In this era of miniscule MP3 players, miniature data devices and dainty hybrid automobiles, it may not come as a surprise that some people truly believe bigger isn’t always better. Well, there are exceptions, and in the case of the venerable Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa and the brand new Kawasaki ZX-14 Ninja, they would be wrong, dead wrong.
Everything about these two land-based projectiles is big. The bikes are big, the motors are big, and with the ability to surpass 100 mph in less than 5 seconds, the consequences of riding one while trying to push them to their limits can also be big.
For the last decade the Hayabusa has had a stranglehold on the ultimate-sportbike category, as Suzuki likes to call it, and has laid waste to all-comers. In the process, the Busa spawned a new genre where extended swingarms, chromed chassis and wicked paint jobs – supplemented by turbochargers and nitrous bottles – are a prerequisite for even being accepted into the group. Sure, there have been a few contenders over the years, but the Busa has beaten them all back with its combination of a bad-ass motor, a solid chassis and one of the most unique profiles ever seen on a modern motorcycle. It poses the question: Is there a contender out there that can dethrone the Hayabusa?
Yeah, it’s brand new, it’s called the Kawasaki ZX-14 and it absolutely rocks. But once you’re the King of the Hill, like the Busa has been, you have to be knocked off, and that’s where this test comes in. We put these two heavyweights through the gauntlet at three different venues in order to uncover the winner: A horsepower shootout on the dyno, a 36-hour 800-mile ride on the street, and to cap it all off a decisive head-to-head battle at the local dragstrip, to settle once and for all which bike is the baddest mo-fo in the valley.
The first place the two heavyweights would slug it out was on the dyno. The Suzuki cranked 155.9 horsepower at 9,900 rpm, which in a normal world be a crippling body blow. The Kawasaki, however, took the shock and counter-punched with a decapitating headshot of its own, 169.1 hp at 9,500 rpm.
The design of the Hayabusa has remained relatively unchanged since its introduction in late 1998 for the ’99 model year. The bike was met with mixed reviews from the public, due initially to the sheer size of the bike as well as its bulbous aerodynamic bodywork and pointy nose. Once the news of its performance envelope was revealed, it rapidly matured to legendary status on the street. Nothing else could hope to hang with it at the strip, as it was the first production bike capable of running a 9-second quarter-mile. The Hayabusa has been a staple for dealers, as sales have steadily increased year after year, beating the sales number of the previous season since ’99. Suzuki says more than 10,000 units were sold in 2005 alone.
In comparison, the ZX-14 was only introduced earlier this year. An entire faction of Kawasaki fans have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the biggest Ninja ever created, and we’re here to decide if it was worth the wait. When the bike was unveiled at the famed Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we learned that Kawasaki intended to dethrone the Hayabusa with this bike. We discovered at the introduction that anyone with a bit of skill at the strip can post 10-second runs on the ZX, and our fast guy even ran an uncorrected 9.78 at 147 mph. The new ZX was purposely designed with the art of drag racing in mind, and the 186-mph-capable machine is stuffed to the rev limiter with the latest trick hardware from Tokyo. In the high-stakes world of drag racing it is the numbers that count, and Kawasaki knows it.
The first setting we pitted the new ZX against the Hayabusa was Hansen’s Motorcycle’s Dynojet 250 dyno. On paper, these two machines look close, so the only way to get the answers everyone is looking for is to run ’em on the dyno. The Hayabusa motor, which has been the bane of Kawasaki’s existence for a few years now, is a 1299cc DOHC, 16-valve fuel-injected beast featuring an 11.0:1 compression ratio with an 81mm bore and 63mm stroke. The ZX-14 mill is a similar but bigger 1352cc DOHC, 16-valve fuel-injected fiend with a slightly larger bore and shorter stroke numbers, 84.0 x 61.0mm, and a 12.0:1 compression ratio.
First up: the Hayabusa. The Suzuki posted an imposing 155.9 horsepower at 9,900 rpm on its best run. The power curve gets the jump on the ZX-14 until just before 5,000 rpm and then arcs across the 150-hp mark around 8,600 rpm. Its torque output was equally impressive thanks to a whopping 94 lb-ft at 7,000 rpm. Again, the Busa takes the early lead with a 7-8 lb-ft advantage from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. It’s easy to see why this bike has been so popular with the speed-crazed freaks all over this miserable little politically-correct planet.
Delivering a second Round 1 wound, the ZX took the edge in torque figures, posting 103 lb-ft at 7,800 rpm compared to the Busa’s peak of 94 lb-ft at 7,000 rpm.
Next it was time to find out what the ZX-14 could do. Pre-run predictions ranged from 170 to 180 horsepower, but that would end up an optimistic postulation. The ZX could only muster a best run of 169.1 hp at 9,500 rpm. Pathetic, isn’t it? Did you catch the sarcasm there? Nearly 170 horsepower from a stock bike – what is the world coming to? Seems pretty extraordinary but, wait, there’s more. As impressive as the Busa torque figures are, the ZX holds a clear torque advantage over the reigning champ from 4,500 on to redline, pumping out its peak of 103 lb-ft at 7,800 rpm.
What you will notice is the big dip in the results at the very beginning of the ZX curve. Kawasaki claims to have engineered this so that the bike would be more user-friendly on the street. By contrast, the Hayabusa has no such safety measure, so you get a noticeably more-abrupt feeling from the throttle on it than the Kawasaki. Whereas the Suzuki feels like it wants to pull a wheelie as soon as you crack it open, the ZX-14 remains a bit more tranquil. It doesn’t look so good on paper, but the Ninja’s massive torque figures will quickly erase any notion that this is a shortcoming as soon as you dial-up some throttle.
With this disparity in both the horsepower and torque figures acknowledged, the Kawasaki is the unanimous winner in round one. On the dyno, the Ninja reigns supreme, but there are still two more arenas in which this battle is to be waged. Next up: The street ride.