The mouthwatering specs of the 2019 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE+ encouraged us into an extended test. After several exhilarating months and just over 2700 miles, we can safely say that this new Ninja is even better than its excellent predecessor.The updates for 2019 include active suspension, integrated riding modes, smartphone connectivity, Brembo Stylema monoblock calipers, and highly durable self-repairing paint.
Sport-touring covers a broad spectrum of motorcycle models, and the H2 SX SE+ lands almost entirely on the sport side of the scale. The riding position is fairly committed for a touring machine, and its incredible power and excellent handling makes the H2 a genuine sportbike. However, its wet weight of 590 pounds pushes it more towards the touring side of things, so Kawasaki equipped this motorcycle with a tolerable riding position for both rider and passenger. The SE+ also has a full set of traveling amenities to make those committed fast riders able to go long distances when desired.If I were a purchaser of this bike—a very real possibility—I would fit taller bars to the H2 SX SE+. While the position doesn’t need a dramatic change, lifting a bit more weight off my shoulders and wrists would be a welcome relief. Beyond that, the rubber-covered footpegs are positioned for a natural riding position, and the wide, well-padded seats are both grippy and comfortable.My passenger was quite complimentary about the pillion accommodations. She liked the riding position, and notes that there is plenty of room between us, so she was able to sit quite upright on the long, straight stretches. The side grab-rails fall easily to hand, and the gas tank is shaped so that she can lean on her hands if necessary, to keep her weight off me when I get hard on the brakes. Her only negative comment is that the bags are close to the rear of the passenger footpegs, so she isn’t able to ride on the balls of her feet, as she prefers. Overall, she not only really enjoys the ride, she asked me if we could buy the SE+.Our final trip of the test was a 700-mile weekend-long roundtrip to Monterey from the Los Angeles metropolitan area, so we were two-up and with full luggage. The new electronic suspension has three factory preload settings (rider; rider + luggage; and two riders + luggage) that show on the dash. You can feel the servo adjust the rear ride height if you change preload while standing still. Conveniently, the setting can be changed while riding, as long as the throttle is closed. In addition to the three stock preload settings, by going into the menu, you can add or subtract preload up to 5 levels each way from each of the three default modes.The sophisticated suspension is customizable, so if you don’t quite jibe with the factory settings, you can make it your own. I had the suspension set on the stiffest preload setting (two riders, plus luggage), with three extra counts of load added to that.Of the general riding modes, the three standard settings—Sport, Road, and Rain—vary the amount of power and throttle aggression, as well as traction control and ABS interference. These presets cannot be modified. However, a fourth Rider mode is fully customizable. Once I discovered just how tunable Rider mode is, I used that exclusively when the conditions were dry.The route to Monterey started from Thousand Oaks on a drizzly day, heading to Ojai via Santa Paula. The inclement weather allowed me the opportunity to try out Rain mode—approximately half-power and gentle throttle response, combined with maximum traction control and softest suspension damping.The ride down Grimes Canyon, and then up California State Route 150 from Santa Paula into Ojai, saw some slippery tarmac and really very sketchy conditions, especially on the final downhill switchbacks.Rain in Southern California is so rare that the rubber and oil laid down by traffic collects on the road. When it does finally rain, we’re left with an overly slick surface. The H2 SX SE+’s throttle connection is so good, and the power delivery so gentle when in the lower rev range and supercharger boost, that the journey held no heart-stopping moments. The big H2 is well balanced, and the chassis behaves impeccably at all times.The 2020 Kawasaki H2 SX SE+ comes equipped with Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21R sport tires. The tires have a dual compound front and a triple-compound rear, so Kawasaki is serious about equipping this machine to go fast. Due to our extra load, I pumped up the psi to 34 front, 36 rear (cold).The Bridgestones behaved very well and had plenty of feel; they had excellent grip in both wet and dry conditions, so the bike tracked predictably through corners. Even in the wet, there was no nervousness at the grips, and I had tons of confidence in the front. I’m also impressed by their longevity. For a sport tire fitted to such a heavy and powerful motorcycle that encourages jaw-dropping acceleration runs, the rear tire has lasted almost 2800 miles. I like that S21Rs have retained their characteristics nearly through to the end of their lives.During the wet weather stint, I also found I liked the feel—especially on initial application—of the new Brembo Stylema monoblock brakes. The H2 SX SE+ brakes have the level of power necessary to bring all that weight down from speed in a hurry. Indeed, I used that more than once, but it was that initial gentleness and great feel that I really appreciated in wet conditions.We then headed up an unusually wet and foggy California State Route 33. Over the mountain, past Lockwood Valley Road and into Cuyama Valley, we finally broke through into clearer weather and stopped at the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company. Sampling from the amazing variety of flavors, we eventually settled on a four-pound bag of the Chile Lemon flavor. