Road Test

Road Test: Kawasaki ZX-12R vs. Suzuki Hayabusa

For what we are about to recieve may the good Lord make us truly thankful because what we are about to receive is more speed than can possibly be good for you as we hop the channel with Suzuki's Hayabusa and Kawasaki's ZX-12




These are two of the most pointless motorcycles ever. I mean come on, who really wants to do 200mph? Nice idea it may be but it's all so arbitrary. After all, we live in a country where 70mph is the legal limit anywhere and speeding is fast becoming a hanging offence. Given these circumstances and the fact our roads are that congested even 70mph is ambitious half the time, bikes like this can exist solely for sad lads who need to compensate for their inadequacy between the sheets with a throbbing chunk of hyper-powered motorcycle between their thighs. Own one of these and all you're doing is giving feminists another reason to sneer at men's deficiencies while pouring your cash down the drain.

But this argument falls apart on one small point - it's based on logic and motorcycles that knock on the door of three times the national speed limit are anything but logical. Of course they're too much, of course we don't need the ability to hit 100mph in five seconds without venturing beyond second gear, but bloody hell is it nice to have the option.

After all, this is a free country and this pair the best expression of our freedom of choice. So exercise your right. Choose warp-speed travel, choose demolishing vast stretches of open road at three miles a minute, choose 70 miles to a tank and 1,500 miles to a back tyre, choose being the fastest thing on the road. Choose a ZX-12R and a Hayabusa.

They are the fastest motorcycles you can buy. No arguments, no ifs, buts, or maybes, they are the Daddies. Some may outhandle them, a few may come close to their acceleration, and just about anything you care to mention will go further on a single tank of fuel, but as far as brutal, unbridled and in-yer-face speed goes these two stand alone.

And it's not a revvy four cylinder racebike kind of speed on offer here. Oh no. Nor is it a relaxed big twin kind of speed. Nope, the speed these bikes smack you in the face with is the kind that distorts your grasp on reality, rearranges your internal organs and makes any other bike on the market feel sluggish and, well, a bit girly really.

The top speed crown's had a few holders over the years, but sat for five years with Kawasaki's 178mph ZZ-R1100. In all this time pretenders came and went, but none made a serious bid for the crown so despite the big Kawasaki slowly becoming more outdated its top speed trump card kept it in vogue.

Then Honda released the Blackbird. Another 1,100cc four like the Kawasaki, but now benefitting from fuel injection and super-slippery aerodynamics. All this saw the Honda bat through the timing lights 3mph faster than the ZZ-R. Hmmm, an improvement but not as earth-shattering as the 200mph hype headlines before the bike's release had suggested.

But Honda had started the top speed ball rolling once again and before we knew it Suzuki's Hayabusa was droopy-nosed reality. Ramming home the 'no substitute for cubes' theory with all the subtlety of Ron Jeremy's foreplay, the 1,299cc Busa spat out 154bhp and a shocking 94ft-lbs of torque which was enough to see it through the timing lights at a genuine 200mph on a good day.

Miffed at the loss of their crown, Kawasaki fought back with the ZX-12R. But after the bluster, techno-porn and marketing speak, the ZX never quite hit the jackpot falling tantalisingly shy of the big 200 time after time yet never quite striking it.

But all this top speed talk had repercussions as the outside world began to concern itself with 200mph motorcycles. Factually bankrupt journalists with careers to further and little knowledge of bikes sensationalised the dangers of such obvious law-breakers, and in a bid to quash further outcry or knee-jerk legislation the Japanese manufacturers entered into a gentlemens' agreement - from now on, no bike would go above 186mph, or 299kmh in funny money. The 1999 and 2000 Hayabusas would be the fastest production bikes the world had ever seen and that would be that.

None of this stopped Kawasaki from updating the ZX-12 for this year however and although it may not be any faster (186 em-pee-aitches is all you'll get no matter what you try) it's sure as hell better. Not ever having really got on with the big Kawasaki I chose it for the outward leg of our journey leaving Daryll looking smaller than ever atop the mighty Busa.

Slipping through South London the ZX felt stifled and uneasy prowling the crowded streets never topping 3,000rpm. But with 156bhp on tap town work on a bike like this will always be frustrating. At least we had some severe autoroute headbanging a few short hours away to ease our discomfort.

