2007 And 2008 Suzuki GSX 1300R Hayabusa - New Busa vs. Old - Big Bird Smackdown

Has Suzuki built a better 'Busa? We ride the first- and second-generation GSX1300RS head to head to find out

By Aaron P. Frank, Photography by Brian J. Nelson, Kevin Wing, Rich Chenet

Sequels suck. Sure, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, second efforts almost always pale compared to the original. Was Hannibal anything more than an off-key imitation of The Silence of the Lambs? Who's thirsty for a New Coke? And what's a late-'80s Suzuki GSX600F Katana if not an utter blasphemy of Hans Muth's stunning GS1000S Katana from '82? Sequels, which are usually just a lazy attempt to exploit previous glory, are almost destined to disappoint. And the more successful the original, the more likely the second act is to let us down.

Suzuki's original GSX1300R Hayabusa was nothing if not an utter success, the bike that redefined our expectations regarding big-bore sporting performance. And the Big Bird was more than just some critic's darling: The 'Busa was a smash hit sales-wise for Suzuki too, the rare motorcycle that actually sold better as the years passed--a remarkable 10,000 units last year alone. What's more, it appealed to an impossibly wide range of enthusiasts, from gentleman sport-tourers to street-racers to boulevard-bound bling-kings.

The 'Busa's living-legend status goes a long way toward explaining why that model soldiered on without an update for eight years--an eternity in sportbike time. If it ain't broke, don't f*ck it up! At the same time, sportbike technology has advanced dramatically in the past decade, and Suzuki saw numerous opportunities to improve the second-generation Hayabusa. With much scrutiny, then, project Hayabusa redesign was launched in '04, culminating in the substantially updated second-generation machine seen here. Did Suzuki successfully avoid the sophomore slump? To find out, we ran the '07 and '08 versions back to back on the street, the strip and the dyno.

The most successful sequels are the ones that stick closest to the original formula. No one wants to see Steve Carell play Jim Carrey's role, after all. Thus Suzuki was careful to keep the basic 'Busa elements intact--so much so that at first glance the new bike appears to be little more than a warmed-over retread of the '07 machine. You don't appreciate how different the new bike is until you see the two parked side by side. Start with the styling: The new bike's A-line is essentially unchanged--the rounded proboscis, the deep-welled fairing that encloses the top of the front tire, the signature tail hump, all remain. This is intentional; these elements are key to the 'Busa's aerodynamic efficiency and ultimate top speed, and are not to be sacrificed. Also, enthusiasts identify this signature shape with the very ideas of speed and power. Abandoning those associations would risk commercial suicide.

The old bike, all blobby and amorphous with soft edges and shapeless transitions, looks obsolete parked next to the new one. The new shape is distinctly muscular. The lower fairing vents are now larger and separated by a bulging vane that floats over a contrasting bottom panel. A more severe, delta-shaped headlight replaces the old jellybean, accentuated by a pointier front fender. Integrated turn signals are housed in stylized, elongated pods, and the tailsection--a simple structure that looks especially dated on the first-gen bike--is now pinched, stretched and shaped into a gorgeous form, set off with strong swage lines that initiate on the tank and continue over the tail. The new 'Busa is aggressive and visually striking in a way the original--which was mostly just strange--never was.

The Hayabusa is Suzuki's flagship sportbike, so designers sought to imbue the revised version with a luxurious, top-end feel. A new saddle is thicker, softer and more supportive, and a taller (by .6 inch) windscreen creates a calmer cockpit. Complete instrumentation (including analog tach and speedo, plus digital trip computer) is housed in an elegant series of interlocking circles that shame the cheesy, fake-carbon-fiber-clad dials on the old bike. Control action is velvet, especially the hydraulic clutch with revised piston ratios this year to reduce lever effort, and a reworked transmission with improved oiling to reduce mechanical friction and noise. The '08 'Busa slots into gear like the slide of a well-oiled Glock G37.

The sensation of riding the new Hayabusa is one of absolute composure, like driving a Mercedes S-Class sedan. At normal road speeds the new 'Busa disappears beneath you, smooth, silent and utterly understressed. The only distraction (shared with the old bike) is a band of high-frequency vibration through the pegs at 4500 rpm, and another through the bars and tank near 6500. But with such a broad spread of power, it's easy to avoid these trouble spots with a quick shift up or down the gearbox.

That power spread is where the differences between the first- and second-generation 'Busas emerge. Suzuki completely redesigned the GSX1300R powerplant, bumping displacement from 1299cc to 1340cc and taking extreme measures to reduce reciprocating mass and internal friction losses wherever possible (see tech sidebar on page 69). Producing 172.2 horsepower at the rear wheel, the '08 Hayabusa is among the most powerful production motorcycles ever built--on par with Kawasaki's ZX-14 and more than 16 bhp ahead of the old, 155.9-bhp '07 'Busa.

