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.
• 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
Well, it looks civilised enough from here...
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