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Common Tread

Kawasaki Z H2 versus Triumph Rocket 3: World's fastest pizza delivery?

Nov 06, 2020

Suppose you needed to deliver pizza on a motorcycle. You’d need a place to put the pies, something to keep them warm, and enough get-up-and-go in your machine to make sure you get that greasy pepperoni to the customer faster than a specky high-school kid in a Civic. What bike would you choose?

From the beginning it was clear that if we were going to find out how well we could build food-distribution vehicles, we would need to put them to the test. We found a pizza joint in Pismo Beach, California, that was willing to let us sign on as volunteer pizza-delivery drivers for a night and then we set about choosing two bikes to tackle the task, one for me and one for my partner in content, Ari. Maybe a scooter with a big top box or a small ADV with a burly charging system. Those would have been good options.

If you’re looking at any of the photos in this article you’ll notice that’s not what we did. Y’see, the CTXP crew figured the big problem with delivery vehicles is that they’re slow, whether it’s an econo-sedan or weensy two-wheeler with a CVT. To be clear, we know that there are plenty of bike-related deliveries happening every minute all around the world, and it makes us exceedingly happy. We just figured there could always be more, as long as they’re fast enough to keep up with American appetites for speed.

Horsepower, my friends. Yes, that would fix what ails the world of food delivery. 

We didn’t completely lose our minds, though. Outright top speed wasn’t the priority — we were going to deliver pizza, not try to outrun the fuzz. That being the case we went with two different combinations of comfortable ergos and brute force. Ari’s steed for the evening of pie delivery was Kawasaki’s Z H2, the much more upright but similarly supercharged version of Team Green’s H2 literbike. As the director/producer/photographer extraordinaire of CTXP, Spenser Robert, said when he first wrangled the Z H2 for Common Tread, “remarkably normal and predictable — for a 197-horsepower monster capable of face-melting speed.” A tip of the cap for Ari’s selection.

Kawasaki Z H2 with pizza delivery box mounted to tail
That’s about 200 horsepower, 100 lb.-ft. of torque, and approximately zero wind protection. Also, thanks to a luggage rack for an H2 SX that Ari chopped up and made fit, room for five 16-inch pizzas. Photo by Spenser Robert.

My choice was the new Rocket 3 R from Triumph, meaning I’d have to get by with a measly 165 horsepower at the crank. However, the Rocket’s 2,458 cc triple does hold the distinction of offering up the most torque (163 foot-pounds) of any production motorcycle. I hoped that’d help me keep up with Ari’s supercharged wheelie monster.

Along with ridiculous power numbers both machines come equipped with lots of modern creature comforts. Color dashes, ride modes, switchable traction control and ABS, and cruise control, to name a few. The Z H2 even has a bidirectional quickshifter. I had to use the clutch, like a sucker stuck in a grainy black-and-white photograph.

Triumph Rocket 3 with pizza feather flag mounted to tail
Seven hundred pounds of British, pizza hauling metal. I’ll file that under “sentences I never thought I’d write." Photo by Spenser Robert.

If you watched the episode of CTXP I’m sure you agree completely with every tactic we employed and found no flaws whatsoever in any of our testing protocols. Great, glad we got that out of the way. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, please do, because I’m about to spoil some of it. In the end, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see that Ari’s more conventional system for carrying pizza worked a little better. Certainly for getting the pies in and out. There’s probably a reason that most two-wheeled delivery vehicles we see follow a similar recipe. It’s unlikely that my technique of keeping the pizzas in front of the rider will catch on, especially considering most motorcycles don’t have a gas tank the size of a helicopter landing pad, like the Rocket 3. Adding heat was a nice upgrade, though, I stand by that. It seems like a combination of the two would be the hot setup, if you catch my pun.

Comparing the bikes

At the end of this mission we had learned a thing or two about pizza delivery, not least of which that it’s a little trickier than we thought. We also accidentally ended up doing quite a thorough test of these two bikes. A few hundred miles of freeway riding, one night of hustling around a fog-drenched city after dark, and half a day on a rented airport runway holding both machines wide open through triple-digit speeds. As far as a head-to-head comparison, we know that the Z H2 and Rocket 3 occupy different classes and we could have matched up either one against something more similar on paper. Still, it ended up being an interesting test, simply because each bike is an enigma. The Kawasaki is lumbering and heavy compared to just about any other hyper-naked machine, where the Triumph is strangely nimble and sporty for a cruiser, never mind a motorcycle with a larger engine than most sedans.

Kawasaki Z H2 and Triumph Rocket 3 in front of airport hangar
An odd couple to make 362 horsepower and 264 pound feet of torque. More importantly, yes, that’s the hangar from the 1991 film "The Rocketeer." Photo by Spenser Robert.

What we found is that they’re pretty comparable, aside from the riding position. Cruising on the freeway isn’t great on either bike, and which one you choose will likely depend on how much legroom you need. The Z H2 is a little cramped, what with the sporty rider triangle, but otherwise is pretty agreeable. There’s no real wind protection, but being canted into the wind helps, plus Ari was able to slide back on the seat to adjust his forward lean. Meanwhile, the first half-dozen times I swung a leg over the Rocket 3 I dropped my foot a couple of inches behind where the footpeg actually sits. That’s where I wish they were. So, aboard the Rocket on the interstate, I was good on legroom but also in full spinnaker position with nowhere to hide from the wind, and practically no way to move back and forth on the seat (Triumph thought of this, by the way, which is why there’s a Rocket 3 GT model with a windscreen.)

