Test Ride: Suzuki Hayabusa

Words: Rob Harris Photos: Wilfrid Gaube/Suzuki
Reading through Suzuki’s Hayabusa press package reveals a mini epic on the daily struggles of the Suzuki design engineers. One fateful day they met with the product planners (on a Friday to be precise) who set them on a quest. A quest to design a machine so advanced that it required an entirely new performance category: Ultimate Sport! (cue dramatic music).

‘Twas a young engineer that discovered the solution. Walking alone in the Japanese countryside he noticed a streak in the sky. Startled, he watched as it swooped at an impossible rate of speed … was it a plane? … was it a speeding bullet? … No, it was a … a Hayabusa. A what? A Hayabusa! A Japanese Falcon with the unique ability to cut through the wind to reach top speeds in excess of 300 km/h. Apparently, this gave the engineer all he needed. To make a bike that could slice through the air like … a … a ….. Hayabusa!

If this sounds like a load of bollocks to you, then you and me both. Might impress a three year old at bed time but I’d hope if some young engineer stumbled out of the woods talking about fast falcons and the new Suzuki flagship bike, then management would have the sense to drug test him and fire his mescaline impregnated arse!

Photo Credit: Wilfred Gaube

However, ignoring the questionable press blurb, there’s no doubt that the Hayabusa has achieved it’s two main goals:

1) To be the fastest production bike to date.

2) To get the most attention possible and preferably piss off all the other manufacturers with a smug, “Ha ha, sucks to be you” kind of attitude.

The irony is, being the fastest also usually means big compromises in general usability, as the designers sacrifice ergonomics for the all important aerodynamics. To understand why the designers have to do this, we first need to get into some basic physics (also handily regurgitated in the press package):

Laser beam thingys show suggested air flow. What they don’t show is their tendancy to slip down the back of your pants and give your crown jewels a refreshing cooling.

As the speed of yer steed rises, the drag factor also rises, at a rate proportional to the speed. However, that drag factor is actually proportional to the rate of increase of speed … squared! If that’s a few too many factors for you, simply put: If you double your speed, you quadruple your amount of drag. Not a big deal at low speeds, but as you get up there, those slippery aerodynamic touches will easily match a sizable chunk of horsepower. Basically, brute power will only get you so far before good aerodynamics take over. But if you have both then you’ve got one fast mother of a bike! … although you might find that it’s not really ideal at any other speed….

Okay, physics 101 over, let’s take a look at the bike.

One thing I really love about Howie B. (for that is what he shall be known as from here on), is his ability to evoke such response from other people. It’s a radical look, with it’s pointy nose holding a murky one eyed projector lens, to its molded indicator/air scoops (the indicators actually aid the scooping effect), to it’s pointy arse rear seat cover and it’s copper splashed paint job.

From left to right: Nose & indicator/scoops. Headlight, Logo, Sculptured rear footpeg.

Photo Credit: Wilfred Gaube

Most other motorcyclists either didn’t mind it or just plain hated it. Surprisingly, the main admirers were spotty teenagers, who would loaf over in their Spice Girl platform shoes and plastic clothing, muttering “Like, that’s really nice. Like what is it .. like. You know … whatever”. A few times I even got mobbed by such groups during parking maneuvers, making Howie B. not just the bike for speed freaks, but pedophiles as well.

But enough inane babble, how was Howie B. on the open road?

Photo Credit: Wilfred Gaube

‘Orribly fast. Especially for Editor types desperately trying to hang on to their licences. There’s a strange amount of pressure on you when you’re riding the worlds fastest. You may not be quite insane enough to actually go for top speed, but you’ve got to see just what it does when you hold the throttle open for … hmmmhhh … ten seconds? Seems reasonable.

Up to about 4,500rpm nothing unexpected. Typical four stroke, four cylinder type of power … then Howie B. just starts to pull. And pull. And pull. All the way up to the 11,000 red line in fact. Do this for a couple of gears and before you’ve had yer ten seconds you’re doing 240, things are moving by the side of you faster than you have time to process what they actually are, and your licence is trying to morph into a new identity to try and save itself from the police shredder.

Thankfully Howie comes equipped with dual six piston brakes up front which, when squeezed hard, can get you back to legal speeds just before you reach the police-radar-trap-possibly-over-
the-other-side brow of the hill. Actually it also allows for excellent stoppies – amazing what six pots can do to 215 Kgs. Oh yeah, and the back brake is crap. Which is what you want. So that’s good.

If you want to stay legal, then top gear will put you at 100km/h at just 3,500rpm. That would make red line somewhere around 310km/h in top. It’s all a bit insane and silly really, but look, being the giggling little schoolboy at heart, I’m impressed already.

Back to more sensible testing criteria, the box is typical Suzi smooth, but with a very occasional false neutral glitch between 5th and 6th. Oh, did I mention that first gear will go to 140 and beyond as well (giggle, giggle)?

The only down points I found with the new motor were some vibes coming in at around 5,500rpm (which in general responsible usage is a place you rarely go anyway), and it did stall out on me a couple of times during low speed turning.

Photo Credit: Wilfred Gaube

Okay, let’s say that you’re the type that values self control. You’re interested in the Hayabusa because you want a sports tourer, with emphasis on the tourer. Well, it does that job actually quite well. However, this is really where the ergonomics verses aerodynamics argument comes into play. For starters the screen is too low. If you bend forward to kiss the tank then all of a sudden it works beautifully. But how long are you going to do that for? Normal riding position isn’t too bad. A bit heavy on the wrists, maybe an extra half inch on the bars would help, but now the screen does sweet F.A. In fact for tall buggers like me it actually gets in the way of the clocks. You end up looking down at them through the top part of the tinted screen. I also found myself with my gonads snuggled up a tad too close to the tank for comfort. On the positive side, the leg room was comfortable enough and the seat numbness factor acceptable, but not really suitable for long hauls.

Photo Credit: Wilfred Gaube

Other little odds and sods worthy of a mention include conservative but purposeful clocks. The fake carbon fiber is questionable, but the electronic tach and speedo do a neat swing to max and back every time you turn the key. A devious Editor could almost use this to set up a fake speed shot ….. The trip has two separate journey settings with the ability to show you average fuel consumption for either (which incidentally turned out to be 15.3 Km/l for the time we had the bike).

Suspension consists of USD forks up front and a massive box braced swing arm to the rear. Oh yeah, and there’s a hidden steering damper up front, which doesn’t actually make it too heavy either. Oh yeah again, the clutch is worthy of a mention. Apparently it incorporates a slipper mechanism that prevents rear wheel lock up during ham fisted down shifts, BUT it also works the other way and acts to compress the plates during hard acceleration. So what? Well, then you can use lighter clutch springs and have a lighter clutch action – and they do and it is. Hurrah!

So there we have it. The Hayabusa. Not just a fast bike. But to me, therein lies a bit of the problem. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by just how usable it is, despite it’s aerodynamic requirements. However, personally, I’d love to see a GSX1300S model. Higher bars, taller screen, larger one piece seat, standard center stand and optional hard bags. It may no longer be the fastest production bike ever made, but it would be one of the sweetest sports tourers available. Besides, they can always keep the R model to battle it out with the imminent Kawasaki ZX12 ….

Join the conversation!