Suzuki has a habit of causing comments with every new Hayabusa launched. The first one, released in 1999, caused people to comment on just how ugly it was. Ugly but fast, so that’s okay. The second generation was even uglier but yet faster, so that’s okay.
The third one isn’t ugly. No, it’s a pretty handsome creature. But it isn’t fast, either. At least not according to the spec sheet. And this caused some comments, probably more scolding words than those about the looks. The King of Speed isn’t fast? Imagine Wayne Rooney wasn’t good at football…
Where the Gen Two pushed 195hp and with 155Nm of torque, the new one, after 12 years of development and a giraffe-sized leap in technological progression, makes 188hp and 150Nm.
Yet, Suzuki maintains that the Gen Three Hayabusa is a better motorcycle than its predecessors and a bike that fully meets the needs of the modern motorcycle enthusiast. Sounds like marketing talk and something not to be trusted. So the only solution is to ride the blasted thing and see how we get on.
Luckily, Suzuki South Africa was more than happy to comply. In fact, they were flying journalists to join them on their country tour, visiting Suzuki dealers in all major centres. And journalists get the task of riding the one and only Hayabusa Gen Three in the country between each city and town.
Our turn came when the show was in East London, with another show at the dealer in Gqeberha (quondam: Port Elizabeth), a journey of 320km through some of the best coastal roads in South Africa. What could be better?
We set off early the following day, after a photoshoot on the main drag going along the beach because us Jo’burg Vaalies are funny about that sort of thing.
From the outside, the new Busa is a handsome beast – gone is the strange, bulbous nose and a body that looks like it was left in the sun too long. It looks dashing, debonaire and sophisticated.
Sitting on the bike feels – it feels much like the old Hayabusa. That’s because, critically, it is the same as the old one. The frame has much the same dimensions as the previous model, with the suspension updated with modern bits. The outer jacket may look different, but underneath the skin, the new Busa is much the same as the last one.
Except for the dash. It keeps the two huge analogue dials as the previous two models because not having them would be an unspeakable treachery. Between the two huge clocks is a TFT dash that meets all the demands of a modern dash. It’s the best of both worlds.
My only complaint is that the speedo reads up to only 280km/h. Yes, there’s some idiotic agreement in place that all Japanese motorcycles will be limited to 299km/h (that somehow does not apply to cars that are now getting closer to seeing 500km/h), but for crying out loud – even if the bike’s electronic nanny ensures that the needle will never reach it, at least give us the satisfaction of seeing the esteemed 300 on the dash.
Accompanying the TFT bit of the dash is a full complement of electronic bits and bobs, including the usual rider modes, traction control, ABS, etc. That means a ride-by-wire throttle and more fettling of the power delivery by the engineers.
We left EL after our coastal photo shoot and made our way south along the verdant coast. The Busa, like its predecessors, is a long, low motorcycle shaped much like a missile, giving it both aerodynamic advantages and better stability. It doesn’t offer too much legroom, though. I was okay with it, but then my legs are two feet long and felt snug. The taller and less bendy riders might have some troubles.
Apart from the potential legroom issues, the bike is rather comfortable. The seat is softer than even many adventure motorcycles, and the bars are quite stretched out and relatively high, offering a somewhat laid out position.
Our first stop was at a town called Kidds Beach because I wanted to make some idiotic joke about eating ice cream on the beach that our viewers no doubt groaned at. It was also a place to get some fuel. Google assured us there was a petrol station in town. Upon further investigation, it turns out that it had been unceremoniously replaced by a construction site.
No problem – the range-o-meter told us there was still 120km in the tank, so we will simply fill up at the next town. No problem…
The road from there was smooth, new and beautiful in every way. The white paint from the infant lines glowed in contrast to the deep black tar, still slightly shiny from lack of use. And it plunged into some beautiful topography, winding heavenly between the hills and valleys. We readied cameras and started making a tv show.
That involves mostly U-turns. Shooting a tv show goes like this – you ride past the camera until you are out of shot, do a U-turn, and then do it again from the other way while the camera people get different angles. Repeat this process about five times before doing it again at the next spot.
We started filming towards the beginning of the pass, where the corners were still pretty mild. Riding past the camera revealed even better corners up ahead, a few I decided to sample. The ‘Busa isn’t exactly a track racer; those things are designed to be shorter and taller, making them less stable but also quicker to tip into bends. The ‘Busa, though, is not about that sort of thing. There is a definite boatiness about its handling in that it will fight you when you try and turn it, but once it’s in the bend, it will reward your efforts with rock steadiness. That’s the joy of being long and low.
This was evident through these gorgeous bends; with some wrenching of the bars, the bike was in the turn and leaning more and more…
Eventually, my knee touched earth. It’s a glorious feeling, even for riders that live in passes like these – when that knee slider has its first scrape on that road tar that other people have used as a means to get to their holiday or work or friends or anything. It’s a mischievous, all-conquering feeling of achievement.
And it means that this ‘Busa can turn. We have to get this on camera. I headed off to tell the others the good news when I noticed a light on the dash that I had missed through concentrating on not dying. The fuel light. That had obviously been on for a while because the luxurious 120km range we had at Kidds Beach had, in the space of probably the last 20km, been depleted to 30km.
Range-o-meters work out their figures by calculating how many kilometres are left based on the current usage. When we were riding nicely to get to our destination, it showed 120km. When I started wringing its neck in a sad attempt to look good in front of the camera, it went down to 30km.
