Sportbike riders are all about the numbers. Numbers are objective, and we like that because they put a measurable value on the things that appeal to us about sportbikes: power, weight, acceleration, speed. And we can rattle those numbers off like a baseball fan talks statistics. "This bike puts out x horsepower, that bike weighs y pounds, and my bike goes z mph." One number can make or break a bike's sales record, even if actual performance is far superior in other categories than the one represented by just that single measurement.
Let's talk about some numbers related to the two bikes tested here-the '08 Kawasaki ZX-14 and Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa-and put them in perspective. Suzuki's '07 GSX-R1000 posted a peak of 158.2 horsepower on our SuperFlow dyno. The Hayabusa makes more than the GSX-R's peak across a 2500-rpm band-almost a quarter of its rev range. Kawasaki's ZX-10R made the most torque of last year's literbikes, measuring 76.4 ft-lb in our shootout. The ZX-14 tops that number-at 3500 rpm, the lowest reading we could get on the dyno. How about thrust, the actual driving force delivered to the rear wheel? In first gear Honda's CBR1000RR makes 775 pounds, more than any other literbike. The ZX-14 and Hayabusa don't quite make that much-in second gear. In first gear, though, they have 30 percent more thrust. You get the idea: These bikes are stronger than literbikes in more ways than peak horsepower numbers alone can show.
We've already sampled the Hayabusa ("Higher 'Busa," Jan. '08) and ZX-14 ("Meaner and Greener," Mar. '08), and those stories outline the full details of each bike's update. But we've been aching to pit them against each other ever since the Geek came back from the intros all googly-eyed with stories of butt-puckering speed and arm-stretching acceleration. What we found after a couple of weeks of flogging is that even though the two bikes share almost identical performance numbers, they couldn't be more different.
You'll notice that difference from the moment you sit on them. Both feel oil-tanker huge after riding a comparative speedboat 600, but the Kawasaki's higher clip-ons and narrower seat make it easier to reach the ground and maneuver in a parking lot. The ZX-14's seat is plusher and, combined with the more upright riding position, makes it more comfortable for longer periods. The Hayabusa has Suzuki's typical-of-late high/forward peg position and low/close clip-ons; if you're comfortable on any of the GSX-Rs you'll feel right at home here. Both bikes start and warm up quickly and easily, although our ZX-14's fairing buzzes at high idle. While the Hayabusa's bodywork fits tightly and looks sleek, we're not looking forward to finding all the hidden fasteners when it needs to be removed.
Around town it's a toss-up as to which bike is our favorite. Both are surprisingly a bit soft below 3500 rpm ("soft" being a relative term when you consider that at that rpm the 'Busa and ZX are making more torque than a Ducati 1098 does at its peak) but will idle away from a light with little effort. Both run warm in town and spill hot air on your legs, even on cool days. And both have clunky transmissions that can feel like big parts are moving around inside-as they surely are. The Suzuki is characterized by crisp throttle response, light, neutral steering and brakes that are numb at low speeds. The Kawasaki feels just as peppy but steers heavily at low speeds and has one-finger brakes that are easily modulated. Either bike would be fine for the daily grind.
When it comes to a longer freeway commute, the ZX-14 is clearly preferable. More upright ergos, softer suspension and a comfy seat make running through a tankful of fuel relatively painless. Surprisingly neither bike impressed us with wind protection; the Suzuki's low screen allows more of the windblast to hit you but with little buffeting. The Kawasaki's taller, narrower screen makes for more buffeting, especially on your shoulders. The dual-counterbalanced ZX motor is smoother than the Hayabusa's single-counterbalanced mill. At less than 4500 rpm the Suzuki is almost as smooth, but above that mark it shakes enough that you'll want to limit cruising speed to a single-point ticket rather than a misdemeanor. Range on both bikes is about equal. The ZX-14's poorer fuel mileage and larger tank give a maximum of 168 miles compared with the Hayabusa's better mileage and smaller tank that equate to 182 miles (175 with the California model's even smaller tank).
Aggressive canyon runs will reveal more disparities between the bikes. The Kawasaki's suspension, plush and soft in town and on the freeway, allows the bike to pitch about and even bottom over rougher pavement. The Suzuki's stiffer boingers may make for a more jarring ride on the freeway and in town, but you'll welcome their composure in a rutted-out sweeper at triple-digit speeds. We didn't need to mess with the Hayabusa's suspension much, but it seemed we were constantly changing the Kawasaki's to juggle geometry, pitching and bottoming.
