2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE

Road Test Review

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive…OK, maybe those are a stretch, but riding Kawasaki’s new Ninja H2 SX SE can definitely make you feel like a superhero. Maybe it’s the sporty, hands-forward flying–er, riding position…but more likely it’s the heart-pounding, breathtaking acceleration from the 998cc supercharged in-line four.

Intoxicating to be sure, but as a machine billed as a real-world, tour-ready sportbike, the Ninja H2 SX SE also has to don its mild-mannered Clark Kent persona on demand. I put more than 1,400 miles on our test bike, including a 600-mile overnight ride to the Moto Talbott motorcycle museum in Carmel Valley, California, along with the normal weekend canyon runs and, yes, commuting duty (it’s a lot of bike for grocery-getting, but makes the chore much more interesting), to see if this super tourer is real-world ready.

The H2 SX may have been sired by the bombastic Ninja H2 hypersport, but it’s domesticated with features like a longer, sturdier trellis frame that’s passenger- and luggage-ready (ours was equipped with optional color-matched hard saddlebags), larger bodywork and cruise control.

The SE version I tested adds LED cornering lights, a full-color, four-mode TFT display, a taller windscreen, Kawasaki Launch Control Mode, a quickshifter, braided steel brake lines, heated grips and a centerstand.

To better accomplish the SX’s street riding and touring mission, the H2’s engine and supercharger also received some changes.

New cast aluminum pistons, cylinder heads and cylinders and a higher compression ratio (from 8.5:1 to 11.2:1) improved thermal efficiency, the intake and exhaust cam profiles were shortened to match the reduced airflow of street riding speeds, and the planetary gear-driven supercharger got a new impeller.

The new supercharger is efficient enough to not require an intercooler, yet it doesn’t generate excessive heat (I noticed a little on my lower right leg, but not enough to bother me).

The real-world results of this new “balanced supercharged engine” are impressive; our test bike, which churned out 165 rear-wheel horsepower and 87 lb-ft of torque on the Jett Tuning dyno, achieved an average of 41.1 mpg, besting the 37.3 mpg of the much less powerful Ninja 1000 sport tourer we tested back in 2014.

(But beware: fuel economy is directly tied to how much air you’re sucking through the supercharger; I once watched 20 miles disappear from my indicated range on a one-mile freeway sprint up a mountain grade.)

I’m mixing my superhero metaphors, but with such great power comes great responsibility, and the H2 SX includes enough tech to (hopefully) keep you shiny side up and facing the right direction.

It also offers a high level of customization that will take the bike from mild-mannered Clark Kent to full-on caped Man (or Woman!) of Steel–or something in between–with the push of a few buttons.

The Kawasaki Traction Control has three levels or can be turned off. There are three power modes, Full (max power), Middle (75 percent of max, milder throttle response) and Low (50 percent of max, mildest throttle response). The quickshifter, cornering lights and launch control are switchable, and even engine braking is adjustable. Interestingly, the only thing you can’t shut off is the Kawasaki Intelligent ABS.

All of it is monitored by a Bosch 5-axis IMU that Kawi tweaked with its own software to add a sixth axis: yaw.

Some might grumble about electronics and rider aids, but personally I like knowing a bike like this has my back in the event I let my super-ness go to my head.

Still, when I first picked the Ninja H2 SX SE up from Kawasaki HQ, I admit I was a tad intimidated despite the tech. But a few miles later the intimidation was gone and I was marveling at just how easy it is to ride.

By the time I got home I was smitten, more than a little intoxicated by the H2 SX SE’s utterly smooth, effortless power but also amazed at its composure. Nothing about it feels flighty or nervous, and while it’s not exactly flickable, it’s responsive to every input and very stable.

The power spools up immediately in every mode, and response from the throttle-by-wire is nearly perfect, while the hydraulic-actuated assist-and-slipper clutch is silky smooth.

At 84 inches long, with a 58.3-inch wheelbase and 574-pound curb weight, the H2 SX SE is big for a sportbike, even one with touring intentions (it slots in neatly between the Ninja 1000 and Concours 14 size-wise). Overall, I’d call the riding position “comfortable sportbike.”

Despite being mounted above the top triple clamp on the fully-adjustable 43mm Kayaba fork, some will find the clip-on handlebars too low for comfort on longer rides, though the reach over the 5-gallon gas tank isn’t extreme and the weighted and padded footpegs are lower than typical supersport height.

I did find that the angular seat created pressure points on the insides of my upper thighs after a long day. But my main complaint was vibration that would creep into the right grip at certain rpm/gear combos; on the freeway it would quickly put my hand to sleep unless I was able to use the cruise control. Around town it simply comes and goes.

So is the H2 SX SE a real-world, touring-capable sportbike? Sure, but it’s something more special as well, a true superbike in many ways.

At $22,000, it’s doubtful Kawasaki will sell many of them, but I don’t think that’s the point. Sometimes you build something because you can–to create an aspiration, a superhero to inspire us mere mortals…and this bike definitely inspires my inner Supergirl.