Fifteen years ago, I fell in love with the Suzuki Hayabusa. A courtship that started well-ahead of my formal indoctrination to two-wheels, the Hayabusa was the capstone of motorcycle performance in my youthful eyes. I lusted after its sleek wind-tunnel tuned lines, and marveled at its outright speed, which at its debut, trumped everything else on the market. Approaching the 200 mph mark with their designs, Japan sold us on a “gentleman’s agreement” between the factories to govern their machines to 186 mph — I call it the pinnacle of technical collusion of the first degree.
It is so much easier to compete against another manufacturer when you don’t actually have to compete against them. The Suzuki Hayabusa could co-exist with the Honda CBR1100XX and Kawasaki ZX-12R in bubble that assured no one bike, on paper, could trump the other, after all…they all went 186 mph in the newly declared speed war. It is debatable whether this self-governing measure by the Japanese OEMs avoided a nanny state imposition of laws and regulations onto the motorcycle industry, but there can be no debate about the stagnation the gentleman’s agreement caused in the marketplace.
Once designated as being hyperbikes, a term that gave a nod to the performance specifications being beyond the superbikes found on the race track, we have watched the cessation of the Honda Super Blackbird (2003 in the USA, 2007 worldwide), and witnessed the Hayabusa and ZX-12R, later the Kawasaki ZX-14R, morph into capital “s” sport-tourers that are a far cry from their original intents.
Whether you caste the current Suzuki Hayabusa as the second-generation of the machine, or simply a massaged version of the first-generation GSX-1300R, it has stood motionless for far too long since its beginnings 15 years ago, and revision in 2008. It is time for the Hayabusa to return to its hyperbike roots, and once again captivate the imagination of little boys, and grown men, with what its possible on two wheels.
Watching the liter-bike class catch, and in many ways surpass, the performance marks of the Hayabusa and the “hyperbikes” of yore, has been a bit disheartening for this motorcycle enthusiast. Unconstrained by racing class rules, the sky is the limit for bikes like the Hayabusa, which is certainly why the Japanese OEMs quickly agreed to a self-imposed treaty of speed. However now, the current state of the motorcycle landscape sees that the Japanese OEMs have commoditized their of big-displacement offerings, and accordingly suffered on the dealership sales floors during the recession.
There was a point in time when the Japanese OEMs stood for maximum performance, with modest pricing and bullet-proof reliability. I have already argued before that the Japanese motorcycle brands need to stand for more than just these basic attributes, and the Suzuki Hayabusa is one of the few examples from the island nation of a motorcycle that lived through a brand of its own. That brand, however, has been eroded away with time.
With the Japanese OEMs (Suzuki in particular) floating listlessly in the western world, a revisiting of the original purpose of the Hayabusa could be greatly beneficial in getting consumers excited about motorcycles once again. Building off the idea that the Suzuki Hayabusa is not constrained by race homologation rules, a completely clean slate of out-of-the-box thinking can be undertaken, with the Hayabusa being the showcase of Suzuki’s unfettered technical prowess.
In a similar way that Honda has debuted its key technical innovations on the VFR series (ABS, variable valves, single-sided swingarms, oval pistons, etc), Suzuki should look at the Hayabusa again as its hyperbike platform, and though while outright speed will be only a side-benefit, the company should foucs on the Hayabusa showcasing the technologies and innovations that set the Suzuki brand apart from the rest of the Japanese OEMs, and the motorcycle industry as a whole.
For example, Suzuki has can a take page from the loyal tuner community that now surrounds the Hayabusa, and experiment with forced-induction motors. Developing small-displacement boosted engines for the hyperbike market could lead to motorcycles with higher power-to-weight ratios, the golden metric for the sport bike enthusiast. We already see car manufacturers developing in this realm (BMW, Fiat, Ford, etc), and while motorcycles are more compact and efficient machines, what track day enthusiast could turn down an affordable street bike with MotoGP power and mass measurements?
Additionally, if electrics are truly the future of the industry, it would behoove companies like Suzuki to explore electric drivetrain options (if they aren’t already). While battery technology may limit the practicality of fully electric machines (at least for the time being), there is no reason that electric push-to-pass KERS systems cannot be developed and successfully implemented. Formula One has played with this technology for sometime now, and it baffles my mind why MotoGP hasn’t followed suit with a 20hp or more on-tap electric boost.
Aside from the obvious long-term benefits of developing technology for high-performance electric motor and batteries, a hybrid KERS/turbo engine system is complimentary in design to a forced-induction motor. A performance oriented hybrid providing on-tap electric torque for corner acceleration that is balanced out with a top-end turbo boost for maximum top speed, we already see that Porsche has caught onto this idea with its 918 Spyder design, which should be out next year.
These are just two examples of what is possible with the Hayabusa platform, though I am sure Hiroshi Iio-san and his group of Suzuki engineers, if given the proper leeway, could devise even more captivating pieces of ingenuity for the Hayabusa.
Priced effectively above the GSX-R superbike line, but within reach of mortal men, Suzuki could build a potent halo brand with a strong hyperbike offering. Retreating from the gentlemen’s agreement with the other Japanese manufacturers, a little competition between the brands could improve the breed, and save the Japanese motorcycle as we know it.