Crisp in town, the Kawasaki's powerful binders slow its 567 pounds from the entirely unexpected speed it's capable of generating on any straight-no matter how short-quickly and with little fanfare. The Hayabusa's brakes are wooden in comparison, requiring a good squeeze and offering little feedback. Part of the difference is in the number of pads in each caliper-two for the Suzuki, four on the Kawasaki-but the ZX-14 has an up-to-date radial-pump master cylinder, where the Hayabusa also sports a conventional unit. It's not a good place to be cutting corners on a flagship sportbike capable of doubling a typical freeway's speed limit from a standing stop in less than eight seconds.
+ Great bottom-end and midrange power
+ Crisp, powerful brakes
- Soft fork and awkward steering
- Notchy throttle response
x What the first-gen ZX-14 should have been
Suggested Suspension Settings
Spring preload: 3 lines showing; rebound damping: 9 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping: 6 clicks out from full stiff
Spring preload: 12mm thread showing; rebound damping: 0.25 turn out from full stiff; compression damping: 0.5 turn out from full stiff
+ Great top-end power
+ Solid chassis with light steering
- Wooden brakes
- Vibrates at more than 4500 rpm
x Refined but not redefined
Suggested Suspension Settings
Spring preload: 6 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping: 4 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping: 7 clicks out from full stiff
Spring preload: 6mm thread showing; rebound damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping: 8 clicks out from full stiff
Either bike offers more than enough power to get you into plenty of trouble-if not jail-on the street, but each delivers that power in a different manner. The Suzuki's dual throttle valves and dual injectors give cleaner response than the Kawasaki's dual-throttle-valve/single-injector setup. Just as on the similarly equipped GSX-Rs, the Hayabusa's off/on throttle is smooth at any rpm. The ZX-14 has slightly more engine braking to begin with, but cracking the throttle open midcorner slows the bike even more before power comes on with a jolt. Excessive driveline lash makes the situation worse, turning almost every apex into a heart-in-throat moment. Surprisingly the Hayabusa's uneven torque curve leaves it feeling underpowered in many instances, and many slower turns require first gear for a clean exit. The Kawasaki's smoother graph results in a more useful powerband, and the ZX pulls cleanly and strongly from even walking speed in second gear. Although our testers agreed that both bikes had way more than enough power, they were divided on which motor was more user-friendly.
While at low speeds the 'Busa feels the heavier of this pair, once underway it seems to shed its weight more than the ZX-14 does, with easy, neutral steering. As with the more recent GSX-R models, which have also filled out over the years, the Suzuki acts like a much lighter bike at anything above walking speeds. The Kawasaki in contrast is a bit lumbering and calls for some pressure on the inside bar to maintain a turn. Another plus in the Suzuki column is the tires: It's shod with Bridgestone's latest BT-015s, which offer more grip than the one-generation-older BT-014s on the ZX-14 and may contribute to the Suzuki's lighter steering. The Hayabusa, with more nimble handling (again, it's a relative term, like saying an SUV is more nimble than a school bus) and firmer suspension, is easier to ride quickly in the twisties despite its wooden brakes. Given 170 horsepower to fling around in anger we'd prefer it be housed in the Suzuki's chassis.
You'll note that we've made no mention of the Suzuki's S-DMS mode switch, which-just like on the GSX-R1000-limits power in the B and C modes. In all honesty we don't see the point in the different modes. When you're on a tight, dirty goat path or riding in the rain it doesn't make sense to change what should be familiar factors like engine power and response; in tricky conditions it's far better to deal with known quantities. Mode switch or no mode switch, if you're not prepared to deal with the Hayabusa's full power then perhaps you'd be better off with a different bike.
Our performance testing revealed some interesting details. Both bikes are, as their manufacturers claim, limited to a top speed of approximately 186 mph. The Suzuki hits a rev limiter and feels as if it can go faster than the 184.9 mph we recorded, and the Kawasaki ran out of steam at 184.0 mph. De-restriction is practically a moot point now: If you know the bike you're building is to be limited in top speed it makes sense to design around that parameter. Thus the Hayabusa has slightly shorter final gearing this year, and Kawasaki concentrated on enhancing bottom-end and midrange torque for the new model rather than top-end horsepower.
In acceleration testing the pair logged quarter-mile times just 0.05 seconds apart, with the Suzuki having the upper hand. The ZX-14 leaves the line quicker and more consistently thanks to an easily modulated clutch (just as on the brake side, the Kawasaki has a radial-pump clutch master cylinder whereas the Suzuki has a standard unit) and a flatter torque curve. The Hayabusa, with an abruptly engaging clutch and lumpier torque curve, is more difficult to launch but makes up time at the far end of the strip.
