A Century of Supercharged and Turbocharged Bikes

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - 2015-Kawasaki-Ninja-H2-engine-supercharger
The impeller on the Kawasaki Ninja H2 spins as much as 130,000 rpm, forcing air into the engine to supply extra energy. (Picture courtesy Kawasaki)

Contributor Erik Slaven takes us on a trip by means of a century’s value of historical past on supercharged and turbocharged bikes, the Marvel Twins of pressured induction. –Ed.

As a Kawasaki Z H2 proprietor, I can guarantee you that built-in superchargers are not any gimmick. My Kawi is by far the quickest bike I’ve owned, and the sportier Ninja H2 is among the many quickest road bikes ever produced. The BMW S 1000 RR, Ducati Panigale, and Suzuki Hayabusa present that naturally aspirated bikes are nonetheless ridiculously quick, however acceleration from the Z H2 feels quicker as a result of the engine doesn’t should be revved out as a lot.

Kawasaki’s supercharger, which debuted on the H2 R on the 2014 Intermot present, is like an afterburner for the 998cc inline-4. It helps the engine push out virtually 200 hp and over 100 lb-ft of torque on the Z H2, whereas the Ninja H2 churns out as a lot as 228 hp and the experts-and-track-ready Ninja H2 R makes upwards of 300 hp.


Associated: 2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2 First Look Evaluation

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - 2015-Kawasaki-Ninja-H2-profile-right
2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2 (photograph courtesy Kawasaki)

Kawasaki reignited curiosity in superchargers, however the expertise has been used on bikes for almost a century. BMW was an early pioneer within the late Twenties, and different producers adopted swimsuit previous to World Warfare II. When bike racing resumed in Europe in 1946, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) banned superchargers to scale back accidents and deaths, placing pressured induction on the backburner till the late Seventies. Think about going over 150mph with a supercharged engine on a prewar chassis and tires. Yikes.

The Golden Age of Supercharged Bikes

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - BMW WR 750
BMW WR 750 (photograph by Lothar Spurzem, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, by way of Wikimedia Commons)

Born from racing, supercharged European bikes have been the genesis for the evolution of high-performance bikes. American manufacturers like Harley-Davidson and Indian have been successful races at house with naturally aspirated engines. BMW began producing bikes in 1923, and by the top of the last decade, it had developed the WR 750. Powered by a supercharged 4-stroke OHV 750cc boxer Twin, the WR 750 earned BMW a land-speed report at over 134 mph with German racing champion Ernst Henne on the controls.

Associated: Using the Bike Century

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - BMW Type 255 - Source Wikipedia
BMW Sort 255 racing on the Isle of Man (photograph by Lothar Spurzem, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, by way of Wikimedia Commons)

The WR 750 was spectacular however couldn’t overcome English dominance on the time, so the BMW Sort 255 Kompressor was the subsequent step. In 1939, Georg Meier gained the Senior Vacationer Trophy race on the Isle of Man on the Sort 255, marking the primary time a non-English rider had gained since 1907. Utilizing a Swiss-made Zoller supercharger, BMW’s 500cc Boxer produced round 60 hp and averaged 89 mph on the race. Meier gained the Belgian bike Grand Prix in 1939 as effectively, turning into the primary rider to exceed 100 mph on a lap. The Sort 255 was a bona fide superbike for BMW and demonstrated the numerous efficiency benefits of pressured induction.

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - BMW Type 255 - Source Wikipedia
BMW Sort 255 (photograph courtesy Agljones, by way of Wikimedia Commons)

Pre-Warfare Grand Prix

Bike racing was all the fad within the Nineteen Thirties, and superchargers have been widespread for many European groups. The notable holdout was Norton, which held regular with tried-and-true naturally aspirated Singles. British producer AJS developed a supercharged V-4 monster with a excessive prime velocity, however it proved unreliable and both overheated or just broke down throughout races. It lastly gained a race in Belgium in 1946, simply earlier than the supercharger ban went into impact.