On the road, the difference in acceleration between the two bikes feels even more dramatic than the dyno figures suggest. The second-generation bike absolutely walks away from the old bird in any gear or riding situation, whether from a dead stop or rolling on. Initially, this was confusing: Despite the 16-horse difference in peak power, the dyno charts for the '07 and '08 bike are virtually indistinguishable up to 8250 rpm, with essentially equal low- and midrange power. What's more, the '08 bike tips the scales at a shocking 29 pounds more than the '07 model, mostly due to the new, Euro 3-compliant exhaust. Looking at the numbers alone, the new bike should feel slower on the street; instead, the old bike feels like it's tied to a post. What gives?

The answer is revealed after you juggle the parameters of the dyno readout. Graphing horsepower against time instead of rpm shows that the '08 bike arrives at 8000 rpm more than a second quicker than the '07 bike--so it gets to the meat of its power more quickly. Suzuki's extreme efforts to make the new motor rev quicker pay big dividends on the street. These internal engine changes, along with slightly shorter gearing (now 18/43 for an overall ratio of 2.39, compared to 17/40 for 2.35 in '07), let the new bike spool up faster, giving the perception of more power.

Suzuki made numerous suspension upgrades to the '08 Hayabusa to better support a faster, heavier bike. Despite firmer spring and damping settings for both the Kayaba inverted fork and shock, ride quality of the new bike is actually smoother than the old. Ridden side by side, the first-gen 'Busa feels downright jitney-like, with excessive fore/aft pitching over freeway expansion joints and a tendency to blow through the travel at both ends under heavy acceleration or braking. The new bike, by comparison, maintains a level stance on even rough roads and offers more predictable action and increased chassis stability under heavy inputs--the benefits of an extra eight years of suspension damping technology advancements.

The harder you ride the two Hayabusas, the more distinct the chassis upgrades become. First, the brakes: Even with six pistons clamping down on huge 320mm discs, the braking system on the first-gen 'Busa is barely adequate. The second-gen brakes, updated with four-piston, radial-mount calipers, stop much better, with superior initial bite and more ultimate stopping power that is a great confidence-booster on such a big, brutally fast machine. Better brakes allow fitment of slightly smaller 310mm rotors--one of numerous changes, along with new three-spoke cast-aluminum wheels and a more rigid swing-arm--that reduce unsprung weight and improve turning ability. Indeed, the '08 model feels better in the curves, but this is likely more a result of improved wheel control from the updated suspension than the slight reduction in running-gear weight.

Although we didn't have the opportunity to ride the two bikes back to back here, we did have a chance to explore the outright handling abilities of the '08 Busa at Road America during that machine's official U.S. press launch. The legendary 4-mile circuit was an appropriate choice--the track's three long straights are some of the few places you can safely explore the upper reaches of fifth gear (sixth is effectively an overdrive--the '08 'Busa hits its 186 mph speed governor in fifth, Suzuki officials say) without fear of death, dismemberment or permanent disruption of your driving privileges.

The '08 Busa was a handful on the racetrack. Hammering up the front straight was like being fired from a howitzer--the rear tire spins through second gear and then hooks up and carries the front wheel all the way through third, fourth and even fifth (up to 150 mph!) up the big hill, testing the abilities of the new, reservoir-equipped steering damper and uprated shock every inch of the way. Outrageous, all this power...and the chaos only continues at the other end of the straight, when you clamp on the binders just north of 175 mph and feel the front end pack down and start weaving under all that weight and speed. Even with the chassis upgrades, the new 'Busa still came apart like a cheap pair of shoes in as little as four fast laps, liquefying the stock street tires on both ends, boiling the brake fluid and smearing hot, melted brake pad all over the rotors. Impressive enough for a near-600-pound (wet) machine, but the Hayabusa is definitely not a track bike.

If the Hayabusa was out of its element on the roadrace track, it was more at home on the drag strip, where we had test rider Greg Moon run the '07 and '08 bikes back to back at Great Lakes Dragaway in Wisconsin. The best pass on the '07 bike was dispatched in 10.277 seconds at 137.90 mph. Moon described the bike as "so easy" to ride, and proved it by clicking off a half-dozen virtually identical passes. By contrast, he said the '08 bike was "virtually unlaunchable" in stock form. The combination of shorter gearing, more violent acceleration and the extra weight of those massive exhaust cans hanging off the back made the new bike wheelie hard and prevented 150-pound Moon from reaching wide-open throttle in first and second gear. The new bike still went quicker and faster than the old one (10.135 sec. @ 142.54 mph), but this was mostly due to the superior top-end power asserting itself on the big end of the track. With a set of lowering links and a strap up front the '08 'Busa would easily be a 9-second bike, but in stock form it's a challenge for even an experienced drag racer.

