Need For Speed - Mega Phone

Feeling the Need in the Age of Speed

It was something I lived in fear of during my adrenaline-addled youth: The performance race would end, and I'd be caught without the fastest bike ever built. Every time a faster bike debuted, I was positive it was all over. Surely the government or the lawyers would think 130 or 140 mph was too fast. Surely someone would react negatively to 150-mph (or 160- or 170-mph) motorcycles and attempt to bring down the wrath of the safetycrats.

Although I started out with a Honda 50 in the mid 1960s, I quickly developed an appetite for more power. Two trade-ins later, my hopped-up Kawasaki A7 Avenger, though only a 350, was the quickest bike in the small town where I attended college. When Kawasaki's 500cc H-1 triple was introduced it quickly developed a reputation as the King of Quick, and I simply had to have one. When the H-1 was eclipsed by the 750cc H-2 in 1972, I got one of those, too. Although the H-2 was quickly overshadowed by the Z-1, the big 903cc four-stroke four never quite stimulated my speed gland-probably because the refined Z-1 lacked the H-2's hooliganesque character. But thanks to the Z-1, I did get to hold the quickest time of any tester at a major magazine for a few years with a 12.19-second, 112-mph quarter-mile run.

The real power war began in 1978. Honda's CBX, which ran a 11.36-second quarter-mile for Jody Nicholas here at Motorcyclist, was the winner in the brute-force category, but Suzuki's GS1000 was a better all-around motorcycle, and I bought two of them. Some people in the business reckoned that we had finally hit the wall, that bikes would never go faster. The Japanese, they believed, were too PC to ever build bikes faster than these. Not so. The horsepower race escalated with bikes like the Suzuki GS1100 and the Kawasaki GPz1100 during the next few years, but quarter-mile speeds stayed locked in the 11-second bracket.

Performance skirmishes broke out again in 1984, perhaps the most memorable year in the annals of motorcycle speed. All four Japanese brands uncorked new 150-plus-mph missiles, and it was a heady time to be a motorcycle tester. Kawasaki cut loose first with the GPz750 Turbo, a terrible motorcycle but one with the the distinction of being first into the 10s, by one-hundredth of a second. Then Suzuki unholstered the GS1150, which set a new and surprisingly durable quarter-mile standard at 10.73 seconds and 127 mph. Kawasaki's 900 Ninja (10.96 seconds at 122 mph), Honda's VF1000F Interceptor (10.94 seconds at 123 mph) and Yamaha's FJ1100 (10.89 seconds at 126 mph) arrived in successive months, elevating adrenaline levels around the office and prompting plenty of squabbles for the keys of that week's current king. (It was good to be editor.)

When all the bikes were finally available, we conducted a full comparison that included our first top-speed test at the then-new Top-Secret High-Desert Test Facility. Using timers rather than radar guns, we clocked the Interceptor and FJ1100 at 155 mph. I bought an FJ and, because it was the best sportbike of the bunch, I bought a Ninja, too. Both had retail prices less than $5000, so the need for speed wasn't such an expensive addiction. And anyway, I figured they'd gone about as far as they could go. Nothing was likely to put these bikes on the trailer.Over the next six years performance increased incrementally. Nothing really blew away the GS1150 acceleration figures, though. The biggest advance came when the Kawasaki ZX-10, introduced in 1988, raised the top-speed record to 160 mph.

Then in 1990, Kawasaki decimated all speed and acceleration records with the ZX-11. Its 10.26-second quarter-mile time and 133-mph terminal speed left its competitors for dead, but it was its 175-mph top speed that everybody remembers. That was more than 10 mph faster than the second-best bike in our 1990 comparo, Yamaha's FZR1000.

The ZX-11 enjoyed a remarkable reign, retaining the speed crown for most of the 1990s. It was finally out-speeded by Honda's CBR1100XX in 1997, and out-accelerated by its 900cc stablemate the ZX-9R, which grabbed the quarter-mile crown with a sub-10-second run in the capable hands of Sport Rider's Kent Kunitsugu in 1998.

Now that sanity and propriety have finally asserted themselves (see Motorcyclist, June '00), it seems that the Suzuki Hayabusa, which wrestled the top-speed crown from the Double-X in 1999, will forever hold the title of world's fastest stock streetbike at 189 mph or so. Does that mean that I'm rushing out to buy a 'Busa, thus assuring me that I will forever have the world's fastest bike? Nope. I finally realized that the potential to go 200 mph wasn't enough. I wanted to be able to do it without someone pulling out in front of me or, worse, getting a ticket.

So I bought an airplane. Now I can go 200 mph all day. Sometimes agents of the government even ask if I can go faster.