Cool Runnings - Kawasaki ZZR-1400 Vs Suzuki Hayabusa

We were invited for an exclusive ride with the British bobsleigh team at Innsbruck but needed to get there in a hurry. Cue Suzuki’s Hayabusa and Kawasaki’s ZZR-1400

The roads in Austria at this time of year are peppered with ice, and incredibly dangerous. Yet here we are, heading into a bend on the side of a snow-covered mountain doing 80 mph. As the front end collides off the kerb and veers dangerously towards the barrier I put my head down and hold my breath in the way that you do when you are expecting an impact and pain. 10 seconds ago I was giggling like a stoned schoolboy, now I’m just plain scared. Somehow we get through the corner and I risk raising my vision from the crotch of my jeans to the apex, it flashes past in a blur of snow and ice and metal. My head is getting a pounding, both inside and out. I reach for the brakes, there are no flipping brakes. Great. I’m left with no option other than to cling on to the back of Whitham like a newborn monkey to its mother, only colder, and a whole heap faster. Two minutes later we are still giggling at the side of the road at the outrageous goings on we have just experienced. Riding 180 horse power bikes in the winter in Austria is nuts, but bobsleighing? That’s a different league.

The carrot was a ride for Whit and me in the Great Britain four-man bobsleigh, the fastest thing on blades in the world. The stick was the 750-mile ride to the track in Innsbruck, Austria, in February. If we wanted it we were going to have to go and get it. When it came to picking the bikes for the journey, in my eyes we had two options, comfy fat things that would get us there with the minimum of fuel stops and the maximum of heated grips (though freezing cold) or hyper sports-tourers that would travel at silly speeds for long periods of time, but still freezing cold. Didn’t take too long to figure that one out.

The ZZR had its big ugly nose pushed way out of joint when the new Hayabusa screamed into production last year. It had everything the ZZR had and more, including nine years’ worth of adoring fans of the popular original model. It simply hammered the opposition in terms of top speed, so much so that with just a pipe and Power Commander we managed to clock a genuine and staggering 200mph back in the Jan ’08 issue. Looks-wise the Hayabusa draws first blood. From every angle the Suzuki looks the business, sleek, curvy and business like. The ZZR looks like a puffy ZX-10R, some like it, some don’t. I kind of do but when its sat next to the ‘Busa it just looks fat. Following the Busa I found myself checking it out for ages, the back end is big in a J-Lo kinda way, you can forgive its portliness because it still looks good. After swapping over and following the ZZR all I could think of was of one of the Fat Slags out of Viz, in this company its just not that nice.

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Competing comfort

Comfort-wise both bikes have perfect dynamics for long-haul high speed work. My head got blown about a bit at 100mph+ stuff on the 14, but the reach to the bars,the peg position and the seat all made for a comfortable place to laugh at 911 drivers from. Again the Kawasaki has to give best to the Suzuki, it’s as comfortable as the Kwakker and just a nicer place to be. That buffeting I was getting at 100-odd on the ZZR was non-existent on the Suzuki. James and I agreed that the view from the Suzuki was better, the clocks on both bikes are easy to read but for some reason Kawasaki have filled the space around theirs with bizarre looking bits of plastic. We also agreed that for the first time in ages we had found a Suzuki that felt like the switchgear, paint, and general finish would stand the test of time better than the Kawasaki.

For 2008 Kawasaki made a couple of subtle changes to the original model to help it fall into line with the ever-strangling Euro 3 emissions. In making it quieter they also raised peak power a small amount, and more importantly the changes mean there’s more torque at the bottom and midrange, something the first generation 14 was lacking. That’s not to say it’s a slow bike, far bloody from it, but the ZZR had a fuel map that wouldn’t intimidate riders that were new to serious power nor catch you out in the wet. On the old bike there was a fluffy edge to the rate of acceleration, unless you were doing over 100mph,. In which case the ZZR exploded forward.

Everyone in the office spoke of having to change down a gear or two to overtake, not something you would expect to have to do on a bike of this pedigree. Now the bike has the violent surge that you would expect of something with these letters and numbers on the side of it.  The changes have worked, I’m fairly adept at really bad ham-fisted short and dangerous wheelies that look ropey and feel even worse. But while the old ZZR refused to do anything in 2nd gear unless you involved some clutch, the new model however only needs a twist and a tug to bring it up. Whit kept a few of them up for ages and commented that had the back end not gotten a bit wayward he could have gone forever. “Yeah, me too,” I sniffed before pointing at another beautiful mountain and changing the subject.