Add everything up and the Suzuki comes out on top here by a small-but appreciable-margin. That said, it would pay to think carefully about how you intend to use your hyperbike before making your own decision. The Hayabusa is the better sporting package and has more peak horsepower; the ZX-14 has better bottom-end torque and is a more amenable companion for riding long distances. We suspect that not many of these bikes will remain stock for long, and that's another consideration: Some new pads could perk up the Suzuki's brakes, and a tire swap may very well lighten the Kawasaki's steering. The aftermarket is ready to add however much power you think you need to either bike, whether it's a few or a few hundred horsepower. And finally, style is an all-important consideration-maybe the only consideration-with these two bikes. That is a factor only you can put a number on.
|Fun to ride||7.5||8.3|
|Instruments and controls||8.3||7.8|
|Chassis and handling||7.8||9.0|
|Engine power delivery||8.8||8.8|
**KAWASAKI** **SUZUKI** **ZX-14** **GSX1300R**
MSRP $11,699 ($11,999 in Metallic Flat Spark Black) $11,999 ENGINE Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four Type 1352cc 1340cc Displacement 84 x 61mm 81 x 65mm Bore x stroke DFI with subthrottle valves and 1 injector/cyl., 44mm throttle bodies SDTV EFI with dual throttle valves and 2 injectors/cyl., 44mm throttle bodies Induction CHASSIS Front suspension 43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.6 in. travel 43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel Rear suspension Single shock absorber, 4.8 in. travel Single shock absorber, 5.5 in. travel Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-014F L 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-015F M Rear tire 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-014R L 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-015R M Rake/trail 23 deg./3.7 in. (94mm) 23.4 deg./3.7 in. (93mm) Wheelbase 57.5 in. (1461mm) 58.3 in. (1480mm) Weight 567 lb. (257kg) wet; 532 lb. (241kg) dry 583 lb. (264kg) wet; 550 lb. (249kg) dry Fuel consumption 25 to 32 mpg, 29 mpg avg. 30 to 34 mpg, 33 mpg avg.
Won't let us take his picture anymore for some reason
Commitment is what these bikes are all about. Governed at 186 mph? Governed by the pilot's right hand is more like it! Back when the top dogs of streetbikes had stupid-fast motors, those bullets lacked the chassis and brakes that could've helped when the road got sideways at Mach 1. Poor handling was a personal governor on those bikes.
This is where the duel between these two battleships makes all the difference. The Kawasaki's engine-management system shines down low, and it has a user-friendly transmission. This, coupled with well-incorporated styling (especially in silver trim), makes the Kawasaki the looker this year. The binders of the ZX -14 work like a beautiful woman stopping traffic. These are the highlights, but it takes more than that to win me over. The Kawi's chassis is stiff and protests on initial turn-in, and this makes for precarious mid-corner transitions. I believe that a good set of rubber would help this issue, but as it stands it's a deal-breaker.
The Suzuki is clearly a more well-rounded package and offers the necessary confidence. The chassis, suspension and motor on the Hayabusa work as a single unit. It may require a bit more work when scrolling through the gears, and the brakes could be better considering the horses they are responsible for taming, but the bottom line is the new GSX1300R is refinement at its best in this class. Think Shelby Cobra 427 circa 1965, on steroids and with current technology. Suzuki owns the class because it handles the everyday adversities with composure, but there's definitely a Kawasaki wheel in its peripheral.
_Like, Totally Digging His New Look_
I have a feeling that with these two bikes it doesn't matter what we say. People will buy one or the other based on how they'll look standing next to it at bike night or how easily a stretched swingarm and 300-series tire can be fitted-not on performance. If I were going to buy one of these bikes it wouldn't be to show off in a parking lot or ride in the twisties. For me the Hayabusa and ZX-14 are for getting from point A to point B-in a straight line-as quickly as possible. Everything else is just gravy.
With that simple criterion in mind either bike will suffice, but the Kawasaki's silky-smooth engine and comfortable ergos make it my pick for the type of riding I would use it for. I know the Hayabusa is a better overall package, but how good do you need it to be? Is two horsepower on top of 170 really an advantage? Is getting through a turn one mph faster all that important when a 600 or literbike will go through it five or even 10 mph quicker? When I need to get to point B in a hurry I'd rather get there comfortably on the Kawasaki than a few microseconds earlier on the Suzuki.