"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?
The search for answers began in early '04, with R&D teams from the U.S. and Japan conducting loads of market research in the States to determine what styling and design elements were likely to be embraced by customers who'd fallen so hard for the original Hayabusa. "What we found over and over," design manager Koji Yoshiura told me during my weeklong trip to Suzuki Japan's Hamamatsu test center in March, "is that people loved the look of the old bike. So we knew right away we had to keep and strengthen the [original] look."
Suzuki Japan then commissioned several sketches by its styling team to get a feel for what such an aesthetic "strengthening" might look like on paper. Many sketches were drawn, with all sorts of aesthetic approaches, with three being settled on, cleaned up and shown to several Suzuki dealers in late '04. The sketch that generated the most excitement was one with a beautiful blend of curvy shapes and ripped-bicep strength; this was improved upon and then taken to a dealership with a heavy 'Busa clientele for some focus-group confirmation-which it received in spades. "It was very well received," styling group member Yoshinori Kohinata told me. "We aimed for a powerful, sexy look," added color/graphics chief Shinsuke Furuhashi, "along with a strong family resemblance [to the current bike]."
With the new bike's basic look largely settled, the styling crew began spending more time with the engineering folks to hammer out the myriad details of melding all the pieces together. While the early sketch work was being done months earlier, R&D brass had made a key decision regarding the new bike-to carry over the majority of the first-generation Hayabusa's engine and frame assemblies to the new bike, with a handful of key upgrades, of course. This would allow styling and engineering to work from a common mechanical platform and streamline the process of reskinning the bike for its debut.
The reasons for the old-to-new carryover were many. For one, the current 'Busa's inline-four already made plenty of power and had proven nearly bulletproof, and Suzuki's engine development team said it was capable of even more oomph in noise- and emission-restricted production guise without affecting reliability. Also, the economics of using the same base engine were huge; Suzuki would save money, as very little new tooling would need to be developed, purchased and amortized. Engines are, after all, the most expensive part of a motorcycle to design and build. Another reason is that because the first-gen 'Busa had proven to be a highly capable handler, and because the new bike's category positioning and general concept-"Ultimate Sport" or Suzuki's "maximum two-wheeled statement"-was remaining in place for the new bike, there was no good reason to develop and fund an entirely new frame. This wasn't going to be a big GSX-R1000, of course.
Finally, there was this: If the old bike was this popular even after years of production, thoroughly massaging the frame and engine already in place was a far safer and more logical move than starting from scratch and reinventing the wheel. If it's not broke, don't fix it.
And so by early '05, Suzuki had pretty much settled on the look and makeup of its new 'Busa: a comprehensive redo of the current bike in place of a new-from-the-ground-up machine. Numerous engine and chassis upgrades would allow the bike to keep pace with the competition and utilize any new-think technology that had become standard issue since the original 'Busa debuted-items such as lighter engine and chassis parts via more advanced materials (such as titanium), and components such as radially mounted brake calipers, once found only on MotoGP machinery.
While the styling team worked up a clay model of the winning sketch to see how successfully it transferred to actual curves, angles and shapes-eventually using 3D CAD to drop a model of the bodywork onto a current Hayabusa rolling chassis to see how everything fit-several small engineering teams got busy. The engine group grabbed horsepower and durability research they'd done prior to the start of the 'Busa II project and put a finer point on the numbers via a fresh round of powerplant tweaks and dyno testing. The fuel-injection team began working on specific air/fuel settings the new engine would likely need in the differing markets in which it'd be sold with help from a computerized rolling-road test bed. The chassis team investigated the firmer spring and damping settings the more powerful and better-handling machine would require. New wheels and brakes were sourced and analyzed, as were chassis bits such as the lower triple clamp, which would need to be more rigid if the braking guys opted for more powerful radially mounted calipers-which they did. Each new component or upgrade affected another part of the whole, which forced the teams to work closely as they methodically put all the main pieces of the puzzle in place.
Prototype and pre-production testing went relatively smoothly, the new 'Busa offering a bit more of everything compared to the old bike: more power, more braking power, improved wheel control via upgraded suspension, a bit more stability at speed and, of course, a nastier, more athletic look. Let's take a look at how Suzuki squeezed so much more chassis and engine performance from the old bike...
The chassis and engine upgrades that allow the new Hayabusa to run up front
Suzuki's new Hayabusa looks in many ways similar to the original bike, but it's almost entirely new-sleeker, more powerful, electronically smarter, better braked and even better looking.
