2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R vs. 2012 Suzuki Hayabusa LE - Video
A heavyweight battle among hypersportbike giants
In the world of hypersport bikes – the fastest production motorcycles in the world – there’s a clear heavyweight battle raging between the Suzuki Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZX-14R. When the Hayabusa was first introduced in 1999, its 1299cc engine quickly established itself as the king of speed. A lack of competition helped the ‘Busa retain its title until 2006 when Kawasaki retaliated with the 1352cc ZX-14.
The slugfest continued in 2008 when both models received updates; Suzuki bumped the Hayabusa’s displacement to 1340cc by increasing its stroke, while the Kawasaki kept its 1352cc mill but refined it and added more low-end grunt.
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But that wasn’t enough for Team Green. For 2012, Kawasaki aimed to erase any doubts regarding the king of speed, introducing the all-new ZX-14R, aimed solely at clinching the king of the hyperbikes title. EiC Duke came back from the launch convinced it had achieved what it set out to do, and if you’ve seen our picks for Best Motorcycles of 2012, you’ll see the 14R achieved our Motorcycle of the Year honors.
So you might be wondering the point of this comparison. The new 14R earned its MotY status, but that alone doesn’t tell the whole story of the hyperbike comparison. If you read our 2012 Suzuki Hayabusa LE review you’ll note the margin of victory on the dragstrip was closer than we expected.
By The Numbers
When looking at spec sheets, the ZX-14R boasts more impressive figures. Starting at the engine, the ZX’s 1441cc trumps the aging Hayabusa’s 1340cc mill on the dyno. Obviously, with bigger displacement comes more power, and the Kawi’s 188.1 horses and 109.3 ft.-lbs. of torque bests the ‘Busa by a considerable 17.1 ponies and 7.6 ft-lb.
Despite the Suzuki tipping the scales 11.3 pounds lighter than the Kawi (573.0 lbs. vs. 584.3 lbs.), the 14R’s power advantage gives it a better quarter-mile time. At Auto Club Famoso Raceway, near Bakersfield, California, our resident drag-race expert Duke rocketed the Kawi to a best, uncorrected, time of 9.69 seconds at 147.7 mph. His best on the Suzuki: 9.81 seconds @ 145.6 mph.
Corrected for temperatures and pressures, those times whittle down to 9.36 and 9.48 seconds, respectively. Yes the Suzuki lost, but it definitely held its own.
“The ZX is the easiest 9-second bike to ever launch at the strip,” Duke raves. “Dial up 3500 rpm on the tach, engage the precise clutch into its wide bite zone, and screw on the throttle,” he says. “The thing explodes off the line quicker than any production vehicle in history.”
For aspiring drag racers, Duke found the Kawasaki’s KTRC traction-control system beneficial. “Use TC2 and you’ll never have to worry about flipping over while doing a wheelie. Leave it in TC1 and you can do 9-second passes all day long.” However, he went on to add his quickest time was set with the electronic nannies turned off. With TC1, the least intrusive setting, his best was still a mighty impressive 9.71 seconds.
Meanwhile, the Hayabusa, with its lack of traction control, proved slightly more difficult. “It requires more revs to take off quickly and was more prone to wheelies,” Duke notes. The Busa’s narrow clutch engagement zone near the end of the lever travel added another element to contend with as well.
|Getting Into the 8s!|
|The accelerative forces from Kawasaki’s ZX-14R are nothing short of incredible. Its ETs can’t be matched by any other production vehicle, not even a multi-million-dollar Bugatti Veyron, as evidenced by our 9.36-second pass, after being corrected for weather conditions.
But what if you wanted to get into the 8-second zone? Well, it’s possible with only the addition of a suspension lowering kit from Brock’s Performance. A front strap kit retails for $189.95, while a CNC aluminum shock linkage costs $184.95.
Those simple additions lower the bike’s center of gravity and reduce wheelie-inducing weight transfer to allow for much more aggressive launches at higher revs. The 14R’s best 60-foot time in stock conditions was 1.70 seconds. The lowered 14R required just 1.54 seconds, a seemingly small but actually quite large performance improvement.
The harder launch translated to an incredible 9.21-second ET at 151.0 mph. When corrected for temperature and air pressure from our 100-plus-degree day, the ET works out to a sensational 8.90-second pass!
On The Street
Dyno numbers and quarter-mile times are impressive, but they don’t give a true indicator of what a motorcycle is like to live with. For this, we turned to the street, where both machines are likely to spend most their time, to see what each is like on the road.
Simply sitting on each bike, the difference in ergonomics is noticeable. Both bikes have virtually the same seat heights, with the Suzuki 0.2-inch higher at 31.7 inches. Despite the Busa’s slightly taller height, its seat tapers nicely, allowing even those with 30-inch inseams to reach the ground confidently.
