2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX | First Look Review

2018 Kawasaki H2 SX SE.
2018 Kawasaki H2 SX SE.

If you looked at Kawasaki’s bombastic Ninja H2 supercharged sportbike back when it was introduced in 2015, and thought to yourself, “Gosh, that’s my bike…if only it didn’t have such an aggressive riding position,” we have just the bike for you. Kawasaki says that the mildly tamed 2018 Ninja H2 SX supercharged sportbike was “developed for the daily applications of today’s sportbike rider.” You can even get matching hard luggage for it. Still scratching your head? Perhaps we should start from the beginning….

Read our First Look Review of the Kawasaki Ninja H2 supercharged sportbike.

At the 2014 Intermot show held every two years in Cologne, Germany, Kawasaki unveiled the 300-horsepower, experts-only, very much non-street-legal Ninja H2R. A month later, it announced a street-legal, 197.6-horsepower version, the Ninja H2, based on the exact same supercharged engine. While its claimed peak horsepower figure was actually below two other liter-class superbikes, the BMW S 1000 RR and the Ducati 1299 Panigale, what the H2 promised above all was exhilarating, breath-taking, chest-pounding acceleration. Consider that the bike wears the Kawasaki River Mark, indicating it was developed by the Kawasaki Heavy Industries Group—including the downforce-inducing bodywork by the Kawasaki Aerospace Company. When a bike needs wings to keep it on the ground, a la Formula One or IndyCars, you know you’re in for a heckuva ride.

Kawasaki River Mark
The Kawasaki River Mark is reserved for machines of historical significance.

What the H2 isn’t, is practical. Which is where the new H2 SX comes in…as long as you can accept that 197.6 horsepower is practical, because despite its 998cc supercharged in-line four being tuned for more low-to-midrange output, Kawasaki USA’s press release claims the same 200ps (197.6 horsepower) figure as the H2. The new H2 SX is also longer than the H2, with new bodywork, a sturdier trellis frame that’s ready for matching hard luggage and a full-color TFT display. Could this really be the next generation of everyday sportbikes?

Read our 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS first ride review

H2 SX frame
The H2 SX’s frame was based on the H2, but was lengthened and strengthened for better sport touring performance.

An important aspect of creating a street-friendly sportbike or touring machine is fuel economy. So while the H2 SX’s engine and supercharger appear very similar to the H2’s, they have actually undergone several changes aimed at making the bike more practical for street riding and touring purposes. The first step was increasing the engine’s thermal efficiency by increasing the compression ratio from 8.5:1 to 11.2:1, with new cast aluminum pistons, cylinder heads and cylinders. The intake and exhaust cam profiles were shortened to match the reduced airflow requirements of street riding, and the supercharger was redesigned with a new impeller, intake chamber, cams and exhaust components. Kawasaki USA didn’t provide estimated fuel economy numbers, but the European release we got at the EICMA show claims the H2 SX betters the current Ninja 1000 sport-touring bike, which averaged 37.3 mpg when we last tested it back in 2014.

Next up on the street-smart list is payload capacity and stability, and the redesigned trellis frame now boasts a 430-pound capacity and is ready to accept Kawasaki’s matching hard side cases. The single-sided forged aluminum swingarm was lengthened by 0.6-inch for added stability at speed, and the steering lock was increased to 30 degrees both left and right for easier low-speed maneuvering.

The H2 SX in Metallic Carbon Gray/Metallic Matte Carbon Gray.
The H2 SX in Metallic Carbon Gray/Metallic Matte Carbon Gray.

The H2 SX will be available in two trim levels. The base model includes electronic cruise control, all-LED lighting, a 2-mode LCD display, 3-mode Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC), Kawasaki Intelligent ABS (KIBS), Engine Brake Control, three power modes (Full, 75-percent and 50-percent) and a 5-axis Bosch IMU with a sixth axis (yaw) calculated by Kawasaki’s proprietary software developed through World Superbike racing experience. The H2 SX SE adds LED cornering lights, a full-color TFT display, a larger windscreen for touring, Kawasaki Launch Control Mode for wheelie and wheel spin control, a quickshifter for clutchless up- and downshifts, braided steel brake lines, heated grips and a centerstand. Both models feature a fully adjustable 43mm KYB fork and fully adjustable KYB 40mm rear shock with remote preload adjuster.

2018 Kawasaki H2 SX SE.The 2018 Ninja H2 SX is available in Metallic Carbon Gray/Metallic Matte Carbon Gray, at a retail price of $19,000. The H2 SX SE is available in Emerald Blazed Green/Metallic Diablo Black, at a retail price of $22,000. The Kawasaki 28-liter hard saddlebag set is optional, as are other add-ons like an Akrapovič slip-on muffler, helmet lock and Ergo-Fit reduced reach seat.

