Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Suzuki Hayabusa GSXR1300R: The Show-Stopper By Dave Lague-Lauzon

Pic © TopSpeed
The Suzuki Hayabusa. One of the most unmistakable icons of the contemporary sports bike scene. It has raised the bar, so to speak, for all other motorcycles and their respective manufacturers from the moment of its conception. It has provided a concrete blueprint for other bikes to model themselves after. Its radically different design – a result of an unconventional order of priorities – brought about unseen innovations and gave new face to speed. The Hayabusa is a motorcycle that has been questioned by many for its seemingly unjustified popularity, resulting in the general public making assumptions as to who rides Hayabusas and also gives ambiguity in terms of specifications. Add this to the lack of commercials for the GSXR1300 and the bike becomes nothing more than a powerful presence that leaves people intimidated, but also intrigued. It is akin to finding a jaguar in the living room; it is terrifying, and there’s no clear reason as to why it should be there.  Only one source is available in regards to the Busa’s design, which comes from the designer himself. There was no big statement made by Suzuki to clarify why the bike was conceived as it was, and because few people know about his intentions, the bulbous and impressively effective look of the bike remains unjustified to most.

Its body shape played an integral role in its success, despite the negative views from critics.  Moreover, the fact that the bike’s release in 1999 caused a massive stir needs to be explained. In addition, the culture of the bike itself remains largely unexplored, both from the rider’s perspective to the company that is responsible for its production. Therefore, this essay will examine the history, culture, and specifications of the Hayabusa. Specifically, it will look at how Suzuki managed to survive the massive manufacturing competition following WWII and the speed wars that took place which prompted its creation. The design will also be looked at: What were the influences and contributors to this uncanny body shape? How has the design evolved from its first model? Moreover, the reasons for the Hayabusa’s popularity will be discussed, along with its influence across multiple continents, and also an analysis of the bike’s sales and overall success.


Pic © MotorBugs.com
The first model of the Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300R was launched in 1999, and it wasn’t by accident. Suzuki up to this point was in contention with the other big three manufacturers: Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki. These were the companies which dwarfed the motorcycle market at the turn of the 1990’s, and the reasons why were all business. Kato (2008) looked into the cause of success for various firms and manufacturers in post-WWII Japan. He described how there was a large influx of new companies that came into the business scene, most as manufacturers of motorcycles and automobiles. He concluded:
“Evidence shows that not only ‘at entry’ conditions but also firms’ product strategies have  significant effects on firm survival. The findings indicate that order-of-entry and pre-entry  experience significantly affect the duration of survival, and that early and experienced entrants  tend to survive longer. As for product strategies, we found that offering high-quality products,  broadening product-line, and avoiding product overlap with rivals have significantly positive influence on firm survival” (Kato, 2008, p. 15). 
It makes sense then that big name makers, as he mentions, were Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki. They all came from good business backgrounds and had not only come into the industry before their smaller rivals, but also managed to acquire the know-how to build the best possible products, thus asserting themselves in the industry. Alexander (2010) explained that there were over 200 firms after WWII, coinciding with Kato’s findings, almost all of which moved to motorcycle production since airplane production was banned. As stated by Kato as well, “experience flushed out the young companies and the big four shined through” (Alexander, 2010). It comes as no surprised then that Suzuki, a large successful company founded way back in 1909, shone through its competitors.

