From the moment the Kawasaki H2 was released, motorcycle enthusiasts have been clamoring for a naked version with all of its supercharged madness. Well, wait no more because the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 has arrived, and it fills the capstone within the all-important, sporty yet street-friendly, Z-family lineup as its flagship model.
Featuring an all-new chassis, comfortable ergonomics, and an updated electronics package, the rip-roaring Z H2 utilizes the same 998cc supercharged powerplant as the H2 SX line, with a few notable changes to fit this naked bike application.
We packed our bags and headed off to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for two days of riding on the road course, the oval track, and the surrounding roads to feel the full spectrum of the Kawasaki Z H2.
Despite the teeth-chattering 40-degree weather, the Z H2 was able to prove that it has a whole lot more going for it than outlandish power, with versatility being a strong suit. Now, let’s roll the dice and get on with the Fast Facts.
1. The 998cc supercharged inline-four engine is astounding, and not just because of all that raw power. The Z H2’s supercharged powerplant is amazingly smooth. It does not lug. It does not rattle. It is the definition of refined. Due to those qualities, I’d go as far as describing its 197 horsepower at 10,500 rpm and 101 ft-lbs of torque at 9500 rpm as friendly. Power on this motorcycle is omnipresent, and it builds in a predictable, linear fashion. But, make no mistake, the stunning acceleration will make you feel like you’re Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier when you hold the throttle wide-open. The Z H2 is as happy plodding along on city streets as it is running at full-chat around the oval track, where I reached speeds of 168 mph and, yes, it still had much more in it. I, however, did not.
2. While the Z H2’s engine is essentially the same as what’s powering the H2 SX lineup, though there have been crucial changes to give it more low-end and mid-range oomph. To that end, Kawasaki engineers developed new model-specific fuel maps, and an entirely new exhaust system with longer header pipes, that prioritizes low-end and mid-range power while meeting Euro 5 emissions standards. The final piece of the puzzle is shorter final-drive gearing. In comparison to the H2 SX, the Z H2 has far more snap and responsiveness at low rpm, which I noticed while tip-toeing around the chilled road course and on the street. My, oh my, is it easy to pick up the front while exiting corners, giving you a taste of that naked bike hooligan goodness.
3. Supercharging ain’t easy, and the Z H2 has some tricks up its sleeve. The prominent asymmetric ram air duct helps this beast gulp down air, and does so with the most direct path into the engine, maximizing performance and efficiency. The 69mm supercharger impellor, which is specific to the H2 SX and Z H2, is machined with a five-axis CNC mill to create the six full-length blades at the tip, down to the dozen shorter blades at the base. This allows a broader spread of power. The impellor is also responsible for the chirping sound you hear when decelerating. Commonly, superchargers require intercoolers, but they add weight. Kawasaki engineers managed to sidestep the issue by utilizing an efficient design that doesn’t raise the compressed air temperature excessively. Direct oil-jet cooling also gives critical components a refreshing spritz of oil to ensure proper lubrication and operating temperatures. Lastly, cast pistons are used as they are essential in such high-performance applications.
4. The slick six-speed dog-ring transmission comes equipped with an up/down quickshifter and an assist-and-slipper clutch. The gearbox on the Z H2 is a peach, with its precise, easy shifting. As if that weren’t enough, you’ll never need to fiddle with the relatively light clutch unless you’re coming to a stop, thanks to the quickshifter that works well in either direction. Kawasaki does state that you should only utilize it when the engine is spinning above 2500 rpm; on this motorcycle, that’s easy to comply with. The slipper function helps sort out any hamfisted downshifts you might make, alleviating wheel-hop and keeping you out of the dirt.
5. Ride-by-wire throttle paves the way for three preset and one customizable ride mode. Once behind the handlebar of the Z H2, riders will have the choice of Sport, Road, Rain, and Rider modes. As you might have guessed, the modes adjust the levels of traction control, throttle response, and all other electronic aids. Interestingly, Sport and Road share a throttle map, which is a sporty pairing well suited with the H2’s personality. At higher rpm, a bit of abruptness can be felt when initially closing the throttle, though it doesn’t upset the chassis. TC is bumped down to the lowest setting in Sport, giving you plenty of leeway; Road reigns it in a bit. Rain cuts power and softens the throttle considerably, while also jacking up TC to its maximum settings. Rider mode allows the owner to customize the Z to taste.
