Take Me Back: 1972 Kawasaki Mach IV H2 | COOK'S CORNER

Is the H2 really the beast that legend has made it out to be?

Mitch Feingersch's H2 started on the first kick. The first real kick, anyway. Although I'd spent a fair amount of my youth on various Kawasaki two-stroke triples, here, 35 years later, I totally forgot to fold the right footpeg out of the way before stomping on the lever. Oops.

Once I got the 750cc triple alight, the memories came flooding back in high definition. As I revved the percolating smoker, heard the tingle of combustion and the ringing of the fins, I was a teenager again. Everything felt right: the minuscule amount of flywheel effect, the sizzle of the engine through the beer-keg-shaped grips, the waggle of the tach needle as it struggled to keep up with the mighty H2's once-per-times-three combustion commotion. Sights and sensations we no longer have in this electronic world, where the LCD bar graphs track true and the engines idle without a fuss. Even the most mechanical-feeling modern bikes have nothing, absolutely nothing, on this 42-year-old survivor.

Then it was time to ride. I vaguely remembered the H2’s oddball shift layout, with neutral at the bottom and everything else up, but, truthfully, I had to Google it before I rode to be sure my memory was correct. I also remembered the vagueness of the clutch through the cable and prepared myself for a less-than-elegant getaway.

I shouldn’t have worried. The H2 has plenty of low-end torque, and Mitch’s example carbureted well right off the bottom. Running up through the gears, savoring the beehive exhaust note, and delighting in the low-effort (yet accurate) gearbox, I could almost close my eyes and feel myself gliding around Malibu, learning how to not fall off and, all too often, making an ass of myself. Respect for Mitch’s machine kept me in adult form this time.

The question everyone seems to ask is this: Is the H2 really the beast that legend has made it out to be? Before I answer, two caveats: First, Mitch’s bike was running a bit rich on top, which I remember from my time on the triples could take the edge off the high-rpm power hit. Second, a lot of engine development has occurred since 1972. Kawasaki claimed 74 hp when new, which is in the range of 65 at the rear wheel. That’s about what all the twins in our recent middleweight/budget-bike comparo made.

So, no, the H2 is not the crazy-fast, hair-graying machine of lore. But I know how the reputation got started. Kawasaki upped the power game—with torque, not just horsepower—and the H2 immediately exposed the limitations of contemporary chassis rigidity, suspension capability, and tire quality. Mitch’s bike rides on modern tires, and he’s made an effort to do the most with suspension, but the bike still feels vintage. It reacts to bumps in short bursts of movement, hopping and clapping over the larger stuff, reminding you to give pockmarked streets some care.

And that’s without turning. In fact, the bike steers lightly and tracks accurately over smooth pavement, feeling low and compact and so elemental that you can’t help but smile. Find a few bumps in the turn, however, and the H2’s demeanor changes. Even at a very relaxed pace, I could feel the H2 struggle to keep the wheels in line. On vintage tires, it might have been better—a closer match of grip to structural quality—but it might have been worse too. I recall how tires of the day would grip, grip, grip and then give up with little warning. Overcook an H2 into a corner, find bumps, and then have the tires reach their limits all at the same time would be an interesting life event.

I gave Mitch’s H2 due deference and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The sensations took me straight back, and rolling into a crowded Rock Store mob on a Sunday afternoon made me a minor celebrity. It all makes me wonder if we’ll have the same things to say about Kawasaki’s new H2 some 40 years from now.