Comparisons

Big bad blowers: Turbo, Supercharger or NA? What should you invest on?

H2

When normally aspirated engines aren’t enough to whet one’s appetite, there’s always turbo and supercharged options for the ultimate thrills.

It’s a changing world. Which one can do it with a bit of spice?

Horsepower and dyno numbers are vital pub ammo, which has slowly evolved into an obsession all over the world. As sportsbike lovers, there’s an inherent pursuit of peak power figures that runs throughout the country, and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bolt-on goodies. But there’s a limit to normally aspirated (NA) motors, and hunting horsepower usually sacrifices reliability and engine longevity. A race engine will net you 220bhp, although you’ll need a refresh after 1000km. What you need is forced induction. Yes, you.

Regardless of what you make of the aesthetics, Kawasaki raised the bar with the release of the H2 – the result of KHI’s (Kawasaki Heavy Industries) technology arsenal, a rolling melange that showcases the Big K’s clout and valour, and uses all its resources in doing so. While some question the H2R’s point of existence, the road-legal H2’s everyday usability blended with supercharged silliness has to be tasted.

“This relatively unassuming Suzuki GSX-R1000 K5 was purchased for a bargain after a new customer had been previously shafted by another tuning shop.”

There aren’t any true rivals for the H2, so we thought we’d source some turbo talent to test its mettle. Big CC – as the name suggests – build very fast motorbikes from their base in Wokingham, and hold various top speed records for both NA and forced induction motors. This relatively unassuming Suzuki GSX-R1000 K5 was purchased for a bargain after a new customer had been previously shafted by another tuning shop. Big CC then worked their magic and this naughty little thing is the end result.

There are arguments both for and against turbos and superchargers, and this test does little to cement a definitive solution. Both supply hideous power, and both have very different manners. K5 or H2? No, they’re not Staedtler pencils…

Kawasaki H2

There aren’t many other bikes to have divided opinion like Kawasaki’s H2. Then again, there aren’t many other manufacturers with the swingers to release such a techno queen. To some, it’s an ugly monstrosity that’ll never challenge garage space. To others, it’s the perfect vanity mirror and 200bhp supercharged companion. Either way, I’m not sure how I could live with continually buffing the H2’s chrome paint and removing paltry boot scuffs, although I could certainly live with the Ninja’s dynamics.

“I wouldn’t torment my gran by insisting she rides it, but there are no nasties in the H2’s armoury.”

Despite 200bhp, menacing looks and supercharged status, the H2 is actually rather affable – vastly more so than the heinous H2R. Much of this is due to clever ride-by-wire strategies and a versatile engine with binary manners. I wouldn’t torment my gran by insisting she rides it, but there are no nasties in the H2’s armoury. There’s a tight, compact feel to the riding position. Your limbs are well within reach of one another, but it’s not cramped. If anything, the ergonomics provide a sense of control to proceedings. That seat design isn’t purely for cosmetic reasons – it’s there to prevent the pilot from falling off the back under acceleration.

Thrashing an H2 comes with a unique soundtrack. It’s a cross between being stuck in a bird aviary and a bass bin at a rave. With every portion of revs dished out, there’s a different noise to accompany the mayhem. Euro 4 compliancy hasn’t affected the H2’s noise, nor has it affected the power in any way. It still pulls cleanly from 2,000rpm but doesn’t start busting your balls until 10,000rpm where the dash starts having a fit. It may not boast stupefying peak power but it’s the way in which it gets to the redline that impresses with a constant surge of meaty torque. It’s not revolutionary fast, but the noise and supercharged methods mean a heightened sense of speed.

A soft throttle response makes light work of slow-speed drudgery and the H2 oozes smoothness at less committed speeds. With super-wide working parameters, the engine allows cruising around in top gear at 50kmph without any hesitation, and the gearbox and other ancillaries just add to the silky output, bar the clutch. That’s a tad heavy. Chasing Alan, who was aboard the K5, myself and the H2 marmalised them through traffic with instant grunt on tap. It’s only when the roads opened up and the K5 was allowed to breathe that the power deficiency was palpable.

Ridden hard, the electronics offer far more than a safety blanket, which is useful when there’s a supercharged lump underneath you. Far from sluggish, it takes some bossing in change of direction – no surprise given its quarter-of-a-ton performance on the scales – and the anti-wheelie acts as more than just an anti-flip device, helping the bike steer under hard acceleration.

“It’ll take a well-spanked conventional superbike to shake the Ninja, though its weight and idiosyncrasies soon intervene.”

On the road its mass feels well centralised and utterly controllable, with an assuring dollop of mechanical grip at either end and a very planted mid-corner stance. It’ll take a well-spanked conventional superbike to shake the Ninja, though its weight and idiosyncrasies soon intervene. I say conventional, as the H2 carries something unique to the supersports sector other than wearing a blower. On track, it’s a good few seconds off the latest litre bikes thanks to its quirks. Top-shelf Brembo braking halts 240kg with ease and a plush lever to boot. Soft suspension dives and delivers oodles of comforting weight transfer, yet a positive by-product of the softness is bump management and coping with uneven surfaces. The damping is exquisite, regulating its weight and supplying stroke control that you’d expect from a `33 lakh beast.

