2006 Rocket Tour - World's Fastest Imbeciles

2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 and the 2006 Suzuki Hayabusa

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The Thrilla in Manila: Which Bike is Better?

Of late, moto-journalists have grown to hate his question, as just about every bike wheeled out of a showroom these days is a marvel of technology. On some levels, though, it is easy to answer this question.

The ZX-14 is clearly a better bike.

All three testers noted its comfort, smooth motor and gearbox, great comfort level and wind protection, as well as the way it accelerates like a bullet train launched off a cliff. It has a smooth, integrated, flowing design that looks great and attracts plenty of attention, and it's got a seamless, well-designed quality to it that befits a flagship-level motorcycle like this. It's the most expensive Kawasaki sportbike at $11,499, and well-heeled consumers expect a flawless and freshly-styled bike to gaze on in their roomy, spotless and well-lit garages.

The `Busa was a bit ahead on the twisty roads...

So did it kick the crap out of the poor old Hayabusa?

Hardly.

In fact, Editor Ets-Hokin reported a moment of panic when he first read Editor Brissette's notes and his clear preference for the less-refined but better-handling and more charismatic Suzuki. "What will the readers say?" he moaned, unwrapping another one of the Fentanyl lollypops he had stolen from Evel Knievel's hospital room. "They'll be like a pack of viscous animals when they hear we picked a seven year-old bike to beat the latest and greatest machine from Kawasaki, the kings of speed!"

Luckily for us, Photographer and Executive Editor Al Palaima chimed in with his own opinion to break the tie; he also preferred comfort and smooth function over the great handling of the Hayabusa. Even if he hadn't, we would have used Editorial privilege to break the tie and go with the ZX-14; it might not impart the same confidence in the canyons or (Oy Vey!) on a racetrack, but 95 percent of you do more commuting and touring on your bikes than quick canyon blasts or trackdays anyway.

...but came in second when it came to styling, comfort, brakes and power.

As an all-around motorcycle, the ZX-14 is clearly the best choice, but we have new respect for what is probably one of the best heavyweight sportsters made, a bike deserving of legend status.

What is exciting is the thought of an updated Hayabusa for 2007 or 2008, a bike that refines and smoothes the bike to improve power, comfort and braking, but retains the light feel and touch that make the big Suzuki a pleasure to hustle down a twisty road. Until that day, the ZX-14 is the bike to have in this category, although owning a `Busa is still pretty cool. Like in many other categories, you can't go wrong with either Rocket Tourer.

What I'd Buy

Gabe Ets-Hokin, Senior Editor

I don't know about your state, but here in Kaly-Fornya, cash-strapped governments and jumpy locals make it much harder to speed with impunity. The deserted, two-lane roads connecting Nowhere to the Middle of Nowhere that should be these machine's native habitat offer nowhere to hide from the black-and-white

  Gabe asks; what's the point?
     

killers of joy, so any fantasies I had of streaking across the desert at triple-digit speeds emerging from a shimmering mirage dissolved, for the most part, into a hum-drum slog at sub-minivan speeds. What's the point?

The point is that motorcycles are not sensible purchases in general, so if you're going to be un-sensible, you might as well go all the way. Riding a wave of high-rpm horsepower on a bike like the R6 is fun, but dropping a gear or two on one of these and hammering the throttle at 80 mph is intoxicating, a rush of power and speed that embodies the reckless energy and movement that make us want to ride in the first place.

If you don't mind spending over 10 grand on your do-it-all bike, these aren't so crazy, really. The heavy weight makes for a good touring or commuting platform, and the insane power output compensates for the extra lard. 160 hp also means you can gear to the moon, resulting in 40+ mpg at law-breaking cruising speeds. That economy will almost compensate for your increased tire bill, although astronomical insurance rates will more than consume those savings. But of these two, which is better?

I thought the Kawi would easily beat up poor old `Busa, pantsing it and locking it in the girl's bathroom, but the seven year-old bike surprised me with a very well-rounded package that still works. It's almost as fast, almost as smooth, and it handles tight roads noticeably easier than the newer bike. However, the brakes need upgrading, the motor is rough compared to the liquid-smooth Kawasaki powerplant, and the styling is beyond dated. Most importantly, the Kawi is much easier on my flaccid, disintegrating body with a humane riding position, incredible wind protection and an eerie lack of vibration.

It's truly a classic road-burner on par with the Brough-Superior or Vincent Black Shadow. Somehow, Kawasaki's engineers managed to really tap into what makes an unlimited sportbike so enticing. The fuel injection is almost flawless, delivering tons of power while still feeling controllable. The brakes match the motor nicely, and it's plenty comfortable for many hours in the saddle. It's also a blast at the drag strip, capable of turning the least-skilled loser into an instant hero. The bike is a great package that easily accomplishes its mission of displaying Kawasaki's engineering prowess and reputation for providing consumers with more than they need.

Present and future Hayabusa owners, take heart in the fact that your motorcycle is really excellent and still holds up well, decades after it was first built. It's truly a classic road-burner on par with the Brough-Superior or Vincent Black Shadow. It took the better part of 10 years to unseat it, but it was inevitable that someone would. In my opinion, the ZX-14 is the new king of the open GT bikes, a versatile, fun motorcycle that will reign for many years, and the one I'd put in my garage if I were in the market for a bike like this.

Pete Brissette, Editor

"The King is dead!" I exclaimed, referring to the crushing blow the ZX-14 had dealt to the mighty Hayabusa as Gabe and I performed our very unscientific roll-on acceleration test, while rocketing up the freeway into the Mojave Desert.

Not so fast, Ninja-san.

