MCN Awards 2015: Machine of the year
January 8, 2016
With so many brilliant and groundbreaking machines being unleashed in 2015, choosing a bike of the year was always going to be tough. Motorbikes don’t get as big, bad or as bold as the Kawasaki Ninja H2 though, with its supercharged powerhouse of a motor taking centre stage. It’s a masterpiece that has changed the game and laid the foundations for future machines to follow, a piece of engineering brilliance and an instant classic, definitive justification for why it’s won our MCN machine of the year award.
This has been one of the busiest years for the MCN road test team in recent memory, and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the thick and fast introduction of so many exciting new bikes. 2015 has seen the arrival of great new adventure bikes, cruisers, retros, 125s, A2 licence-friendly machines and scooters, while also being hailed as the return of the superbike.
The MCN awards are our pick of the best metal to be released this year and covers multiple categories. Over the next week, we will reveal all the winners, so keep checking back.
‘It’s the fastest, maddest, most powerful production bike ever’
Wednesday March 4, 2014. Losail circuit, Qatar. I’m getting changed into my race leathers in the heat of a Middle Eastern morning. I have to pinch myself. Not only have Kawasaki done the unthinkable and produced a road-legal, supercharged superbike with over 200bhp, but they’re going to let me test it around this blisteringly fast MotoGP track, complete with its near kilometre-long start/finish straight.
It was a day to remember.
I couldn’t wait to get started and have never levered myself into a set of leathers so fast. Not only was I going to ride the H2, but I was also going to be one of the very first people outside of Kawasaki to ride the beast.
As we walked from the air conditioned changing rooms into the sweltering heat, my H2 for the day was already propped up on paddock stands with tyre warmers keeping the Bridgestone slicks toasty. In the flesh it looked stunning – like it was travelling a million miles an hour just standing still.
Clicking the jet fighter-style starter button got the supercharged motor barking into life. You could hear the supercharger spinning on the overrun every time you blipped the throttle and that noise alone was enough to sell the bike for many. The H2 sounded like nothing else and even before I’d left pit lane I was falling for it.
Heading out on track I knew I was making a little bit of history and it’s a moment I’ll talk about for years. The first time I wound back the throttle the acceleration really took me by surprise - the power delivery was vicious and really snappy. The front immediately lifted, which got the anti-wheelie working overtime. It was just as brutal when I quick-shifted into third.
The first lap was a combination of scrubbing in the new tyres and recalibrating my brain to the immense acceleration and instant throttle response. But at the start of the next lap I knew I could let her loose.
What was most impressive was the acceleration in the upper gears; think ZZR1400 and then some. It was one massive kick of torque that never seemed to end, like being followed by a 200mph tailwind. By the second lap I was already seeing an indicated 179mph at the end of that long straight, followed by the amazing sound of the supercharger chirping away on the overrun when you slammed the throttle shut.
Some people will hate the vicious power delivery in the first two gears, but don’t you want a supercharged superbike to be a little aggressive? Would you want it if it was docile and easy to ride?
Later on, my brain had become more accustomed to the H2’s speed and aggression. There was still that snatch coming from a closed throttle, but you learned to apply the power progressively. You can’t expect to gas out of a second gear hairpin on a supercharged 200bhp bike without some comeback.
But the more I got used to the H2’s speed the more friendly it became. I soon realised I could lean on the traction control and let the clever electronics work out how much grip was available.
It was highly addictive: get the bike turned, hit the apex, pull it upright and let her loose. There’s so much grunt you could get the rear to break traction a few inches in third, fourth and fifth gear.
There are three KTRC traction control modes to choose from and at Qatar I had it on its least-intrusive setting. There’s also a rain mode which halves the power and ramps the traction control up to the max. You also get three launch-control settings, a quickshifter, electronic engine braking control and ABS.
Before riding it, I thought the H2’s weight might be an issue. On paper she’s a big girl, but it turned out it wasn’t lardy like a ZZR1400 or Suzuki Hayabusa, and in fact it carried its bulk surprisingly well. You noticed the weight during fast direction changes and there was a slight understeer on a closed throttle, but you have to remember this isn’t a race bike. It’s been designed to be stable at speeds in excess of 200mph, especially on the higher-powered H2R version.
It’s the first Kawasaki to have a single-sided swingarm. It’s not just for show, but more to get the exhaust high and out of the way for maximum ground clearance. I didn’t scrape the H2’s undercarriage on track, even on the Bridgestone slicks which were giving us huge, elbow-down lean angles.
By the last session the H2 and I had clicked. Now I was accustomed to the power and really trusted the electronic rider aids, I was slithering the rear out of turns. The brakes weren’t fading, either, despite the punishment I was dishing out.
After that amazing launch, MCN were the first UK publication to performance test the H2, and it didn’t disappoint. It took the title of the fastest production bike we’d ever tested: 0-150mph in less than 10 seconds and 180mph in 15.23 seconds… and just 800 metres! To put it into perspective, it takes a Hayabusa 22 seconds to reach 180mph and way over a kilometre to do it in. The brakes were also impressive, stopping the H2 from 70mph in 47.12 metres - it takes the Suzuki 53.82 metres from the same speed.
But it wasn’t just about record-breaking facts and figures. We embarked on a crazy ride to Germany, letting the H2 loose on their unrestricted autobahns and fast, empty, knee-down A-roads. Riding in perfect, late-spring weather conditions and occasionally hearing the chirp of the supercharger, it doesn’t get much better.
Awarding the Kawasaki Ninja H2 MCN’s Overall Machine of the Year was one of the easiest decisions we’ve ever had to make.