Going To War

Pic © Drag The Earth
Within the four industrial Japanese titans, three aimed to make their spot into the speed wars: Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki. Yamaha didn’t bother to get a piece of the cake. The three in contention were incessantly trying to out-do one another, for both bragging rights and an imaginary crown. 
“The speed wars in the 1990’s was an era where motorcycle manufacturers were in constant  competition to one-up each other and create the fastest bike out there. At its roots, it was all about bragging rights; seeing who could be crowned the king of speed. It started out innocently  enough, but got way out of hand, way too fast” (Burns, 2012, p.1). 
This era was fueled by the riders as well. Granted that it was still in style, many felt like getting the biggest adrenaline rush possible out of their crotch rockets. More importantly, owning the fastest bike meant one could brag to their friends and family about being supposedly capable enough to ride such a beast. Enter stage left; the 1990 Kawasaki ZX-11. This ludicrously expensive bike for the time started off the competition posting a maximum speed of 176mph, not bad for a bike who happened to sell like absolute garbage thanks to the ongoing recession (Burns, 2012, p.2). Next up was Honda’s new flagship coming in from stage right: The 1996 Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird sports bike. Rolls right off your tongue… This well-rounded bike attempted to overpower Kawasaki’s ZX-11 but to no avail, since it topped out at a wimpy 174 mph and lacked the big “punch” that the ZX-11 had. It seemed then that it would stop there, but no. Enter stage center: The 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa. This thing “was the first bike we tested to break into the nines, and it demolished the ZX-11’s ultimate-velocity record by running 194 mph. Holy mother of pearl” (Burns, 2012, p. 2). Indeed, it was amazingly fast, and it won the victory with a slight bit of shade thrown in.

Pic © Suzuki Online.com
“Hayabusa” loosely translates to Peregrine Falcon, the world’s fastest bird. Any connoisseur of these birds can inform you that one of their favorite prey is a Blackbird. Honda-hater much? The Hayabusa was therefore created to steal the throne and take the top spot in the sports bike world. With the performance, looks, and name to match, it overtook Kawasaki and Honda uncontested. At the turn of the century, in 2000, Kawasaki unveiled its remastered ZX-12R as an attempt to reclaim its once superior position. Surely it would do 200 mph then? Not even close. The bike fuel-starved at 187 mph, but not by design. Following the constant one-upping that was occurring between the big three in the nineties, the motorcycle giants felt a collective need to suppress the excess in speed so as to avoid major accidents caused by careless riders. As a result, the not-so-little thing known as a “The Gentleman’s Agreement” was created. In the case of the speed wars, it came into effect in 2000, right at the turn of the century before any other bikes could cash in on the craze at the last minute.

Pic © TopSpeed.com
Although it sounds like something straight out of the P.G.A. rulebook, gentleman’s agreements are informal conclusions that businesses come to in order to settle an issue that can’t be resolved through a law. For example, the government can ban certain vehicles and enforce speed limits, but any legal vehicle can be subjected to going excessively fast anyway because it is capable. In this case, the agreement concerned bikers hauling ass like there’s no tomorrow and the need to make them slow down a notch. Therefore, it was concluded by all motorcycle manufacturers that all 200mph-capable bikes were to be restricted to 189 mph, including every subsequent version of the Hayabusa (Burns, 2012, p.3). SportRider Magazine investigated just how the Hayabusa was limited. Their investigation allowed them to discover that there is no apparent bolted-on limiter on the Hayabusa’s CPU. Instead, it’s hardwired to read gear position and rev count, and when it hits the limit at top gear, it fuel starves (Trevitt, 2010). If one manages to remove the sacred coding with a TRE device, the bike will gladly go past 190 mph. The bike was faster than anyone could’ve anticipated. More importantly, it proves that the Hayabusa, built as is, can go beyond what is expected of it, illustrating the fact that Suzuki’s engineers have made it as fast as possible. The only reason it hasn’t reached its full potential is because people have restricted it.

The Design: Function, Form, Fire

Pic © TotalMotorcycle.com
In 1999, “Suzuki had gathered the world’s motorcycle journalists at Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya” to unveil its new bike. At the time, the manufacturer called it an “Ultimate Sport” bike. Not surprisingly, many journalists were less than impressed by this claim (Hoyer, 2007, p.1). Before long, the riding tests were conducted by the same men whom were told that they were about to hop on the crotch rocket of the century. Countering the skepticism, the bike shocked every journalist there, some even claiming that “it might have been too much, too shocking…” (Hoyer, 2007, p.1). Such a bike then left a profound impression right out of the gate. Why? Well, some years prior, Koji Yoshiura was tasked with giving the Suzuki brand a facelift. As mentioned, this happened to be in the midst of a speed war in the motorcycle industry, so the facelift would undoubtedly have to be very fierce, and consequently, a bit weird-looking. Koji described his intent with the Hayabusa as trying to create the best overall production motorcycle:

“This was inclusive of ‘handling, acceleration, safety, power, etc.’ all of which resulted in the  world’s fastest production motorcycle. ’Fastest production motorcycle was never a concept nor a target of the bike,’ Koji said. As for the aesthetics themselves, Koji explained that his aim was to create a somewhat grotesque design and create a strong initial impact’” (Westlake, 2009).

This design wasn’t all show and no go, however. The large bulbous body shape on the sides was meant to counter excessive drag at high speeds. The front nose is made to direct air flow for cooling the engine, and the tail, which normally has a seat, is replaced with a bulge. This results in a fully streamlined riding position when the rider is crouched on the bike (Unknown, 2007). Every detail has a purpose, and that’s what makes the design so notable. However, it was not perfect, at least according to Yoshiura. The second generation Hayabusa, launched in 2008, wasn’t a recycled, repainted clone of its predecessor as were the models of 1999 through 2007. Yoshiura and the Suzuki marketing team had taken it upon themselves to ask the riders; the everyday people and hard core fanatics of the bike, what could be done to improve the already legendary GSXR1300R.

Pic © RidingMode.com
Travelling from club to club, he encountered many custom Hayabusas, prompting him to customize the original design. He noticed how most of the aesthetics modifications were made to “beef up” the bike; make it look big and tough. As quoted by Yoshiura, “What we found was that people loved the look of the bike. So we knew we had to stick with it and strengthen its look” (Boehm, 2009).  As such, the second generation was designed to create a masculine form that complements a rider's muscular structure with hints of developed bicep, forearm and calves (Canet, 2007). The limited change in the outside design meant that the majority of the improvements had to be internal. Fittingly, the entire performance of the bike was put on steroids. As elaborated by the staff at MotorcycleNews:

“The Hayabusa’s brakes are now radial and do an excellent job of stopping (it). The engine has  been boosted. Suzuki are quoting 194 bhp and 115 ft/lb of torque, without power restrictions in  the lower gears. Fully adjustable front and rear suspensions comes as standard, and there’s a three-way power switch limiting power, making the Hayabusa less of an animal than before when necessary. A larger muffler was added as a result of stricter environmental regulations” (MCN Staff, 2007).

The engine alone had several new improvements to make it not only much more powerful, but also more efficient. The second-generation engine still used the same basic design, but was heavily tweaked to increase power output, making the bike even more aggressive than before, fitting in with the theme of a muscular bike:

Pic © Hardlgree
“They decided to leave the cylinder bore at 81 mm but to increase the stroke 2 mm to 65 mm,  boosting overall displacement to 1,340 cc. Redesigned forged three-ring aluminum-alloy pistons  provide weight savings of 1.4 grams each, while the revised shape of the piston crowns,  combined with the use of chrome-nitride electro-plated coating, allows an increase in the  compression ratio to 12.5:1 from 11.5:1, provides a smoother surface, and increases durability.  Connecting rods are chrome-molybdenum steel-alloy and undergo shot peening in order to increase their strength” (Kelly, 2007). 

The revisions to the engine also resulted in a product that was reliable and very easily tunable. The well-manufactured and well-placed parts meant that even the most amateur mechanic could tune the engine without catastrophic results. The bike was described by riders as “an absolutely mental experience that’s out of this world” (Unknown producer, 2005). An indirect consequence of this ease of tuning inspired people to implement the Hayabusa in other vehicles. For instance, Radical Sportscars designed a small, extremely lightweight racecar, the SR8, with an engine that copies the Hayabusa’s with the exception of small tuning changes.