Check out more new bikes in Rider’s guide to new/updated 2018 motorcycles




  1. The need for more power …. pointless IMO. Any of the current sport tour machines (like my Concours14) has more than enough. Ergonomics don’t seem to be more plush or relaxed either, so I’m not sure who the demographic is for this bike…… certainly not the 50+ crowd. The only thing I really miss right now that the H2SE offers is electronic cruise control but it’s not worth 19K (+ saddlebags, etc. etc.).

      • I’m 57 and have owned two ZX-14 bikes. I just traded my last one in for the H2 SX SE, to be put on the road in the spring of 2019. Age is NOT a factor.

        The H2 SX has a more upright seating position than either the H2 or ZX-14 and reviewers have lauded at it’s comfort (for a sports tourer leaning towards the sporty side).

    • I’m 57 and currently own a ZZR1200. ZX14R, Busa and 3 Blackbirds. Would love to own one of these if I had the space. Thank you Kawasaki for keeping your line up fresh.

    • It has to be 186mph due to legal obligations. There was no “Gentleman’s Agreement” concerning top speed. Ever. Bikes are governed to 186 for the simple reason that “Z” speed rated tires are engineered for a sustained top speed of 186mph. If the bike exceeded the tire manufacturers speed rating, then the motorcycle manufacturer would be liable for negligence.

  2. I’ve been struggling, specifically with the rated payload. That’s not enough for two-up with luggage. It isn’t. That means this is NOT a sport-touring bike per se. Just because one can affix luggage does not a sport-tourer make.

    • Guess if ya want a rolling couch….this baby aint fer you;)
      “Same exhilarating performance of the H2″…awesome.It’s a badass Kawasaki….I think she’ll run smooth as glass…this is gonna be good.Mine’s already ordered!

  3. I suppose the reason why is for people like me. I’m 57 yrs old with racing experience. I don’t want a sport bike due to their ergonomics and lack of comfort on long rides. I have an 2014 FJR and most often ride fast with my sport/naked bike brethren in addition to an occasional leisurely jaunt with the wife on back. I love it and it does well at being versatile and meeting my overall needs. However, I’m still all about performance and the new H2 SX/SE is a substantial jump in not only power but it also lighter than the FJR and has a bevy of the latest electronics. All of this combined is a VERY attractive package to someone like me and I’ll be keeping a close eye on this bike in 2018. Two thumbs up to Kawasaki for this beautiful beast. I’m stoked!

  4. I’m 52 with a similar story as Greg. Can’t wait to get mine. I’ll be laughing in my helmet as I rip and run on curvy backroads. I love my ZX-14R but I gotta have this H2.

  5. I miss the days of graceful lines before this transformer agitated bodywork became the predominant style. To me, the ZX9R was among the most beautiful bikes ever from the late 20th to first years of the 21st. The Italians adored it. I presently ride a 2013 Ninja 1400R. It sounds like a squadron of B-17s. Some complained about the size of the front fairing being too big. Well, when you cruise @ 170 mph you appreciate that extra bit of fairing. And I’m glad Kawasaki got away from those spider eyes headlights and clustered them.

  6. Kawasaki,
    There are loads of us tail end baby boomers out there who have a sport and a sport touring bike in the garage. Every weekend it is easy to do 300 mile days, chewing up the side rubber of our favorite sticky tires. My sport touring is a ZX14R because performance and weight are still most important to me. What is missing for that application is the ability to attach hard bags and a light weight drive train that can handle the power. And please don’t mess with the motor unless you are going add a supercharger and keep the weight well under 600 lbs.

  7. Regulations on bikes is crazy. My 2016 ZX14 SE R ABS now with 196 hp after about 2 k in modifications is the most comfortable bike I’ve ever owned. I know if I spent 19-22k I would be in the same boat. I wish Kawasaki would create the supercharged ZX 14 or a kit that wouldn’t break the bank.. just my 2 cents😎

  8. I’m 68 years young this year–and would love to park one of these next to my ZX-14R and Triumph Speed Triple. When someone tells me I’m too old to ride such a bike–well–then I guess I’ll just put a trike kit on it!! LOL

  9. I’m going to be 60 in April. I just love this thing! This bike would definitely put a giant smile on my face. Put the bags on it to carry your stuff and head out riding anywhere. In fact, I will be riding my Vstrom 650 to Daytona Bike Week this year to hopefully see it in person!

  10. If Kawasaki is building lighter high performance sport touring bikes, I hope they build a shaft driven version to eliminate the daily chain maintenance and cleaning of the rear rim while traveling. BMW’s K1300S and GT both come in about 110lbs. lighter than the Concours. Which is too heavy for my riding. Kawasaki let’s the good times roll.


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