2009 Suzuki Hayabusa VFR Comparison

Bart Madson | April 5, 2010
2010 Honda VFR1200F
The Hayabusa riding position commits to a forward-sloping, aggressive stance. The VFR position, while also pitching the rider forward somewhat, is more neutral and much more amenable to packing on the mileage.

The Honda seat feels quite comfortable to our test rider’s sensibilities. The seat offers comfort, without feeling spongy. The reach to the bars is natural, though low placed. Again, the narrowness of the bike positions the legs close together, tucking easily under the scalloped fuel tank. Actually, it was quite relaxing to lean forward and rest our arms underneath the tank folds. In spite of a slight forward pitch, the riding position lends itself to long stints in the saddle.

“Similarly to current-generation CBR sportbikes the VFR features an exceptionally accommodating cockpit,” deems Adam. “It’s the perfect compromise between sport and comfort. If you’re decently in shape you can ride the VFR all-day with zero knee, wrist, or butt discomfort. It’s also nice how low the seat is and when you’re riding the bike you feel like you’re riding inside it which no doubt assists in its charismatic handling attributes.”

The Hayabusa doesn’t make any pretense for touring comfort and, like a true sportbike, it really isn’t designed for long stints in the saddle. (Ten hours aboard the Hayabusa, if you’re driving at the Autobahn pace it demands, would get you about 1200 miles down the road!) The riding position refuses to compromise with its sporting intentions, the rider leaning forward over the tank with low bars and high footpegs. Adam describes the Busa seat as “awesome”, which is a generous opinion I do not personally share. Better perhaps than most sportbike perches, the Suzuki seat is not amenable to high-mileage routes.

2010 Kawasaki Concours 14
There’s no mistaking the purpose of the Kawasaki Concours 14, with its upright position, cush seat and high bars begging for long-distance jaunts.

The Kawasaki, by comparison, feels like a veritable Barcalounger. An upright, neutral riding position, with high-placed bars and a spacious, cush seat – the Connie delivers the softest perch, both literal and figurative. We normally pit the Connie against likeminded Sport-Tourers, where it feels big, but not out of place. In this comparo, however, the Kawasaki’s immense size and comfort had us thinking Gold Wing before some of its closer (on paper at least) competitors like the FJR or BMW K1300GT.

All this talk gets us to the question of touring. Our comparison test ride, which ran from Irvine, California, to Tucson, Arizona, and back, gave us plenty of miles to determine these machine’s touring credentials.

The VFR lacks the creature comforts to make it a true touring mount, at least in the conventional sense. The switchgear, with its irritating horn placement, doesn’t deliver all the doo-dads expected from a tourer. Most notable, there’s no adjustment button for the windscreen, because the screen is stationary (though Honda offers an optional $250 windscreen deflector, placed over the stock screen and offering three settings). That said, the VFR delivers substantial rider protection via the screen and fairing, its aerodynamics cutting through the air with minimal fuss (Honda touts GP development for the bodywork and screen’s “air management”).

2010 Honda VFR1200F
The VFR offers a more casual riding position than the Hayabusa, but if a rider chooses they can tuck in and exploit the V-Four’s potential behind excellent wind protection of the non-adjustable screen and a cozy, comfortable saddle.

The VFR’s sleek aerodynamic shape contrasts the Concours, its bulkier profile bullying through the air and battered around by strong wind gusts. We weren’t enamored with the Connie’s windscreen either, our taller riders finding the buffeting worse than the more direct exposure on the VFR and even the Busa – the Suzuki delivering a lot more wind protection than expected. That said, the Concours sets the standard for this comparison in touring amenities. The 2010 version we tested answers some of the short-comings of its predecessor, with heated grips standard and an info trigger at the left switchgear. It also sports roomy, easy-to-operate integrated bags.

As for luggage, the optional bags for the VFR were unavailable for our test, though we’d love to try the purpose-built integrated luggage at a future date. We did toss on an aftermarket tailbag for our route and, combined with relaxed ergos, comfortable seat and ample wind protection, the VFR tackled long-distance touring with great success. Ample options from Honda only aid the VFR’s touring creds, like the saddlebags ($1400) and rear top case (no price listed yet), as well as the extras like heated grips ($350), 12V socket ($100) and centerstand ($250).

As for the Hayabusa, its touring competence left us perplexed (see sidebar). We’ve put the kibosh on adding the Hayabusa to previous sport-touring tests thinking it pure insanity, but the Suzuki on tour wasn’t the sadistic riding experience we’d always imagined. Turns out the idea of riding a Hayabusa 100 miles on superslab was much worse than the reality – it was far from unbearable. Another surprise was the aftermarket Cortech saddlebags, which hung snuggly off the bulbous tailpiece and under the distinctive rear hump and turned the Suzuki into a decent gear mule.

There’s one touring area, however, where all the rides in our test fall short – range. It’s no surprise the Kawasaki gets furthest on a single tank, but it’s a piddly 204.5 miles by our observed fuel efficiency. All our test rides quaffed down the premium fuel with relish, the Kawasaki netting 35.3 mpg, Honda 35.6 and Suzuki 36.8. Range for the Busa works out to 193 miles from its 5.25-gallon tank, while the Honda claims an even more meager range, just 174 miles from its 4.9 gallon reserve – perhaps its biggest touring shortcoming.

Of course, fuel efficiency is hard to come by from the throttle hands of our testing crew. But we doubt any save for the most demure riders would be capable of doing otherwise! A side note about fuel efficiency: the much-hyped ECO mode on the Kawasaki, which switches to a leaner fuel map to extend the Connie’s range, another common complaint of the ’09 bike, yielded less than impressive results. We used the ECO feature almost the entire 1400 miles of our trip, and while gas mileage did indeed improve – it was a scant 0.5 mpg more than the 34.8mpg observed during our 2009 Sport-Touring Comparison.

