A nine-second quarter mile is approximately as relevant to most motorcyclists as Dario Franchitti’s 222-mph Indy 500 lap is to the average Honda Insight driver. But judging from most comparisons between Suzuki’s Hayabusa and Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-14R, you might wonder whether either bike can even travel more than .25 miles at a time in a headlong rush of undistilled acceleration.
When the latest versions of the Godzilla-like ‘Busa and Kawi’s King Kong Ninja appeared in our own staging lanes, we wanted to do something different. Their dragstrip dominance is already well documented—for the record, the Ninja’s 9.69-second elapsed time fairly crushes the 9.89-second Suzuki, along with every other production bike. Fine, point made. Let’s move on.
We wondered instead how these big bruisers performed beyond the burnout box. With less-committed ergonomics than a traditional sportbike and more luxurious accommodations, we’ve always found both surprisingly adept at eating miles. And with less weight, more aggressive chassis geometry and substantially more horsepower than most touring sleds, both are still big fun on twisty roads. Could they turn out to be the ultimate compromise?
With hundreds of miles of California’s best back roads separating our El Segundo office suite from a mandatory staff appearance at Laguna Seca’s U.S. Grand Prix, all signs pointed to an impromptu sport-touring comparison. Ugh, we know, sport-touring… Just like SUVs, organic vegetables and microbrewed beer, the concept of sport-touring has been so co-opted and commodified that it’s largely become worthless. The first half of that hyphenate used to mean something, back when ST machines were essentially pure sportbikes fitted with taller bars, a bigger saddle and screen and maybe optional hard bags—not the bloated, barn door-faired mini-Gold Wings that define that genre today.
A multi-day, 1300-mile hyperbike tour presented the perfect opportunity to reexamine our understanding of what sport-touring should be. Call it sportier-touring, or speed-touring, perhaps. The Hayabusa and ZX-14R were obvious choices. Suzuki and Kawasaki have been singing a two-bar call-and-response with these models for over a decade now, and with this year’s release of the powered-up, traction control-equipped ZX-14R, the fight was fiercer than ever. Because this test would have a touring focus, we also added BMW’s K1300S, which blends tendon-stretching straight line performance with the long-haul aptitude of BMW’s traditional touring machines, to be our benchmark.
The Ninja’s massive fairing looks like it’s eating its own front wheel. The big body works
To each his own: Everyone has a different reaction to the Ninja’s “Golden Blazed Green” pa
Our adventure started with the traditional Escape from El Segundo blast up the commuter-choked 405. Lower, closer-set handlebars and the lack of integrated hard bags make lane splitting and other inter-urban activities less nerve-racking than on conventional sport-touring machines. By the time traffic thins near Castaic, we’ve made some ergonomic observations. All three are more comfortable than any conventional sportbike but the BMW is the best of the lot. It’s relatively high, upright handlebar, ample wind protection and firm, supportive saddle is comfortable for a full tank at a time, and adjustable rearsets—part of the $4700 HP option package our testbike was equipped with—put the footpegs right where you want them.
Kawasaki’s is the second-best seat in this house, with a moderate reach to the bars and plenty of legroom, though the position could be improved by moving the pegs back an inch. The biggest bother on the ZX-14R is still errant engine heat. Despite extensive cooling-system upgrades and reconfigured side fins that route hot air away, the big Ninja bakes your ankles. The Hayabusa has the most aggressive riding position, with the longest reach to the lowest bars and the tightest seat-to-peg measurement, but it’s still more comfortable than any GSX-R. One average-sized tester even called it “perfect for this class.”