The Original Suzuki Hayabusa - First Flight

Why The Original 'Busa Was What It Was

The quote comes directly from Ground Zero of the Hayabusa legend:

"We knew from the engineering team that the [first] Hayabusa was going to be fast," says Koji Yoshiura, Suzuki's general manager of styling, "over 300 kph. So aerodynamics were important. The bike also needed a powerful visual identity, a strong impact, a look you couldn't forget and styling that would last a long time."

Nearly a decade after those spot-on thoughts, even with the 20/20 hindsight of seeing the bike become a phenomenal success, it's Yoshiura's description of a meeting months before the bike debuted that brings a smile.

"We showed the head of marketing the final clay prototype [which hadn't yet been named -Ed.]," he continues, "and he was stunned. Totally speechless! He didn't know what to say, which is a little like the reaction we got at the Paris show. The bike was a bit polarizing-people didn't know quite what to think of it."

Product-planning chief Akihiko Muramatsu grins alongside Yoshiura. "There was-ahhh-gradual acceptance," he says, choosing his words carefully, "but it was fun watching the bike become popular with riders."

"Popular" is perhaps too soft a descriptor given the rabid level of sales and reputational success the first-generation 'Busa has generated in just eight years. But at the time, few within Suzuki Motor Company would've bet that Suzuki's copper-colored GSX1300R would become such a force in the two-wheeled market.

Much of that success is due to the bike's functional competency-its ability to be calm commuter one minute and fire-breathing quarter-mile demon the next. But the bike's bold look has also contributed, the aesthetics speaking to a generation of younger sportbike enthusiasts who've taken over a decent portion of the sportbike terra firma held primarily by baby boomers populating the scene in the '70s, '80s and early '90s. It's these new enthusiasts who've taken most rabidly to the Hayabusa, a bike that seems to speak loudly and boldly to the urban/custom set and two-wheeled experimenters everywhere.

Early on, Suzuki designers weren't exactly sure how big the new bike's engine would end up being. At first, the concept was a sort of "Big GSX-R"-a large-bore all-around sportbike folks could move up to after the GSX-R1100. (Remember, this was sometime in '97.) Gradually, the concept morphed into what Suzuki folks now call "Ultimate Sports," which meant, basically, the best top speed and the best overall all-around performance-a halo bike for Suzuki's lineup.

As for the original bike's copper color, Styling Group Manager Shinsuke Furuhashi says this: "We worked on it for a long time. It had to be unique, had to be different. It hadn't been used before, so it was a bit of a headache getting it right!"

An early challenge was the bike's ram-air intakes. Engineers wanted dual, opposing ducts for optimum intake efficiency, but with the side-by-side headlights of the time, the front end was too wide. The solution? A vertically stacked headlight, which gave the bike much of its menacing, hooked-beak look.

Another challenge was finding a tire to handle all the Hayabusa's horsepower and blinding top speed. "We had trouble initially," says Etsuji Kato, LPL (Large Project Leader) for the original Hayabusa. "We worked very closely with Bridgestone at its Laredo, Texas, proving ground for months. But we finally got a tire that worked well with the Hayabusa."

I ask Kato and Muramatsu if they ever dreamed the Hayabusa would become such a success. "We had a strong hope," Kato tells me. Were they surprised at the bike's success and longevity? "A bit, yes!" answers Muramatsu. Amazing statements, those, especially with nearly a decade of hindsight. Just goes to show how thoroughly Suzuki nailed the concept the first time around.

Now let's analyze the bike's substantial impact when it was released in the spring of '99...