2006 Rocket Tour - World's Fastest Imbeciles

2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 and the 2006 Suzuki Hayabusa

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2006 Suzuki GSX-1300R Hayabusa:
The Aging Ali Still Floats like a Butterfly and Stings Like a Bee

Some of us peak at 18. Some of us don't blossom until we're much older, and some of us can keep kicking ass at an age when others are driving golf carts with Paul Harris in Florida.

The Suzuki Hayabusa is such a creature. Ancient by cutting-edge sportbike standards, the fast and bulbous creature is still as fast, sharp-handling and commanding as it was in 1999. It's a motorcycle that impressed us on the staff and was surprisingly good, even compared to the faster and more comfortable ZX-14.

Tech stuff can be perused in this ancient text from the dusty annals of MO, but some things have changed in the intervening eons, so we will enlighten you a bit more.

High-abusa'

Suzuki's engineers started with a motor, a 1,299 cc liquid-cooled, dual-overhead cam affair with an 11.0:1 compression ratio, Suzuki's Twin Swirl Combustion Chambers and a single gear-driven counterbalancer. It's fed with 46 mm throttle bodies (the Kawi's are but 44 mm units) and has a cable-operated back-torque limiting clutch. Moto-Urban-Legend has it that the 1999 model is the fastest, but the 1999 we tested (in 1999) made 157 hp at the back wheel while our 2006 made 159. That legendary motor is ensconced in a twin-spar extruded-aluminum chassis festooned with high-spec hardware. The bridge-type aluminum swingarm is attached to the three-way adjustable, remote-reservoir rear-shock with a linkage. The front 43 mm inverted fork is titanium nitride-coated as well as being adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping. Chassis numbers are sporty for such a big bike, especially given the age, with a wheelbase of 58.5 inches, 24 degrees of rake and 3.8 inches of trail. Brakes are big six-pot caliper jobs clutching 320 mm rotors.

It seems odd to place the once mighty and all-conquering Hayabusa at anything less than "stellar" in the power department, but compared to the newest Ninja its vintage is showing.

The bike has received surprisingly few updates since its introduction. In 2003, the fuel injection map was altered a little, the forks got that titanium-nitride treatment, and the brake calipers were given the gold treatment to add a touch of exotic class. Other than seven years of Bold New Graphics treatments, that's apparently all the improvement Suzuki feels the bike needs. However, the aftermarket provides a dizzying array of products for the `Busa, from chrome wheels to 300 hp turbocharger kits. The Hayabusa's styling is controversial, but far from boring. It takes some getting used to for some, but Pete found "the odd, bubbly bodywork attractive", even though the "'Busa doesn't exhibit itself as one fluid line like the Ninja does."

Gabe thought the soft, swoopy late-90's shapes seemed as "dated as the Macarena and $2 per gallon gas" but they are definitely distinctive; passers-by seemed drawn to the Hayabusa's recognizable profile and naughty reputation. If you like to ride something that stands out--and Suzuki offers an extreme-bling Anniversary edition in silver and white livery that has everything but chrome spinners--the Hayabusa fits the bill.

Pete thinks that the Hayabusa "looks small for a big bike", but hopping aboard reveals that it feels smaller, too. The footpegs are close to the rider, and the bars are lower and closer than they are on the ZX-14. The riding position is not quite as cramping as a GSXR, but the feel is definitely not Sport-Tourer. The seat is sofa-cushion pillowy, which feels good for the first hour, than starts to hurt as the foam packs down.

The cockpit on the Suzuki shows its age. Pete thought the "instrument cluster is Spartan and oft times difficult to concentrate on while at speed." Gabe found the faux-carbon fiber surround a little "tacky", and Al also thought it was hard to read at a glance. Like much on this bike, it needs an update. Hopefully, Suzuki will jump on the bandwagon and install a nice big LCD for next year, along with a fancier rider display and gear indicator. Other amenities abound, including bungee mount points and a nice, big grab-handle for your passenger. If you're not carrying a passenger, there's ample storage under the big, camel-like hump that replaces the passenger seat.

When it's time to experience the legendary motor, you notice that the Hayabusa still has a quaint fast-idle lever on the left handlebar, although the only time we needed it was at high altitudes or on very cold mornings. Even with it, our test bike wouldn't hold an idle for a minute or two, although immediately riding it away was not a problem. Overall, the fuel injection didn't show its age much; Pete described it as "very drivable in virtually all scenarios."

Someday Gabe will be able to wheelie. Until then he will have no credibility with MOrons.