But the drag strip and racetrack both are highly specialized environs. In the natural surroundings of the street, this comparison showed there's simply no comparison between the first- and second-generation Hayabusas. We were won over immediately by the overall fit and finish of the new bike. The '08 model feels so put together compared to the previous version (dare we say compared to any previous Suzuki sportbike?), and that alone is enough to convince us that this second-generation Hayabusa is a clear improvement on the original. That it offers significantly better performance in every other area--handling, braking and acceleration--only underlines its superiority. The 2008 Hayabusa is an exceptional motorcycle. And an exception to the rule: Sequels don't always suck.

Bigger and Better

After nine years in production, the original Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa engine has become legendary among performance junkies for both its durability and its outright performance potential. The announcement of a new engine for '08 created a lot of anticipation in those circles, and some anxiety as well--would the new powerplant offer the same tuning potential as the old one? After inspecting a disassembled '08 engine piece by piece at Barry Henson's Velocity Racing shop, let us assure you that every change made by Suzuki looks to be an improvement.

The most obvious change is the bump in displacement from 1299cc to 1340cc. The cylinder bore remains 81mm, while the stroke is increased 2mm to 65mm. Suzuki kept the cylinder height the same by downsizing the wrist pin and relocating it 1mm closer to the piston dome, which allows the piston to sit lower in the engine.

New pistons boost compression from 11.0:1 to 12.5:1, and are fitted with new rings that are chrome nitride-plated using Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) to reduce friction and improve ring seal. The new shot-peened rods, forged-alloy pistons and smaller-diameter wrist pins combine to save 20 grams, according to our scales.

Lightweight titanium valves replace the old steel pieces, saving 14.1 grams per intake valve and 11.7 grams per exhaust valve and allowing the use of lighter valve springs to further reduce reciprocating mass. The new engine also utilizes different cams with an additional .04 inch of exhaust lift and .01 inch of intake lift to better service a new higher-flow head similar in design to that of the GSX-R1000. Finally, the cylinder bores are plated with Suzuki's Composite Electrochemical Material (SCEM) for improved heat transfer, and massive ventilation holes in the crankcase reduce air pressure under the descending pistons to let the engine rev more freely.

The intake system has been upgraded with Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) digital fuel-injection system, featuring dual injectors and dual throttle valves (the primary is controlled by the rider and the secondary by computer, just like the GSX-R1000), and a new engine-management system controlled by a 32-bit, 1024KB ROM microprocessor. Spacing of the throttle bodies is also revised for '08, so don't get any ideas about bolting a set onto your first-generation 'Busa. Also like the big Gixxer, the '08 'Busa features Suzuki's Drive Mode Selector (SDMS) that allows the rider to toggle among three preset engine control maps to alter power characteristics on the fly. A mode allows access to full power at all times; B mode softens delivery slightly at anything short of wide-open throttle; and C mode restricts power delivery dramatically across the rev range, limiting peak power to 118.08 bhp and peak torque to 66.65 lb.-ft. (an across-the-map decrease of roughly 30 percent), should you find yourself wanting a kinder, gentler Hayabusa. Yeah, right!

Aaron Frank:

I liked the Kawasaki ZX-14 so much that I eventually bought one. I planned to keep it mostly stock, just adding hard luggage to build the ultimate hypersport-tourer--smooth, silent and atomic-fast. Somewhere along the way I was distracted by the Muzzys catalog, though, and my bike morphed into a 215-horse, 202-mph animal that's virtually unrideable on the street. Riding this new Hayabusa has me dreaming of a hypersport-tourer again, and thinking it's better that I waited. The new 'Busa feels stronger than a stock 14 (especially in the lower gears, where the Ninja is severely neutered) and it turns better too, even if it gives up a little in outright comfort compared to the less-cramped Kawi. Suzuki might not get this testbike back.

Andy Fenwick:

If you're sick of hearing about how damn fast the new Hayabusa is, stop reading now. "Shot from a cannon; accelerates like a rocket-powered grenade; bat outta hell"--you've heard all the clichs, and every last one of them applies. For anyone worried that Suzuki would lose the plot with this redesign, fear not. The Hayabusa is still the fastest thing out there, especially compared to the old bike. What's more incredible, though, is how gentle this giant is when you're not caning it. You could ride it over a church altar and not offend anyone, it's so calm, quiet and composed. I'd consider owning one if I didn't value my driver's license.

Greg Moon:

Forget the pressure of drag-strip testing for one of the world's largest motorcycle magazines...that's nothing compared to performing for the crowd that gathered at Great Lakes Dragaway as I staged the first new 'Busa in the Midwest! The drag-racing crowd is definitely excited about this bike. Even with a tire that was practically corded after a burnout-heavy photo shoot, traction was not a problem--the new 'Zook knew only one direction, and that was straight up! I did at least three wheelies that first run, just in first gear! By the end of the night I was launching with my helmet over the headlight and I still couldn't pin the throttle in first or second. We're gonna have to lower this baby to see how fast she really goes...

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By Aaron P. Frank
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