Once upon a long time ago, man walked. Then he ran. Then he rode horses and drove chariots. Finally, he progressed to motorcycles. What remained a constant throughout was the desire for speed. Indeed there is something inherently intoxicating about speed. So much so, that the quest for speed in everyday life, world record attempts notwithstanding, actually had to be curtailed with a gentleman’s agreement between two two-wheeler giants. But agreement or not, the need for speed never really died down. And that brings us to the two wonderful machines you see here. They both come from the same stock, which is Kawasaki, and they’re both looking for the same thing – speed. But they are deliciously different in their approach to their goals.
In many ways, that Kawasaki would continue its hunt for speed was always a foregone conclusion, for that has been its tradition. Although the start of the inline four era can, and should, be credited to Honda’s CB750 that came out in 1969 – a landmark year in its own right, it was the Kawasaki Z1 that truly went on to claim the record of the fastest production motorcycle in the world in 1973.
With the Z1 capable of reaching speeds of 212kmph, Kawasaki began the process of paving the path ahead for generations of speed demons to follow. Nearly a decade after the Z1, Kawasaki wrestled the speed king crown back from the Honda VF1000R with its own Ninja GPZ 900R. And thus began the Ninja legacy that we fawn over even today. In 1984, the GPZ 900R was scarily fast, capable of speeds up to 254kmph. Four years later, the men in lime green followed it up with the ZX-10 Tomcat, which further pushed the benchmark to 266kmph.
Kawasaki allowed itself to be dethroned for a short while with Italian firm Bimota’s YB6 EXUP reigning as the champion before the Ninja ZX-11 came along in 1990 to reclaim the crown with a 283kmph speed run. What followed was one mad decade-long scramble for the crown of the fastest production motorcycle in the world. The number to breach on the speedo was set at 300. As bikes made the dash to the magic number, it soon became evident that these machines were lethal in the hands of incompetent pilots. Faced with probable import bans across Europe, which would lead to slow sales in one of their healthiest markets at the time, the manufacturers reached the famous gentleman’s accord to call it quits. Honda publicly announced that it was no longer part of the race, while Suzuki and Kawasaki (the other two main players) made no public statement but stuck to the accord anyway.
As a result the 312kmph top speed that was reached by the Suzuki Hayabusa before the accord, allowed the ‘Busa to retain the crown for a staggering 18 years! There were special editions and track-only versions of course that went quicker, but none were road legal or production motorcycles. Until, the Kawasaki lads gatecrashed the Busa’s party with the supercharged Ninja H2R. Piloted by Turkish rider and brilliant racer Kenan Sofuoglu, the 269bhp Ninja H2R took a heart-stopping 26 seconds to breach an incredible 400kmph!
We of course have the far humbler (and road legal) H2 of Mumbai’s Dr Cyres Mehta and the recently launched ZX-10RR of Vicky Jaisingh of Mumbai’s Performance Racing Store in our pages. Stay with us as we decipher how the same manufacturer took two completely different approaches to going fast.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR
Bound as the world of biking was with the gentleman’s agreement, no such accord existed on racetracks. But here the game wasn’t about achieving an outright speed in a straight line. The goal was the quickest lap time, where horsepower was only a part of the equation. Balance and dynamic abilities were of equal importance with the motorcycle tackling multiple corners per lap. Out on the racetracks of the world, power, agility and nimbleness rode hand-in-hand. Behold, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR.
Apart from the livery of the homologation special, a brooding matte black scheme that Kawasaki describes as the winter theme (the white snowflake sticker displayed prominently on the windscreen), you’d be hard pressed to tell the regular ZX-10R apart from the one with the extra alphabet. Both have the same shiny red Showa BFF forks, identical Brembo M Monobloc anchors and a whole bunch of other performance parts. Even the disco light console remains, despite it getting a bit old and slightly blingy.
As a matter of fact, the plain Jane ZX-10R is nearly race-spec and ready to shoot off a starting grid. Not to mention, it is also one of our favourite litre-class sportsbikes in India that neatly packages performance and ease of operability in a considerably affordable unit. So, what’s with the homologation special with the extra ‘R’ then?
Most of the changes are actually invisible to the naked eye for they are all under the skin. And a lot of those changes have to do with shaving weight. To start with, the ZX-10RR gets no pillion seat, which means no extra seat or foot rests. Believe it or not, Kawasaki managed to save a full kilo by eliminating those! The gorgeous seven-spoke Marchesini rims in the distinctive jet black finish with green rim tape are also lightweight. The consequence? Reduced inertial moment and gyroscopic effect. All of this translates into improved dynamic abilities, be it getting off the line quickly, rapid changes of direction or getting the bike to stop on a dime.
