A vintage racer builds one bad two-stroke street bike…
The Kawasaki H2 was one of the most uncompromising motorcycles ever produced, a 750cc two-stroke “Widowmaker” triple that was loud, smoky, crude, and scarily fast, cutting a 1/4-mile time of 11.95 seconds at 115 mph — a production-bike record in 1972. An evolution of the world-beating 500cc H1, the 750cc H2 was largely a response to the Honda’s introduction of the CB750, part of an arms race occurring on two wheels:
“The arrival of a certain Japanese competitor’s groundbreaking four-cylinder 750 bike in 1969 had admittedly set a benchmark of its own. So what to do? Take the H1 and amplify it. This was war.” —Cycle World
Our new friend Vinny Borbone (@vintage.kawasaki) has been riding and racing motorcycles for 35 years. Ever since his first bike, a $10 Kawasaki KE100, he’s had a soft spot for Kawasaki smokers:
“I’ve always admired and enjoyed riding two-strokes for all the obvious reasons of light weight, simplicity, and power delivery. But added to that list recently is a sense of nostalgia from the sounds and smells, which brings back so many fond memories.”
He bought the ’72 H2 you see here back in 1993, when two-stroke street bikes were still a dime a dozen, both plentiful and cheap:
“This particular one I’d bought came with Denco’s, so it was plenty loud, smoke, had horrible fuel economy, was painted several times, had some crappy aftermarket and non-NOS parts on it, and wasn’t very reliable — but it was absolutely perfect to me.”
Even though the H2 presented Vinny with melted pistons, bent shift forks, slipping clutches, and a host of leaks, none of it mattered — he loved the bike. However, for the last several years, the bike had been sitting engine-less in his basement, as he’d pulled the motor for use in his Kawasaki H2 race bike, which he races in the USCRA (United States Classic Racing Association):
“It’s a fantastic group of people who all have a love for racing vintage motorcycles. Every USCRA race is an opportunity to see bikes that you may never see another one like it ever again — and they are all racing, not just collecting dust somewhere!”
After seven years, and with his wife’s approval, Vinny decided to raise the H2 from the basement and put it back on the road.
“Not a restoration in any way, but just a bad-ass street H2 build.”
And what a badass two-stroke street machine it is. A partial list of upgrades includes a Ninja 636 front end, Ninja 650 swingarm, ZX10 rear shock, and a custom subframe supporting an H2R tail section that holds all of the electronics. The LRE-ported engine has machined reed blocks, a Lakeland ignition, Mikuni flat-side carbs, Jim Lomas pipes, and has been Cerakoted titanium.
Vinny says this resto-modded H2 handles great, given the modern suspension and light weight, but the engine demands serious respect:
“The bike wants to wheelie constantly even under partial throttle. This is not a casual Sunday cruiser, it demands your attention when riding it and has no mercy for mistakes.”
Below, we get the full story from Vinny himself, as well as more stunning photos from photographer Nicola.
Kawasaki H2: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
~35 years deep into motorcycles which started with a $10 Kawasaki KE100. I’ve always admired and enjoyed riding two-strokes for all the obvious reasons of light weight, simplicity, and power delivery. But added to that list recently is a sense of nostalgia from the sounds and smells, which brings back so many fond memories.
Most recent motorcycle obsession has been racing vintage motorcycles with the USCRA (United States Classic Racing Association). It’s a fantastic group of people who all have a love for racing vintage motorcycles. Every USCRA race is an opportunity to see bikes that you may never see another one like it ever again — and they are all racing, not just collecting dust somewhere!
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1972 Kawasaki H2.
• Why was this bike built?
I purchased this bike back in 1993 back when two-stroke street bikes were worth about the same as their scrap-metal value. A Kawasaki H2 was hands-down my top choice for a motorcycle after getting my license. The bikes were cheap, and the biggest/fastest two-stroke street bikes ever made. This particular one I’d bought came with Denco’s, so it was plenty loud, smoke, had horrible fuel economy, was painted several times, had some crappy aftermarket and non-NOS parts on it, and wasn’t very reliable — but it was absolutely perfect to me.
Shortly after owning it, I had the pleasure of all the typical issues (melted pistons, bent shift forks, slipping clutches, leaky forks and shocks, oil leaks from damn near every seal, etc.). But none of that made any difference. I held onto this bike, modifying it in different ways over the years — some phases focused on drag racing, some phases focused on more just street riding — but for the past seven years the bike had sat in my basement after the motor was removed and used on an H2 race bike.
Last fall (with my wife’s support), I decided to get the bike out of the basement, and re-do whatever was necessary to make it the bike I wanted it to be. Not a restoration in any way, but just a bad-ass street H2 build.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Influences were a slight variation of what Kawasaki might produce today for a retro two-stroke street bike. I like the look, feel, and quality of factory components, so many of the “new” parts are just from modern Kawasaki street bikes. That along with a bit a historical race inspiration (the H2R tail section).
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Oh man, the list is long, but some highlights are:
• Custom fit a swingarm/rear suspension from a Ninja 650. This swingarm was chosen because of the tubular look and the swoop on the right side to make clearance for the right side exhaust.
• Back in 2011 LRE (Laurens Race Engines) ported the cylinders for the reed top end. I had machined the reed blocks and covers, and LRE worked their porting magic. These cylinders were used for a couple years, then have been stored ever since.
• Flat slide 34mm Mikuni’s.
• Ignition by Lakeland.
• Jim Lomas Pipes.
• Lithium battery and Rick’s regulator.
• The head tube on the frame was modified to properly fit a Ninja 636 front end.
• The rear ½ of the frame is all custom to fit the tail section and allow for the ZX10 rear shock and Ninja 650 swingarm. All of the electronics are housed in the tail section, keeping the visual section of the bike wire and clutter-free.
• One part of the frame build I had underestimated was the kickstand. I wanted “race pipes” for this bike, but they all interfere with the H2 kick stand. The solution was to simply move the kick-stand, but they turned into a very time consuming task. It needed to be moved forward, both angles needed to change for the up and down position, along with a top-view angle change. Then of course it was too short, and the return spring still interfered with the pipes. So that needed to be altered as well. Kick-stands are probably not commonly listed as a “mod,” but this one classifies in my opinion ????
• Motor was Cerakoted “titanium.”
• Frame powder-coated matte black.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The bike rides how you would think it rides by looking at it really. It has fantastic suspension and brakes. It handles quite well especially given its low weight.
The motor, however, is a different story. The reeds create a brutally powerful mid range they doesn’t seem to have any compromise on its top-end. The bike wants to wheelie constantly even under partial throttle. This is not a casual Sunday cruiser, it demands your attention when riding it and has no mercy for mistakes.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The damn kick stand!