ward set ei­ther side of that big lump now send­ing high-fre­quency vibes through ev­ery­thing. It makes it all the more im­pos­ing.

Noise and vi­bra­tion aside, it’s ac­tu­ally sort of civilised when you’re tick­ling the throt­tle rather than yank­ing on it. Small throt­tle open­ings give you more drive than you need even in to­day’s traf­fic, and the com­bi­na­tion of stubby wheel­base and big bars means you can flick it around at low speed with ease. The torque lulls me in to rid­ing like a four-stroke on a few oc­ca­sions – it’s only the lack of en­gine brak­ing that de­mands I quickly snap back to two-stroke think­ing.

The H2 fur­ther sul­lies the rep­u­ta­tion of mo­tor­cy­clists when I get a chance to open it up. The long warm-up has ev­i­dently de­posited un­burnt fuel/oil in the ex­haust baf­fles, and wind­ing it up through a few gears for the first time to clear its throat en­velops most of a short dual car­riage­way in thick smoke. The smoke­screen per­sists for a mile or so un­til the pipes get hot enough to burn the oily gunk out of the baf­fles.

With ev­ery­thing now warmed up and be­hav­ing, I de­cide to pro­voke the beast from a set of traf­fic lights and give it gas. The H2 rears up on one wheel – a slightly pe­cu­liar, re­mote feel­ing on a bike with such for­ward-set foot­pegs and high ’bars. Rather than abuse the gear­box by try­ing to main­tain the wheelie through the ra­tios, I drop it and en­joy the wail­ing, vi­brat­ing, arm-tug­ging ac­cel­er­a­tion through the gear­box. By lat­ter day stan­dards it’s not ter­ri­fy­ing – but it does make you smile.

That smile turns up­side down on a back road if you’re not ready for the H2’s quirks. Many bikes from the early 1970s are go­ing to be a bit way­ward when pushed, but the H2 has the po­ten­tial to get re­ally out of hand. Rid­den gen­tly, the big triple is easy to han­dle, but when you get up speed and place a bit of de­mand on it, it be­comes un­pre­dictable.

Some­times it’s fine – it’ll main­tain good mo­men­tum, but other times it’ll wob­ble and un­der­steer when shown a fast sweeper with any sort of bumps or un­du­la­tion. The twin steer­ing dampers clearly don’t have the mea­sure of the chas­sis’ short­com­ings. Once you un­der­stand this, you can be ready. Don’t ex­pect to be go­ing white line to white line (not in­ten­tion­ally, any­way), leave a safety mar­gin and you can en­joy the chal­lenge of get­ting along a wind­ing road in­tact.

Smooth throt­tle open­ings and ’bar in­put are the key – lean­ing and sit­ting for­ward help counter some of the ef­fects of a rear-bi­ased weight dis­tri­bu­tion. Once you get to grips with it, you can ex­ploit the light-steer­ing H2’s han­dling more than you’d think – but you’re al­ways wait­ing for it to throw a wob­bly.

Kenny’s fit­ted a sec­ond caliper and disc but even in this con­fig­u­ra­tion, stop­ping is pass­able at best. A hard squeeze only serves to alarm you if you’re try­ing to stop in a hurry. Use of the ef­fec­tive rear drum is a wise idea – the stan­dard sin­gle front disc must con­stantly add to the ter­ror.

There’s more ci­vil­ity to the Kwak than you’d imag­ine – it’ll cruise at mo­tor­way speed, the rid­ing po­si­tion is comfy and gen­tle use of the throt­tle can even achieve 45mpg.

But that’s not the point of the H2, for me at least. Give it a hand­ful, get it vi­brat­ing, wob­bling and wheely­ing (and suck­ing down fuel at 19mpg, as I man­aged), and en­joy a ride like lit­tle else on two wheels. It might be a 40-plus year-old ma­chine with only 74bhp, but noth­ing matches the way it can thrill, ter­rify and laugh-out-loud amuse you, all in the same ride. Def­i­nitely wor­thy of a place in any­one’s fan­tasy garage.

THANKS

• Kenny Crowdy for the loan of his su­perb H2A • Rick Brett clas­sick­awasaki.com • Malc An­der­son/kawasaki Triples Club kawasak­itriplesclub.net • Dave Mars­den at Z-power • Mar­tin Lam­bert at Kawasaki

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