Although Suzuki decided early on it would carry the old Hayabusa's engine over to the new model, the company also had an ambitious power target-"above 190 bhp" to be specific. To get there with an inline-four designed a decade earlier, Suzuki engineers tweaked and massaged nearly the entire powerplant, first designing a more compact cylinder head filled with titanium valves in the same sizes as before (33mm intakes, 27.5mm exhausts), single valve springs to save weight and a new hydraulic cam-chain tensioner. Below came redesigned (and lighter) pistons with a smaller pin diameter (18mm vs. 20mm) running with 2mm more stroke (81.0 x 65.0mm vs. 81.0 x 63.0mm) in SCEM-coated cylinders for 1340cc of displacement, 42cc more than before. Those new pistons reach Top Dead Center with more compression force (12.5:1 vs. 11.0:1), while rings got an ion-plating treatment for better cylinder sealing, reduced friction, reduced oil consumption and improved reliability. The con-rods holding said pistons are now shot-peened chromoly steel for additional strength.
Down below is a reworked and stronger crankshaft driving a heavier-duty clutch and a transmission filled with heat-treated, shot-peened cogs. Final-drive gearing is now 43/18, a touch shorter than before. Revised cylinder ventilation reduces pumping losses, while a gear-driven counterbalancer and back-torque limited clutch continue on as in the old bike. On the intake side, smaller throttle bodies with 44mm GSX-R1000-type injectors handle fuel atomization, while a reworked, GSX-R1000-type air cleaner and ram-air system help cram more clean atmosphere into the throttle bodies. Out back, a redesigned 4-into-2-into-1-into-2 exhaust with catalyzer and oxygen sensor help the new 'Busa meet Euro 3 and Tier 2 environmental requirements, while massive, triangularly shaped, GSX-R1000-type dual mufflers offer increased volume and reduced noise. There's also a new, more curved radiator assembly, a larger oil cooler and dual cooling fans controlled by an also-new ECU (electronic control unit, or the bike's computerized brain).
"Making more power while meeting Euro 3 requirements was a tough job," Chief Engineer and Large Project Leader Hiroshi Iio told me. On hearing this, engine team member Chiaki Hirata laughed and added: "The large, heavy muffler...it was necessary in order to meet regulations!"
Suzuki has also blessed the bike with its S-DMS system, which, like the GSX-R1000, allows the rider to choose between three different power settings-A (dry), B (mixed) or C (wet)-for varying conditions via a bar-mounted switch. Suzuki says engine size and weight are same-same versus the old mill, while power is up roughly 10 percent. During a tour of the test facility's engine dyno rooms where a pre-production 'Busa engine was being flogged, I spied a three-digit number that looked like it began with a "2" on the monitor. Suzuki isn't saying how much horsepower U.S.-spec GSX1300Rs will make. But considering the fact that the ZX-14 makes a buck-75 at the wheel, and that Suzuki has had 18 months to work on the new bike's output since the 14's debut, one can assume the 'Busa will make at least 175 ponies, and likely more. Either way, it's going to be a very rapid ride.
The new 'Busa's alloy twin-spar frame is basically a direct carryover from the old bike (minus the centerstand and bracketry, so it's lighter), and there's not a thing wrong with this, at least from a streetbike rider's point of view. This fact highlights how good the original cage is. Critical dimensions remain status quo on 'Busa II, including wheelbase (58.5 inches), rake and trail (24.2 degrees/3.85 in.) and seat height (31.7 in.), though a reworked subframe assembly was needed to accommodate the redesigned-and far swoopier-tailsection, which offers a slightly lower passenger saddle for, Suzuki says, "increased passenger comfort."
Dry weight is right around 490 pounds, a little heavier than the old bike, which means it should weigh in right around the 555-pound mark fully fueled. The new Hayabusa's sleek bodywork (not shown here, obviously) is completely new, however, even though it's similar in shape and concept to the first-generation bike's. New vertically stacked headlights with a smaller projector high beam (same intensity) and halogen multi-reflector low beam keep things brighter at night, while new floating mounts for the fuel tank help minimize the small bit of extra buzz the engine's longer stroke introduced. The new bike's overall length is two inches longer than the old bike's, while overall height (due to a taller windscreen) is up by about half an inch.
