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Suzuki Hayabusa: Classic Speed…Still (Review)

Three very different people—a magazine publisher, a current pro road racer, and a former record-setting motorcycle drag racer—all with varying riding styles and expectations, take one more look at Suzuki’s revised-for-08 Hayabusa, a bike that is more than just your garden variety Ultrasport.

Suzuki created something unique in the Hayabusa. After 10 virtually unchanged years on the market, it has become a legend. The internet is filled with videos of record breaking speed runs at Bonneville and dry lake beds in California or Hayabusa powered Smart cars doing ad nauseum burnouts and donuts. Few products can boast a sales curve like the Hayabusa: in North America, sales have increased each year since the bike’s introduction even though the bike itself had not changed prior to this model year.

Odd as it may seem, the Hayabusa legend has grown while the bike itself has been kept in a time capsule. The technology was cutting edge 10 years ago, but 10 years in the sportbike business is five lifetimes, as illustrated by the current trend for Suzuki to update the GSX-R lineup every two years. So, why fix something that so obviously wasn’t broken?

For the same reason Kawasaki left the KLR alone or that Yamaha stood pat with the V-Max for so many years. The KLR was a Swiss army knife: there wasn’t too much that could be done to make it better for the price at which it was being sold. The V-Max was the V-Max. Why change when there is no competition?

The Hayabusa, on the other hand, has faced stiff competition which even Suzuki acknowledges with the introduction of the 2008 model.

To be a legend you need to be a survivor, and the Hayabusa is nothing if not a survivor. There have been contenders: Honda’s CB1100XX Super Blackbird was a great motorcycle that filled the void prior to the Hayabusa. But, it didn’t last long after the introduction of the Hayabusa. Legend has it the Hayabusa, a Japanese falcon, is the natural predator of the common blackbird. Interesting how that nomenclature came to be.

Kawasaki was quick into the fray with the Ninja ZX-12, another great motorcycle, since replaced by the ZX-14. The Fourteen offers more stringent competition than its predecessor, so we will see how the battle progresses. Even BMW jumped into the Ultrasport wars with its K1200S.

A LITTLE HISTORY. THE CLAIMED HORSEPOWER AND TORQUE IN 1999 WAS 173 and 102 ft/lbs. respectively. The 2008 model is said to carry 194 hp and 114 ft/lbs. There have been myriad tweaks and improvements made to the 2008 model, but even with a 21-hp increase in output, just as much effort was made in keeping the bike manageable. There is now a system allowing the rider to choose between three output curves: full, slightly soft, and rain power modes.

The draw, or passion, of the Hayabusa has been its legendary velocity. It was the first bike to declare “I am all about top end” but not round-the-road course speed. It was never marketed as a corner carving track bike because the litre-class race-repli bikes already accomplish that task better and faster. It has been about power, but not raw power, which is the key to the bike’s success. The Hayabusa is lightening bolt fast but, at the same time, it is powerful with more than just a nod to civility, not something you will get from the repli-racers. Within reason it is also comfortable—again not a strength of litre-class sportbikes such as the GSX-Rs, CBRs and ZX-Ninjas.

There is something inherently fascinating about a motorcycle that voluntarily limits its top speed to 290 kmh. Though there are several motorcycles that would now reach that speed, deep down we know the Hayabusa is still the fastest.

All this has made the Hayabusa an exotic, which is odd when you consider that its pricetag is just over $15,000. It is no longer even the most expensive sportbike in the Suzuki lineup—that would be the GSX-R1000. And it is several thousand less than the most expensive bike overall, the C109RT.
You don’t see many Hayabusas on the road unless you are in Daytona where they are parked on the corners or trolling the beach with stretched swingarms and other drag race styling. Some say the Hayabusa is beautiful, while others deride for being ugly as sin. While it may not be sleek and is no longer at the forefront of design, nothing else looks anything like the Hayabusa and that’s something.
It is an exotic because it exists for no utilitarian reason. You don’t need it to go to the store for milk. You don’t need it to commute to work. What are you going to do with 194 horsepower in rush hour traffic? But it is still nice to know you have it.