Mental anguish at wasted performance aside, the ZX is perfectly civilised at low speeds once you've got used to its size. It's in sportsbike proportions, just 10% bigger all over which was a relief for a tall git like me, but even stumpy Daryll never had a problem. It's long, it's wide and the seat's pretty tall, but this makes for a roomy perch and the only grief you'll suffer in town is a bit of wrist ache.

Onto the M20 and Daryll and I both want to get the throttles reet open, but no chance. This is Gatso-UK, CCTV central, Big Brother's new home and with both of us just hanging onto our licences a nervous ton was as much as we dared. And on these two a ton is just scratching the surface.

Gaining French soil and the relief for both of us is palpable. Take it easy (ish) in the first 100 miles around any major port, keep your eyes open for cars on the hard shoulder (may conceal speed traps) and get down to savouring French airspace where traffic is down, open roads are up and drivers pull out of your way in plenty of time - in fact, the few cars that do sit in the outside lane are all sporting UK plates...

Now the ZX is making sense. The suspension that before felt on the firm side of plush comes into its own above 120mph, the riding position is pure perfect for tucking into and out of the maddening airstream. Hell, you can still see stuff in the vast mirrors beyond 170. Head down behind the screen, life takes on an ethereal quality as we hurl ourselves to a ton-sixty cruise. The motor thrums away hypnotically beneath me, still a few grand shy of the redline in top, and the big red Kawasaki could not be more in its element.

Unsurprisingly, big speeds do not frugal progress make so it's no surprise to see the ZX's fuel light after 70 miles. The Busa's slightly better but not much... We stop, we laugh, we revel in the delight real speed brings, and we fill up, bikes plinking away contentedly in the watery morning light of what looks like being a banging French day.

Meanwhile, photographer Tennent aboard the Pan European camera bike, long since left in our wake breezes past in as good a real life example of the tortoise and hare story as you'll ever see. But then getting there fast isn't what these bikes are about - they're about going as fast as you bloody can and sod anything else. That's their buzz. You wanna go a long way quickly and smoothly? Buy a tourer. You want to turn your adrenal gland up to 11? Buy one of these.

Another pŽage down and the ZX and I wheelie away for another session as Daryll ahead does just the same on the Suzuki, panniers flapping in the breeze.

And talking of wheelies, given space the ZX is an admirable performer. Where the Suzuki's instant punch means wheelies can just as easily become impromptu rolling burnouts, the Kawasaki's more docile bottom end lets you pop her up in first, and then into second before she's really settled - the rather-too-instant throttle response in first makes it all a bit tricky to control - but from here she'll sit good, high and solid as a rock despite her length and thanks to a very slick and positive gearbox snicking through the gears to prolong your pleasure is no bother. Just make sure it's all in line as you come down because not only will you most likely be the wrong side of 100mph by this stage, the bike's sporty geometry means she'll slap if brought down crossed-up. It settles soon enough thanks to the bike's weight, but can disrupt your karma a bit.

Where the ZX's geometry comes into its own is leaving the autoroutes and winding into the hills. The Hayabusa's always been a capable handler but the ZX aces it without a doubt when it comes to braking, turning and firing through the countryside.

Put simply, the ZX is far closer to a real sportsbike and dives into corners more eagerly and with less effort than its Suzuki rival. Mid-corner the pair are level-pegging in terms of stability and feedback but on the Kwak you've still got the option of changing line if you fancy. On the Busa you're committed and that's that - get your line wrong on the way into a corner and things could get awkward. The Suzuki just requires a bit more precision to hack through the tight stuff is all.

But where the Kawasaki holds the handling cards, the Busa's still got the motor here. The sheer punch of the Suzuki is phenomenal. And it's not a top-end thing, or a midrange thing either - it's an everywhere thing. The fuel injection is seamless, and thumping drive is all yours from tickover to redline. A mind born and bred on slower bikes (read 'anything else') will have you changing down into corners on the Busa, but for most twisty sections the vast grunt and flexibility of the motor means you can often get away with leaving it in third or fourth in super-lazy, super-fast autopilot. By contrast the Kawasaki's severe power lies in its top end so you'll need to stoke the gearlever a little more often for perfect progress.

Come stopping time and it's honours back to the Kawasaki again with those six-pot Tokicos earning their stripes back and front hauling the big red beast up hard and fast with bags of feel to spare. There was a slight glitch to start with as the forks were locking out before running out of travel under hard braking causing the front wheel to skip and chatter, but backing off the front compression damping a few clicks restored full stopping abilities.

By comparison the Suzuki's stoppers are average. You pull the lever and the bike slows down but it feels like you're applying twice the effort needed on the ZX-12.

