In 1999, the water in the motorcycling pond was beginning to get muddy. The title of "Worlds fastest production motorcycle" was held by Honda's 1100XX Blackbird. Touting a top speed in the high 170s, it just beat Kawasaki's ZX1100 which in all tests, ran 3-4 mph slower.
Both bikes are big and heavy. When the lightweight, stock Yamaha R1 began breaking into the 170s but getting there quicker, the payoff of a slightly higher top speed wasn't as great. The top speed kings were becoming touring bikes.
Then Suzuki grabbed the bar and used it to clobber Honda and Kawasaki. Suzuki raised the top speed 20mph over other heavyweight sportbikes. The bike they sent in to do this was the Hayabusa.
It was 480 pounds of big, ugly, aerodynamic motorcycle. It's 1300cc fuel-injected, four-cylinder motor put out over 155 rear-wheel horsepower. That's 16 hp more than any other stock sportbike at the time. Out of the box it would do sub 10-second quarter-miles and would top out at a real 196+ mph! Bad.... bad craziness.
For 2000, just as Kawasaki readied their own 200mph missile, and under threats of speed and horsepower limits from around the world, Suzuki and other manufacturers agreed to place a 189mph limit on their production bikes. The '99 Hayabusas, in copper or black, were the ones that slipped through the crack. Top speed is now "limited" to 189 mph.
At 189 miles-per-hour, you travel 278 feet in 1 second. Three miles in 60 seconds. From Minneapolis to Duluth in less than 45 minutes.
Testing the 2000 Suzuki Hayabusa last summer, I learned a lot of things about traveling at 189mph. At least four miles of straight, visible, empty road is a necessity. It helps that road is flat and of good quality because large undulations that you'd never otherwise notice, are transformed into launch ramps at high speeds.
You also have to tuck in tight. Not so much your elbows, since they're already pointing rearward, but helmet and legs. I nearly broke my neck by sitting up at 140 while coasting down from some insane speed .
I have to confess that I don't think I ever topped the 'busa out. While 160 is comprehensible and comes very easy on this bike, anything over that gets weird. Just as aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with speed, so does fear. My brain could barely accept and respond to the images my eyes were feeding it and the impulse to close the throttle had to be fought constantly. The best I did was to bring it up to speed in 5th then glance at the speedo and see 175 (indicated) before running it to redline and hitting 6th. From there I held it pinned for a three count before giving up. This whole sequence happens so fast you have to look at the clocks before you start it. Keeping it in 5th at super high speeds had the bike pulling as hard as would in 2nd. The power never tails off.
With this kind of acceleration at hand, a rider has to use good judgment. Before my first ride on the Hayabusa the owner warned me, "Do not attempt to pin the throttle in the first two gears!"
Doing so in first will result in some kind of insane Mad Max wheel spin or, with enough traction, wheel spin and a very out-of-control wheelie. First gear wheelies have to be done with one smooth motion up to about 2/3 throttle. Watching fellow MMM staffer Crabby Don practice this, I noticed he was leaving 3-foot stripes of rubber before the front wheel would rise. Pinning the gas in second, the bike will wheelie smoothly but also accelerates so fast it's hard to feel safe doing so. With such a long nose it seems like there's three feet of fairing in front of you and when in the air it doesn't have a feel of total control.
Racing a friend on his new GSX-750R, we rolled on in first gear. While he was busy trying to keep the anorexic GSXR's front wheel on the ground, I short shifted into third and held it wide open. At around 8000 rpm (redline is at 11) the 'busa was pulling so hard that the tiniest dip in the road caused the front end to loft six inches off the ground. Chopping the throttle caused it to come down into a slight headshake, which in turn almost caused me to pee myself.
Enough with the acceleration thing, it does it well and we all know it. I was surprised to find that it has many creature comforts, which give it a real Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde complex.
The seating position is the bikes biggest, er, asset. At first, it feels slightly better than a full-on sport rider position, but after long days on the bike, no sore spots developed. I always felt like I could go for another couple of hours. You sit back far enough to keep weight off of your wrists. This seat is spectacular for being stock.
The footpegs are low and have an inch of rubber on them to kill engine vibes. The cockpit is clean and is completely enclosed from your knees to the dash. It has tach and speedo of equal size, a clock, two tripometers which also tell you your average fuel consumption in mpg. The fuel gauge is a nice feature but it constantly got stuck at 1/4 tank on both bikes we rode. A 5.9 gallon tank will easily get you a 185 mile range, even in crazy mode.
The tip-over sensor that's supposed to kill spark and fuel when you drop the bike while landing stoppies also failed to work, leaving the rear tire to spin the bike around on it's side a couple of times. After pulling this stunt on the '99 bike, I expected everything on the left side to be gouged. Amazingly damage was limited to a broken clutch lever, a scuffed mirror housing, and a scratched engine cover. The plastic never touched the ground and the lever and cover were replaced for less than 130 bones.
I'm of the opinion that six pot calipers on street bikes are simply for show and, as of yet, I have not used a set that stopped better than good four pot calipers. The 'busa has twin sixes up front and, while perfectly acceptable, they do seem a bit taxed during panic stops. Another weird thing I noticed is that when the rear was losing traction during hard braking it would begin to slide slightly out to the right. It wasn't dramatic or anything, and maybe it's just me, but it did it a lot.
Despite the high state of tune and fuel injection the bike has great downtown manners and will accelerate cleanly from the basement in sixth gear which I thought was amazing on a bike geared for over 180mph.