The Key To Popularity: Exposure

Pic © Radical Sports Cars.com
Popularity isn’t something that is purely limited to high school social status. It is vital in many facets of culture and is no different for the Hayabusa. The hype, amazingly good and tunable performance gave the bike the basis for a showpiece. Question is: How exactly does one make a bike known better in the motorcycle world than ingredients are known to a chef? The answer is a number of factors which bring the bike into the limelight, such as tuners. These mod shop owners express their passion for modifications by transforming a product that was once stock. They make both performance and aesthetic tweaks to accent some of the bike’s features. A prominent tuner in the motorcycle world is Rob Uecker from Voodoo Industries. This man in particular is known for a clean and retro styling that doesn’t copy off of other mod shops, and consequently, makes works of art that obtain instant recognition and respect. His work on the Suzuki Hayabusa yielded a sleek “bright red Shelby-themed Hayabusa” that took up a substantial amount of presence at various events (Dolgner, 2009). Many other tuners have cashed in on the scene, resulting in an almost cliché list of modifications when talking about a Hayabusa: Extended sidearm, massive enlargement of the rear tire, and lowered suspension. These standard features make a custom Hayabusa recognizable from a mile away. 

Pic © Krüg
Many renown celebrities have been seen riding the GSX1300R, aiding to its recognition. These include, Jay Leno, JLo (rapper), Jennifer Lopez in a Pepsi commercial, and drag racing appearances in the 2003 movie “Biker Boyz.” Some racing companies revolve almost entirely on making race-spec parts for the Hayabusa, such as Big CC Racing Ltd, a specialist in drag racing. More famous than possibly everyone previously mentioned would be the infamous Patrik Furstenhoff, alias “Ghost rider,” of Europe, “whose videos have spawned a cult following since they first appeared in 2002.” The videos essentially show a rider on a heavily modified Hayabusa ripping up Swedish roads in excess of 190mph, “with views of near misses at breakneck speeds” (Unknown editor, 2012). These sorts of videos not only demonstrate the ludicrous capabilities of the Hayabusa, but ignite the spark in adrenaline junkies everywhere, especially young kids. Despite the fact that the Ghost rider responsibly told people to “not even try it,” the fact remains that videos like his have a substantial influence factor in the manners of young riders (Unknown editor, 2012). At the end of the day, it helps give the word that such a bike is out there, and one should seek to purchase it because it’s fast as all hell. Racers ride it, celebrities ride it, and everyday people, ranging from young adults that are new to the scene to the actors that have seen it all, ride it too.

All About The Money and Power

Pic © TotalMotorcycles.org
Sales of a motorcycle are a good indicator of its success on a global platform. The Hayabusa, across all of its generations, has made a strong case for itself in the matter. 
“Hayabusa sales in the U.S. have risen every year since the bike's '99 debut, a pattern at odds with the standard sales scenario of new, top-line sport bikes, which usually sell well initially and lose steam as the bike ages. In 2006 alone, the bike sold more than 10,000 units to the U.S.” (Boehm, 2009).
These unprecedented numbers meant that tons of riders across multiple continents were tearing up the streets. However, the cult following behind the Hayabusa is limited to regular, non-affiliated bikers. One would think that the bike scene would be filled with hyped-up gangs of crazy thugs going around in Hayabusas chanting “We want speed!” In reality, it is quite the contrary.
“In Japan, the Hayabusa hasn’t made a dent in any gangs. One of the largest Japanese youth gangs in the 90’s and early 2000’s were the bosozoku (Solomon, 1998, p. 198). Comprised mainly of young Japanese teenagers aged between 18 and 22, they were one of the most troublesome gangs towards the police, but were referred to by the general public as “stoic and chivalric heroes who are contrasted with law-abiding” They liked to drive around at full speed on the busiest street with customized bikes and cars” (Solomon, 1998, p.203). 
Surely then they would try and go full on Hooligan when the Hayabusa came out, right? After all, it seemed like the ideal group to target. The Hayabusa’s speed caters greatly to young eccentrics who seek the thrill of going fast and the respect that is gained from modifying one’s vehicle. Ironically, the Hayabusa never made its way into the gang at all. They preferred to ride older, cheap bikes such as Suzuki GS400’s and Kawasaki Z750F’s, nowhere near the hyper performance of the mighty Busa. Moreover, even with the relatively cheap price tag of roughly $11,000, it still was nowhere near the budget of these young riders. No one else caught on to the Hayabusa in Japan either. No gangs or significant individuals adopted the wild bike and made a name for it in Japan. Within its own territory then, the Hayabusa failed to integrate itself.