Perhaps the maturity of owning a Hayabusa is in knowing that there’s nothing left to prove. Like the Old West gunslinger who no longer rises to each and every challenge because he knows he’s fast … and that’s good enough for him.

I was surprised when I rode the Hayabusa for the first time, 10 years ago, because the legendary bike worked so well in an unlegendary world of traffic, speed limits and congestion. It will accelerate forever, but it does so as steadily as a locomotive. The 2008 does all the same things, but quicker, and more predictably. That’s legendary. When the Hayabusa finally hangs up its talons it will take a very special place in motorcycle lore.

– John Molony

Motorcycle lawyer and former CMDRA record holder in the Pro Mod class Daryl Brown says …

If you are red blooded, have no fear, and possess the need for speed, then you will understand when I say, “A whopping 194 horsepower!” If you have not yet had the luxury of riding the Hayabusa, even being told of the power before mounting this bullet train will not prepare you for the pure unadulterated adrenaline oozing from Suzuki’s new 2008 GSX1300R.

A slightly reconfigured powerplant features 20 more ponies neatly stowed behind an aesthetic cowling designed to reduce drag by directing wind outside the rider’s knees. Comparatively, the ‘busa is just over 100 pounds heavier and touts almost three inches more wheelbase than the GSX-R 1000. This combination appears to reduce handling in the tighter, more technical corners but ensures the front wheel remains close to the ground when powering the throttle aggressively through the gears. The silent dual exhaust, plush seat and higher mounted controls give the rider a feeling of luxury while still delivering serious attitude. Drag racers have already boasted track times in the low nine-second bracket at over 150 miles per hour without the luxury of wheelie bars. On the other hand, your mother could ride this bike on the street, cruising comfortably at 50 kilometres per hour at 4,500 rpm in first gear—until she reaches 7,000 rpm, of course, at which point the bear within breaks loose! As an old drag racer, I always wanted to know what it would be like to ride a CMDRA Modified Class dragster on the street. I think I just found out.

Canadian Biker Track Editor and 
pro road racer Oliver Jervis says …

I’ll be the first to admit that the Hayabusa or, more specifically, the Ultrasport style (ZX-14, Honda Blackbird etc.), has never really stirred my motorcycling soul. Sure I appreciate the outright horsepower as much as any warm-blooded gear-head, but the cost in terms of weight and perceived lack of handling always threw me off. And I’m not even mentioning the cough, cough “aerodynamic inspired styling” that has often left me wondering “why?”

I have to admit my preconceived notions were all thrown out the window after my time on the new GSXR 1300. Almost all that is.

First and foremost was the handling which, to put it mildly, blew me away. In Houdini like fashion, Suzuki engineers have performed a miracle because, for a bike of this stature, the Hayabusa certainly hides its weight and handles well. You sit low and in the bike rather than on top of it, and the bike responds expeditiously to the pilot’s inputs. Still, strange as it may sound for a bigger bike, I found the low seat made for a somewhat cramped leg position.

Clearly the centre piece is the outstanding power plant. Basically, you pick the gear, despite rpm, and the ‘busa does the rest with astonishing ease.

Acceleration is, as you might imagine, quite impressive, though not overwhelming. In fact it wasn’t the acceleration of the bike from lower speeds that impressed me the most; it was the aggressive way the bike built speed in the high triple digits; pretty phenomenal really. And this is where the ‘busa’s outright horsepower shines, delivering a high speed rush not experienced, in my opinion, by enough

humans. Unfortunately for the Hayabusa, slowing things down from the speed of light requires, as you might appreciate, formidable brakes. I found that quality lacking on this particular model.

It’s not as though Suzuki doesn’t have the right kit on board, but the system just lacks bite and, with it, overall stopping power. This forces the pilot to really squeeze the brake lever to haul things down. Good thing my right forearm is considerably stronger than my left.

Now I don’t want to come off as though I disliked this version of the Hayabusa (actually I quite enjoyed riding it), but in a world where designers have almost unlimited options to shape form over function, I just don’t get why the bike has to look the way it does. Perhaps my favourite comment came from the neighbour’s kid as I was washing the unit down for the photo shoot. He rolled up on his skateboard, blew a purple chewing gum bubble and asked if the “thing” I was washing was a tractor. I could only laugh.


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