Suzuki’s Hayabusa is a lot of motorcycle. Some say it’s too much, others say not enough. Because perfection is subjective, and everyone’s definition lies somewhere on the spectrum between two extremes — slow to fast, or needy to greedy.
This 2023 ‘Busa weighs nearly 600 pounds, costs just about $20,000, and makes almost 200 horsepower. Which is to say that it’s not the heaviest motorcycle, or the most expensive, or the fastest, and somehow I’m not inclined to say that it makes “more than 180 horsepower” or that it weighs 580 pounds. It just begs to be described as the most of everything. The numbers on the specification page live in the shadow of the Hayabusa’s massive reputation. Where’d that come from? We’ve got time for one paragraph of history, right?
Boarding at Docking Bay 94
In 1996, Honda released the 1,137 cc CBR1100XX Blackbird, which in turn was aimed at the then-feared Kawasaki ZX-11. In 1999, Suzuki debuted the 1,298 cc GSX-1300R, or Hayabusa — the Japanese name for a Peregrine falcon, which preys on blackbirds. Perhaps spurred by the brute force of Kawasaki’s 2006 ZX-14, the Hayabusa received its first major revamp in 2008. The engine grew to 1,340 cc and got a spiffy new fuel-injection system, as well as all new bodywork, adjustable power modes, and a slipper clutch. In 2013, Suzuki added Brembo monoblock front brake calipers and an anti-lock brake system.
Over the years, the general reaction of the motorcycle press, and eventually consumers, has been a standing ovation. Something like 200,000 Hayabusas have rolled off Suzuki showroom floors and into people’s garages since the bike’s introduction. Yet another big number to accompany the mighty ‘Busa.
Most interesting to me, and maybe most pertinent to this test, is the round of updates to the Hayabusa that were revealed in early 2021 for the 2022 model. Suzuki claimed that 550 parts on the bike were either new or revised, but the big-ticket items had to do with the suite of electronic rider aids — a six-axis IMU from Bosch that informs lean-angle-sensitive ABS, traction control, and wheelie control, plus launch control, a speed limiter, and a ride-by-wire throttle that incorporates cruise control. Most of which is variable via three set ride modes and three adjustable rider modes.
Top speed, and therefore aerodynamics, have always been a big part of the Hayabusa’s personality. Note how much of the rider’s legs tuck behind the fairing — maybe another small reason it’s loved as a sport-touring rig.
Maybe it’s silly to be stoked on a refresh of a 25-year-old motorcycle, but c’mon, we all know it’s more than that. It’s a living legend and, being someone who has preached about how the unseen updates to machines can make a big difference, my curiosity was piqued. Asking whether or not it’s worth the $18,800 asking price feels tacky. To me, the question was bigger than that: Is the Hayabusa riding a dying wave of fame from a bygone era, or was it so groundbreaking in 1999 that it’s still valid in 2023?
Instead of starting at the updated TFT display tucked into the updated dash or talking about how it’s actually pretty comfortable, let’s start at the best part. The engine has always been the crown jewel of the Hayabusa, and even saddled with all of the emissions hardware and rider aids that are requisite on bikes today the powerplant is stellar. It mumbles a gentle baritone at idle and it’s truly as polite as any engine could be at low speed.
With every hundred rpm that whizzes by on the giant, analog tachometer, the power builds quickly and surely. All of this is to say, yes, the bike is fast but that isn’t even the best part. It’s an absolute peach of an engine before you ask it to do anything naughty. It makes about as much peak power as a 1,000 cc sport bike but also nearly as much torque as the 1,800 cc Gold Wing. That’s a rare combination.
The sensation is wonderful, and it makes the rest of the Hayabusa riding experience glow slightly, like golden-hour light splashing onto a set of mountains. Even if the bike is long and heavy and low, the engine carries the weight so easily a rider could almost forget the heft. Almost. U-turns and low-speed maneuvers are still awkward enough to remind you that it’s a locomotive in the train yard. Lumbering and waiting for a straight stretch of track.
The mirror stalks droop and bend as though they were shaped by 200 mph wind. They could be better as mirrors, though.
At cruising speed there’s more to like. The riding position is sporty but reasonable, and other than a seat-to-peg distance that might be uncomfortable for riders above about six feet, it’s an agreeable place to sit. Sporting ability is reasonable, too — it’s not GSX-R600 agile but it handles curves quite well. It’s on the comfortable end of the sport spectrum, plus a wide and thick seat and rubber-mounted handlebars to soften any vibes that trickle in from the 1,340 cc Quadex Power Core.
To dress this whole experience with more praise, all of the little stuff is good, too. Aside from a couple of little secret handshakes that need to be learned, the dash is easy to use and the switches make sense. The displays are bright, and the massive analog gauges for speed and rpm are exactly the right amount of old-school for this bike. It feels stately and modern at the same time.
If and when you do ask everything of the famous falcon’s engine, it is downright terrific. It boils with power and surges forward like some kind of nuclear carnival ride. The engine never really hits a band of power that feels the best, it just stacks on more thrust than you had a split second ago, rpm after rpm, and keeps doing that until you have more questions than answers about what to do next. This engine is a powerband. It’s not “tuned for torque,” it is torque.
Suzuki’s GSX1300R: blurring backgrounds since 1999.
There is so much good that happens when you open the throttle on a Suzuki Hayabusa, but also an acute sadness. Soon after the climax of combustion and endorphins the fun has to stop, because it’s rare that the true, cosmic force that pushes you forward on a Hayabusa can be used. It’s too much for this world. Born into a place where it can hardly be itself. Compared to that Pixar-level melancholy, the other complaints I have about this bike are nearly meaningless.
The mirrors are too small and too far from the rider, so the field of view is crummy, and y’know, that’s just about all I’ve got. Functionally and practically it’s extremely good. Even fuel mileage in the mid 30s means 180 miles of range, and that’s not so bad. It’s huge, but aside from that the worst thing you can say about it is that it’s unnecessary, which is hardly an insult. The Hayabusa will tackle any ol’ paved road, any day of the week, for as many days in a row as you like and you’ll probably barely end up with a crick in your neck.
On the topic of cricks in necks, that’s the one area where the bike could stand to evolve. Kawasaki’s supercharged H2 SX and Suzuki’s own GSX-S1000GT+ make me think a Hayabusa GT could be what people have wanted all along — taller bars, some luggage, and barely a brush stroke on the shape of the fairing. Maybe now’s the time, since the ‘Busa has cruise and wheelie control and all of the other electro-stuff it needs for spec-sheet shoppers.
One thing is for sure, the engine has never really needed any updating from a rider’s standpoint. Part of the mystique of the mighty Hayabusa is that you rarely need to open the throttle. Never needing, and rarely wanting, all of the power on tap makes it feel even faster. The sense of abundance is overwhelming, and addictive. It’s too much. Or maybe there’s no such thing.
A word worth a thousand pictures.
|Engine||1,340 cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four|
|Transmission,final drive||Six-speed, chain|
|Claimed horsepower||187 horsepower @ 9,700 rpm|
|Claimed torque||110 foot-pounds @ 7,000 rpm|
|Front suspension||KYB 43 mm fork, adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping|
|Rear suspension||KYB monoshock, adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping|
|Front brake||Brembo Stylema calipers, 320 mm discs, ABS|
|Rear brake||Single rear caliper, 260 mm disc, ABS|
|Seat height||31.5 inches|
|Fuel capacity||5.3 gallons|
|Tires||Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22, 120/70ZR17 front, 190/50ZR17 rear|
|Measured weight||581 pounds|