"OK," I thought as I shadowed Suzuki test rider Yuichi Nakashima onto the Ryuyo test circuit's 1.2-mile back straight for the first time, "let's see if this new Hayabusa really is steamier than the old one."
Seconds later, with Naka-san and me rocketing past 160 mph, he on the new and still-secret 'Busa and me on a current model, I had my answer. Although we were only halfway down the runway-like straight, the gap between us seemed to grow exponentially as we worked our way to about a buck-85, which told me what I needed to know: Suzuki had not only reworked its wildly successful GSX1300R flagship, but blessed it with significantly more horsepower, not an easy task when you're talking about a motorcycle that produced nearly 160 rear-wheel horsepower and was capable of 190-plus top speeds when introduced eight years ago.
For bike makers, redesigning an already successful model is always a tricky business. Get one element wrong-styling, performance, price, whatever-and even the savviest plan can morph from rosy and upbeat to ugly and dire overnight. And the more successful the bike being replaced, the trickier the redesign, which meant Suzuki had plenty to be anxious about as it considered the makeup of its second-generation Hayabusa.
No doubt about it, Suzuki's Hayabusa (Falco peregrinus, the Japanese name for Peregrine falcon) is no ordinary motorcycle. With an almost cult-like following especially in top-speed, dragracing and urban-custom ranks, the bike is darn near an industry unto itself; a sportbike that still commands huge respect from most quarters, and one regarded by half the planet as the best all-around big bore on the planet. The bike has done more than become hugely popular; it has hammered out the type of brand image and reputation most manufacturers can only dream of. The 'Busa is fast, competent, edgy and cool, a bike that'll do just about anything you ask, and one that laid many of the foundational bricks for the custom sportbike scene so in vogue today.
For Suzuki, redesigning the famed 'Busa wouldn't be easy-much like Porsche reworking the 911 or Chevy retooling its Corvette...loads of pressure. The results of a development or styling miscue would be almost too painful to consider. Looking at the new bike's lines might lead you to believe Suzuki tweaked the new 'Busa only marginally. But that's far from the truth, as you'll shortly see...
Retail sales for the Hayabusa in the U.S. for '06 were nothing short of astonishing-more than 10,000 units, twice the number of Kawasaki ZX-14s sold here last year (a brand-new bike in '06, remember). Interestingly, Hayabusa sales in the U.S. have risen every year since the bike's '99 debut, a pattern at odds with the standard sales scenario of new, top-line sportbikes, which usually sell well initially and then lose steam as the bike ages. That the Hayabusa sold in higher numbers as the years clicked by shows there's a lot more going on between the bike and its fanatical customers than simply big power and attractively swoopy bodywork.
With a machine carrying this much emotional and performance-oriented heft, the key question for Suzuki R&D was obvious: How to bump the Hayabusa's styling, power, cool-factor and overall function and yet retain the essence of what made the original bike so desirable to such a wide range of riders. Should the second-gen 'Busa be totally new? A slightly massaged version of the original? Or some combination of the two?