Although getting older, Suzuki's bird of prey is not so easily dispatched. Coming on its eighth year in production, the 'Busa hasn't seen any significant

  We saw this guy in Mammoth Lakes on our way back from dinner. Based on the bear's size, we think he'd be more comfortable on the ZX-14.
       

changes and remains largely the same since 1999 save for an ECU upgrade and titanium-nitride coated forks in 2003. That is a very, very long time for any one motorcycle to rule the land. Kudos to Suzuki.

I remember when this bike first came on the scene. I marveled along with everyone else that such a high performance, large displacement sport bike would be created. "How ridiculous; it would be a 1,300 cubic-centimeter death-machine in the hands of most who purchase one!" I thought. Nevertheless, despite my sage standing in society, time marched on and the bike-buying public snapped them up.

The Hayabusa is a bike that has launched countless Internet message boards and caused turbocharger manufacturers to wring their hands and wipe the drool from their proverbial mouths. Again I thought--in error--that such ludicrousness wouldn't last. The fact that such incredible top speed was available in stock trim created a whole subculture of people seeking status in motorcycledom as a 'Busa owner. I sincerely believe that the Hayabusa is integral in the formation of the cultural assignment that so many seek today: to be a "balla". Even more reason for me to not take the bike seriously. Then I rode one.

If covering the seemingly endless freeway miles that criss-cross this large country in relative comfort while cruising into the stratosphere of triple digit speeds is on your agenda, the ZX-14 will oblige, effortlessly. Don't be fooled as I was by the overall heft and girth of this, the mightiest of all Suzuki sportbikes. It genuinely handles like a much smaller motorcycle. It most certainly draws on the traits of its smaller brothers that have made them so successful in the worlds of supersport and superbike racing. Once I ventured off the open road and into the tight stuff, a quick steering, nimble-handling motorcycle emerged from bulbous bodywork that belies its knife-edge handling.

Kawasaki has made an incredible motorcycle in the ZX-14. It's about as stable as anything you'll find on two wheels that can attain speeds of just under 190 mph in stock trim, and I don't know if I've ever used a better, more powerful and sensitive set of brakes. They're simply outstanding! If covering the seemingly endless freeway miles that criss-cross this large country in relative comfort while cruising into the stratosphere of triple digit speeds is on your agenda, the ZX-14 will oblige, effortlessly. The saddle, foot peg and clip-on relation is such that the miles clicked off for me with little discomfort. That's a rare thing these days unless I'm on a BMW R1200RT or Gold Wing.

Hopefully, Suzuki will be giving the Hayabusa a much-needed instrument cluster revamping for 2007. It's simply dated as compared to the well thought-out speedo-tach-LCD combination found on the new Ninja. And although MO didn't try to test the flat-out speed limits of each bike, I'm pretty confident that the Ninja is faster at just about every point. Yet for a savings of at least $400 over the Ninja, I could easily remedy some comfort issues on the 'Busa with a set of bar risers and adjustable rear sets, and at no cost I could surf all the Hayabusa owner sites for the little tricks needed to de-restrict the speed limitations specifically imposed by Suzuki.

No, the King isn't dead. He's just a little older, a littler slower, his bodywork is quirky and generally he's getting long in the tooth. But I like him anyway. If I were to drop over ten large of my own on one of these land rockets, I'd stick with a sure thing and blast off with the GSX1300R Hayabusa.

Phonzie gets Phaster: Notes from the Man Behind the Lens

Rocket touring comparison indeed, more like time travel delivered by both

  Jeff's Country Kitchen in Big Pine, CA has great onion rings and burgers.
     

Suzuki and Kawasaki. Never again will I overlook these bikes when considering a long ride, be it all in a straight line or via a scenic, winding route through the mountains.

Usually my riding on these comparos is pretty mellow. I'm alwys hauling a big backpack with my multi-media gear and thinking about the next scenic spot to snap some action or static shots. Although I enjoy going fast as much as the next guy, I'm usually happy as long as I'm comfy.

These two rides made me a bona-fide believer in the cult of speed. Controlling enough power to light a small city while traveling in comfort and style, all at triple-digit speeds. It'ss a Good Thing. Power, style and handling? Yes, please.

I was eager to ride the legendary `Busa, and it had all the style, speed and power I expected, along with the addition of quick, light handling in the twisties. However, there was also a subtraction of comfort. It's hot pants riding... some heat escapes directly where my carbon fiber-fringed chaps end and my ass begins to hit the saddle. I also thought the black dials on black carbon framing were slightly difficult to read. The `Busa also gets rather buzzy around 4,700 RPM, something you never notice with the Kawasaki.

Now that I'm a speed junkie, my pusher's name is "Ninja". The big Ninja is more my speed. Although this bike feels w-i-d-e when you first get on it, that feeling soon converts to a sense of stability. The fully-faired body and styling add width to encompass the rider's legs within the air stream, but in a way that looks terrific. What surprised me was the great handling; never before have I taken a turn as fast as I had on this bike. I also liked the smooth, low, integrated and modern styling and data-packed instrument panel.

Now that I'm a speed junkie, my pusher's name is "Ninja". The power on this big red bike is incredible; I don't think we've ever pumped 171 hp through our old DynoJet before. That power comes on smoothly and controllably and can make the flattest, straightest piece of road interesting, as long as the Man isn't there to kill your buzz.

I'm still happy with a lighter, more upright kind of bike for commuting, but picking between these two I would pick the Kawasaki for its power delivery, high style and up-to-date instrument panel. Luckily for my license, my financial situation dictates more sensible transportation choices, so I can stay out of speed-junkie rehab for a few more seasons... maybe.

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