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe them.Exiting the pistachio farm on to the 11-mile straightaway north out of Ventucopa, I took the opportunity offered by that long, very empty stretch of road disappearing into the horizon, to open up the Ninja and “see what she could do.” Despite the 3000-feet high-desert elevation, the supercharged Ninja did not disappoint.It’s hard to describe the H2’s power. However, I can tell you that it doesn’t have that slightly frantic feel of the powerful, high-revving inline-four superbikes. The H2 supercharged engine is turbine smooth and has that jet-like thrust you feel when you’re taking off in an aircraft and the Captain goes to maximum power. If there were a backrest, you’d be jammed back into it.The supercharger is continuously engaged, always producing boost. The power builds rapidly, but not suddenly. As the revs build and the supercharger really starts to wind up, the feeling in the cockpit is akin to being massively, relentlessly shoved backward. It’s like being attached to a giant rubber cord that’s been stretched tight and has just released. There isn’t any forced induction lag, and there’s no big step in power like a two-stroke of yesteryear coming on song.Kawasaki tuned this motor for “more mid-range”—for a machine this powerful that’s an almost laughable statement. The acceleration is more like an unstoppable drive that builds so rapidly and inexorably that within seconds I found it almost hard to breathe. The speedometer spins into triple digits in the blink of an eye. All you can really do is focus, hang on tight, and grab the next gear every few seconds. I found myself alternately whooping like a banshee—and praying.The supercharged H2 is 100 pounds heavier than conventional liter-size superbikes, yet somehow this motorcycle feels more unrelenting, and ultimately more powerful than anything else I’ve ever ridden. It’s absolutely intoxicating. “Hi, my name is Arthur, and I’m a Kawasaki Ninja H2 addict.”The gearbox, in partnership with the engine, is one of the smoothest I’ve used; shifting gears is a pleasure that requires minimal effort. The Kawasaki quickshifter makes upshifts at speed almost imperceptible, especially in the higher gears. Downshifts are reliable too and, although it’s impossible to get that function totally smooth, it does work very well and is a boon to riding enjoyment for sure. Once you’ve got used to using these clutchless shifting systems, there’s no going back.Continuing on the 33, we soon reached the oil towns of Maricopa and Taft, past all the nodding donkeys. On the long straight stretches, I appreciated the cruise control, even though it tops out at 85 mph. Disengaging any cruise control can be a bit jerky, but by slightly fanning the H2’s clutch lever with a light touch, it smooths the transition out nicely.California’s controversial gas tax was introduced to resurface our roads, supposedly. As a definite government-bureaucracy skeptic, my initial reaction was “Yeah, right.” However, it seems that maybe I was wrong. The legendary portion of California State Route 58 that runs from McKittrick west to Santa Margarita at US Route 101, has been repaved into around 70 miles of one of the most gorgeously luscious, flawless tarmac ribbons I’ve seen in a while. This is motorcycling nirvana, and it is an open invitation to any high-speed, good handling motorcycle to, well, go very fast. Say what you will, but it does seem that the folks at Caltrans know how to build a great road if they’re motivated enough.Needless to say, that stretch of the 58, with the Ninja H2 SX SE+’s combination of overwhelming, smooth power; one of the smoothest quickshifter and gearboxes available; and the confidence-inspiring handling, proved to be one of the most fun rides I’ve had in a long time.The Kawasaki is a substantial machine, yet I was surprised by its agile handling. Aside from the aforementioned preload settings, the electronic suspension has three levels of factory-set damping that are Hard in Sport mode, Normal in Road mode, and Soft in Rain mode. In Rider mode, you can delve into the menu while stopped, and there are an additional five individual levels of compression and rebound damping at each end of the bike as well.The combination of our full load and the aggressive pace my compatriots kept up, meant that the rear shock felt a little soft. At a previous stop I had cranked up the rear shock to the maximum five counts of rebound and two counts of compression damping, and the mild wallow in some bumpy corners disappeared. I felt so connected to the H2 SX SE+, so in tune with what the chassis was communicating to me, that on that stretch of the 58, I went completely into the zone. It was just that incredible ribbon of asphalt and me, even though I had a passenger. This is why our type of riding is called ‘sportbiking’, and the Kawasaki