Nine years. That's an eternity in sportbike development cycles, but nine years is how long the Hayabusa has remained essentially unchanged since its shocking release in 1999. Back then, carburetors were still in fashion. Honda's 178.5-mph Blackbird was the fastest bike around. And the GSX-R1000 and ZX-14 were no more than doodles on cocktail napkins. Both 130 horsepower and 170 mph were Big Numbers, and, understandably, the 160-horsepower, 189-mph Hayabusa caused quite a stir. But in the intervening years, literbikes have made great strides, the ZX-14 has come on the scene and-for some people-160 horsepower just doesn't cut the mustard anymore.
All along, the Hayabusa's product concept has been "the ultimate sportbike on the road," and to this end, Suzuki engineers developed for '08 a package that balances high power and good handling-just as they did for the original version. Ironically, Hiroshi Iio, chief engineer of the Hayabusa, says his team did not intend to raise horsepower significantly in the early stages of the redesign because it would upset the balance of the overall package. Our guess is that the ZX-14 came along and stirred the pot. But in any case, Iio's team tweaked the engine with the result a claimed 194 horsepower at the crank, up from 173. That should equate to a rear-wheel number in the mid-170s, well within the Kawasaki's territory.
With the engine's output increased, attention turned to tires that could cope with the power. But grippier rubber in turn worked the chassis more, calling for some detail changes in that department to keep things in balance. Incredibly, Iio claims that the handling performance target was Suzuki's own GSX-R1000. "Of course, the new Hayabusa is much bigger and heavier than the GSX-R1000," he said at the new Hayabusa's introduction. "In our test course, the new Hayabusa can catch up [to the] GSX-R1000 without big delay in corners, then come closer in the straightaway."
To manage that feat, the '08 model is not a great leap from the original, but rather it incorporates many upgrades that have appeared in the GSX-R lineup over the last few iterations. Titanium valves, Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valve fuel injection, radial-mount brakes, DLC fork coating...almost every change can be traced back to a GSX-R of one displacement or another. The tech sidebar goes into more detail, but essentially, it all boils down to the aforementioned horsepower increase and fresher technology throughout the engine and chassis.
A new gauge package retains...
A new gauge package retains the original bike's analog speedometer. Additions include a shift light and an LCD panel in the center that shows gear position, the S-DMS map indicator and a clock. Radial-pump master cylinders would probably help the brakes and clutch to better deal with the bike's power and speed.
Obviously, the Hayabusa's style is an integral part of its appeal, and Koji Yoshiura-the man responsible for both the original and new models in that department-was careful to keep the family resemblance while still updating the look. Judge the result for yourself, but we'll point out that many parts previously built solely for function now incorporate a styling element: The wheels, footpeg brackets, clip-on mount, gauges and even the ignition switch have been changed accordingly. As well, the bodywork has only a couple of visible fasteners, cleaning things up considerably.
Suzuki launched the 'Busa with a Chicago-based press introduction that incorporated a dragstrip portion at Great Lakes Dragway in Union Grove, Wisconsin, a street ride to Road America in Elkhart Lake, and a day on the ultrafast racetrack.
Journalists were only allowed two passes at the dragstrip, but less than 30 seconds after sitting on the new 'Busa for the very first time, I was hurtling down the strip headed for a 10.041-second, 143.28-mph run. Unfortunately, the new bike uses the same grabby slipper clutch setup as the old model, and my second run-in which I was hoping to break into the nines-was spoiled just a few feet from the lights with a wheelie. I could see going a tenth or two quicker with some more time in the saddle, and those numbers would compare favorably with runs I've posted on the ZX-14. But we'll have to wait to see how the two stack up: Every run I've made on the Kawasaki has been at considerable elevation, whereas Great Lakes Dragway is just a few hundred feet above sea level.
The street ride was fairly relaxed-and there were few traffic-free corners-but it was enough to gather some impressions. Like the old bike, the new 'Busa tingles in the rubber-covered footpegs and buzzes noticeably above 4500 rpm, which works out to approximately 85 mph in top gear. The vibes are less than the old bike exhibited, and overall the ride is smoother and more pleasant on the freeway, especially at higher speeds.
Adding to the comfort are a lower tank and a 15mm-taller windscreen that provides plenty of wind protection and practically eliminates buffeting, even at triple-digit (and then some) speeds. The company claims the ergonomic layout and seat height are almost identical to the old bike's, but it felt to me like legroom has closed up slightly and the seat-to-bar distance is a bit longer-part of this may be due to the new seat, which is more scalloped than the old bike's blocky unit. Sitting on the old bike felt a tad nicer for me, but the '08 is plenty comfortable enough for a day in the saddle.
The engine is decidedly peppier in the lower rev range than the old bike's mill and pulls relentlessly to well past redline. Just like the old Hayabusa, the new bike cares not what gear or rpm you start at; when you twist the throttle, be ready for arm-stretching acceleration that is the same at 40 mph as it is at 140. It's almost surreal to watch how fast the speedometer dial can move above 100 mph; on the one hand, the analog speedo provides an entertainment value that a digital unit can't, but on the other hand, it can be quite mesmerizing-not a good thing at the speeds the Hayabusa is capable of.
About the only complaint I can muster with the engine is that the fuel injection is not as smooth as we've come to appreciate from Suzuki's dual-throttle-valve setup. Performance otherwise is about what you'd expect from the upgrades: The suspension is firmer but definitely plusher over small bumps than I remember, the brakes are more powerful and steering is lighter. Steering, in fact, seemed a touch too light on the street, with the bike wanting to fall into corners and requiring some bar pressure to hold a steady line.
The track portion of the intro served mostly to point out just how fast the Hayabusa really is. Road America is four miles long, with three straights accounting for probably half that distance. A determined effort could see the speedometer buried at more than 180 mph before the end of each of those three straights, but of course that determination had to be balanced with the desire to slow the USS Hayabusa down to make the next turn-and the turns following Road America's long straights are ironically among the slowest on the track. Just as on the street, the Hayabusa pulls astoundingly hard right from idle to the 12,000-rpm limiter. While redline is un-changed at 11,000 rpm, even more speed could be had by shifting at 11,500. Of course, that's like saying you can make a triple-glazed maple doughnut even sweeter by sprinkling some sugar on top...
All that power works the Hayabusa's chassis pretty hard, and it doesn't take much track time before things get generally mushy. After a couple of hard stops, the brake lever comes progressively closer to the bar (although there is still plenty of braking power), the tires grease up and the suspension starts to fade. While the chassis was crisp and solid at the beginning of each session, performance degraded gradually with each lap. This is not to say the new Hayabusa handles poorly. While Mr. Iio warned us that the Hayabusa is a streetbike first and not meant for the track, it's surprisingly adept given how powerful and heavy it is. The fact is, however, that the engine dominates the package so much that, well...handling is important only to the point that it gets you around the corner and onto the next straight, where you can twist the throttle to the stop and experience yet again the incredible top-end rush. It never gets old. Styling, balance and "ultimate sportbike" be damned, amazing power is what the Hayabusa is all about.
We're as eager as anyone to get our paws on a test unit and see how it matches up against Kawasaki's ZX-14, which also has been tweaked with more power for '08. We'll round up the big dogs as soon as we can and let them play together in the tall grass.