The Hayabusa engine employs a single balance shaft to counter vibration, so no surprise it’s buzzier at higher rpm. The ZX-14R and K1300S use dual counterbalancers to better effect, especially the Ninja. All three are relaxed at any reasonable speed—though the BMW is notably buzzier in the upper rev range—so you’ll often unwittingly ride miles on the freeway in fourth gear. Speed can be difficult to judge on such calm, composed bikes, and when just a fractional throttle turn translates to 20 mph, it’s not unusual to unknowingly exceed the posted legal limit—sometimes by lots. That was the case the next morning, on Highway 395 just north of Bishop, where a friendly CHP Sargent pinged us at 30-over. Luckily, our new EiC’s “highly experienced” hair coloring—and profligate name-dropping of Motor Officer friends at CHP HQ in nearby Sacramento—saved us the indignity of a staff trip to traffic school.
Our trip actually got worse instead of better. After our hour-long CHP conference, we noticed Mr. Ninja’s rear Metzeler had picked up a nail. Lucky that ex-Eagle Scout Cook had packed a plug kit, and after a quick stop at the Chevron in Mammoth Lakes for refreshments and compressed air, we climbed the High Sierras for a curvy counterpoint to the previous day’s wide-open, Death Valley test.
White isn’t the most flattering color for a big bike—we heard our share of beached-whale j
Highway 108—the Sonora Pass—is a twisted two-lane that climbs to 9624 feet at a 26-percent grade in spots, testing the handling of these ground-pounding beasts. Wheelbases ranging from 58.3 to 62.4 inches and curb weights all over 560 pounds make these sportbikes in the loosest sense of the term. With slow steering and pillowy suspensions that like to settle at the bottom of the stroke, both the Hayabusa and ZX-14R are clearly set-up to favor straight-line stability over quick-turning agility. Yesterday’s unshakable, 175-mph confidence is replaced with seat-munching fear, as both bikes plow past apex after apex, aiming straight for the nearest 300-foot drop—okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.
The Hayabusa has lighter, more neutral steering, while the Ninja demands a more forceful initial input and constant bar pressure to maintain lean angle. There’s no such thing as adjusting your line mid-corner on either bike—once you’re turned, you’re turned. Both Japanese bullets strongly resist turning in on the brakes. Their handling is more traditional: Get the braking done well before the apex, tippi-toe through, pound the throttle hard on the exit. Repeat as necessary.
With the most low-end torque here, the ‘Busa is still plenty quick. Certain components—esp
The Hayabusa is firmly sprung and lightly damped compared to the Ninja, providing both more feedback and more unwanted chassis pitching. The plusher Ninja feels more put-together on rougher pavement, but it’s never entirely happy leaned over unless you’re seriously hard on the gas—it’s as though every chassis compromise was aimed at making the Kaw confident with all 180-some-horsepower leaning on that 190-wide rear tire. All it wants, really, is for you to be on the gas. All. The. Time.
Thanks to BMW’s Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), the K-bike can be soft, sporty or somewhere in between. ESA alters spring preload and damping at the push of a button, with a Comfort setting for superslab duty, a Sport setting for canyon scratching and a Normal setting that splits the difference. The K1300S is equipped with BMW’s trailing-link Duolever fork, and its inherent anti-dive properties take some mental adjustment. Without front-end dive, the bike can feel vague, especially entering tight corners. Combined with relaxed geometry, the K1300S can feel more disconnected than it actually is, particularly during quick transitions or across off-camber sections. The K1300S is happiest on fast, flowing roads, where superior suspension action keeps the bike planted with a stability the other two struggle to match—even if the Sport setting is borderline too stiff for anything less than perfect pavement.