Despite my early bias towards the Suzuki I have to admit the Kawasaki was starting to take pride of place as the object of my affections. It just looks so damned horny in that red, and now last year's hideous graphics have been sacked things are only getting better. Next to it the Busa looks uglier than ever. It is purposeful and brutish and being the fastest bike ever hasn't done sales any harm, but a makeover is now overdue.

Hop onto the Suzuki from the Kawasaki and straightaway it feels lower, longer and wider next to the ZX's comparatively athletic build. But the Busa still makes sense. The riding position's a lovely balance of sporty and spacious, but the whole lot's let down by that screen. It's just too low.

Headed back for Calais aboard the Busa (and in a major hurry), even a full racing tuck wasn't enough to shake the 170mph windblast battering my lid. The fun I was having playing a warp-speed real-life arcade game with the sparse night time pŽage traffic put my discomfort to the back of my mind but stopping for real at the docks my neck was in agony.

Red-eyed, and unshaven and I hobbled aboard my homeward-bound vessel alone having been separated from my travelling companions in chaotic gridlock around Paris, although I was in no doubt Daryll would be feeling as battered as myself, while Oli would be fresh as a daisy thanks to the luxury of the Pan.

But I wouldn't have changed a thing. Riding hyperbikes the way they should be ridden is a life-changing experience. You need a few days afterwards to come down off the trip as you readjust to the pedestrian reality of our speed limits and traffic, but once you've made that first banzai foreign rip, you know you'll be going again. After all, these are bikes that are wasted stalking our tiny island and every now and again, just like big game, they need something meaty to get their teeth into. Like another continent...

SPECS - KAWASAKI

TYPE - HYPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £9390

ENGINE CAPACITY - 1119cc

POWER - 156bhp@10,100rpm

TORQUE - 87lb.ft@7600rpm

WEIGHT - 213kg

SEAT HEIGHT - N/A

FUEL CAPACITY - 19L

TOP SPEED - N/A

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS - SUZUKI

TYPE - HYPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £8649

ENGINE CAPACITY - 1299cc

POWER - 154bhp@9500rpm

TORQUE - 94lb.ft@7500rpm

WEIGHT - 215kg

SEAT HEIGHT - N/A

FUEL CAPACITY - 22L

TOP SPEED - N/A

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

These are two of the most pointless motorcycles ever. I mean come on, who really wants to do 200mph?

Nice idea it may be but it's all so arbitrary. After all, we live in a country where 70mph is the legal limit anywhere and speeding is fast becoming a hanging offence. Given these circumstances and the fact our roads are that congested even 70mph is ambitious half the time, bikes like this can exist solely for sad lads who need to compensate for their inadequacy between the sheets with a throbbing chunk of hyper-powered motorcycle between their thighs. Own one of these and all you're doing is giving feminists another reason to sneer at men's deficiencies while pouring your cash down the drain.

But this argument falls apart on one small point - it's based on logic and motorcycles that knock on the door of three times the national speed limit are anything but logical. Of course they're too much, of course we don't need the ability to hit 100mph in five seconds without venturing beyond second gear, but bloody hell is it nice to have the option.

After all, this is a free country and this pair the best expression of our freedom of choice. So exercise your right. Choose warp-speed travel, choose demolishing vast stretches of open road at three miles a minute, choose 70 miles to a tank and 1,500 miles to a back tyre, choose being the fastest thing on the road. Choose a ZX-12R and a Hayabusa.

They are the fastest motorcycles you can buy. No arguments, no ifs, buts, or maybes, they are the Daddies. Some may outhandle them, a few may come close to their acceleration, and just about anything you care to mention will go further on a single tank of fuel, but as far as brutal, unbridled and in-yer-face speed goes these two stand alone.

And it's not a revvy four cylinder racebike kind of speed on offer here. Oh no. Nor is it a relaxed big twin kind of speed. Nope, the speed these bikes smack you in the face with is the kind that distorts your grasp on reality, rearranges your internal organs and makes any other bike on the market feel sluggish and, well, a bit girly really.

The top speed crown's had a few holders over the years, but sat for five years with Kawasaki's 178mph ZZ-R1100. In all this time pretenders came and went, but none made a serious bid for the crown so despite the big Kawasaki slowly becoming more outdated its top speed trump card kept it in vogue.