Wind protection is again, better than on most sportbikes. I had to ride home from work in a downpour one night and was caught with only my jacket and no rain pants. Upon arriving at home I discovered that yes, my pants were wet, but the bikes lower fairing had kept my workbooks and ankles completely dry almost up to my knees!
The exhaust exits through a 4-into-2 system that sounds like two piped EX500s following you around. The two cans work together to synchronize into a single note at one moment and then oppose each other the next, causing weird harmonic reverberations to bounce through the air around you. It's cool.
Suzuki gave the bike decent suspension that is fully adjustable on both ends and can be set up as hard or soft as you please. I got a couple of chances to chase some 600s around on twisty roads and though the 'busa hides its bulk pretty well, it suffered through sections of tight linked corners. It would flop over and turn in pretty quickly but was hard to stand back up or transition quickly for the next turn. Once leaned over, it likes to stay there and resist the "oops-I-turned-too-early-and-need-to-pick-it-up-and-limp-through" style of cornering. Blame it on the long wheelbase or weight, but it's not that big of a handicap. Let the featherweights zip & bang through the corners because sooner or later the road is gonna straighten out and the Hayabusa's boom will have you right back in the game.
It's a weird role the Hayabusa plays. Comfort and civility coupled with brute, rowdy horsepower. A jack-of-all-trades and master of speed. A bike whose owner is just as likely to install handlebar risers as a turbo kit. I've seen it done, with lowered footpegs to boot! With the introduction of the new, ultralight GSXR1000, Suzuki has muddied the water once again.
The 1000 boasts horsepower figures extremely close to the Hayabusa's but has allegedly been limited to 185mph so as not to steal the speed crown, The Hayabusa may be quietly heading into the sport-touring role, but those three words always burned in the front of my brain whenever I pinned the throttle.
Deciding to buy a new cycle is a tough decision. You read every cycle magazine, article, report and buyers guide. You talk to friends, dealers, and attend the cycle show, narrowing the choices every day, until you find that special machine you were looking for. This happened to me the second that I sat on the Suzuki GSX1300R, aka - the Hayabusa.
Being over six feet tall and 200 lbs. it's hard to find a bike that I can sit on comfortably. Being all cramped up just doesn't work for a tall guy that's had two knee surgeries. Sitting on most sport bikes sends pain through my knees in minutes. The 'busa is different though. I knew as soon as I sat on it. I could ride for hours.
But did I really want to buy a machine that set new speed records? It would be quite a change from the old 600 I rode. A bike with 160 horsepower could be more than I needed. Of course I liked the idea of having a fast bike, but this one could get a person in serious trouble. As a kindly police officer told me once, "You get all that power between your legs and sooner or later you are going to use it." Having all that power and doing something stupid kind of scared me - not to mention the thought of insurance.
I had to ride one, but we all know how hard it is to find a dealer that is going to let you take a new bike for a ride. Especially a 10K + speed king like the 'busa. I did find a sales manager at one who was going to let me ride his. However, the next day when I got there he had forgotten, and said it was in the shop. So I did the only thing a guy could do, I went to a different dealer and bought one.
There I stood, inserting the key in the ignition, my body full of anticipation. With the turn of the key the instruments pegging all the way to max and then back made me giggle like a little kid. The giggling continued when I hit the starter and the dual exhaust breathed to life. I climbed aboard picking up its 474 lbs. After I dropped it into first and released the clutch, the surge of the l298cc engine was instantly noticeable. I was off on the ride home, and what a ride.
I think by now we have all heard the numbers on this bike. Let's just talk about how the ''Mothership" rides.
Although this bike seems massive, it moves with nothing but grace, taking cloverleaves and going through traffic with ease. Running smoothly through the gears, my only thought is, "Why are there six?" I reached the speed limit in third gear without even getting the revs up. At 65mph, sixth gear reads under 4,000 rpm but don't let this fool you. If you need to get up and go suddenly it will, no shift required. Let's face it - what fun would that be? Knock it down a couple gears and you're flying! Be careful though, if you give it too much in low gear, you'll find yourself looking at a wide-eyed car passenger staring at you as you go down the freeway with the front end rising higher and higher.
My first impression of the riding position was correct. I can be on this bike all day and not have any aches. The reach to the bars is long enough that you can tuck down easy, or sit up and feel the wind. The airflow comes off the fairing onto your chest with some force, but not enough to rip your head off. The seat is flat, wide and soft. Butt ache is not a problem.
With the Hayabusa I don't have a lot to complain about, but it certainly isn't flawless. No matter how much fun this bike is on the open road, it isn't at home in heavy traffic. Stop-and-go traffic requires a lot of clutch work, as rolling along under 20mph isn't its strong point. Your hand gets tired if you are stuck for any length of time.
You would expect more from the brakes on a big bike like this. They work well, despite feeling a little soft, but I wanted more bite. The dual pipes sound great and look hot but they are just that. Sitting at a light after being on the freeway, you will feel hot. This goes away as soon as you start moving, so don't worry.
It's unfortunate that the reason this bike has made such an impact on motorcycling is also its biggest drawback. It's not the simple fact that this is the "mothership," but instead that it brings out every adrenaline junkie on two or four wheels. I don't doubt that the R1 that slipped between a pickup and myself could out-weave me through traffic. Smaller bikes can fly through traffic faster than I. Go ahead. It isn't how fast you can go, but how fast you are willing to ride, right? [no comment - ed.] So pass me, drive like a mad man through traffic. Just remember - if traffic clears, and there is a nice straight road with nothing between us, I can catch you.