An angular new fender makes the new 'Busa's front end look nastier than before, but there's plenty of trick hardware up front to back up the look. These include a fully adjustable 43mm inverted Kayaba fork with firmer settings than before to handle the new bike's increased horsepower and braking power, the latter thanks to radially mounted Tokico calipers grabbing rotors with more (now 10) heat-reducing mounting buttons. The increased braking power forced a sturdier lower triple clamp. Newly designed three-spoke cast aluminum 17-inch wheels in 3.5- and 6.0-inch widths mount Bridgestone BT-015 radials with the same tread pattern as the GSX-R1000; they were designed specifically for the 'Busa II. "They make a big difference in handling," a chassis engineer told me, adding, "grip and stability are exceptional." There's also a new steering damper with external reservoir for better performance when hot. In addition to circular analog clocks that look like they came from an AC Cobra, the all-new dash features dual tripmeters, a clock, gear-position indicator, adjustable engine-rpm indicator light and more. A digital speedo is easier to read at a glance, but the new 'Busa's setup looks plenty cool.
Like the firmer front end, the Hayabusa's fully adjustable single-shock rear suspension features stiffer internal settings to handle the heartier cornering abilities resulting from additional power and grippier tires. The KYB shock is activated by a swingarm that's similar in shape and design to the old bike's but also more rigid, again due to the new bike's sportier handling and greater g-loading capability. In place of the old bike's torque-link rear brake assembly is a lighter and simpler Tokico slide-pin caliper squeezing a larger rotor-260mm vs. 240mm-from above rather than below. It's a much cleaner look from the right side.
See? A thoroughly nastier engine and chassis back up the new, more aggressive look. Now, about that new look...
More than just swoopy plastic and bright colorsThe impetus behind the new 'Busa's styling is pretty simple, and supported wholly by the Hayabusa customers Suzuki researchers met with: Don't stray too far from home.
To that end, U.S. styling tastes figured heavily into the details, including '60s nostalgia, art deco and hot-rod custom auto influences, especially in the shape of the tail section. "These are familiar to U.S. riders," one stylist told me.
Aside from offering better wind and weather protection, Suzuki stylists took the vast 'Busa-custom market into consideration when designing and finalizing the 'Busa shape. Thus the fairing's lack of exterior fasteners, the broad expanses of smooth, non-edged ABS (for paint), etc. There's more attention to detail, too. Surface treatments and various luxury items such as the shaped key-all reflect a large dose of detail and thought.
In the flesh, the new 'Busa is attractive and powerful-looking in a way many full-coverage, plastic-fantastic sportbikes aren't. My response to first laying eyes on the thing during our initial meeting was, "Whoa!" It was definitely a Hayabusa, but stronger-looking, more muscular and a bit more retro-but also quite similar in overall shape.
What's more, the fit and finish of the bike I was exposed to all week seemed exceptionally high, and although this was a pre-production machine, Suzuki has clearly paid more attention here. "We thought a lot about the customer," product-planning chief Norihiro Suzuki told me. "This is our flagship model, after all, and so it must have a luxury feel, must be top-of-the-line."
The Final Cut
Why the new-gen 'Busa will be every bit the success the old one isPut it all together-loads of customer research, smart design, beautifully aggressive styling, typical Suzuki engineering and what looks to be class-leading power-and you're left with two thoughts: One, that Suzuki's new-generation GSX1300R is destined to make the Hayabusa nameplate even more legendary; and two, that you'd very much like to buy one (and pssst!...can you get me a deal, please?)!
A hint to this positive outcome (the first bit, not the second) comes from the design, engineering and test team members themselves, all of whom seem exceptionally jacked about this motorcycle. "People inside Suzuki are very excited," Norihiro Suzuki told me with a laugh, "especially the test riders. They want to buy the bike for themselves!" I got a confirming nod from test rider Naka-san when I related the story a day later on the test track.
And in the end, this is a key point. These testing and R&D folks know that a good many enthusiasts worldwide-and especially in the U.S.-might look at the new-generation Hayabusa and conclude from a glance that it's really not that much different than the old bike. After all, the two look pretty similar, and as stated here the engine and frame have been carried over from old bike to new. But the men and women who actually designed, built and tested the new 'Busa-who know exactly what went into this project and how much better it is from a functional and design standpoint-know this is a thoroughly new motorcycle.
Suzuki is simply savvy enough to know that its core Hayabusa customer-the thousands who've already voted for the bike with cold, hard cash-will appreciate the evolutionary approach and embrace the new bike just as they have the original.
Time will surely tell the tale. But from what I learned in Japan, I'd put my money on the Suzuki folks getting this one right.