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Top speed

Both bikes are devastatingly fast, cruising at 80 then adding another 100 as quick as you can say oh myyyy gggoooddd! was way too easy. I had been waiting for the chance to do a test on these bikes across Europe. I couldn’t wait until the Summer and was prepared to put up with cold fingers for the chance to go flat out, not just for a bit but for as long as I could. It came about 15 minutes into France, Whit looked bored so I stuck my chin on the tank, the throttle on the stop, and went for it. It felt mega, while chasing each other for what felt like forever (but was probably only a few minutes) between 160 and 180 mph I found all the moisture in my mouth had miraculously disappeared, only to reappear spread sweatily across the palms of my hands.

Riding this fast, legally (in Germany) is something every biker should experience at least once. Whit definitely couldn’t put up with cold fingers, turns out the circulation in his hands is terrible thanks to a number of crashes over the years. He insisted on having heated gloves for the journey and Klan were happy to provide. I saved mine untill I was really, really cold before turning them on (didn’t bother with them at all),  but James couldn’t wait and had his on by the time we hit the bottom of my road. In the space of a day, his kit had consumed every 5 amp fuse from every garage we passed in France. By the time it got dark James gave up and just stuck his hands on the engine to keep warm, which worked until he melted a hole into his left glove. 

The Hayabusa has the Suzuki Drive Mode Selector (SDMS) which we both thought was useless on the first day, but every time I ride a Suzuki with this system I always end up using it. Last time it was a B-king with a hangover in Newcastle, this time it was freezing Austrian mountain roads, in February, in the snow, doing cornering shots. I have renamed ‘A’ mode, from now on it shall be called ‘Hayabusavision’. It is mental, llike being on the bike from the starting credits of Streethawk. On the motorway it pulled away from the ZZR at 100 mph roll ons in top gear like I was cheating and actually had the bike in 4th, the needle just sweeps round to 100 and lots of miles an hour like a compass swinging from South to North. It would quite happily spin the back wheel in 2nd gear coming out of the corners (bolt upright I hasten to add). In ‘B’ mode coming out of the same corner the bike still felt a bit rampant, like a dangerous badger; you would have a go but the outcome wouldn’t be the same every time. In ‘C’ mode this bike feels like a wheezing 20 year-old commuter bike, the phrase all smoke no poke sprung to mind, as did my shopping list for when I got home. Such is the amount of attention you have to pay to this bike in C-mode, do not get them mixed up though, I will say that again: Do Not Get Them Mixed Up! Otherwise bad things will happen.

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Advantage, Hayabusa

When we had swapped bikes and I couldn’t match Whit’s pace on the Busa, I massaged the Kwak’s ego by bashing up 155mph Mercs and Porsches, something neither the bike nor I would ever tire of. When we got into the Alps the Kawasaki felt a bit soft in comparison, needing a bit longer than the Suzuki to settle into a corner and would carry on reacting to a pot hole or surface change when the Suzook would just track straight over them.

The back end on the Suzuki is rumoured to be a bit soft for high speed scratching. Well it might be in the company of 1,000cc sports bikes, but in the Kawasaki’s company there really wasn’t a comparison. I never felt anything other than 100% confident that I could tell what the bike was about to do next. The Kawasaki was very good at doing what it did, it just didn’t seem as compliant. One area that the Kawasaki whooped the Suzuki was on the brakes. It wasn’t just the fact that it has a fantastic ABS system (Kawasaki’s is the best across the range in my opinion), both front and rear brakes always performed a little better and with more feel than the Suzuki’s. Whit didn’t agree that the feedback was better on the Kawasaki, but I put that down to him liking his brakes super sharp.

At walking pace the Kwak is possibly the most balanced bike I have ever ridden. When the Suzuki needed a dab or a three-point turn the ZZR would just spin on its axis, I swear that you could stick spotty kids on a ZZR at CBT centres and they would be threading them through the cones like they were Chinese 125s in minutes. For such a big machine the Kawasaki is totally untimidating off the kickstand.

But the Hayabusa is the best bike, without a doubt. The Suzuki is the more capable and comfortable of the two, regardless of whether you’re pointing it at Austria or an apex. It looks better, goes better, and is just a better sports-tourer. If you already own a ZZR by all means feel smug as it’s a weapon, but if you’re in the market for a new mentally fast sports-tourer have a test ride on the Suzuki. Going fast, really fast, has never been so easy. Or as much fun.

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Whitham’s Second Opinion

Whitham’s Second Opinion

I’ve ridden both these flagship sports-tourers before but only ever over relatively short distances. The blast down to Austria was the perfect mix of city streets, motorways and mountain roads to really see what two of the most powerful bikes you can spend your pocket money on are made of.