2010 Honda VFR1200F
A looker? Depends on the viewer’s tastes, with the Honda VFR a bird of a different feather.

When it gets down to evaluating looks, the VFR garnered its fair share of detractors. The word “Shamu” got tossed around in the press, but that’s quite subjective. The VFR’s fit and finish well serve the Honda name, and we found the metal flake red paint particularly fetching. Naysayers to the contrary, the VFR’s lines look fine enough to us, with the Vee motif of the front headlight extending into the instrumentation. The new VFR takes a lot of cues from that original concept we first saw two years ago.

The Hayabusa’s style reaches beyond direct criticism at this point, with its curves and signature look having achieved iconic status. As for the Kawasaki, it remains one of the sharper looking sport-touring mounts on the market, at least by our measure.

As far as value goes, Honda presents the most expensive bike in this comparison – the stock VFR ringing in at $15,999. Start adding on the touring extras and the cost climbs, adding all the current extras and the VFR crests $20K. The Kawasaki slots in second at $15,299 for the ABS version we sampled, but comes loaded with standard extras like heated grips and its KTRC traction control system (see sidebar) – a fantastic value for ST riders. Then there’s the

2009 Suzuki Hayabusa
Brutal strength on public roadways, the Suzuki Hayabusa remains a visceral treat every time we get at its controls.

Hayabusa, which delivers one of the greatest values in terms of adrenaline-per-dollar at $13,199. The caveat here being a rider will need to save that extra dough for tickets, court fees and insurance premiums – if you even manage to hang onto your license at all… 

This test is a comparison, not a shootout, the three rides too dissimilar for a head-to-head. The test did serve to amplify the differences of the three rides.

The Busa is all about raw, unrestrained sportbike passion. Not dumbed down for the general public, the Hayabusa makes no apologies, its credo ‘buy the ticket, take the ride’. Even after 10 years on the road, it still shocks us every time we encounter it with its brutal performance. One day, preferably in the distant future, people will look back at the Hayabusa era and wonder how for more than a decade Americans were able to ride them legally on public roads.

The Kawasaki sits on the touring end of the spectrum. In its own class, the power from his ZX-14-derrived engine is almost as shocking as the Hayabusa. Riders need only blip the throttle to get a jolt of the Concours’ potency. Improved this year, the new Connie enters the riding season a dark horse contender in our 2010 Sport-Touring Shootout.

2010 Honda VFR1200F
The VFR1200F proves a pleasing blend of performance and comfort – a versatile ride for the rider looking for something different.

That leaves us with the VFR. Here we are, 1400 miles and many days of contemplation later, and still it avoids easy categorization. There’s something satisfying when all the OEMs agree on the displacement ground rules and say, let’s see who can make the best Superbike, or 600 Supersport, or 450 motocross bike. And while Honda plays that game too, at a very high level we might add, it also creates and supports bike lines that defy convention. The luxo-touring Gold Wing comes to mind, as well as the previous VFR Interceptor. This current VFR is no different.

Pressing Honda’s media reps with the question of whether it views the VFR1200F as a tourer or sportbike, the response was Honda already has a sport-touring motorcycle – the ST1300. Instead, they gave us a term, used often in Europe, to describe the VFR – a Road Sport.

We’ll buy that. Where the Hayabusa screams tattoos and standup wheelies on the freeway, the VFR passes itself off as more the gentleman’s sportbike. Think sporting performance tempered with road-going comfort – comfort that lends itself quite well to touring…

So, here we are again: is the VFR a sportbike or a touring bike?

Yes, it is.

  Honda VFR1200F Kawasaki Concours Suzuki Hayabusa 
Engine  V-Four76-degree Inline Four Inline Four
Bore x Stroke  81 x 60mm     84 x 61mm 81 x 65mm
Displacement  1237cc 1352cc 1340cc
Compression Ratio  12.0:1  10.7:1  12.5:1 
Valvetrain SOHC, 4-alve DOHC, 4-vavle DOHC, 4-valve
Transmission  6-speed  6-speed 6-speed
Final Drive  Shaft  Shaft  Chain 
Front Suspension Showa 43mm fork, preload, 4.7 in 43mm fork, preload, rebound 4.4 in Showa fully adjustable fork
Rear Suspension Showa preload, rebound, 5.1 in preload, rebound 5.4 in Showa fully adjustable
Front Brakes 320mm 6-piston Nissin calipers ABS 310mm 4-piston Nissin calipers ABS 310mm 4-piston Tokico calipers
Rear Brakes 276mm two-piston calipers 270mm two-piston calipers 260mm dual-piston calipers
Front Tires 120/70 – ZR 17 Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart 120/70 – ZR 17 Bridgestone BT021U 120/70 – ZR 17 Bridgestone BT-015
Rear Tires 190/55 – ZR 17 Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart 190/50 – ZR 17 Bridgestone BT021U 190/50 – ZR 17 Bridgestone BT-015
Wheelbase 60.8 in 59.8 in 58.26 in
Rake 25 30′ 26.1 23
Trail 4 in 4.4 in 3.8 in
Seat Height 32.1 in 32.1 in 31.7 in
Fuel Capacity 4.9 gal 5.8 gal 5.25 gal
Fuel Economy 35.6 mpg 35.3 mpg 36.8 mph
Range 175 miles 205 miles 193 miles
Curb Weight 592 690 579
Dry Weight 562.5 655 547.5
MSRP $15,999 $15,299 $13,199

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