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Holy Hayabusa!: We Ride the 2000 Model

I had a chance to put about 125 miles on a 2000 Suzuki Hayabusa (courtesy of Temecula Motorsports in Temecula, California) the other day. This article concerns my impressions of the bike, as well as the impressions of Jeff Whitmer (who rode the same bike, but put more miles on it than I did over a wider variety of riding conditions). For perspective, although I ride lots of bikes, my normal ride is a 1996 Triumph Trophy. Jeff rides lots of bikes also, but his normal ride is a Honda CBR900R.

Although essentially unchanged from the 1999 model, which was the first year of its production, the 2000 Hayabusa benefits from (our opinion) dramatically improved graphics (we’re talking about United States – spec machines). The paint jobs are really fantastic. The blue, particularly at night under the lights, has an almost luminescent value to it, and is beautifully offset with the silver. Last year’s bike appeared somewhat heavy, but the new paint job transforms the look of the bike. Good job, Suzuki.

As you all know by now, the Hayabusa is one powerful beast. I have to begin this riding impression by talking about the Hayabusa motor. Somewhat to my surprise, although the motor is extremely powerful and exhilarating, it is totally unintimidating to ride. Let me explain. Below 6,500 rpm, the Hayabusa is a very torquey, very fast motorcycle, but it generally keeps the front wheel planted and smoothly thrusts you forward at the desired velocity (just dial on as much as you want). Between 6,500 and 10,000 rpm, although just as linear in its power delivery, the Hayabusa really comes to life (as if it weren’t lively already).

In these upper rev ranges, you are best advised to be careful with your throttle application in the three lower gears (particularly, first and second gear). Snapping the throttle open in this rpm range in the lower gears will inevitably result in a wheelie — whether you like it or not. But even the wheelie is smooth and predictable (if a wheelie can be such a thing). All in all, although hugely powerful, the Hayabusa does exactly what you ask it to do and nothing more. This is a very important thing when you are dealing with 175 crankshaft horsepower.

In many ways, the Hayabusa is a unique machine. The engine sets it apart from other bikes of course, but so do many of its other characteristics. It doesn’t fit precisely into any category (leaving the motor aside). The seating position is more like that of a pure sportbike than a sport tourer, yet the weight of the machine leaves it outside the pure sportbike classification. At the same time, the Hayabusa is far nimbler handling than most pure sport tourers (with the exception of the lighter sport tourers, such as Honda’s VFR 800 Interceptor).

This unique character will either grow on you (as it did with me) or leave you looking for something more distinctly within the sportbike or sport tourer category.

If you’re looking for a big fairing with lots of wind protection for the rider, the Hayabusa is not your ticket. The windshield is extremely low (I even found myself looking through the top of the windshield at the upper part of the speedometer and tach while riding the bike). At high speeds, unless you tuck in fairly tight, the wind blast is disconcerting. At the same time, the seating position, because of its aggressiveness (fairly low bars and fairly high footpegs), lends itself to a comfortable crouch that takes your chest out of the wind.

As Jeff pointed out to me, taller clip-on handlebars and a double-bubble windscreen would make the Hayabusa a better sport tourer for most riders.

The Hayabusa’s suspension is excellent. Although relatively stiff by necessity (I can’t imagine riding a bike with this much power on a soft, springy suspension), it soaks up most of the bumps and ripples encountered on U.S. roads fairly well. Again, it’s stiffer and slightly choppier than some of the more softly sprung sport tourers, but softer and more supple than most hard-core sportbikes. A good compromise.

Consistent with Suzuki’s reputation, the Hayabusa comes with a great transmission. Neither Jeff nor I ever missed a shift, and the transmission simply fades from your thought (because it does exactly what you ask of it).

The brakes are also outstanding. Despite the velocities this bike is capable of, and the weight of the machine, Jeff and I both felt that the Hayabusa had enough braking power to get us out of any situation short of those caused by rider error.

As far as handling is concerned, as long as you compare the Hayabusa to other bikes of similar size and heft, the handling is excellent. It is not as flickable as the new, sub-400 pound sportbikes, but it is surprisingly nimble, nonetheless. It is also extremely stable at high speeds — something very important on this bike. I saw 137 miles per hour (I won’t tell you where), and the bike tracked straight and steady as a missile (an apt analogy).

I have to go back to discussing the power of this bike and the acceleration available when you ride it. It is addicting, and makes everything else currently available feel somewhat anemic (including Honda’s CBR1100XX). Moreover, it is the smooth, progressive and rider-friendly delivery of this power that is most satisfying. You don’t want a bike with this much horsepower to so something suddenly, unexpectedly, or to “catch you out”. The Hayabusa won’t.

On the freeway here in Southern California, it was fun following cars and then, when a slight gap appeared in traffic, zapping by them so fast their driver’s jaws must have dropped in their laps. You feel like King Kong on this bike, but you must constantly respect its power and acceleration, and, particularly for less experienced riders, approach use of the Hayabusa most cautiously until you are extremely familiar with its capabilities.

If you are not careful, for example, your corner entry speeds will be far too high. The Hayabusa simply delivers you to that familiar corner far quicker than you expect — until you recalibrate your brain to the Hayabusa’s thrust. You also need to be careful exiting corners – be smooth with the throttle, particularly on cold tires.

Another thing I liked about the Hayabusa was its character. Although the motor is generally smooth, it does give off some vibration and, particularly while accelerating hard above 6000 rpm, roars and vibrates just enough to add character to the experience. Too many Japanese four-cylinder bikes are almost “characterless”, but not the Hayabusa.

What’s the bottom line? There are more comfortable bikes. There are more flickable bikes. And there is the Hayabusa — currently in a class of one. The Hayabusa is a well-designed, well-engineered bike that does, I expect, precisely what Suzuki intended it to. Nothing more or nothing less. It is not a bike for everyone, but if you want the ultimate in power and acceleration combined with a reasonable compromise between sportbike and sport tourer handling, the Hayabusa just might be your bike.