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - AJS V4 - Source Wikipedia
AJS V4 (photograph courtesy Oldnoccer, CC BY-SA 4.0, by way of Wikimedia Commons)

Luxurious French producer Brough Superior developed a number of the quickest supercharged bikes of the period. In 1937, Eric Fernihough set a report of 169.79 mph with a supercharged 1,000cc J.A.P. engine in his Brough Superior. Pure madness on the time, and he was killed the next 12 months chasing one other report. 

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - Eric Fernihough on Brough Superior JAP100 - Source Brough Superior
Eric Fernihough on Brough Superior JAP100 (photograph courtesy Brough Superior)

Right this moment, naturally aspirated bikes can exceed 200 hp and nonetheless meet Euro 5 emissions requirements, which is an unbelievable testomony to how far design and expertise have come. Pressured induction may look like overkill, however nothing exceeds like extra. So, what’s the distinction between a supercharger and turbo, anyway?  


A supercharger is mechanical system that forces extra air into the engine to supply extra energy for a given displacement. In a automobile, a supercharger is usually pushed by a belt that wraps round a pulley between the drive and compressor gears. In a contemporary bike just like the Kawasaki H2s, a system of gears related to the flywheel drives the impeller, which is a metallic fan used to compress the consumption fuel. The impeller should spin a lot quicker than the engine to successfully compress the air. Kawasaki’s supercharger makes use of planetary gears to spin the impeller as much as 130,000 rpm and develops as much as 20.5 psi enhance stress.


Whereas a supercharger is pushed by the engine, a turbocharger is powered by the circulation of exhaust gases. Wind powered, if you’ll. The exhaust spins an impeller within the turbo housing, which is related to a second impeller within the compressor housing that forces extra air into the engine. It may take a second for the exhaust to get the impeller spinning quick, which creates turbo lag. Superchargers, alternatively, are at all times “there,” because the engine is repeatedly powering them. Turbochargers are comparatively lag-free at this time, however it does persist to various levels.

The Golden Age of Turbocharged Bikes

1978 Kawasaki Z1R-TC

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - 1978 Kawasaki Z1R-TC
1978 Kawasaki Z1R-TC (photograph by Clement Salvadori)

In contrast to the pre-war period fixation on superchargers, the subsequent wave of two-wheeled pressured induction was all about turbos, beginning within the late Seventies. The Kawasaki Z1R-TC was the primary manufacturing turbo bike, kicking off what turned out to be a short-lived craze. It had a 1,000cc inline-4 that was a manufacturing facility approved conversion of the usual Z1R bikes. A Rajay turbocharger pushed the Z1R-TC to 130 hp (from 94 hp), which was fairly a powerhouse within the late ’70s and excessive sufficient that consumers needed to relinquish the manufacturing facility guarantee. It was a daring choice by Kawasaki on the time. Solely 250 have been constructed, as they have been costly and complicated, however it obtained the Japanese business scrambling.

Associated: Kawasaki KZ1000 Z1-R TC (Turbocharged): 1978-1979

1982 Honda CX500T

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - 1982 Honda CX500T
1982 Honda CX500T (photograph courtesy Honda)

In contrast to the Z1R-TC, Honda’s first turbocharged bike was born within the manufacturing facility, and plenty of take into account it the primary correct manufacturing facility turbo. I personally give that accomplishment to Kawasaki, however that’s a battle for an additional day. The water cooled CX500T had an angled, horizontal V-twin impressed by Moto Guzzi and an early gasoline injection system, boosted to 80hp by the turbo. Sadly, the bike was plagued with turbo lag, so Honda upgraded to a 650cc variant the next 12 months with the CX650. The elevated displacement and modified (and lowered) enhance introduced the brand new bike to 100 hp, however turbo lag continued and the worth was simply too excessive. These have been quick lived and disappeared on the finish of 1983.

1982 Yamaha XJ650 Turbo

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - 1984 Yamaha XJ650 Turbo
1984 Yamaha XJ650 Turbo (photograph courtesy Yamaha)

Yamaha launched its personal turbo quickly after Honda, the 90-hp XJ650 Turbo. It was a heavier touring bike in lieu of one thing extra efficiency oriented. It additionally wasn’t a ground-up design however relatively primarily based on the older XJ650 Seca with a mediocre chassis, drum brakes, and shaft drive, together with outdated Mikuni carburetors. A uneven throttle, dangerous turbo lag, and lackluster acceleration killed manufacturing after two years. Upkeep points have been additionally dangerous, as ambition appeared to exceed what was possible on the time.

