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’Busas, Baby! Looking Back at Suzuki’s Steamroller of Speed

Since the Coming of the Hayabusa, the Sportbike World has Never Been the Same

By Mark Hoyer

It was a threshold moment. As we all sat at the pre-ride briefing during the 1999 press introduction for the Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa there was no indication of what was about to happen.

Suzuki had gathered the world’s motorcycle journalists at Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya for our first experience with the mega-motored GT. As the technical presentation went on, Suzuki claimed the bike had invented a new category called “Ultimate Sport.” More than a few of us snickered at what we thought certainly was a fully laden PR backhoe, rich with a deep, fertile pile of hyperbole, just another silly press-material exaggeration. Claimed output was 173 horsepower, with 102 foot-pounds of torque. Impressive numbers, yes, we thought, but surely a gross overstatement…

Busa History
Wheelies? Why not?! With 99 foot-pounds of chain-stretching torque, gettin’ ’er up is easy. This 2006 special-edition Hayabusa featured pearl-white paint.

Two days of riding proved us completely wrong. A factory rep asked us on the street ride to kindly observe local traffic laws—then the Suzuki Germany ride leader left the parking lot in a cloud of smoke and proceeded to warp drive up to 180-plus mph! On a Spanish freeway. In traffic. The whole day was like this. It was incredible, stupid, dangerous, and never in my life had I felt like I’d dodged a bullet more than at the end of that ride. The Hayabusa pulled as hard in fifth gear as other bikes accelerated in third. There was always power available, like a force of nature. In full tuck, pinned in one of the upper gears, confused, elated and awed by the speed, I approached these huge lazy bends in the road at such great velocity it turned them into “corners.” It didn’t seem possible to have this much lean angle for a bend of such great radius, but the speed was so high that this Spanish freeway had become a new road, being used in a way no civil engineer could ever have thought possible.

It might have been too much, too shocking, but the previous day on the GP-spec Circuit de Catalunya had shown us all that this Cosmic Suppository had a poise and balance, such an overriding feeling of competence, that while it was hard to believe we were going so fast, our consciousness has been expanded to make it all seem perfectly sensible and totally possible.

Busa History
Blurring the scenery is what ’Busas have always been about. Long may that be true.

There rarely are such leaps in performance. We are accustomed to the incremental changes, the slight pokes forward in power, handling, quarter-mile times and top speeds. Kawasaki’s ZX-11 had achieved its 176-mph top speed eight years before. Later, Honda’s sublimely smooth 1997 CBR1100XX Blackbird barely exceeded that, so we all had approached this odd-looking, beak-nosed Suzuki with some skepticism. Such skepticism was crushed by the Hayabusa with nonchalant ease.

Not only did it scorch the road with a 194-mph top speed, it got there faster than any production motorcycle ever. The 9.86-second, 146-mph quarter-mile absolutely destroyed everything! Just as surprising was that the Hayabusa showed us what was possible to achieve in terms of well-rounded performance. Handling was light even though the bike is not. Brakes got hot and caused a soft lever in track use, but the ’Busa was actually capable of going around a race circuit at great speed. Horsepower was a real 160 hp at the wheel, torque an amazing 99 foot-pounds.

Suzuki has sold some 100,000 worldwide since ’99. Sure, top speed was electronically limited to 186 mph in 2000, but the incredible acceleration, excellent balance and status as the supreme high-power sportbike was never challenged until the arrival of Kawasaki’s ZX-14 in 2006. Prior to this, for close to a decade, in comparison test after comparison test with would-be contenders, other GT-style bikes with big engines and grand performance claims, nothing else had gotten close. The ZX-14 proved to be more than a match, but Suzuki was hard at work on the next-generation ’Busa, even delaying last year’s expected introduction to add that final bit of polish—and maybe a touch more acceleration?

When Suzuki first launched the bike, it explained that hayabusa was the Japanese word for a very fast falcon that, not coincidentally, fed on blackbirds. Hayabusa has come to mean an unmatched motorcycle experience and as well as one of the greatest motorcycles ever made. Can we expect anything less of the all-new 2008 version?

Sound Off! What’s your best ’Busa story?

Additional Hayabusa reading

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