What’s it like riding a supercharged motorcycle? In a word: Excess. In a few more words: Sport-touring stupidity. In a full sentence: The Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE is a wonderfully silly rendition of a touring motorcycle that thinks it should be sitting on a World Super Bike starting grid. In pole position, no less.

Although there’s much more to the SX SE than this, the singularity of the Ninja H2 that always gets the attention is that Kawasaki has taken one of its already stupidly-powerful 1,000-cc superbike engines and added a supercharger to it. Yes, a supercharger. The end result in this trim is 197 horsepower at 11,000 rpm and 101.3 pound-feet of torque at 8,500 rpm. Like I said, on pole at a WSBK race, only with saddlebags and cruise control.

Those huge numbers aren’t the most startling thing about the SX SE

As soon as you hit the H2’s starter button — long before you’ve twisted the throttle in anger — comes the first big surprise. The H2, despite those numbers and the addition of a horizon-sucking supercharger, is as docile as a newborn lamb. It only requires 90-octane fuel, idles like a pussycat, and is incredibly smooth at low rpms. In fact, my Dainese Smart Jacket, which uses engine vibration to wake itself up from its “sleep” mode, would often shut off at stoplights, so smooth is the big Ninja at idle.

first ride: 2022 kawasaki ninja h2 sx se

2022 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE Photo by David Booth

Even when riding — at normal speeds at least — the engine is a big teddy bear. Yes, there’s 197 horses available, but at low speeds, the engine is in no way over-wrought. In fact, the effect of adding a supercharger has been, if anything, to smooth out the Ninja’s powerband, its throttle response the very definition of linear. Add a little more gas and it ups the ante appropriately. In fact, below 5,000 or 6,000 rpm, it scoots ahead with alacrity, but sans drama. Above 6,000 rpm, though, it’s, well—

Warp Factor 9.99, Mr. Sulu

Throttle the SX up once it’s anywhere near its torque peak — again, an incredible 101.3 pound-feet of torque at 8,500 rpm — and things start getting serious in a hurry. While other, lighter, superbikes can accelerate as adroitly, there’s a relentlessness to the SX’s charge that can only come from force-feeding a 998-cc engine copious amounts of (over-)boost. Hold the throttle wide open for any extended period of time and it feels like the SX will run out of gearing before it runs out of power.

Thankfully, the big beast rides on a fairly lengthy 1,480-millimetre wheelbase, and much of its 268 kilograms are distributed far forward. Otherwise, gears one, two, and three would be nothing but a constantly wheelie. The H2 has a Launch Control system; you’d be well advised to use it if you’re thinking of really hammering the gas from a standstill.

The handling is steady rather than scintillating

first ride: 2022 kawasaki ninja h2 sx se

2022 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE Photo by David Booth

A long wheelbase, a hefty curb weight, and a forward-biased mass distribution are the most touring-oriented aspects of the H2’s engineering. Turn-in is sharp enough, but the biggest Ninja wants a firm hand in cornering, and really appreciates a serious hanging off to get it leaned over. At the speeds it is capable of, that’s probably a good thing, but the SX SE, despite its sportbike-like appearance, is not something you “toss” into ess curves. Steady and deliberate is the order of the day.

That said, the SX SE enjoys some of the best suspension on a sport-touring motorcycle. Electronically adjustable, you can futz with the “Skyhook” Control’s compression and rebound damping, not to mention spring preload, to your heart’s content from the comfort of the handlebars. You can just choose the modes Kawasaki has chosen for you — essentially Rain, Road, and Sport — or you can customize your own using the Rider or manual configuration.

I found Sport a little stiff — see the above paragraph relating to age and joints — but ride in Sport is not that bone-jarring until you hit the worst of suburban potholes. That said, the setting I played with most, as always, was the rear preload setting, the choices being rider only; rider and luggage; and rider, passenger, and all their shoes and unmentionables.

High-techery for 2022

first ride: 2022 kawasaki ninja h2 sx se

2022 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE Photo by David Booth

Even more high-tech, however, is the addition, for 2022, of radar sensors fore and aft that allow the incorporation of adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot monitoring system, and front collision warning system. Much like the system on the latest Ducati Multistrada and BMW R1250 RT, the active cruise control system lets you “set and forget” a speed while the forward-seeing radar system will keep you an appropriate distance from the car, bike, or truck ahead.

Likewise, there’s a rear-facing sensor that can ‘see’ cars in your blind spot and flash a warning in the rearview mirrors if you’re about to angle into the adjacent lane unsafely. The same system will also warn you if there’s a car in front of you braking quickly.

I like Kawasaki’s take on adaptive cruise control more than BMW’s, which was simply too conservative in both recognizing when the lane ahead is open when you were pulling out to pass; as well as too wimpy on the gas when it did. The Kawasaki system is more aggressive and, in this case, that’s a good thing. That said, it’s a bit of a pain in the you-know-what to adjust the distance ahead the radar-enabled cruise control maintains to the car in front; you have to get into the screen-based infotainment unit rather than just changing the pre-set distance via a handlebar-mounted flip switch.

Otherwise, the new safety devices are fairly innocuous in their day-to-day operation. It’s also worth noting that the SX gains a hill-control function: hit both of the brakes simultaneously at a stop and the big Kawasaki won’t move until you feed in some gas.

Is it “sport-touring” comfortable?

I think that depends very much on your age or, more accurately, the relative flexibility of your arms, back, and, especially, your knees. If you’re young or limber, the seating position is actually quite reasonable. Compared with a clip-on’ed full superbike, the bend to the handlebars is quite relaxed, and the rider’s portion of the seat quite generous, though the knee-footpeg relationship is as sporty as any other Ninja. I suspect that, were I to have ridden it in my youthful 40s, I’d have raved about the H2 SX SE’s ability to eat up miles. Certainly, the seat, widened and flatter for 2022, pretty much coddles the buttocks.

first ride: 2022 kawasaki ninja h2 sx se

2022 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE Photo by David Booth

Nonetheless, now that I am approaching 65 — and with the knowledge of how easy it is to sit on adventure touring bike — my muscles, not to mention my joints, went into full rebellion every time I spent more than one-and-a-half hours straight on the SX SE. As monumental — emphasis on those last two syllables — as the engine might be, about that time I start wishing I was aboard Team Green’s Versys rather than one of its Ninjas.

Which brings me to my conclusion: As much as riding the SX was nothing short of a giggle a minute and, yes, theoretically you could tour a great distance on it, I can’t understand why the Kawasaki hasn’t shoehorned the supercharged engine into its top-of-the-line Versys. It’s already powered by a similar 1,000-cc four-cylinder engine, and buyers in the adventure touring segment have shown no reluctance in paying big bucks for what are essentially over-powered dirt bikes. And, let’s face it, the current Versys hasn’t exactly set the world on fire — if the company’s website is anything to judge by, it’s still sitting on 2018 models — despite the addition of electronically adjustable suspension much like the H2’s.

So, Kawasaki, do the irrational thing. You are, after all, good at crazy. It’s part of your DNA. Even if it costs the same $31,499 as the H2 SX SE, plump this gloriously overpowered supercharged lump into an adventure touring Versys. I promise, your accountant will thank you. I’ll be your first customer.


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