2008 Ninja ZX-14 vs Suzuki Hayabusa

Bart Madson | January 18, 2008

The open-class sportbike heavyweights return for a rematch, with the re-designed Suzuki Hayabusa aiming to retake its crown from the re-tuned Kawasaki ZX-14.

Ladies and gentlemen, may we have your attention ringside please. MotorcycleUSA.com is proud to present, for your adrenaline-pulsing entertainment, a comparo of felonious extraordinariousness! A merciless exhibition of titanic magnificence! A heavyweight bout of such gravity, such weight, it can only be described as the greatest two-wheeled extravaganza of all time! Two masters of the dojo from the land of Tojo… The biggest show outta Tokyo! A bitter duel between monster mounts mightier than the majestic massiveness of the Pacific Ocean they cross – the 2008 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 and the Suzuki GSX-R1300 Hayabusa!

Okay, so our Don King impersonation is third-rate, at best, but the ZX-14 and Hayabusa are the epitome of two-wheeled heavyweight brawlers. Sure, pound for pound, the 1000cc Superbikes may be the ultimate in production two-wheeled performance, but these two are the bad boys, the big cheese, the meanest monkeys in the sportbike jungle.

We discovered as much when we pitted the duo against each other in our 2006 Hayabusa vs. ZX-14 Comparo. In that encounter, the all-new ZX-14 got the better of the, until that point, unchallenged Busa. Fast forward to 2008 and we have new versions of each bike in our garage. But which contestant will come out on top in this latest clash of the titans?

In the challenger’s corner, wearing orange and black, is the Hamamatsu Hammer, the Duke of the Dragstrip, the purveyor of horsepower porn – Suzuki’s 2008 Hayabusa! Alright, alright… We’ll drop the ringside announcer shtick.

Now, the Suzuki may be the challenger by our ’06 comparo score, but there is no doubting the potency of the mighty Hayabusa through the years. Anyone who thinks otherwise need only be reminded that in 2005 John Noonan took a turbocharged Zook up to 256 mph on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats, making it the fastest conventional, non-streamlined motorcycle in the world.

The Hayabusa did not take kindly to its split-decision loss at the end of ’06 so the ’08 machine comes to the table ripped to the nuts, fueled by rage and more powerful than ever. We’ll get into the nitty gritty details later, but the long and short is Suzuki bumped the displacement to 1340cc, an answer to the stinging 1352cc Kawasaki salvo. The result is increased horsepower and torque complimented with upgraded brakes and suspension.

The train may crank out a couple thousand extra ponies  but pound for pound  the Ninja is about as potent a machine as you can get.
The train may crank out a couple thousand extra ponies, but pound for pound, the Ninja is about as potent a machine as you can get – dead even with the Busa.

As for the title-holding Kawasaki, the Ninja ZX-14 was the new kid on the block back in 2006, but this year it’s back as the mean knuckle-busting punk – the kind that don’t like to be called kid. In ’06 the Ninja came out off the corner swinging and bloodied up the stalwart Busa, knocking it off the top of the hyper-sportbike heap with its combination of a smooth motor, comfy ergos and just enough power to keep the Busa on its heels.

The mad Kaw is also changed for 2008. It would be easy to assume the mods are nothing more than standard fare upgrades, but Kawaski did make some internal tweaks to the motor. The latest ZX-14’s new tuning promises improved power off the low end while also meeting stricter emissions and noise regulations. All this was accomplished while maintaining similar overall peak power numbers of the original.

Claims, schmaims. As the saying goes: If PR claims were fishes, we’d all cast nets. So, let’s test these ink and paper assertions with our own real-world observations. Our own, tale of the tape, as it were. Since the headlines for both these bikes are their monster motors, a showdown on the dyno will reveal just how monstrous these beasts really are.

Both 16-valve DOHC Inline Fours herald power numbers close to 200 hp at the crank, so we rolled the giants onto our Dynojet 200i to sample rear-wheel horsepower. Back in 2006 it was the Kawasaki that got the upper hand, humbling the Suzuki in both horsepower (169.1 to 155.9) and torque (103 to 94). This time around the reverse was true, at least in horsepower.

Peaking at 166.8 hp at 9600 rpm, the new Hayabusa mill enjoys an advantage of 5.1 ponies over the ZX-14, which registered 161.7 hp at 9200 rpm. Torque saw the Kawi hold its mastery with 102 lb-ft at 7700 rpm, but the new Busa is right there at 101.4 lb-ft at 7200 rpm, 500 rpm quicker than the Ninja. Just for the maniacal hell of it, we also buried the speedos during our final dyno runs. Pinned in sixth gear until they hit the rev-limiter, we saw a top speed of 182 mph for the Suzuki and 185 mph for the Kawasaki.

Smoke  em if you got  em.
On the drag strip, the Suzuki Hayabusa smokes the ZX-14, but by the slimmest of margins – 0.02 to be exact.

It is important to note that we used a more-seasoned dyno in ’06 than we did this year. Head to head, however, the most obvious difference from ’06 is the Suzuki moving past its nemesis in peak horsepower and evening the score in torque. Yet, although it loses ground, when comparing ’06 and ’08 the ZX-14 curve shows improved torque and hp in the low end – just like Kawasaki promised.

While the Kawasaki’s raw dyno numbers are a bit of a setback, at weigh-in the Ninja gets its mojo back. In 2006 the duo were a mere three pounds apart on the scales (527 for the ZX-14 to 530 for the Busa – tank empty). The Hayabusa has since added some bulk, tipping the scales at a tank-empty 546.5 lbs, compared to the ZX-14, which is almost identical to its ’06 fighting trim at 528.7 lbs. Those numbers equate to tank-empty power-to-weight ratios of 0.3051 for the Busa and 0.3058 for the lighter Kawi. You can’t get much closer than 0.0007. 

Although producing more power  the new Hayabusa is also heavier.

Well, it turns out you almost can, as we would discover at the Phoenix, AZ, Firebird International Raceway. Any definitive answers we sought about overall performance on the dragstrip were dashed, as the quarter-mile results were also razor thin. In our best uncorrected runs the Suzuki just nipped the Kawasaki, running a 10.378 to the Ninja’s 10.398. To put that disparity into context, 0.02 is less time than it takes for some species of hummingbird to flap their wings. Trap speed was also marginal, with the Busa coming out on top 139.36 to 139.08 mph. 

The Busa got the upper hand on the Kawi on the drag strip  but both our testers agreed that it had the better potential.

That’s not to say our two drag testers, MCUSA Editorial Director Ken Hutchison and Associate Editor Adam Waheed, didn’t have an opinion about the duo’s abilities at the strip.

“At the drag strip the Hayabusa just barely has the ZX covered,” argues Hutch. “While the ZX is easier to get a strong launch on, my fastest run was set on the Suzuki by a couple hundredths so it’s tough to pick a winner there. In almost every clean pass the Busa was faster in outright speed and that shows the Suzuki seems to have an edge. Then again, Adam was significantly faster on the Kawasaki than he was on the Busa.”

Although the Ninja was easier to launch for beginners, our greener tester confirmed Hutch’s assertions.

“The ZX is easier for a novice to go fast on and have fun,” explains Adam. “On the other hand, I believe an experienced rider who knows how to extort full performance out of a bike will have more fun on the Busa. I feel confident that given more time on both bikes, I would go faster and have a better time on the Busa.”

Limited to just six runs apiece, the raw numbers seem to give the Hayabusa the early edge, but it’s time to take these two monsters out on the pavement to determine a winner.


Bart Madson

MotoUSA Editor | Articles | Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for 10 years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to motorcycle racing reports and industry news features.

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