The elegant ally choke lever on the right-side switchgear and lengthy chromed kickstart lever give little clue as to the cacophony that will be unleashed following their operation – having first lifted the right-side rider footrest to let the kicker swing past.
A vicious intent is announced by the three Higgspeed spannies, blue clouds billowing across the yard as the engine warms.the five gear ratios are all accessed in an upward pattern, neutral being located at the bottom of the ’box – a point well worth remembering when slowing to a standstill.with first gear engaged I trickle gingerly down the rutted dirt track leading from Dave’s yard.
A handful of revs grabbed to launch the H2 onto the open road chucks a virulent cloud of smoke out the back, clearing some of the hydrocarbons building in the still-warming motor and pipe while we’ve been dawdling down the driveway. I can see the fumes blanketing the road in rear view, despite the blurring of the mirrors as the revs rise.
Still gauging the character of an unfamiliar bike that’s not yet up to temperature gives time to assess such essentials as the brakes. The front reveals itself to be lacking in initial bite and indeed any bite thereafter. Fortunately, the rear drum reveals itself to be a more than useful adjunct to the disc front and in combination the two inspire something like confidence.
Monday afternoon traffic on the main road over the Northyorkshire moors is moving at something like national speed limit pace and although equipped to get past most of it I’m not yet familiar enough to really go for it on roads still drying after a downpour.
Away from the main road and with confidence growing and tarmac drying, there’s an opportunity to properly explore what the H2 is all about.without the benefit of reed valves or any other method of
“The tourist coach dawdling over the moors that had seemed so far ahead terrifyingly got an awful lot closer”
controlling induction other than the piston ports, the inline two-stroke three is bound to hunt at low rpm, even with different pilot jets as suggested by Rick Brett to mitigate the effect. Kawasaki had specified fairly mild port timing to deliver decent torque across the rev range and there’s little arguing that it’s pretty good. However when you open the throttle wide something magical happens and things really come together. It’s as if the throttle cable is less a wire lifting the slides and more a drawstring pulling the whole thing together. As the rev-counter needle passes 5000rpm, the H2 smoothens out and feels like it’s getting its head down ready to charge. Dave told me before the ride that he loves playing tunes on the H2’s gearbox and I soon understand why.when the bike was first restored Dave had a problem with clutch slip and this was traced to modern synthetic oil in the gearbox. New plates and a change to something more traditional and the issue has been dispelled. I await the straightline twitchiness these short swingarm H2s are reputed to have – the swingarm was lengthened by 3in with a longer swinger in the 1974 H2B – but it never comes, even riding along far from perfect hill roads, the front wheel lightening as the power is piled on. Dave doesn’t miss the steering dampers and neither do I for now.
I wonder if the wider than stock front tyre is helping with the tracking but have bigger things to think about than my own halfbaked physics theories. Plus there’s always the thought that good straightline stability always comes at the expense of some cornering agility.
For now, as the power builds, the H2 reminds me that it was the hardest charging, fastest accelerating bike of its era. Quicker, even, in that department than Kawasaki’s Z1. The tourist coach dawdling over the moors that had seemed so far ahead before I glanced down at the rev counter has quickly and terrifyingly got an awful lot closer. Forgetting that the front brake is very much of its era, things only get back in control when the back is applied and balance is restored.
Now I have the measure of things in a straight line, it’s time to have a go at the corners. It would have been impossible for Kawasaki to ignore the handling reputation of the H1 500 triples, so for the H2 there were thicker tubes and much gusseting.again I find the oft-repeated criticisms of the H2 to be unwarranted when ridden within its own context and recognising that it’s very much a product of its time.that said there’s always a feeling that if things did go wrong they might go south very quickly with little warning and even less opportunity to correct the situation. All part of the excitement, a quality the H2 boasts in spades.
People go nuts for the H2 and in recent years prices have gone stratospheric.a good one will rush you 14 grand, no small consideration when you’re messing around on someone else’s bike. Dave has told his kids that he plans to continue spending their inheritance on Kawasakis, two-strokes in particular. Even if they weren’t such a riot to own and enjoy they’re also pretty good investments, so Dave’s children’s legacy is assured.
As it is I’m pleased to be able to hand the H2 back to Dave in one piece.the early 1970s were an exciting time for motorcycling and bikes like the H2 were a major part of that.and the Mach IV still has the power to excite today – 74bhp may not sound much to modern ears but the way it’s delivered and the package it’s wrapped in make the actual number as irrelevant as the price you need to pay to get one.