Associated: Retrospective: Yamaha XJ650RJ Seca 650: 1982

1983 Suzuki XN85

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles 1983 Suzuki XN85
1983 Suzuki XN85 (photograph by Clement Salvadori)

Suzuki’s first turbocharged bike, the XN85 of 1983, was a formidable effort. Like Honda, it was gasoline injected, however solely oil cooled and pushed out 85 hp. Turbo lag was lower than the others, and the chassis was constructed particularly for the elevated energy. Like all early turbos, it was complicated and costly to supply, resulting in restricted manufacturing numbers. It did, nevertheless, survive for 5 years, making it essentially the most profitable mannequin.

Associated: Retrospective: 1983 Suzuki XN85 Turbo

1984 Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles 1984 Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo
1984 Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo (photograph courtesy Kawasaki)

Six 12 months after the Z1R-TC, Kawasaki launched the GPz750 Turbo, aka the ZX750-E Turbo. In contrast to earlier Japanese efforts that have been deserted at this level, the GPz750 was the actual deal. A correct sportbike design held the 738cc inline-4, which produced 112 hp and was good for 10.71 seconds within the quarter mile. The present GPz750 engine was closely modified, and the turbocharged outcome was the primary middleweight that outperformed early ’80s liter bikes. Kawasaki’s GPz1100 sportbike trailed behind the a lot smaller GPz750 by 3 hp, proving that turbos have been critical contenders and never mere novelties. Model, efficiency, and reliability made this the primary really marketable turbocharged bike and overshadowed all prior efforts. Alas, it was produced for less than two years.

Associated: Retrospective: 1984-1985 Kawasaki ZX750-E Turbo

Why Did Turbos Fizzle Out?

In lower than 10 years, the turbo craze unfold like wildfire among the many Massive 4 Japanese producers and burned itself out. The thought was easy and interesting – use pressured induction to extract extra energy out of middleweight engines. However the actuality overpromised and underdelivered. Turbochargers proved to be too complicated and costly, and the payoff wasn’t large enough to make them a viable various to bigger naturally aspirated engines – at the very least not on the time.

Let’s Get Boosted!

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - Trask Turbo on Harley-Davidson Road Glide - Source Trask Performance
Trask Efficiency turbocharger put in on a Harley-Davidson Highway Glide (photograph courtesy Trask Efficiency)

After Japanese producers deserted turbos, adrenaline junkies continued bolting aftermarket ones to their pure breathers. One of many large names within the enterprise is Trask Efficiency, which produces turbocharged kits for Harleys that may squeeze 300 hp out of massive V-Twins. In my thoughts, such turbo kits take advantage of sense on 1,200cc Evo Sportsters which are comparatively gentle and nimble, and the outcome can greater than double the inventory energy and ship 120 hp on the rear wheel.

Associated: Evo Sportster | Finish of an Period

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - Trask turbo on Evo Sportster - Source Trask Performance
Trask Efficiency turbocharger put in on a Harley-Davidson Evo Sportster (photograph courtesy Trask Efficiency)

Trask isn’t the one firm with turbo kits, and variations can be found that may be put in on a variety of bike sorts and fashions. Excessive Creations, RCC, Cobalt, and others supply turbochargers that ship plane provider catapult-caliber launches. It’s also possible to purchase supercharger kits from corporations like Rotrex, ProCharger, and TTS Efficiency. And if you happen to’re curious, the reply is sure – putting in any of them will void your manufacturing facility guarantee.

Turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa

We will’t assessment the historical past of pressured induction on bikes and overlook a bona fide legend. In 1999, Suzuki launched the GSX1300R Hayabusa, which gained the short-lived top-speed wars of the late ’90s. In inventory type, the first-gen 173-hp Hayabusa almost broke the elusive 200 mph barrier. The second-gen ’Busa obtained bumped as much as 1,340cc and 194 hp, however by then, the OEMs had agreed to impose an electronically restricted prime velocity of 186 mph (300 kph) on its manufacturing bikes.

