Almost a champion

Even though it’s been four years since its last overhaul, the 2012 Suzuki GSX-R1300R Hayabusa ($12,999) still garners instant street cred at bike nights worldwide. With its impressive acceleration numbers, easy handling, and the plentitude of accessories and aftermarket hop-up parts available, you simply can’t go wrong with the ‘Busa.

Slide into the big, cozy saddle and it’s apparent how large this motorcycle is. From the width of the instrument display to the bubbly shape of the fuel tank and tail section, all of its proportions are larger than other sportbikes (with exception of the Ninja ZX-14R). This means it’s a more comfortable mount for taller riders, especially those who stand over six-feet. The controls are more spread out, too, and the brake and clutch levers were designed for persons who dribble basketballs in the NBA. Although the seat height is 0.2 inches higher than the Ninja (31.7 inches) it’s still 0.5 inches shorter than the BMW, which makes this 573-pound bike easy to balance at a standstill (11 pounds lighter than the ZX but a whopping 122 pounds heavier than the BMW).

With a push of the starter button, the Suzuki’s 1340cc engine stirs to life and, like all modern fuel-injected street bikes, can be ridden immediately without the threat of the engine stalling or hesitating even when cold. It’s important to note that more caution needs to be exercised initially, as the Bridgestone tires are especially slippery until some heat is generated into them. Otherwise, they have a propensity to spin or slide with even modest throttle inputs.

It’s hard not to be impressed with how much immediate low-end thrust the Hayabusa’s engine generates. While it doesn’t make the same melodic mechanized clamor as the BMW, it does in fact deliver superior performance in the low end with upwards of 80 lb-ft of torque available from just over 3,000 rpm. (That’s about 7 lb-ft more torque than the BMW’s engine is even capable of making.) Power builds smooth, like a jet engine, as the tachometer needle climbs east with a 107.97 lb-ft peak torque figure arriving at 7,100 revs. Another 3,700 rpm is left, allowing it to churn out nearly 179 horsepower at 9,600 rpm (four more than the BMW – at a considerably lower rpm) before the rev limiter shuts things down 1,200 rpm later. And if the powerband is too strong for you, the Suzook offers two other power modes that reduce power and make it easier to control based on road conditions or rider skill.

In spite of all that muscle, at the dragstrip the Suzuki accelerated off the line to 60 mph in 3.21 seconds and continued through the quarter-mile in a time of 10.35 seconds at 141.4 mph. These stats are nothing to scoff at, but they were bested by both the BMW and Kawasaki – albeit by the slimmest margins.

The Suzuki comes off the line well, and both its clutch and six-speed transmission can handle a lot of abuse. Problem is that the clutch lacks a degree of feel, which makes it difficult to know when exactly to feed it out during a launch. It’s definitely capable of that perfect launch, it’s just going to take a few tries to get it right. And during an impromptu street race you rarely get more than one shot.

Whereas the drivetrain cost it a bit at the ‘strip, on the street it’s hard to find fault with the Suzuki’s setup. The engine is both smooth and quiet and delivers minimal vibration and noise on the highway. The shift lever offers just the right amount of resistance and feels very solid. One small gripe, however, is that the engine is so sterile sounding. We wish it had more character and roar during acceleration like the BMW. In the stationary sound test, the Hayabusa was indeed the quietest with its exhaust note only registering 73 db at idle and 91 db at 5,300 rpm (half of maximum rated engine speed), allowing for maximum points in that category.

On rough roads the Hayabusa’s suspension does a much better job of soaking up bumps than the BMW. But it doesn’t deliver quite as supple a ride as the big Ninja. Wind protection is excellent, and it’s a solid choice for riders who aren’t afraid of tackling regular long-distance riding trips. (Make sure to read the 2009 Suzuki Hayabusa VFR Comparison where we logged more than 1,000 miles over just a couple days).

Fuel mileage is also pretty decent considering the size of the engine, netting a 34.8 mile per gallon average. This equates to a range of 191.4 miles (highest in class) based on the 5.5 gallon capacity (0.3 smaller than the Ninja, but a full gallon more than the BMW) of the fuel tank. The analog instrumentation display is easy to read, but the speedometer appears to be wildly over calibrated. It feels like a video game as the needle sweeps to the right like a turbo boost gauge as you accelerate. Not a big deal but it would be nice if it had greater accuracy. After all, you need all the restraint you can get when you’re at the controls of a missile on two wheels.

During spirited cornering maneuvers at the racetrack, the Suzuki is actually extremely maneuverable for a bike with a nearly five foot wheelbase (58.3 inches to be exact and identical to the Kawi). It steers with more effort than both the Ninja and BMW. Another issue is, when you’re really getting after it, the rear end has a tendency to wallow as you enter the corner. Fortunately, the suspension offers adjustment and, by adding some preload to the shock and slowing down the compression and rebound circuits, the problem can be fixed to an extent. Ground clearance is acceptable too, and it’s surprising how much lean can be achieved even on the stock rubber.

Since it’s so long, it drives off corners incredibly well even without traction control. For sure the rear suspension and tire is overwhelmed at times but as long as you have the bike pointed in the right direction it feels like you can do no wrong at the controls. Plus it’s a total blast to feel the tire squirm for traction as you feed in the throttle.

In terms of braking the Suzuki’s setup is plenty powerful but lacks the sharp lever feel of the BMW and Kawasaki. On the street, the binders feel vague and demand quite a bit of heat to get the desired level of feedback. When they do get hot, they are consistent and resistant to fade, which is a big plus when you’re putting in laps at the track. In the braking test, the Suzuki took the longest distance to stop from 60 mph: 117.6 feet. A better result should be possible, but it was difficult to ascertain the point of lock-up. A swap to a more aggressive brake pad would probably be the fix.

Riding the ‘Busa makes you feel like a total badass; while it’s no longer the latest and greatest hyperbike on the road, Suzuki’s Hayabusa has something that the other bikes – even the Ninja – don’t have: legacy. And that just plain makes the bike more fun to ride. This almost sounds silly, but if Suzuki could extract a wee bit more performance in any one category, they could once again have a champion.