Triumph Rocket 3 switchgear and round, color dashboard
The Rocket’s dash can be configured in two different styles, and is controlled mostly with the five-way joystick at the bottom of the switch cluster. That paddle on the left side of the dash unit allows the rider to adjust the angle. Neat. Photo by Spenser Robert.

The spec sheet shows comparable levels of features available, as I said, and as usual that doesn’t tell the whole story. Not all cruise control, for example, is created equal. Triumph’s system is intuitive to turn on, set, and cancel. Tap up once to add one mile per hour, tap down to reduce. Easy. Even though the Kawi’s system has a similar rocker switch to control the cruise, Ari often sent a stream of expletives through the headset trying to adjust it. How long do you hold it down to get it to change? Hmm, not enough. Whoop, nope, too much. Sonofa…! You get it. The Z H2 dash is sharp, though, and bigger than the Rocket’s, which is nice.

Kawasaki Z H2 switchgear controls and rectangular, color dash
The Z H2’s dash is clean and fairly simple. Toggling through the different info available in the center happens via the up/down buttons on the left side of the bar. Photo by Spenser Robert.

Then, to the airport. On the journey to the rented runway, we chewed over which bike we thought would be fastest. Kawasaki’s supercharged, 998 cc powerplant is up about 30 horsepower on Triumph’s massive mill, and even being a little pudgy for a naked bike the Z H2’s 527 pounds is still 175 pounds less than the svelte new Rocket 3 (which lost nearly 100 pounds for 2020, incidentally). However, the Kawasaki also has twitchy fueling and a grabby clutch, which made the quarter-mile launch tricky, not to mention a high center of gravity compared to the Trumpet. At about 700 pounds, sometimes the Rocket 3 feels like the actual center of gravity. It's nice 'n low, though, and like most Triumphs it has buttery smooth throttle response combined with great clutch feel.

Triumph Rocket 3 in front of airport hangar
Triumph’s Rocket 3 R absolutely won the beauty contest. The fat tires and bug-eye headlights are a little cartoony, but the stubby tail and the hot-rod exhaust headers are magic. Photo by Spenser Robert.

After we hooted and hollered and did some wheelies on the open half-mile stretch of tarmac, we buckled down and raced. Sure enough, the Rocket fired off the line with a velvety grumble and a little tire smoke from the dusty runway. If I wasn’t careful with the throttle, it was a lot of tire smoke. Ari’s launch on the Z H2 was a lot more stressful, trying to slip the clutch just enough without putting all of the horsepower to the ground and mouse-trapping himself. Up to about 90 mph I had Ari’s green machine in my rearview, but once the revs could climb and the Z H2 was on the boil, I was toast. The Rocket 3’s best quarter-mile with me at the helm was around 11.6 seconds at 124 mph. Ari wrangled the Z H2 down the strip in 11.25 seconds at 140 mph. That data tells the whole story: Only a few tenths in elapsed time, but a 15 mph delta in trap speed — that shows that the Triumph was making all of its time early, whereas the Kawasaki had to tiptoe out of the gate and came on strong at the end.

Kawasaki Z H2 beauty right
This Kawasaki is not particularly handsome. But, y'know, aggression is the name of the game, and the Z H2 looks the part. Photo by Spenser Robert.

One thing’s for sure, for the mission of delivering food, both bikes had plenty of thrust on tap. And, as it happens, our final test of bringing hot pizzas to the Californians of Pismo Beach was how we truly got to know the bikes. Over the course of the evening we had to jump on and off the bikes a dozen times, navigate bumpy and wet streets, execute countless U-turns, and otherwise get around town as quickly and safely as possible. Ari ended up on a deserted twisty road in the foothills outside town, the fog as thick as peanut butter and no moonlight. LED headlights to the rescue. I nearly blew a stop sign trying to make sure I turned on the right street, and leaned heavily on the ABS to bring me to a halt.

Triumph Rocket 3 cockpit with homemade heated vest to carry pizzas mounted to fuel tank
Why yes, that IS a heated vest stitched with safety wire to the base of a magnetic tank bag in order to carry pizzas. Note the heat controller mounted on the clutch-fluid reservoir. My family is very proud. Photo by Spenser Robert.

Frankly, at $17,000 for the Z H2 and $22,000 for the Rocket 3, customers had better be getting high-tech machines, and they do. These bikes are both comprehensively modern, using state-of-the-art safety aids and some of the best componentry money can buy. They are both premium, lust-worthy pieces of equipment. You could argue that the Triumph’s 30.4-inch seat height (basically the same as a Grom, by the way) and sinister torque make it a better city bike, or at least more fun. In fact, I would argue that. Then again the Kawasaki has an excellent quickshifter and a tighter turning radius, both valuable assets for a sport motorcycle around town. And let’s face it, the Kawi is a better bike on an empty two-lane road, no question.

Kawasaki Z H2 engine embossing reading
In addition to adding air and fuel to the engine at an unnatural rate, the Z H2’s supercharged intake chirps like a tropical bird on decel. Very satisfying. Photo by Spenser Robert.

At the end of our week of filming, we were splitting hairs over which was the better bike. The $5,000 delta in price makes it pretty hard to argue against the Kawasaki Z H2 for value in performance. And yet Triumph’s Rocket 3 is somehow equally impressive as a feat of engineering. The novelty of each is backed up with refinement and poise on which any brand would be proud to hang its hat. Which one delivers a pizza better was a close contest. Which one delivers more fun might be even closer. One more lunch ride and we’ll decide. I could go for a slice.

Kawasaki Z H2 and Triumph Rocket 3 sitting in foggy parking lot
Did you know you can get multi-color LED light kits that work off a remote and run off the bike for around 20 bucks? We learned a lot from this episode, is the point. Photo by Spenser Robert.