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Hayabusa hoo-raw

Hayabusa

The famed Suzuki GSX1300R bird of prey is scheduled to cease production this year, two decades after its initial arrival. Jim Freeman got astride the final model and put it through its paces in the Overberg.

You can be any kind of biker you like – adventure, trail, tourer, superbike-dragster, city commuter, or delivery boy – and slave to any one of a dozen different marques, but there is one word that is guaranteed to make any motorcyclist worth his or her salt shiver: Hayabusa.

The ‘Busa (more prosaically the Suzuki GSX1300R) began production in 1999 to contest the title of the Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird of being the fastest production sportbike in the world. “Hayabusa” is the Japanese word for a peregrine falcon, the fastest creature in nature, and whose primary prey in the Land of the Rising Sun is – you guessed it – blackbirds.

Blackbirds aside, for two decades the bike has treated almost all its competitors not so much as prey but as roadkill. Its top speed in 1999 was variously recorded in the 303-312 km/h range and it went down in history as the fastest standard production motorcycle of the twentieth century. Suzuki, sadly, has deemed Hayabusa must die.

The demise of the legend is a result of European emissions standards becoming prohibitively restrictive and the Japanese manufacturer felt it was an appropriate time in the product life cycle to halt production. RoadTrip, however, recently got the opportunity for a final Hayabusa hoo-raw … a last chance to turn the key on a brand-new ‘Busa and let the falcon fly.

Fast but deadly

In years gone by, Hayabusa was perceived by critics as an ugly and ungodly thing, awful to look at and horrid to ride in anything but a straight line. It was fast but deadly, they said, not least because the lack of a fairing would assist the wind in trying to rip you out the saddle at high speeds. Certainly, its styling has always been controversial. Even its designer, Koji Yoshirua, described it as “somewhat grotesque” and “weird”.

“The mission was to create a totally new styling that would not be out of date within a few years,” he said a decade after the bike first appeared. Outright speed, he added, was not the sole purpose of the Hayabusa but simply an element to be combined with the “best handling, acceleration, safety, power, riding ability, and original styling for the good of customers”.

A lot of the quirky shape of the Hayabusa can be attributed to the fact that the gestation of the bike was largely spent in the womb of a wind-tunnel to perfect its aerodynamics (see accompanying graphic). The Suzuki has become even better to ride in more recent years. Balance has improved, better brakes and braking systems have been installed and, rather importantly, top speeds have been governed.

Styling remained controversial, though, and you could say that the 2015 model I rode three years ago looked like it had been left to melt in the sun. Finally, with the plug having been pulled on the model, Hayabusa has begun to look and feel less like a globular missile – more like the rest of the handsome Suzuki GSX range, but without sacrificing on its aerodynamics.

Stewart Thom, general manager of Suzuki South (the dealership that loaned us the bike for a week) describes the latest ‘Busa as a “hyper-tourer capable of covering long distances quickly and comfortably”. So that is what we decided to do; subject the bike to a selection of over 500 km of the best roads that the Western Cape offers.

Unfortunately, the fact that our roadtrip coincided with the first onset of the rain and storms of Winter meant that high speeds were out of the question since much of the route encompassed mountain passes and coastal roads that strenuously tested the handling characteristics of the bike.

The journey commenced in Stellenbosch and went over Helshoogte to Franschhoek, over Franschhoek Pass, past Theewaterskloof Dam (happily much fuller than this time last year) onto the N2 to Caledon. There I turned off to Napier and Bredasdorp, where I spent the night.

Too good aero …

It was not long before I discovered the one enormous shortcoming of Hayabusa … its aerodynamics are too good. Firstly, it was designed with a rider the height of a hobbit in mind. Being 1.89 m, that is not me. Secondly, it based its optimal performance on a clean flow of air down the back of the rider. If you are going on a roadtrip (even an abbreviated one), you need a modicum of luggage. I also need to carry cameras.

The daypack I wore created serious turbulence behind me. The combination of my height and highly un-streamlined shape made for increasing instability as my velocity rose. Things really became fun when I crested the Franschhoek Pass above the town and began my descent towards the coast. I encountered strong, gusting crosswinds that preceded the rapidly approaching cold front and these stayed with me all the way to Bredasdorp.

It rained heavily the whole night and all the next morning, so I limited my riding to a burble to Struisbaai and Cape Agulhas before heading up the R326 over the Akkedisberg Pass to Stanford and Hermanus. The sun has begun to come out, but I was still beset by crosswinds and it was freezing. I checked in to the Marine Hotel and was extremely glad to find a bottle of Hermanuspietersfontein Merlot waiting in my suite.

Hayabusa

It died a noble death as I watched a rerun of the FA Cup final between Manchester City and Watford, gradually getting warmer. I have not stayed at the Marine for 20-something years and – not surprisingly – those two decades have seen huge changes wrought … all for the better, I might add, and most of them since the hotel was added to the famed Liz McGrath Collection.

Built on the cliffs above the Old Harbour of Hermanus at the beginning of the last century, the interior of the five-star Marine belies its classic exterior by being light, airy, and modern. Huge windows let in the light to pick out furnishings and fabrics in all the subtle shades and shapes of the ocean. Nonetheless, it is a warm and welcoming place – feelings that were bolstered immeasurably by the seafood curry I enjoyed in the in-house Origins restaurant that night.

The next day, though very cold, brought everything that is good about the Western Cape in Winter; sunny and windless but with high wispy cirrus clouds streaking the deep-blue sky. It was a perfect day for riding, so ride I did … back to Stanford, Grootbos, and Gansbaai. Through Hermanus into Onrust, up the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and back down again.

I was in my element and so was the ‘Busa because I had arranged to leave my pack at the Marine. With no drag, I was able to experience the best of the fabulous riding position of the bike, which, of course, brought its balance and responsiveness to the fore. I have seldom experienced such subtle countersteer on a bike and the gearbox is unbelievably smooth.

Later, laden once more, I took the road past Hawston to Arabella, Kleinmond, Betty’s Bay, Rooi Els, and Gordon’s Bay to Somerset West and home to ‘Stellies. Clarence Drive: now that is how to end a memorable motorcycle roadtrip (though not always for the happiest reasons) on a high.

Hayabusa is dead, long live Hayabusa! Watch this space in a few years’ time.

Hayabusa

Our Bike: Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa

Engine: four-stroke, liquid-cooled, four-cylinder DOHC

Displacement: 1,340 cc

Maximum power: 145 kW @ 9,500 rpm

Maximum torque: 155 Nm @ 7,200 rpm

Transmission: six-speed constant mesh

Ground clearance: 120 mm

Seat height: 805 mm

Gross weight: 266 kg

Fuel capacity: 21 ℓ

Consumption: 6.1 ℓ/100 m (manufacturer figures)

Base price: R206,930.00

We like:

Styling, balance, handling, power plus multiple drive modes, exceptionally smooth transmission, braking.

We do not like:

Extremely limited storage space and aerodynamics are badly disrupted if the driver is carrying any luggage. Not made for big guys.

RoadTrip rating:

65% (but who cares?)

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