Then Honda released the Blackbird. Another 1,100cc four like the Kawasaki, but now benefitting from fuel injection and super-slippery aerodynamics. All this saw the Honda bat through the timing lights 3mph faster than the ZZ-R. Hmmm, an improvement but not as earth-shattering as the 200mph hype headlines before the bike's release had suggested.

But Honda had started the top speed ball rolling once again and before we knew it Suzuki's Hayabusa was droopy-nosed reality. Ramming home the 'no substitute for cubes' theory with all the subtlety of Ron Jeremy's foreplay, the 1,299cc Busa spat out 154bhp and a shocking 94ft-lbs of torque which was enough to see it through the timing lights at a genuine 200mph on a good day.

Miffed at the loss of their crown, Kawasaki fought back with the ZX-12R. But after the bluster, techno-porn and marketing speak, the ZX never quite hit the jackpot falling tantalisingly shy of the big 200 time after time yet never quite striking it.

But all this top speed talk had repercussions as the outside world began to concern itself with 200mph motorcycles. Factually bankrupt journalists with careers to further and little knowledge of bikes sensationalised the dangers of such obvious law-breakers, and in a bid to quash further outcry or knee-jerk legislation the Japanese manufacturers entered into a gentlemens' agreement - from now on, no bike would go above 186mph, or 299kmh in funny money. The 1999 and 2000 Hayabusas would be the fastest production bikes the world had ever seen and that would be that.

None of this stopped Kawasaki from updating the ZX-12 for this year however and although it may not be any faster (186 em-pee-aitches is all you'll get no matter what you try) it's sure as hell better. Not ever having really got on with the big Kawasaki I chose it for the outward leg of our journey leaving Daryll looking smaller than ever atop the mighty Busa.

Slipping through South London the ZX felt stifled and uneasy prowling the crowded streets never topping 3,000rpm. But with 156bhp on tap town work on a bike like this will always be frustrating. At least we had some severe autoroute headbanging a few short hours away to ease our discomfort.

Mental anguish at wasted performance aside, the ZX is perfectly civilised at low speeds once you've got used to its size. It's in sportsbike proportions, just 10% bigger all over which was a relief for a tall git like me, but even stumpy Daryll never had a problem. It's long, it's wide and the seat's pretty tall, but this makes for a roomy perch and the only grief you'll suffer in town is a bit of wrist ache.

Onto the M20 and Daryll and I both want to get the throttles reet open, but no chance. This is Gatso-UK, CCTV central, Big Brother's new home and with both of us just hanging onto our licences a nervous ton was as much as we dared. And on these two a ton is just scratching the surface.

Gaining French soil and the relief for both of us is palpable. Take it easy (ish) in the first 100 miles around any major port, keep your eyes open for cars on the hard shoulder (may conceal speed traps) and get down to savouring French airspace where traffic is down, open roads are up and drivers pull out of your way in plenty of time - in fact, the few cars that do sit in the outside lane are all sporting UK plates...

Now the ZX is making sense. The suspension that before felt on the firm side of plush comes into its own above 120mph, the riding position is pure perfect for tucking into and out of the maddening airstream. Hell, you can still see stuff in the vast mirrors beyond 170. Head down behind the screen, life takes on an ethereal quality as we hurl ourselves to a ton-sixty cruise. The motor thrums away hypnotically beneath me, still a few grand shy of the redline in top, and the big red Kawasaki could not be more in its element.

Unsurprisingly, big speeds do not make frugal progress so it's no surprise to see the ZX's fuel light after 70 miles. The Busa's slightly better but not much... We stop, we laugh, we revel in the delight real speed brings, and we fill up, bikes plinking away contentedly in the watery morning light of what looks like being a banging French day.

Meanwhile, photographer Tennent aboard the Pan European camera bike, long since left in our wake breezes past in as good a real life example of the tortoise and hare story as you'll ever see. But then getting there fast isn't what these bikes are about - they're about going as fast as you bloody can and sod anything else. That's their buzz. You wanna go a long way quickly and smoothly? Buy a tourer. You want to turn your adrenal gland up to 11? Buy one of these.

Kawasaki ZX-12R vs Suzuki Hayabusa

Another péage down and the ZX and I wheelie away for another session as Daryll ahead does just the same on the Suzuki, panniers flapping in the breeze.

And talking of wheelies, given space the ZX is an admirable performer. Where the Suzuki's instant punch means wheelies can just as easily become impromptu rolling burnouts, the Kawasaki's more docile bottom end lets you pop her up in first, and then into second before she's really settled - the rather-too-instant throttle response in first makes it all a bit tricky to control - but from here she'll sit good, high and solid as a rock despite her length and thanks to a very slick and positive gearbox snicking through the gears to prolong your pleasure is no bother.

