It was inevitable, we suppose. The toughest kid on the block will always have someone looking to knock him off the top of the food chain.
But for Suzuki’s Hayabusa, that reign as the king of brute horsepower (and speed, at least before the onset of industry-wide speed limiters brought on by European government hysteria surrounding the 2000 Kawasaki ZX-12R) has been uninterrupted since the bike’s release in 1999. Even when the Hayabusa underwent a significant update in 2008, it wasn’t as if the Suzuki was in danger of being ousted from its throne; even a concerted effort by the previous generation Kawasaki ZX-14 (“Big Numbers”, April 2008) failed to topple the ‘Busa from its perch atop the sportbike pile.
Granted, there was a small blip on the ‘Busa’s reign when BMW’s reworked K 1300 S managed to come out on top of our comparison (“Warp Speed Ahead”, September 2009) by dint of its better overall performance, rather than just monster power. But BMW was unable to procure us a 2012 model in time for this comparison test; and it’s doubtful the Beemer would have stood much of a chance in this comparison once you read the details.
We’ve already covered both bikes’ tech details ad nauseam, so we’ll skip that portion and head right into the meat of the matter. Suffice it to say that for the loyalists out there (and there are many when it comes to this category…), it won’t matter what bike does what better — they’ll stick with their brand through thick and thin. But for those who are interested in how these bikes compare in daily life and overall performance, read on…
The “Hyper” in Hypersports
Interestingly, the spec sheet on the Hayabusa states its seat height as 31.7 inches, while the Kawasaki is listed at 31.5 inches — but the Kawasaki definitely feels much taller than the ‘Busa from the saddle. Not that the ZX-14R makes you stand on your toes at a stop, but the spec sheets belie how each bike feels when you sit on it. Turning the key has the Suzuki’s analog dial gauges go through a test windup, while the ZX-14R’s LCD panel goes through a startup display depicting the bike’s distinctive front headlight profile.
Although it appears in these front profile shots that the Suzuki’s windscreen is taller to provide more wind protection, the Kawasaki’s is actually slightly taller and the more protective of the two, with less wind turbulence and buffeting on your shoulders and helmet.
While the Kawasaki’s front brakes do an excellent job of easily controlling the massive speed these bikes are capable of generating, the Hayabusa’s are unfortunately the same as before…i.e., mediocre, with a wooden feel and high effort for serious stopping power. Front suspension opinions also leaned toward the ZX-14R’s smoother and more controlled action.
Note to those looking to take along a significant other: While the Kawasaki’s solo tailpiece cover quickly and easily comes off to expose the comfortable latter half of the ZX-14R’s single seat, the Hayabusa’s tail hump must be switched with a comparatively tiny passenger seat.
The ‘Busa’s ergos are much sportier than the Kawasaki’s relatively relaxed position, with lower bars and slightly tighter peg-seat distance that will fold up taller riders in a more unforgiving position for longer rides. The ZX-14R’s seat is also much more comfortable than the Suzuki’s, and that goes for both rider and passenger; unlike the ‘Busa that requires switching the solo seat hump for a relatively tiny pillion perch, the Kawasaki’s solo cowl is easily and quickly removed from the one-piece seat to expose much more supportive passenger accommodations that met with definite approval from our backseat testers.
Both engines fire up readily, but we noticed that our particular ‘Busa was a tad on the cold-blooded side, exhibiting a very slight hesitation and stumbling at light throttle settings unless fully warm. Clutch takeup and effort is noticeably firmer with the Suzuki, but it’s by no means a workout like an old Ducati clutch; the ZX-14R is just more refined in its feel and action (although that tends to make it more difficult to launch — more on that later). The ‘Busa is also clumsier at low speeds, with the steering damper making turning in traffic heavy and sluggish, while the Kawasaki steers and feels much lighter than its rather hefty 582-pound curb weight (just one pound heavier than the Suzuki) would tend to imply.
Dual counterbalancers in the Kawasaki engine make a definite difference in engine smoothness, with the Suzuki’s mellow vibes fuzzing out the mirrors’ rearview images somewhat on the highway. The ZX-14R feels butter-smooth by comparison, and the better rearward view from its mirrors are clear enough to distinguish if that’s a police cruiser stalking you an eighth-mile behind. Wind protection is a tad better on the Kawasaki, with a little less wind hitting you in the shoulders and helmet, despite its slightly more upright ergos. The larger ZX-14R engine is definitely the thirstier of the two, however; while the ‘Busa calmly averaged around 42 mpg despite liberal use of the throttle (hard to resist with these two bikes), the Kawasaki comparatively guzzled its way to a 36 mpg average.
Twist That Thing, You...
For those few of you out there who will be taking these bikes out into the canyons or trackdays, both bikes comport themselves well in the twisty stuff, despite their considerable heft, long 58.3-inch wheelbases, and massive doses of power. It’s in this area of performance, however, where the Suzuki begins to show its age (having last been updated in 2008).
The Suzuki’s dashboard (right) is mostly old school analog, with dial gauges handling most of the instrumentation chores. The ZX-14R’s (left) is less busy and easier to read, with the LCD panel showing relevant information; programmable shift light above LCD is nice touch as well.