Pic © Corbin.com
Overseas however, acceptance was far better. As mentioned, sales of the Busa were in the tens of thousands per year. This meant that there were plenty of riders going about and making the Hayabusa a show-stopper. It did manage to change the scene in North America, unlike its hometown. As pointed out by Ross (2013), “The introduction of Japanese speed bikes greatly increased the popularity of street racing in North America” (p. 272). No wonder: The bike was made to go fast! Despite this, the bike was never known to have affiliated itself with any known biker gang. Although as mentioned, it managed to find success with European “Ghostriders” but they were very few and far in between. There weren’t ever packs of speeding Busa riders ripping through inner city streets like the Hells Angels on Harleys. There are plenty of popular forums where Hayabusa riders discuss their passion for the motorcycle, but the discussions taking place are the same as those that happen in Walmart parking lots after one happens to come across another rider. They are scarce, short-lived, and no one really learns anything new. The forums also reveal that many “squids,” these being poorly-geared riders with bigger egos than riding skill, love to ride Hayabusas. There are no gangs that ride with the Busa, but if it does become affiliated one day, it won’t surprise anyone in the least. It is a bike that still has the potential to grow and blossom in the cultural hub of sports bikes.

Pic © MCN
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: The Suzuki Hayabusa, also known as the GSX1300R. As explained by Kato (2008) and Alexander (2010), its conception came about as a result of the success of the brand decades back after Suzuki managed to monopolize the industry after the war alongside Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Honda. The 1990’s brought about the opportunity for Suzuki to cash in on the speed wars, a phase in the 1990’s where speed was the ultimate goal. This promptly led to Koji Yoshiura to design the new flagship of the brand (Westlake, 2009). It was built to be the best all round bike every produced, and boy did it deliver. Its terrifying performance led to a Gentleman’s agreement to slow down its subsequent reiterations. Celebrities, tuners and soulless adrenaline junkies brought the bike into the light like a billboard in Times Square (Dolgner, 2009). Never making its way into any gangs (Solomon, 1998), the bike managed to sell better every year, making it one of the most successful performance bikes in history (Boehm, 2009).

Pic © CustomMotorcycles.Info
Its second generation was given beefed-up internals that rendered the bike untouchable by other big manufacturers, and to this day remains one of the fastest bikes on the market. The Suzuki Hayabusa may not have a rich culture associated with it. After all, in the world of motorcycles, it’s still a baby that’s almost getting to walk. Nevertheless, it has never failed to impress. Some people love its curves, while others deplore it and call it uglier than their siblings. Regardless of one’s stance on the issue, its presence on the drag strip, on the road, in countless magazine articles and hair-raising Youtube videos, it cannot be argued that the Haybusa has its place on the stage and isn’t about to retire. Its longevity will also be increased due to the reliable performance of the bike. One will find very few run-down Hayabusas on the market today, and this trend will most likely carry on for decades to come. As of now, the company has no major plans for the bike. Just like any successful model, new iterations each year are made, but none are any different from one another (Boehm, 2009). Some bikes today, like the Kawasaki H2, eclipse the Busa’s performance, but may might not make jaws drop like the Busa did back in 1999.


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About The Author

Dave Lague-Lauzon is presently studying at Champlain College Lennoxville located in Quebec, Canada. The Suzuki Hayabusa GSXR1300R: The Show-Stopper was completed as part of a special project for Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Studies in the Department of Humanities.

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