Big CC’s Suzuki GSX-R1000 K5

You’ll have probably read the H2’s pages and fathom my sense of underwhelming prose. Ridden in isolation, it’s an enthralling time. But up against this stealth Suzuki, Kawasaki’s efforts dwindle into insignificance. From various angles, this K5 looks like any other K5. From the only angles that matter – the cockpit and 100% throttle angles – it’s the most intense two-wheeled experience outside of MotoGP. In its current guise with 12Psi of boost, it churns out a measly 300bhp at the rear wheel. With 30Psi and race fuel, there’s a more respectable 492bhp and a top speed of over 386kmph.

I honestly can’t recall the last time such pre-ride trepidation arose. With a mild sense of self-preservation kicking in, I nominated Alan to test its cornering ability on cold, autumnal roads. Before the second pass of the snapper, the exhaust was down, as was the protruding K&N filter. Even your mum went down, yet Alan was making it look all very easy.

“On start-up, it sounds like your archetypal rough-sounding Gixer with additional badboy noises.”

My turn. It feels low, long and deeply awkward, destined for Santa Pod, not Salisbury Plain. There are no indicators and little thought for the road. On start-up, it sounds like your archetypal rough-sounding Gixer with additional badboy noises. As if the full system wasn’t flamboyant enough, it idles at a horrendously high 3,000rpm, which doesn’t make life easy when passing funeral processions or cunningly hunting gusset on a high street. Chuck in some long gearing, and the clutch/throttle needs some abuse just to gain momentum.

You need big balls to ride this bike properly. Mine are big, but they’re still not big enough to pacify this fiend. Below 7,000rpm it feels like just another K5, although there’s a sense of debauchery seeping through the ’bars, an intangible sense of caged animal waiting to be unleashed.

Pinning the throttle above 7,000rpm as the boost awakes – in any gear – is like teetering on the edge of death while poking Satan in the bollocks with a javelin. If you’ve seen the film Turbo, you’d be familiar with the starring nitrous oxide-powered snail, who frantically races around like he’s on an intravenous drip filled with the finest meth in the land. That’s the best way to articulate Big CC’s K5.

“Unfortunately, the stock (and 10-year-old) Suzuki brakes aren’t a match for the power, more of a Kinder Surprise effort to the Kawasaki’s awesomeness.”

I’ve never experienced anything so brutal and nothing can prepare you for the chaos. My vision simply couldn’t cope with the sensation overload, and two fingers constantly covered the front brake like a TZ750 rider’s nervous clutch hand would. Unfortunately, the stock (and 10-year-old) Suzuki brakes aren’t a match for the power, more of a Kinder Surprise effort to the Kawasaki’s awesomeness.

That said, it still chews corners. With a swingarm longer than Omar’s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the K5’s innate handling ability would be buggered. There’s no doubt it’s lost some fluidity but that front-end feeling and K5 assurance is still present, even if the clouds of disintegrating K&N can be occasionally off putting. Given its length, it drops briskly to respectable lean angles before ground clearance becomes an issue. In truth, without the swingarm, it would be unrideable and no amount of wiz-bang electronic control will have the minerals to tame this delivery.

Despite the frenzy, we didn’t see the fuel light until 200km were clocked on a full tank, which mainly involved bimbling along at 130kmph. Then again, with this tall gearing, the boost doesn’t start playing until 180kmph, officer. All this for around `17 lakh (in the UK).

My hands have only just stopped shaking after riding the Big CC Suzuki. There’s a giant risk of being sycophantic here, but this is the gnarliest, most enthralling two-wheeled experience available.

“It’s likely this’ll flow on to us and our two-wheeled companions, as most things generally do when they’ve found success in the car world.”

Kawasaki has just announced another supercharged model called the H2 SX, this time in the sports-touring sector. It’s evident that the technology won’t sell big numbers but that’s not what this is all about. We’ve seen the car world pick up pace with the number of super’d motors that have descended on showrooms near you, with the key points being more efficiency and the scope to run smaller capacity lumps… as there’s no longer that need for a mahoosive lump when you’ve got the likes of a supercharging mofo on-board. It’s likely this’ll flow on to us and our two-wheeled companions, as most things generally do when they’ve found success in the car world. Well, with the exception of steering wheels of course. It’s a changing world. One which could do with a bit of spice, such as these horsepower enhancing jobbies, every now and again.

It’s just a shame the delights of turbos aren’t likely to become quite so wholesale. Bikes have been there before many moons ago, at a time when I was just a mere street urchin stealing whatever porn mags I could get my hands on. It didn’t work out, but that’s not to say it’s not a feasible proposition in today’s world. If you ask me, for that full-blown ball tingling delight, you need to invest in a T-U-R-B-O. But be warned that just like this K5 Gixer, they do come with one major, inherent problem; the ability to use all of its firepower. Of course, 300bhp in turbo trim is utterly absurd, and we love it. With ever-increasing speed limits and busy roads, prison time is only a whiff of throttle away. But it’ll be a memorable journey getting there. Pre-prison van, of course.

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