BMW K1300S HP vs. Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R vs. Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa | A Fast Getaway

Major Miles on the World’s Quickest Production Bikes

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

In addition to eSuspension, the K1300S is the only bike here with anti-lock brakes—ABS isn’t even an option from Suzuki or Kawasaki. BMW’s Semi-Integral ABS II engages all three Brembo binders with the lever to help keep the chassis settled (the foot pedal operates only the rear disc), and it offers plenty of stopping power but less-than-optimal feel—one staffer said the BMW’s brakes had “…more artifacts than the Smithsonian.” The system could engage more transparently, too—it would benefit greatly from sharing technology with the S1000RR’s excellent Race ABS. Kawasaki’s Nissin-made brakes are ultimately the best here despite lacking ABS, with loads of stopping power, progressive ramp-up and great, easy-to-modulate feel. Brakes are the Hayabusa’s weakest link, with lackluster power, wooden feel and a lack of progressivity that forces you to crush the lever to stop the bike hard. This is a major shortcoming especially on a curvy road, where the Heavy ‘Bus builds such unbelievable velocity between turns.

Day 3 brought us to Laguna Seca just in time to catch the first MotoGP practice session. Pulling into the parking paddock highlighted another advantage of these bikes over traditional sport-touring rigs: you’re still riding a quote-unquote sportbike, so you don’t feel like an outsider or Motor Officer imposter at the racetrack, or later that night on Cannery Row. For those of us teetering on the edge of midlife and still struggling with the concept of acting like an actual adult, avoiding the appearance of AARP membership is a critical concern.

After three fantastic days at the track alongside thousands of other like-minded moto-enthusiasts, highlighted by watching soon-to-be-retired Casey Stoner destroy the field in Sunday’s main event, we pointed our beaks southbound for the final component of this test: California’s legendary Highway 1. Unlike too-straight Death Valley or too-technical Sonora Pass, the Pacific Coast Highway south of Big Sur, with its seemingly endless succession of smooth, perfectly cambered, 50-to-90 mph sweepers, is perhaps the best of all possible roads to enjoy these uniquely capable long-haul sportbikes.

Successful sport-touring demands more than just outright performance; careful details, extra features and creature comforts become infinitely more important when you’re in the saddle for hours—or days—at a time. Here the Hayabusa comes up short. With a basic platform dating back to ’99 and no significant updates for the last four years, the ‘Busa shows its age. The styling looks tired and many of the details, like the black, molded-plastic cockpit surround, appear cheap. Extra features are virtually non-existent. The “trip computer” is decidedly last-century, consisting of just dual trip meters and a digital clock. Even the fuel gauge is old-school analog. The only electronic rider aid is Suzuki’s three-level S-DMS drive-mode selector that toggles between full power or two reduced-power maps. We’d much prefer a dynamic traction control system that actively manages the full power output to improve rideability.

The features-rich K1300S is the Hayabusa’s counterpoint. It’s got every gadget including traction control (called Anti-Spin Control) and two-level heated grips, in addition to the aforementioned ESA, ABS and GSA. The full-function digital dash displays average mpg, projected fuel range, ambient air temp and more useful data; a button on the left switch cluster allows you to scroll through the options easily. Moreover, BMW makes some really nice accessories for the K bike, including hard luggage. So many added features, plus the best ergonomics and wind protection, make the K1300S the best touring bike of the bunch—but such capability comes at a price.

The future promised us jet packs. Those never arrived, but these three motorcycles are an acceptable substitute.

The new-for-2012 ZX-14R offers traction control—mandatory equipment on bikes this powerful, as far as we’re concerned—in the form of Kawasaki’s excellent, switchable-on-the-fly K-TRC system, in addition to Full and Low power modes. KTRC is three-level adjustable and nearly undetectable in Mode 1, giving it an advantage over Beemer’s overly conservative ASC that kills all wheelies and cuts power noticeably out of corners. The Ninja also incorporates a full-function LCD trip computer that displays trip mileage, fuel range and consumption, voltage output and an adorable Eco icon that illuminates any time you’re riding in a conservation-friendly mode. There’s nothing more satisfying than throttling back and seeing the Eco icon light up at 160 mph…

The Hayabusa appears outdated alongside present company, but it’s still an amazingly capable machine. Ridden purposefully, it can still manage a credible GSX-R1000 imitation. It’s also the least expensive bike here and the one with the deepest aftermarket support, so it’s easy to optimize. In pure tire-kicking terms, however, the former king of the mountain is in desperate need of an update. The BMW is better equipped in every way and outcompetes the others in every area short of brute power and outright acceleration. It’s also considerably more expensive—even if you dial up the $15,555 base model instead of the $20,255 HP version seen here—and the Paralever/Duolever suspension combination is probably still a bit too eccentric for mainstream riders raised on conventional sportbikes.

Ultimately, the Ninja ZX-14R comes closest to the intended target. There’s no arguing about that engine, electric smooth and ungodly powerful. It’s wrapped in modern bodywork—though all of us found the electric-green-with-flames paint a bit garish—and a stiff, sophisticated, over-the-engine monocoque frame that provides a fine perch for piling up the miles. It also offers all the technology and features that we expect from a top-line bike in 2012—including traction control—for a competitive price. If you’re searching for a modern throwback to the good old days of sport-touring when the emphasis was squarely placed on eye-widening speed with a spice of sport, Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-14R is the best bet.

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