I had pranged my Suzuki GT550 and, after a lengthy recovery, decided that the time had come to realize a dream. This was the era of the Sex Pistols and punk rockers pogoing their way down the Kings Road. My friend had “No Fun” tattooed on his arm (it is a little blurry now) and I was determined to make a rebellious statement, too. That meant only one choice for a replacement bike and, despite being an impecunious 21-year-old, it had to be the Kawasaki H2 Mach IV.
The infamous, bad attitude “Widowmaker” had three cylinders displacing a total of 750cc and producing 74 horsepower; triple upswept chrome pipes wailed anti-socially to everyone within earshot. Weight of the H2 was around a feathery (for the time) 450 pounds, but fuel consumption was literally laughable. If you caned it (and who didn’t?), it was possible to dip below 20 mpg.
She was blue. A Stan Stephens-tuned ex-production racer, the owner had taken a tumble at Cadwell Park and lost his nerve. So, he stuck the lights and ‘bars back on and sold her to me. The ring-ding-dinging of the air-cooled cylinders was peculiarly magical. Crouched behind the clocks, I could see myself as Barry Sheene blazing around Clearways at Brands-except that Barry, um, rode a Suzuki, but you get the point. Allied to that intoxicating sound, the fact that the engine produced most of its power over 6000 rpm encouraged me to ride like a hooligan, and (in my own mind) emulate my hero.
And thus it was I found myself commuting to my “real” job in the City of London on the H2. Kennington Road was particularly challenging. The surface was luridly oily with truck diesel waste and the tarmac was old and shiny. The road was straight, but in the wet (as it usually is in England), the H2’s erupting power would immediately overwhelm the frantically scrabbling rear Dunlop TT100.
It must have a been a bizarre sight to watch me creep off each set of traffic lights and then struggle to hang on as the engine shrieked, the power kicked in and the rear wheel shuddered and wriggled and spun. The wail from the three pipes out back of the bike was more like a crazed bagpipe player with whale-sized lungs than a motorcycle-but it sounded the business from the saddle, and I would disappear in a blue haze of freshly burnt Castrol R.
To be honest, she did not handle well, but I didn’t care. What I lost in the corners, I would make up on the straights. That was the ethos behind this anti-social, V-sign (not polite in Britain) of a machine. Designed to annihilate the competition in any traffic light grand prix, Kawasaki’s brochure correctly said it all: the H2 is “a machine you must take seriously” as it “demands the razor sharp reactions of an experienced rider.” I did not claim to be either of those, but I can attest that the chromed-spring twin shocks at the back were as easily overwhelmed in a fast, bumpy corner as the rear tire was in the wet; those corners inevitably became a nasty combination of off-throttle weaving, followed by some life-saving tightening of the chassis as I rolled the throttle back on.
Riding Daniel Schoenewald’s nice example of Kawasaki’s infamous machine, I was immediately struck by how far motorcycles have come in the last 37 years (yikes!). But, at the same time, I was wholly impressed by just how good the bike was. Once we had gassed up and turned the fuel tap to the Prime position, it was time to fold up the right side footpeg and crank away on the kickstarter. It only took a few strokes to light her up. Moving away, the clutch felt a good deal lighter than I had remembered, and the brakes a good deal worse than we are now used to; I needed to issue a pretty hefty squeeze at the lever to get any real response from the front single disc.
The motor was very impressive. The familiar smell of burnt two-cycle oil wafted upwards and brought a flood of great memories with it. Useful torque arrived around 3500 rpm, and in normal riding the acceleration from there was quite acceptable.
When quickly overtaking a vehicle, I dropped down a gear, as at around 5000 rpm the motor really lit up. At 6000 rpm, it went shrieking crazy, just as I’d remembered. I had forgotten that the H2 is redlined at “only” 7500 rpm, but the motor happily pulled all the way to the top without hesitation. Off-throttle, the H2 motor became a little snatchy and necessitated me pulling in the clutch to avoid undue discomfort to both Schoenewald’s bike and me.
I had cranked up the friction steering damper atop the triple clamp to help the handling; although I did not take any really fast corners, the bike was surprisingly stable and quick turning.
The quirky gearbox, with neutral at the bottom of the shift pattern, was another “feature” that had slipped my mind. In tight quarters, I would suddenly find myself with no drive and frantically stabbing the ground with my leg as the bike wanted to flop over; it took a while to get back into the habit of clicking all the way down to neutral, and then immediately back up to first.
The Kawasaki H2 Mach IV was a charismatic, raucous, incredibly thrilling motorcycle that demanded attention whether parked or moving. Unapologetically raw, it delivered an undiluted riding experience that required absolute focus from its rider.
Throughout the bike’s short run from 1972 to 1975, Kawasaki promised to give the H2 rider “the most exciting and exhilarating performance” and I will bet there isn’t a single owner who would dispute that they succeeded. Between this machine and the awe-inspiring KZ900 series, Kawasaki Heavy Industries cemented a reputation for breathtaking performance that it still enjoys today. <<
Helmet: Bell Apex
Jacket: Tourmaster Coaster II
Gloves: Tourmaster Standard Summer
Pants: Tourmaster Decker Leather
Boots: TCX Airtech XCR
Photography by Don Williams