Associated: 2022 Suzuki Hayabusa | Highway Check Evaluation

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - Bill Warner Turbo Suzuki Hayabusa
Invoice Warner using his record-setting turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa

However with some digital sleight of hand – and a giant ol’ turbo – the Hayabusa’s true potential could possibly be unleashed. In 2011, Invoice Warner set a bike land-speed report of 311 mph on a streamlined and turbocharged ‘Busa. Add nitrous to the combination, and issues simply get insane. In 2018, a 1,000-hp ’Busa hit 258.54 mph inside 1 mile from a standing begin at a Straightliners top-speed occasion in Yorkshire, U.Ok.

Kawasaki Ninja H2

In 2014, we got here full circle when Kawasaki launched the Ninja H2, a manufacturing facility supercharged sportbike. Over 75 years after superchargers disappeared from European racebikes, Kawasaki resurrected the idea with essentially the most profitable lineup of forced-induction bikes in fashionable historical past. The identify comes from Kawasaki’s ’70s-era H2 fashions powered by 750cc 2-stroke Triples. The 1972 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV, the quickest bike of its day, was often called “the widow maker,” because the chassis and total design weren’t fitted to a lot energy.

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - 1972 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV
1972 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV (photograph courtesy Kawasaki)

The 2014 Ninja H2 has a 998cc inline-4 with a centrifugal supercharger developed fully in-house at Kawasaki. The producer had meant to outsource the supercharger, however these plans finally referred to as for a cumbersome intercooler, so Kawasaki introduced it underneath its personal roof. The outcome was an impartial and compact unit that reinforces a rising H2 portfolio with 4 bikes within the present lineup: Ninja H2, Ninja H2 R, Ninja H2 SX, and Z H2.

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles 2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2
2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2 (photograph courtesy Kawasaki)

The Ninja H2 and up-spec Ninja H2 Carbon produce a claimed 228 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque, whereas the track-only H2 R raises the bar significantly with 326 hp and 122 lb-ft of torque. The H2 R is at present the quickest manufacturing bike of all time, however it’s not road authorized. The usual Ninja H2 is heavier than many sportbikes (round 525 lb moist) and gained’t deal with a observe in addition to purpose-built machines, however the depth of acceleration and nonetheless competent efficiency make it one the craziest rides you should buy. With a beginning value of $31,500, it’s positively spendy, however it’s a relative cut price in comparison with the $56,000 H2 R.

Supercharged and Turbocharged Motorcycles - Erik Slaven Kawasaki Z H2
Erik Slaven’s Kawasaki Z H2 (photograph by the creator)

The Ninja H2 SX and Z H2 symbolize the second-generation of H2 engines, tuned for extra real-world circumstances with 197 hp and 101 lb-ft of torque. The H2 SX is a sport-touring sportbike with a moist weight over 600 lb, however it nonetheless accelerates like a rabid cheetah with out having to rev it out.

Associated: 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE | Highway Check Evaluation

Launched for 2020, the Z H2 bare bike is the most recent mannequin within the H2 lineup, and it’s additionally essentially the most inexpensive at $18,500, offering the magic of Kawasaki’s supercharger at a extra cheap value undercutting. It’s not a critical observe performer, however it’s not meant to be. It’s a streetbike although and thru, and it’s about as enjoyable because it will get with an upright place providing all-day consolation. The up-spec Z H2 SE ($21,700) is provided with Kawasaki’s Digital Management Suspension (KECS) and upgraded Brembo calipers, however the core expertise is there with the usual mannequin.

Sensible Madness

It’s a bit unusual calling a supercharged bike sensible, however the Z H2 proves that pressured induction might be each inexpensive and dependable. It actually qualifies as an on a regular basis bike and is genuinely straightforward to stay with, in contrast to some high-strung opponents. I don’t know what sorcery went into the supercharger’s design, however Kawasaki nailed it, and a particular chirp at deceleration reminds you that you just’re using one thing particular. Supposedly it’s attributable to the impeller breaking the sound barrier. We’d prefer to see a return to the ’80s-era idea of including pressured induction to a middleweight. How cool would it not be to see a supercharged model of the Z650, Ninja ZX-6R, or the brand new Ninja ZX-4RR? Generally it’s good when historical past repeats itself.