The real pudding though is inside the engine with the dark treatment and the engraved ‘RR’ moniker on the engine cover. The cylinder head has been modified to accept high-lift cams, an accessorial fitment with the ‘Race Kit’. The tappets get DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating which helps in cutting down friction while the crankcase has been reinforced to deal with race-tune setup.
The ZX-10R’s regular Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS) has been replaced in the RR with an updated version that allows shifting, both up and down the ’box. The KQS ties in neatly with the traction control, electronic engine brake control, launch control, intelligent anti-lock brakes and KCMF (Kawasaki Corner Management Function), more to provide a boost in the bike’s performance than act as a safety net.
As a result of these alterations to the regular bike, the ZX-10RR becomes a track weapon like no other. If you don’t believe us, digest this. The bike has won three of the past four WSBK titles – Tom Sykes winning in 2013 and narrowly missing out in 2014 with Jonathan Rea adding two further victories in 2015 and 2016.
Kawasaki Ninja H2
The letter H is of special significance in the annals of Kawasaki. The last time it was used prior to the H2 was way back in 1969 (there, that year again) when the men in green had unveiled the H1 Mach III. The machine was powered by an air-cooled, 499cc inline triple two-stroke. It was far from perfect but it was one of the fastest 500cc machines of its time and the sensations of speed it produced remained unrivalled. Small wonder that the bike was a hit. Soon enough, an H2 Mach IV followed. Although engine architecture was unchanged, the cubic capacity was increased to 748cc. By the time the bike went into production, Kawasaki had added the letter K to the H to create a KH for the two-stroker to keep it in sync with the KZ nomenclature of its four-stroke bikes.
The ‘H’ moniker remained dead until 2015 when the company decided to name its new litre-class superbike the Ninja H2. Although the engine was still the same as the ZX-10R, the motor received a supercharger to boost the velocity. Kawasaki had already experimented with a turbocharger in 1978 on the Z1R TC. The obvious problem with the turbo was the inevitable lag, which made the engines peaky in performance and thus more than a handful.
The Ninja H2 is radically different from any other superbike that Kawasaki has produced. For starters, the bike was the first Kawasaki to sport a tubular steel trellis frame. Given the ridiculous amount of power that the supercharged 998cc engine pumps out, the trellis frame offered a good balance between stiffness and torsional flexibility. Even the welding has been carried out to near perfection, where robots and humans put in combined effort to deliver precise welds. The open chassis design was also beneficial in heat dissipation from the engine as well as the supercharger, which are located quite close to the bike’s centre. With the trellis, Kawasaki was able to save up on a ton of weight and the learning was thereon embraced by newer generations of motorcycles like the Z900.
The star-pattern, 5-spoke rims are straight out of a modern art museum, the rear one even more so given the single-sided swingarm. Unlike others with a similar rear suspension set up, the Ninja H2 uses a five-nut locking mechanism instead of the single-centre lugnut that the Italians are known to embrace. This was also done to keep the rear hub compact and light.
Speaking of the single-sided swingarm, Kawasaki decided to implement it over the conventional one as it allowed them to design the exhaust end can to be mounted closer to the centre of the motorcycle. Instead of having additional members on the chassis to mount the swingarm, a mounting plate was designed which hooks itself directly onto the engine. With this, the trellis frame need not have extra cross members to supply stability, thus keeping the weight down.
The sole objective of the motorcycle was to attain mind boggling speeds. Hence aerodynamics played a key role in developing the motorcycle. The lines and edges have all been designed to either direct air around the rider or through the motorcycle (note the two Ram Air intakes next to the headlamp). Given the bulky dimensions, the need for cutting through the air efficiently was highly necessary. That is the reason you will find the design of the front as well as side body panels to have more edges and lips than your usual superbike.
All this lightness and supercharging transcends into making the H2 a straight-line hooligan, which would also do its duty around the bends. You will not be competitive on the H2 if you decide to enter the Isle of Man. But take it down to any drag strip and let the throttle rip and there just may be the chance that you walk home with the fastest time of the event. Reiterating here, drag strip only and not the streets!
Ideally these two motorcycles are a class apart in the festival of speed. Both are speed icons in their own right and you have to clearly decide how you plan to undertake your journey to attain a speedy nirvana.
If getting your name alongside WSBK legends such as Troy Bayliss and Carl Fogarty is your wish, then there are few bikes that can match the ZX-10RR. It is as happy chewing down the kilometre-long start-finish straight in Qatar as it is waltzing its way around the Sachsenring before cutting through Motegi with the precision of a Katana.
However, if you want to follow in the footsteps of Rickey Gadson, AMA drag racing champion, the Ninja H2 will be one of your best companions for the job. It is light, quick and fast – the three components that you require to be extremely competitive for drag racing. Then of course there is the added boost from a supercharger. Now go ahead and take your pick.