Rarely has an open-class sportbike so captured the imaginations and passions of U.S. enthusiasts, or so dominated America's sales floors, streets and dragstrips
True category dominance in today's motorcycling market is a rare brew, a mysterious mixture of variables that include the bike itself, market conditions, customer tastes and marketing. Few motorcycles can claim the mantle-Honda's first Fours probably, Harley's '80s and '90s cruisers, perhaps, and of course Honda's venerable Gold Wings.
But in just over eight years, Suzuki's GSX1300R Hayabusa is well on its way to adding its name to the list-if not already. Introduced to a somewhat perplexed industry and public in late '98, the Hayabusa's bulbous styling and strange name generated plenty of polarized opinion. Was it a gentleman's GT express in funky clothing, a 550-pound Big 'n' Tall GSX-R wannabe or something else entirely?
By early '99, however, we'd discovered that, whatever the Hayabusa was, it was one hell of a motorcycle, going, stopping and turning like no big bike we'd ever ridden-and we'd pretty much ridden them all. When the tire dust and radar-gun electrons had settled, the 'Busa had totally won us over, running 189 mph out in the high desert and running away with Motorcyclist's '99 Motorcycle of the Year trophy. Here was a sportbike that was as happy running to the local bike shop as it was ripping off 10-second quarters at the strip on Friday night. It idled. It was quiet. And it ran like some crazed, mechanized demon.
The public caught on, too. Not so much initially (only a few thousand were sold in '99), but in thousand-bike increments in each succeeding year until, by '06, the 'Busa-with only a couple small tweaks along the way-sold more than 10,000 units in the U.S. alone, a staggering number for a bike nearly a decade old.
Suzuki has finally unveiled a thoroughly reworked 'Busa, which promises to be faster, better and just plain nastier than the original. That's bad news for Kawasaki, or anyone else considering jumping into this category. But before we check out 'Busa II, let's take a look at the bike that built the 'Busa legend...