Although the Busa is slightly heavier, the Kawasaki feels bigger, it has more legroom, a higher screen, and straighter, wider bars than the Suzuki. Both bikes are at home blasting down the Autobahn. Both have truck-like power and torque figures, and both (although limited to 186 mph allegedly) will effortlessly propel you along as fast as you can ever want to go. In a side-by-side top gear, 100 mph roll-on match the Busa had slightly more acceleration but the ZZR had a bit more top-end, not that you need any more.

On both, the speedo runs out of numbers before the needle stops going round. The Suzuki has more of a sports bike feel and really came into its own when we got into the mountains. Neither of these 210kg machines are ever going to be as nimble as a pure sports bike, and the Kawasaki is perfectly adequate, but the Suzuki definitely felt more precise on the twisties.

Because it has always had an enthusiastic, almost cult following, Suzuki were keen to improve the bike without losing it’s distinctive styling or character and I reckon they’re right on the button. Overall, for me the Suzuki is the better bike. The Kawasaki does everything it says on the tin, and if you buy one you probably won’t be disappointed, it’s just that the Busa is better in most respects. It also looks and feels to have been finished to a higher standard. The dash is more modern, the chrome around the clocks looks better and the paint is thicker.


Kawasaki ZZR 1400

Price: £8995
Engine: 1,352cc, liquid-cooled, dOHC, 16-valve inline four
Power: 173.5bhp @ 9,600rpm
Torque: 103.4lb.ft @ 8,000rpm
Front suspension: 43mm USD, FULLY-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, FULLY adjustable
Front brake: 310mm disc, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 250mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 215kg (claimed)
Seat height:  800mm
Fuel capacity: 22l
Top speed: 186mph

Suzuki Hayabusa

Price: £8999
Engine: 1,340cc, liquid-cooled, dOHC, 16-valve inline four
Power: 185bhp @ 9,600rpm
Torque: 114.5lb.ft @ 7,200rpm
Front suspension: 43mm USD, FULLY-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, FULLY adjustable
Front brake: 310mm disc, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 260mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 220kg (claimed)
Seat height:  805mm
Fuel capacity: 21l
Top speed: 186mph

Bobsleighing: how scary is it?

Bobsleighing: how scary is it?

Before we went out to Austria I knew very little about bobsleighing. I remember it being on the telly years ago, I enjoyed the film Cool Runnings. Oh, and I remember laughing my 10 year old tits off watching Blue Peter’s John Noakes falling out of the back of one in the seventies. But I figured anything that involves slithering down an ice-filled pipe at 80 mph has got to be a proper laugh.

Although a four man bob costs upwards of 20 grand to buy new there’s not a lot to them. A fairly heavy gauge tubular steel chassis mounts the four steel runners and incorporates a crude-looking, cord-operated steering mechanism all covered by a glass-fibre or carbon body. And that’s about it.

The sled we were to put our trust in was nicknamed the “Death Bob” because of its propensity to arrive at the bottom of the run upside-down and missing some of its crew. The paint-job didn’t fill me with confidence. It looked like it’d been done by David Blunkett, outside his house, on a windy day, with a rag tied to the end of a stick. All but one of the teams were entered by the armed forces, and in fact Britain’s highest ever finish in a world-cup event was a bronze medal won 10 years ago by a team from the parachute regiment. For our ride John the driver, me, Hogan and brake man Scott all got sat in before being pushed off by a couple of Marines who’d already had their run.

Each bob is fitted with a brake, that when pulled lowers a series of steel spikes out of the bottom of the chassis, but it’s only ever to be used after you pass the finish line. To use the brake on the actual run would damage the precious ice and is punishable by death, apparently. So as you leave the top you get the feeling that whatever happens you ain’t going to have any influence on the outcome. You’re on for the ride. If it all goes wrong it’s going to keep going wrong no matter what you do. I asked the driver John what if we didn’t reach the bottom. He informed me we would definitely all reach the bottom, the only question is which way up we’d be when we did. Very reassuring.

Acceleration is steady but constant. And unstoppable. Speed keeps building all the way down the run. Our max was 116 kph, (75mph) but as the sides of the run are a foot either side of your head it feels a lot, lot faster. If you’ve ever seen it on TV and imagined the ice looks quite smooth well then you’re wrong, very wrong. The run is full of ripples, the concrete it’s formed on has expansion joints and the sleds have no suspension or seats. Honest, it’s like being whacked on the arse with a plank 50 times a second for 50 seconds. Suffice to say if I ever go and do it again I’ll be packing a tube of haemorrhoid cream in my tank-bag. There are obvious comparisons to be made between bikes and bobsleighs, but in my eyes, unless I could have a bobsleigh track built from my front door to London, and one that takes me to the shops, I’m better off on the bike.