Our problems were compounded further by Google telling us that the next garage was 60km away.
We stopped filming on this beautiful stretch of road and set forth timidly in Rain mode, hoping that the fuel would get us double the distance the range was currently recommending.
“Don’t worry,” I said cheerfully. “This is a coastal road. There’s bound to be more good corners to get some good footage.”
There weren’t. Yes, there were corners, but none were anywhere near as pristine as those past Kidds Beach. So yes, I got my knee down on the ‘Busa on a public road. No, there are no photos or videos of me doing it. And no one else saw it. You’ll just have to take my word.
What it does mean is that this bike does handle. It might require some recalibrating of the controls, particularly for riders heavily tuned into the ways of track bikes, but the bike does handle. Even if there’s no damn proof…
With the range showing the dreaded three dotted lines that represent imminent failure, we pulled into a small garage in a small town that was, after a worryingly quiet moment of uncertainty, open and filled up.
The road from there never quite saw the bliss that was the Kidds Beach Pass, but it was spectacular nonetheless. It wound through coastal towns, hills, over bridges, through fields and often offers breathtaking views of both coastlines and mountainous areas. Those views were made more pleasant by me not being in pain.
Sportbikes have a tendency to do that. They are remarkable in their performance and technology, which lets them do physics-defying feats and are a joy to ride in anger, but they tend to make the bones creak over long distances. The ‘Busa, on the other hand, had no such qualms. The seat was still soft, there was space for the arms and body, and the seemingly low screen offers surprisingly good protection. I was able to enjoy all I beheld without creaky compromise.
And then, there were some long, empty straight bits. Right, time to see if the “King of Speed” still has it. Begin checklist – find a road that is open with no blind rises or corners. Check. Make sure there are no side roads that a car can surprisingly dash out of into your path. Check. Make sure there is adequate space between you and any other form of civilisation – about a light-year should do it. Check.
Right. Let’s open the throttle.
Here’s the thing – if we had a BMW S1000RR, a Ducati Panigale or any of the other 200hp+ club here (Kawasaki H2R certainly not excluded), it’s highly likely that the Busa’s outright straight speed could be underwhelming. Once those newfangled rockets get the revs up, and the front wheel stops trying to take off, they are unbelievably fast.
But none of those machines were here. It was just us and the ‘Busa. And the DL1050 V-Strom that was used as a camera bike, but that hardly counts. With the absence of anything to compare it to, the ‘Busa feels damn fast. The revs climb in a sonorous howl as space is seemingly warped around the machine. Tunnel vision gets narrower as the speedo needle climbs to the ultimate 280km/h and goes past it slightly before sitting at what would be t300km/h if Suzuki had bothered to mark it.
While the ‘Busa might not have the horsepower claims to match the litre kids, it does have other key points going for it. The 188hp on the spec sheet is nearly 30hp down on the likes of the Honda Fireblade, the BMW S1000RR and the Ducati Panigale while trying to move an extra 60-odd kilograms more mass. But it also has 150Nm of torque, a shed-load more than the kids. Plus, while the kids need a run-up to get the revs to climb high enough, the ‘Busa will happily give you dollops of acceleration right from idle. And it can put all those horses and Newtons on the road. The likes of the Panigale will continue to rely on the wheelie control until as high as fourth gear. This is a grin-inducing prospect but not necessarily helpful when trying to get the speedo to climb. The ‘Busa hardly lifts the front wheel even in first gear. It remains glued to the road with a solidity that not only comforts the rider but lets the motor do its thing freely without any electronic interference.
I’d like to one day get a bunch of bikes together and do some quarter-mile drags. I’m sure the ‘Busa will surprise many.
We rolled into Gqeberha after seven hours of travelling. Sure, we probably could have easily done it in half that time, but shooting has a habit of dragging journeys out. Google said the entire trip was 320km, yet I arrived at the Gqeberha beach point with 450km on the clock. We did 130km of U-turns.
And I felt fine. Indeed, there was hardly any fatigue and no pains. This bike is comfortable, although it is no longer the King of Speed. If it wants that title, it would need to push something like 230hp with a flamethrower and missiles. It cannot be the king when there are bikes pushing boundaries far further than it.
And I’m not surprised that Suzuki relinquished the crown, though. The truth is that hypersport motorcycles that focus solely on straight-line speed, particularly top speed, don’t have a place anymore. The war on speed, petrol engines and fun has raged to the point where even the suggestion of a mainstream motorcycle doing anything close to those figures will cause an emergency meeting of the EU to see it banned immediately. American congress will be not far behind. Australia will pass a new law stating that motorcycles cannot do more than a pensioner’s walking pace. Anyone who even thinks about riding something faster will be beaten up by police and will spend the rest of their lives shackled in a dungeon.
Suzuki could not build a King of Speed, so they created something else, something the world probably needs more than a King of Speed. In the world of cars, you have models like the BMW M8, the Aston Martin DB9 and nearly anything from Jaguar. They are cars with most sporting credentials but twinned with enough luxury to travel long distances without the driver suffering kidney damage. They are called GT cars, and that is what we have here – the first proper GT motorcycle.
The ‘Busa is fast enough to scare the pants off most of the population, handles well enough for a semi-competent rider to bother the kids and can handle having a rider in the saddle for seven hours without causing any injuries.
That’s a GT motorcycle. The best of both worlds. Well done, Suzuki.
Pics: Chris Kuun, Meghan McCabe and Suzuki Press