The ‘Busa’s suspension — while definitely adequate for its intended use — is harsher and less refined in its overall action than the Kawasaki’s. Although still a paragon of stability, the Suzuki transmits a lot more bump energy to the chassis and rider no matter what adjustments are made. Pavement imperfections that get your attention on the ‘Busa are absorbed with a lot less fanfare on the ZX-14R, with the Kawasaki’s rock-solid feel allowing its rider to concentrate more on the task at hand.
Interestingly, the Suzuki actually requires less effort to flick into a bend — but that’s where its advantage ends. The Kawasaki requires a tad more effort to initiate a turn, but where the ‘Busa demands an assertive pilot at the controls to make any midcourse corrections, the ZX-14R displays a surprising agility for such a big, long motorcycle. Granted, a large part of these steering traits are due to the OEM tire fitment, with the Kawasaki sporting Metzeler’s latest Sportec M5 Interact radials, while the ‘Busa comes fitted with relatively old generation Bridgestone BT-015 OE-specific tires. Traction levels from both tires were good for most part, although we were wishing for a bit more edge grip from the ZX-14R’s Metzelers.
With such huge torque spreads, riding these bikes through curvy bits is almost like riding with an automatic transmission. Shifting is more an option than a necessity, with stout acceleration available anywhere above 4000 rpm on both bikes. And of course, the jump into hyperspace in the higher rpm ranges means any straights are gobbled up with startling quickness, requiring that you’d better be paying attention to the next approaching corner.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few months, the overwhelming evidence pointing to Kawasaki’s ZX-14R as the new horsepower king isn’t news. Our SuperFlow dyno confirmed that prediction, with the Kawasaki churning out a peak of 183.9 horsepower at 10,200 rpm, compared with the ‘Busa’s 166.2 horsepower at 9500 rpm. Torque is no contest either, with the ZX-14R quickly overtaking the ‘Busa’s initial jump to surpass it at 4500 rpm and continue building its advantage to a stump-pulling 108.9 ft-lb at 7500 rpm.
What appears on dyno chart paper to be an absolute drubbing by the Kawasaki in any acceleration contest, however, is actually far from it. Yes, the ZX-14R is definitely quicker, but the ‘Busa does a good job of holding its own for a bike that mechanically hasn’t been touched for four years. For instance, because of its torque advantage below 4500 rpm, any top-gear acceleration passes from 60 mph have the Suzuki getting a jump that it doesn’t give up until just past 100 mph.
The Kawasaki's overall ergos...
The Kawasaki's overall ergos are much mellower than the Hayabusa's more aggressive stance, with a more upright torso, shorter reach to the bars, and more relaxed footpeg position.
That same torque and a stout clutch also allowed the ‘Busa to get a better launch off the line in our quarter-mile testing. While the Suzuki was fairly easy to load the engine with the clutch in order to get maximum drive off the line, the Kawasaki’s clutch requires a deft touch and some patience with the throttle (or a pro like Rickey Gadson) to get a good launch. Our initial runs with the ZX-14R’s traction control turned off ended up being abject lessons in throttle/clutch technique, as even launching at 2500 rpm would see the Kawasaki’s brute power quickly spinning up the clutch (and rpm) too fast; attempts at loading the engine with more clutch engagement only resulted in wheelies that would kill the run.
We ended up turning our quickest run on the ZX-14R — a 9.69-second/148.7-mph blast, uncorrected — using the traction control on level one. Further attempts at improving upon that run with the TC off only started burning up the clutch; in contrast, the Suzuki’s 9.89-second/141.7-mph best was a piece of cake.
Make no mistake though; two-tenths of a second and 7 mph is an eternity in the quarter-mile, and displays the Kawasaki’s brute horsepower advantage on top. Once the clutch is engaged, the ZX-14R’s rate of acceleration is mind-boggling; it literally feels like the bike has a forced induction system, as the bike continues to pull just as hard at 150 mph as it does at 50 mph. As we stated in the First Ride story on the Kawasaki (“The New King Cometh”, April 2012), Gadson rode a bone-stock ZX-14R that was lowered and geared two teeth taller on the rear sprocket to an uncorrected 9.31-second run at Las Vegas Speedway’s dragstrip at altitude; we’d like to try some similar bolt-on mods in the future to see if we can get the Kawasaki into the 8s…stay tuned.
Thankfully, the ZX-14R’s braking system is strong and controllable enough to handle bleeding off the tremendous speed the engine is capable of generating. Stopping power from the twin 310mm-discs with radial-mount four-piston Nissin calipers is superb, with excellent power, progressiveness, and feel. The Suzuki’s front brakes unfortunately are a comparative disappointment; the brake pad feel is wooden, with a very linear progressiveness that requires a death grip to get good braking power. An aftermarket set of brake pads and some brake lines are definitely in order for any ‘Busa owner in our opinion.
All Hail the New King!