6. A full suite of IMU-supported electronics is standard on the 2020 Z H2. As linear and easy to control as the supercharged engine is, it’s still good to have state of the art technology watching over your shoulder. Standard features assisted by the six-axis Bosch IMU include cornering ABS, three-level lean-angle-detecting traction control, wheelie control, slide control, cruise control, and launch control. Also, three power modes are available—Full (full power), Middle (75 percent power), and Low (50 percent) let you tailor the maximum output to your needs.
7. Let’s crunch the numbers and dive into the electronics. Kawasaki approaches the Z H2 with a mind for simplicity and, while that strategy restricts certain types of adjustment, it isn’t something I’d be critical of as this isn’t a track-focused motorcycle. Still, the Z H2 is a street bike, so I want things to be as easy as possible. ABS is paired with the selected ride mode and works quite well. I tested this in a chicane set up on the oval track, slowing from 160+ mph, down to a slow 2nd gear corner. ABS engages under extreme braking, but it won’t make the lever go numb, preventing you from slowing properly. The three-level TC also integrates WC; they are not adjustable separately. TC levels 1 and 2 let you loft the front under a power wheelie for quite a while, and intervention is progressive throughout each setting.
8. An all-new steel trellis and swingarm are unique to the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2. One of the most significant challenges facing Kawasaki engineers was the steel trellis frame. They needed it to be strong enough to handle the power and weight of the platform, without making it too stiff or uncompromising for the road. To solve that issue, an all-new trellis frame was developed, along with a stronger, yet lighter double-sided swingarm. In practice, the Z H2 communicates everything to the rider nicely, and is a neutral handling machine with updated geometry figures, when compared to its cousins. The Z H2 boasts a tighter, more sporting 57.3-inch wheelbase than the H2 SX platform, but a slightly relaxed 24.9-degree rake for improved stability.
9. Fully adjustable Showa suspension takes care of the rough stuff. There is a 43mm SFF-BP fork with a linkage-assisted shock. Together, they do well to soak up most of the bumps and bruises of the road, featuring an initial setup that leans towards the comfortable side. Cranking the spring-preload and damping up will have you feeling too much of the road for my taste. While that’s good for high-speed or heavy braking, I opted for a more casual setup off-track. It doesn’t make the Z H2 as pointed as I experienced on the road course and oval while going flat out, but is far more pleasurable on the mean streets.
10. The Z H2 is downright gentlemanly when it comes to handling. Overall, it has a more compliant chassis feel to it. It isn’t as stiff as a ZX-10R or as soft as the H2 SX SE sport tourer, striking a solid middle ground between them. It comfortably leans onto the edge of the tire and transitions well, with no real effort being exerted on the bike. The Z H2 doesn’t steer too quick or too slow. It has just the right amount of sportiness for a spirited pace, and is sure-footed on the edge of the tire. There is some suppleness to the chassis, and I attribute that to its hefty 527-pound curb weight. Regardless, it never gets out of shape when hitting big compression bumps.
11. Brembo M4.32 calipers keep the shiny side up. Kawasaki opted for dual Brembo 4-piston M4.32 calipers to clamp onto the 320mm floating rotors. Now, before you scoff at the lack of M50s or Stylemas, know that these have immense stopping power and great feel at the Nissin master cylinder. I enjoyed these binders over some motorcycles that are equipped with pricier Brembo kit. The one critique I do have is the inclusion of rubber hoses as opposed to steel-braided brake lines, especially on a high-performance motorcycle that stresses braking systems. I didn’t feel any worrying brake fade, but it was also extremely cold, and it might be a different story in the summer. Adjustable levers are also in the mix. In the rear, a dual-piston caliper grabs onto a 250mm rotor and has an equally good feel.
12. Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires are OEM fitment. Featuring a single compound front tire and dual compound, the Diablo Rosso III tires are an excellent option for those who will ride primarily on the street—wanting to do a bit of sporty riding, while also getting considerable mileage out of them. 120/70 front and 190/55 sizes are common, so if owners want to go with something else, they’ll have plenty of options. Off the showroom floor, the Pirellis are a great fit for the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2.
13. All-day ergonomics is a crucial component of the Z family. The Z H2’s upright ergonomics make riding around town, hitting the canyons, or even the track, a relaxed affair. The riser handlebar is noticeably taller than the H2 SX platform, creating a sporty, yet neutral riding position. Its 32.7-inch seat height is accessible for my 32-inch inseam, and I’m able to get my boots on the ground. That’s most likely because Kawasaki made the subframe relatively narrow where the seat meets the tank. The five-gallon fuel tank makes for an excellent anchor when leaned over or braking and gives you considerable range. Once at pace, you’ll be pleased to learn that wind protection is much better than you might assume, and you can still tuck in for better aerodynamics. When riding casually, the Sugomi-styled machine does a decent job of protecting the rider from windblast.
14. A stellar full-color TFT display delivers all the information you need, and more. Once at the grips of the Z H2, you’ll be eyeing down the attractive TFT display that’s shared across several Kawasaki models. It works and looks the business, relaying everything you’d ever need to know at a glance, in or out of direct light. There are also two display modes available. My favorite feature is the dash’s retention of my maximum attained lean angle.
15. Track rides, collect data, and take calls with Bluetooth connectivity through the Kawasaki Rideology app. Should you choose, you’ll be able to pair your mobile device with your Z H2 and track virtually every single aspect of your ride. Info such as speed, rpm, gear position, throttle position, front brake pressure, acceleration/deceleration, current mileage, and coolant temperature are all recorded once you’ve saved your ride. That’s how I discovered that I hit 168 mph on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval track. The app also retains basic information about your motorcycle, such as mileage and fuel levels, allowing you to check that information even when the key is out, and its nowhere near you.
16. The US market will only receive the Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Graphite Gray/Mirror Coated Spark Black paint combination. That’s an impressively long name for a colorway, but it’s the one with the green frame. Although, because it was a world launch, some of the examples I rode featured colorways not available in the United States.
17. The 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 is a worthy addition to the Z family, and all gearheads owe it to themselves to experience it. Kawasaki’s line of supercharged models is like nothing else on the market. Nothing makes that nearly 200 horsepower in such an approachable, smooth, and friendly manner. The trick to the Z H2 is that the rider chooses how friendly it will be. You can plod around town at a turtle’s pace, or experience the face-melting acceleration on tap—it’s up to you, and it does both excellently. A comfortable chassis and commendable electronics package harnesses the enormous power, while enjoyable ergonomics help highlight how versatile the Z H2 is. The 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 might be built for speed, but it’s far from being a one-trick-pony.
Location photography by Ula Serra and James Wright
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
- Suit: Mithos RCP-18
- Airbag: Alpinestars Tech-Air
- Baselayers: VnM Sport Compression
- Gloves: Alpinestars GP Pro R3
- Boots: Alpinestars Limited Edition Victory Supertech R
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Specs
- Type: Supercharged inline-4
- Displacement: 998cc
- Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm
- Compression ratio: 11.2:1
- Maximum power: 197 horsepower @ 10,500 rpm
- Maximum torque: 101 ft/lbs @ 9500 rpm
- Fueling: EFI w/ four 40mm throttle bodies and dual injectors
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Trellis
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 43mm inverted Showa SFF-BP fork; 4.7 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable Showa shock; 5.3 inches
- Tires: Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 190/55 x 17
- Front brakes: Semi-floating 320mm disc w/ radially mounted 4-piston calipers
- Rear brake: 250mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 57.3 inches
- Rake: 24.9 degrees
- Trail: 4.1 inches
- Seat height: 32.9 inches
- Fuel capacity: 5.0 gallons
- Curb weight: 527 pounds
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Colors:
- Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Graphite Gray/Mirror Coated Spark Black
2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Price:
- $17,000 MSRP