It seems odd to place the once mighty and all-conquering Hayabusa at anything less than "stellar" in the power department, but compared to the newest Ninja its vintage is showing. In our less-than-scientific-means of measuring roll-on power, the ZX-14 effortlessly walked away from the Suzuki. Pete declared that the "poor old bird just isn't at the top of the power heap any more", even though he conceded that "overall the engine is still amazing." Even though we could only (only?) coax 159 hp out of our test unit on the Motorcycle.com DynoJet Dyno, it was noticeably more buzzy, especially around 4,500RPM, than the Ninja, and it didn't have quite the mid-range and top-end hit the Kawasaki did. There's also more vibration that works its way through the bars and pegs to the rider. Still, it's a fun motor that would seem miraculous for power and response if not for more modern powerplants. The transmission also shows its late-90s origins. At seven years old, it's "certainly not the smoothest in Suzuki's stable; it felt notchy compared to the Ninja and even had one false neutral", according to picky Pete. Gabe also noticed a longer throw and little more resistance to gear changes in the Suzuki's `box, although it seemed very fluid and nice to use. It's a fine gearbox, just not as precise and refined as the Ninja's. The clutch seemed robust and smooth enough to us, though.

If you had to pick a decade to be stuck in, the 90s wouldn't be the worst one; Suzuki's 1996-2000 SRAD GSXRs set a very high bar for handling and performance. With a 159-hp motor rigidly mounted in a light, stiff twin-spar frame, this bike is essentially a very powerful, slightly larger GSXR 750. The 43 mm fork looks like race-spec equipment, and Pete described it as "perfectly sorted in the suspension department." Gabe couldn't complain (a feat for him) about the handling, although a racetrack jaunt might reveal shortcomings. The stock settings offered the right blend of good comfort level without sacrificing stability or sensitivity to front-end feel.

Doing our part to increase Global warming...

The 'Busa obviously draws heavily on the racing success of its smaller brothers with its quick, yet stable handling which belies its true size. Gabe was actually stunned with how different the `Busa felt on twisty pavement. "It's a night and day difference that I didn't expect between the two bikes." Pete reports that "initial turn-in is quick and easy; like a Ronco Rotissere, the stout chassis means you just set it and forget it." The bike feels smaller and lighter, ultimately being easier and quicker to turn, which results in improved rider confidence. The higher, less-comfortable pegs also provide more cornering clearance, adding another spoonful to your confidence plate. What it all means is that the Hayabusa is a great bike to attack twisty roads on if you also like bending the laws of physics when you join the corners together. It's ironic that this bike is best-known for being a polished-frame showbike or a top-speed record-breaker, when it handles so well.

The brakes measure up to the motor, but like everything else on the bike, they are showing their age. The six-pot calipers felt spongy and weak to us compared to the excellent binders on the ZX-14, requiring two fingers to slow the bike to sphincter-relaxing velocities where the Kawasaki only required a single digit. Good brakes with power and feel are very important on a bike that is essentially designed to go faster than you think; at the very least we hope Suzuki upgrades the brakes in the future.

Which bike will lose its wings and wind up on the scrap heap first?

Comfort is good on the Hayabusa, but not great. Around town, it's not too bad. The low-ish seat lets short folks like Pete and Gabe get their feet down (but not all the way) at stops, and the torquey motor and light feel make the bike easy-to-handle at city speeds. The brakes, if a little lacking at warp velocities, are more than sufficient at 30 mph to loft the back tire. On the freeway, the windscreen that might have been ample eight years ago now subjects the rider to wind blast unless she's in a racer crouch at illegal speeds. The lower bars and higher pegs prompted some complaints: Pete found he would get uncomfortable much sooner on the `Busa, and Gabe felt "10 years older on the Suzuki" because his back and knees would stiffen up before 75 miles went by on the bird of prey. It's hard out there for a legendary motorcycle. As the years go by and technology advances, you still have to stand out against the latest and greatest. What surprised us about the old bird was how well she stands up against the supremely-engineered ZX-14. It's not quite as fast, comfortable or smooth as the Kawasaki, but it's faster, smoother and more comfortable than many big machines out on the market right now. It also handles more lightly and accelerates better than any sport-tourer you could name. Is it better than the ZX-14?


Tester's Notes

  • Both these bikes have adjustable brake and clutch levers, a nice touch every bike should have.
  • The Hayabusa comes with a separate passenger seat and grabrail in addition to the bulbous solo seat cover. The Kawasaki includes a cover that conceals the passenger portion of the seat and comes off with four screws.
  • The Kawi had mysterious mounting bosses near the passenger footpegs; look for hard luggage as an option in the future.
  • Pete said, "I can't understand for the life of me why Suzuki's designers choose to place the rear seat lock tumbler smack dab in the middle of that beautiful tail section."
  • Petey was impressed by the nice overall finish of the Hayabusa; "the paint... could be considered one of the nicer components of this machine."
  • The Suzuki's BT-56 tires have a decidedly old-fashioned, round profile that feels odd compared to the modern BT-014s on the Kawasaki. At the end of the test the Suzuki's tires looked significantly more worn, showing how far tire design has come in seven or eight years.
  • Both bikes have read-outs for miles per gallon, although the Suzuki's estimates total tank MPG while the Kawasaki gives you the choice of average or instant MPG.
  • Speaking of mileage:
    Suzuki:
    • High: 45.41
    • Low: 35.98
    • Average: 39.27
    Kawasaki:
    • High:40.89
    • Low: 34.1
    • Average: 37.54

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