H2 SX SE+ delivered it perfectly.Just before the end of the 58 at Santa Margarita, we opted to head north on the wildly slow and twisty 229 up through Creston, and then on Geneseo Road and California State Route 45 to Paso Robles. Past the 101, we hopped on Nacimiento Lake Drive. We crossed over the dam at Lake Nacimiento, and passed through the villages of Bee Rock and Lockwood on Interlake Road (aka Monterey County Route G14).At Lockwood, the G14 turns into Jolon Road, which took us to Fort Hunter Liggett. We rode through the US Army fort to Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that leads down to the Pacific Ocean and iconic California State Route 1 just south of Limekiln State Park.That 20-mile stretch Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from the Fort Hunter Liggett to through the forest to Cabrillo Highway contains some of the tightest, gnarliest series of first and second gear twists and turns that it has ever been my pleasure to attack. The H2’s power is so immaculate and easy to manage that a lot of the time, I took the lazy way out and used third gear instead of second, or even first. The incredible torque of the supercharged I-4 ZX-10R derived motor simply pulls the big Kawasaki smoothly out of even the slowest corners. It is an astounding motor, no two ways about it.Coming out of the forest and looking down on to the Pacific some 1500 feet below is a truly majestic sight—not that I had much time to take in the scenery. I was busy manhandling the H2 SX SE+ around the curves every hundred yards or so. The motorcycle reacts well to being pushed around; the handling is neutral and predictable, so showing it who is boss produced no ill effects.The road twists and turns, and there was some debris in a lot of the corners. Plus, the surface is quite bumpy. Yes, riding aggressively on a fully loaded 590-pound bike on that road is inadvisable. Yet, in my defense, those sticky Bridgestone S21R tires, combined with the immaculate front-end behavior of the H2 SX SE+, gave me such amazing feedback I had full confidence with no qualms, and zero heart-stopping moments. I planted my weight over the handlebars and just wrestled the H2 around each turn.The combination of excellent front-end grip, smooth throttle connection, and fabulous brakes turned what should have been an exhausting white-knuckle-ride into a brilliantly fun section that challenged me to be precise and smooth. It was a truly rewarding experience. At the bottom of the road, we took a breather and had a laugh. There’s simply nothing better than riding with a group of like-minded buddies on challenging roads.The ride up Highway 1 to Monterey took us through Big Sur, and once again the 2019 Kawasaki H2 SX SE+ proved its mettle. When you get into the higher gears and faster speeds, the motorcycle simply gets smoother and even more enjoyable.In a straight line, the H2 feels solid, and sizable. If I owned the H2 SX SE+, I would fit the two-inches taller Kawasaki accessory windshield ($120) to push the windblast a little higher over my helmet. Still, as it stands, the stock windshield isn’t bad.Snappy overtaking is just a matter of a quick throttle twist, even in sixth gear. If I drop down a gear or two, the acceleration is literally breathtaking. It is not only addicting to feel, it’s also comforting having the confidence that such power brings.Arriving in Monterey and checking into our ludicrously expensive Motel 6 room—nearly $200 for the night!—we appreciated the accessory hard luggage ($800) fitted to the bike. At 28-liters capacity each, the bags have ample room, and the brilliant frameless mounting system makes them incredibly easy to install and remove from the bike. With the weight slung low down either side at the rear, the H2’s handling is almost unaffected, so for me, these are a definite preference over having a top box perched high at the rear.The ride back down Big Sur and home to Thousand Oaks was brilliant fun and just as good as the ride up to Monterey. A lazy brunch at Big Sur’s Café Kevah—an outdoor terrace below famed Nepenthe restaurant—gave us breathtaking views over the mountain coastline and the Pacific Ocean in the morning sunlight.Over our entire test, the H2 SX has returned an average of 42 mpg, and the rear tire lasted just over 2800 miles. So, it seems that the Kawasaki H2 SX SE+ is not overly expensive to run from the perspective of consumables. I’m not sure I’d care even if it was, it’s that good.With a $25,000 price tag sans luggage, the H2 SX SE+ certainly isn’t cheap. Apart from the amazing motor, gearbox and chassis, there are a myriad of other cool items that fill out the spec-sheet. IMU-driven cornering ABS and sophisticated traction control help the ride. Add in the niceties of heated grips, nighttime cornering lights, accessory power port (not USB), and the new self-healing paint, and this motorcycle seems reasonably priced to me.The perfect weekend for us was enabled by this extraordinary motorcycle. The 2019 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE+ is the pinnacle of development for those who like their sport-touring motorcycles to be as powerful, and yet user-friendly as it’s possible to get. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it seems that I’m beyond hope. Yes, I want one.Action photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!