Just make sure it's all in line as you come down because not only will you most likely be the wrong side of 100mph by this stage, the bike's sporty geometry means she'll slap if brought down crossed-up. It settles soon enough thanks to the bike's weight, but can disrupt your karma a bit.

Where the ZX's geometry comes into its own is leaving the autoroutes and winding into the hills. The Hayabusa's always been a capable handler but the ZX aces it without a doubt when it comes to braking, turning and firing through the countryside.

Put simply, the ZX is far closer to a real sportsbike and dives into corners more eagerly and with less effort than its Suzuki rival. Mid-corner the pair are level-pegging in terms of stability and feedback but on the Kwak you've still got the option of changing line if you fancy. On the Busa you're committed and that's that - get your line wrong on the way into a corner and things could get awkward. The Suzuki just requires a bit more precision to hack through the tight stuff is all.

But where the Kawasaki holds the handling cards, the Busa's still got the motor here. The sheer punch of the Suzuki is phenomenal. And it's not a top-end thing, or a midrange thing either - it's an everywhere thing. The fuel injection is seamless, and thumping drive is all yours from tickover to redline. A mind born and bred on slower bikes (read 'anything else') will have you changing down into corners on the Busa, but for most twisty sections the vast grunt and flexibility of the motor means you can often get away with leaving it in third or fourth in super-lazy, super-fast autopilot. By contrast the Kawasaki's severe power lies in its top end so you'll need to stoke the gearlever a little more often for perfect progress.

Come stopping time and it's honours back to the Kawasaki again with those six-pot Tokicos earning their stripes back and front hauling the big red beast up hard and fast with bags of feel to spare. There was a slight glitch to start with as the forks were locking out before running out of travel under hard braking causing the front wheel to skip and chatter, but backing off the front compression damping a few clicks restored full stopping abilities.

By comparison the Suzuki's stoppers are average. You pull the lever and the bike slows down but it feels like you're applying twice the effort needed on the ZX-12.

Despite my early bias towards the Suzuki I have to admit the Kawasaki was starting to take pride of place as the object of my affections. It just looks so damned horny in that red, and now last year's hideous graphics have been sacked things are only getting better. Next to it the Busa looks uglier than ever. It is purposeful and brutish and being the fastest bike ever hasn't done sales any harm, but a makeover is now overdue.

Hop onto the Suzuki from the Kawasaki and straightaway it feels lower, longer and wider next to the ZX's comparatively athletic build. But the Busa still makes sense. The riding position's a lovely balance of sporty and spacious, but the whole lot's let down by that screen. It's just too low.

Headed back for Calais aboard the Busa (and in a major hurry), even a full racing tuck wasn't enough to shake the 170mph windblast battering my lid. The fun I was having playing a warp-speed real-life arcade game with the sparse night time péage traffic put my discomfort to the back of my mind but stopping for real at the docks my neck was in agony.

Red-eyed, and unshaven and I hobbled aboard my homeward-bound vessel alone having been separated from my travelling companions in chaotic gridlock around Paris, although I was in no doubt Daryll would be feeling as battered as myself, while Oli would be fresh as a daisy thanks to the luxury of the Pan.

But I wouldn't have changed a thing. Riding hyperbikes the way they should be ridden is a life-changing experience. You need a few days afterwards to come down off the trip as you readjust to the pedestrian reality of our speed limits and traffic, but once you've made that first banzai foreign rip, you know you'll be going again.

After all, these are bikes that are wasted stalking our tiny island and every now and again, just like big game, they need something meaty to get their teeth into. Like another continent...

Kawasaki ZX-12R and Suzuki Hayabusa Specifications

SPECS - KAWASAKI
TYPE - HYPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2002
PRICE NEW - £9390
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1119cc
POWER - 156bhp@10,100rpm
TORQUE - 87lb.ft@7600rpm   
WEIGHT - 213kg
SEAT HEIGHT - N/A   
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L   
TOP SPEED - N/A   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS - SUZUKI
TYPE - HYPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2002
PRICE NEW - £8649
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1299cc
POWER - 154bhp@9500rpm
TORQUE - 94lb.ft@7500rpm   
WEIGHT - 215kg
SEAT HEIGHT - N/A   
FUEL CAPACITY - 22L
TOP SPEED - N/A   
0-60     - n/a

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