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#307 – In Defense of Horsepower

Sometimes a little doesn’t go a long way.

In defense of horsepower

On the cover is the Kawasaki Ninja H2R, a track-only concept machine sporting, among other astounding features, a monster motor. But of all the innovations in the H2R from the many engineering departments of Kawasaki Heavy Industries (those wings probably came via the aeronautics department) the feature getting the attention is horsepower. Kawasaki slowly unveiled the H2R through a series of videos. As soon as the announcement was made that the engine would be supercharged I flipped over to Kawasaki’s watercraft site as their Jet Ski is also graced with a supercharged/intercooled motor. That 1498cc mill can push out a factory-spec 310 hp and it isn’t as high tech as this new offering. Whatever the H2R number was, it was going to be juicy. Turns out that it too is going to push past the 300-hp mark. That is a big number—not in general, but for a motorcycle it’s huge. But horsepower seems to be making a comeback.
BMW has also just launched a new S1000RR that has a claimed 199 hp and this you will be able to buy come spring. I have heard that 199 hp might be conservative perhaps because 199 just sounds more manageable than, say, 201 hp. This figure is eerily familiar to the 299 kmh top speed limit in the “agreement” brought about by the Hayabusa/ZX-12R wars of the early 2000’s. An agreement is an agreement but as John Campbell will argue in his story about the Harley-Davidson Street 750 a manufacturer has the right to try something different.
Kawasaki is doing the same with the H2R and it is exciting because they are pushing the envelope. The H2R is, if not a one-off, a limited product that will have a halo effect on the brand. Could Kawasaki sell the H2R as it stands now at a price that would be less than astronomical? Unlikely.
Is Kawasaki determined to have a 300-hp bike in the showrooms? Also unlikely. But some of the technology will trickle down to a street version of the bike. No company spends that kind of money without the hope of learning something.
What about a supercharger on a much smaller displacement motor making for a lighter more efficient bike? Yes, that might be possible. The trellis, wind-tunnel-tested frame? It will turn up in some variation. Even the wings might grace the fairing of a future superbike.
But a torrent of criticism is sure to come from many outside the motorcycle community and a few within it, pretty much solely because it is a motorcycle.
Are people out demonstrating against the Bugatti Veyron because it is an automobile with well over 1000 hp? I think not. I could walk into my local Chevrolet dealer and order a 770-hp, 454 cubic inch engine for my 1980 Camaro and no one would bat an eye. The same place builders of V-8 motorcycles pick up their engines.
I don’t need 770 hp but it is fun to have occasionally and it doesn’t for one moment mean I intend to be doing long smoky burnouts in school zones. I might practice the “Rockford” turn but, again, not in school zones. Horsepower, like many other so-called vices including wine, good tequila and desserts, is fine if taken in moderation and within the right context. At some point we all need a little of that excitement. Otherwise we might as well all be driving hybrids and eating nothing but salads. Does that have you running out the door in anticipation? I thought not. It may be a sensible thing to do, but sensible doesn’t push the boundaries and it is the pushing that leads to innovation.

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