The Suzuki requires a longer reach to the bars and has a tighter seat-to-peg distance, and this can make even average-size riders feel cramped. The Kawasaki feels like a sport-tourer in comparison. “Very spacious ergonomics,” says resident tall guy, Tom Roderick. “Big guys will like the rider triangle of the ZX-14 as it’s more forgiving. It’s nice two-up also, with great passenger accommodations and a wide, thickly padded pillion seat.”
But it’s no surprise to discover the real difference comes at the twist of the wrist. You don’t need a dyno to feel the difference between each engine. Make no mistake, both bikes are brutally fast in a straight line, but “the Busa's engine isn't as refined as the new Ninja's,” Tom notes.
On the Busa “A significant amount of vibration filters through to a rider’s hands, especially when super-cruising at 85 mph (4600 rpm),” notes Duke. He goes on to say that the Kawi’s dual counterbalancers keep the 1441cc mill mostly creamy smooth, but a rough zone around 5500 rpm remains. “Thankfully, that’s way above any sane cruising speed,” says Duke Danger.
Curiously, Duke found the Hayabusa’s power “soft” below 3500 rpm, as if the engine were running lean. “The lag is annoying around town,” he notes, “especially for an engine with this much power and displacement.”
Though each bike is equipped with separate riding modes, we barely bothered using them as, to us, they take away from the thrill of having so much power at our demand. More useful is the KTRC traction control system on the Kawasaki (an option Suzuki doesn’t offer), as its three levels of intervention suits riders of all skill levels.
Level 3 stops any kind of spin, and it’s too intrusive for anything other than riding in wet or dirty conditions. KTRC levels 1 and 2 allow a significant amount of slip before intruding yet offer a nice safety net for experienced riders. The Hayabusa’s only rider aid is adjustable power modes. For 2013, Kawasaki is offering antilock brakes as an option.
Ride qualities are rather similar, as both saddles are fairly plush and their suspensions are firm yet compliant. The Suzuki is fitted with a 43mm Kayaba fork (with anti-stiction DLC coating) in front and a single shock in the rear, while the Kawasaki utilizes Showa units at each end. Suspensions on both motorcycles are fully adjustable.
“The 14R’s compliant suspension works with a fairly long wheelbase to deliver a supple freeway ride that feels like a Cadillac compared to something like a ZX-10R,” Duke notes.
For average-size riders, wind protection is quite decent on both bikes. The smaller rider could even tuck well enough to be completely enveloped by the wide fairings and windscreen on either machine. We noticed the ZX-14R would direct wind to the shoulder area for Duke and yours truly, who both stand at 5-foot, 8-inches. Six-footer Tom felt the wind in the chest area, but nobody seemed negatively concerned with wind flow on either machine.
As in the engine department, the Kawasaki boasts an advantage in terms of brakes. Both use radial-mount four-pot calipers and 310mm discs, but the power and feedback from the Kawi’s binders and wave-type rotors are superior to the Suzuki’s.
Taking these bikes to the twisties reveals either one can handle a winding road. However, because of their weight, they can become taxing after a long stint. With its lighter wheels for 2012, the ZX feels agile compared to the Suzuki, turning from side to side with relative ease. “Despite feeling shorter than the ZX, the Busa seems a bit more cumbersome in the corners,” Kevin notes.
What we found amazing is how both bikes are easy to live with. While the drag strip and canyon roads were fun, considerable time was also spent simply commuting and performing mundane, everyday tasks. This is where the Kawi stood out. Its comfortable ergos, smooth engine and compliant suspension made it the bike we’d gravitate towards when simply running around town.
Where the ZX falls short is in sport-touring accommodations. The lack of attachment points or fold-out hooks for bungee cords “really damages the ZX as a legitimate sport-touring machine,” according to Tom. Here, the Suzuki scores points. Strategically placed attachment points come in handy when trying to strap things down and “it has a considerable amount of storage room under its solo-seat hump, which comes as standard equipment,” says Duke.
The Suzuki wins the battle at the pump as well with an average of 37.1 mpg compared to 31.0 mpg on the ZX. Then again, we imagine nobody buys the fastest motorcycles in the world for their fuel efficiency.
Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but to our eyes, the ZX-14R looks fresher and more attractive than the ’Busa’s familiar blob-like shape. “I think the Kawi looks pretty sharp and purposeful in its blue and black color scheme, with a distinct intimidation factor,” Duke observes.
Bigger is Better
From the start, it was no secret the all-new ZX-14R would win this test. When you combine its silky smooth engine, spacious ergos, capable suspension and monstrous power, the aging Suzuki Hayabusa was outgunned. However, the Busa puts up a firm challenge, and should its styling be more to your liking, you’ll appreciate its $1000 cheaper price tag: $13,999 (or $14,299 for our LE) vs. $14,999. And don’t forget about the booming aftermarket for the Hayabusa, either. With enough cash and imagination, it will do everything you want and more.
But when comparing stock motorcycles, it’s hard to overlook Kawi’s latest ZX-14R revamp. “If you feel like sacrificing your clean driving record, the ZX-14 is the perfect motorcycle,” says Tom.