To tell you the truth, we had assumed that the previous generation ZX-14 had marked the end of Kawasaki playing neighborhood bully with the Hayabusa. With all the controversy that surrounded the original ZX-12R and the threat of horsepower limits back then, plus the global economic crisis putting a crimp in new bike development in recent times, producing a bike with 184 rear wheel horsepower seems a bit audacious, even for Kawasaki. But it’s pretty clear that the reputation of producing the most powerful production bike is an important feather in Team Green’s cap. We’re certainly not complaining. SR
Miracles do happen. Proof? Neither Kento nor I received one speeding ticket while testing Kawasaki’s brute new ZX-14R against Suzuki’s long-successful Hayabusa. The acceleration performance and sheer speed that these two bikes are capable of is downright impressive – borderline psychotic even.
The Kawasaki features heroic power, along with equally potent brakes and ergonomics that would make it a standout in even the sport-touring category. The only thing that hindered my 170-mile ride on the bike was its poor fuel mileage – of course, I wasn’t exactly light on the throttle. Then again, how could you be? The Hayabusa is just a tick behind the ZX-14R in relatively every category, with what feels like less power through the midrange, lackluster brakes and more cramped ergonomics. The ‘Busa did feel a bit better in the canyons, where the slightly softer-sprung ZX-14R required more effort to steer. But what the Suzuki made up for in the canyons, it more than lost in its cumbersome feel at parking lot speeds. That’s why my money goes to the Kawasaki. Now on to saving up for the speeding tickets that will ensue.
I’ve got to hand it to Kawasaki. While most of the other OEMs are still barely climbing out of their economic foxholes, Team Green has basically been charging forward with both guns blazing. And the new bikes Kawasaki has been unveiling haven’t been dressed-up old models — they’ve been serious redesigns that certainly required some company resources.
The ZX-14R is one serious beast of a motorcycle, but it’s a beast that’s got some manners. It’s relatively comfy, smooth as silk, and can take your significant other without forcing them onto a torture rack.
That Kawasaki would choose to continue slugging it out with the Hayabusa — and this time landing a solid knockout punch — in a category that some now look at as irrelevant took some audacity. I for one am glad that they’ve continued a tradition that dates back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when their two-stroke multis (my first bike was an H2 750 triple) terrorized the traditional four-stroke contingent; being able to say that you make the meanest, most powerful production motorcycle on the planet would most certainly be cool in my book.
+ Most powerful engine ever
+ Solid chassis, good suspension
+ Good brakes
– Could lose some weight
– Thirsty engine
– Difficult to dragstrip launch
x 8-second quarter-miles, here we come!
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload—6 lines showing; rebound damping—5 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—9 clicks out from full stiff
Rear: Spring preload—15mm thread showing; rebound damping—1.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—2.5 turns out from full stiff
+ Still a stout engine
+ Rock-solid chassis
+ Tons of aftermarket parts
– No longer the power king
– Suspension getting dated
– Numb, high-effort brakes
x Hasn’t survived this long on just good looks…
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 6 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping — 6 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 7 clicks out from full stiff
Rear: Spring preload — 10mm thread showing; rebound damping — 7 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 7 clicks out from full stiff
|Ratings|| || |
| ||Kawasaki ZX-14R||Suzuki Hayabusa|
|Fun to Ride||9.5||9|
|Instruments & Controls||9||8.5|
|Chassis & Handling||8.5||8|
|Engine Power Delivery||9||9|
|Specifications|| || |
| ||2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R||2012 Suzuki Hayabusa|
|MSRP||$14,899 (as tested, Blazed Green Special Edition model; $14,699 base model)||$14,299 (as tested, Limited Edition model; $13,999 base model)|
|Engine|| || |
|Type||Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline four-cylinder, 4 valves/cyl.||Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline four-cylinder, 4 valves/cyl.|
|Bore x stroke||84.0 x 65.0mm||81.0 x 65.0mm|
|Induction||Mikuni DFI, 44mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.||SDTV EFI, 44mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.|
|Chassis|| || |
|Front suspension||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.6 in. travel||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel|
|Rear suspension||Uni-Trak single shock, 4.9 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.5 in. travel|
|Front tire||120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Sportec M5 Interact||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-015F M|
|Rear tire||190/50ZR-17 Metzeler Sportec M5 Interact||190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-015R M|
|Rake/trail||23 deg./3.7 in. (93mm)||23.4 deg./3.7 in. (93mm)|
|Wheelbase||58.3 in. (1480mm)||58.3 in. (1480mm)|
|Seat height||31.5 in. (800mm)||31.7 in. (805mm)|
|Fuel capacity||5.8 gal. (22L)||5.5 gal. (21L)|
|Weight||582 lbs. wet (full fuel tank, all liquids); 547 lbs. dry (no fuel)||581 lbs. wet (full fuel tank, all liquids); 548 lbs. dry (no fuel)|
|Fuel consumption||34 – 39 mpg, 36 mpg avg.||38 – 47 mpg, 42 mpg avg.|
|Quarter-mile||9.69 sec. @ 148.7 mph||9.89 sec. @ 141.7 mph|
|Roll-ons||60-80 mph/2.55 sec.; 80-100 mph/2.53 sec.||60-80 mph/2.49 sec.; 80-100 mph/2.65 sec.|