Fast motorcycles are easy to come by these days. A sport naked from Triumph or Kawasaki that costs less than a top of the line bore like the Mahindra NuvoSport can out accelerate any sub Rs 2-crore car to 100kmph. These, mind you, are entry level sportbikes. Push the cash filled envelope further and you have access to motorcycles than can challenge the latest and greatest of the hypercar world for a fraction of the cost. Last month, I learned that for just over Rs 20-lakh Kawasaki will sell you a gargantuan green missile that is one of the fastest things on two wheels.
Despite that, it's also a strangely friendly and even inviting motorcycle unlike the fearsome Ducati Diavel we also rode recently. So good is the Kawasaki that it's almost easy to forget the bike that birthed this segment of madness, the very motorcycle the ZX-14R was conceived to defeat. The legendary but gently ageing Suzuki Hayabusa. And then Suzuki pulled the most pleasant surprise of 2016 by announcing that the Hayabusa is now a CKD, making it nearly `5lakh cheaper than the Kwaker. Time to put on my brave face, there's a comparison brewing, and it's going to be a fast one!
I'm genuinely at a bit of a loss as to how I'm supposed to compare two superstars like these. So I'll stick to the tired and tested formula - let's start with the way they look. Both follow a similar format with freight train long wheelbases and ginormous, all-encompassing bodywork but they take different styling routes. The Busa is the less appealing one to my eyes but at the same time it's the most recognized and revered superbike across India. School kids, rickshaw wallas, milkmen, everyone knows the Dhoom bike. And I'm compelled to agree, despite the weird bulbous bodywork, there's something raw and animalistic about the Busa that makes you stand back and go whoa. Fifty years down the road I don't think it will be any different. The good news is that this has not been messed with for India. Aside from a small and easily removable metal saree guard and front number plate holder (which this particular bike is free from) the CKD spec bike is unmolested.
Where the Busa attempts to cheat the wind with its egg-like profile the ZX-14R takes a more sophisticated looking approach. Once you get over the menacing grin on its face you'll notice several aero aiding touches like the vanes on the mirror stalks and front fender or the huge slashes in the bodywork that better manage airflow around the fairing at warp speeds. They both have long massive dual exhausts, especially the Ninja that look like it's packing a pair of afterburners. The least flattering angle on both are the fat, squat tails but again, the Kawasaki is just a hint better looking to my eyes.
And that's the end of the subjective bit of this story because the rest boils down to the brutally objective truth. Both these bikes are incredibly, shockingly, even frighteningly quick and I would be a fool to tell you that one is inferior because it is 'slower'. The truth is that they are so overwhelmingly quick that I cannot confidently say which feels quicker despite having ridden both over a whole day. The numbers would suggest that the 210PS ZX-14R with its 13PS and 7Nm advantage over the Busa should be faster. The Vbox reinforces this, showing that we were a smidgen quicker on the Kawa but Ashok tells me that was mainly down to the fact that the Kawasaki launches easier.
Knowing that traction control was lurking in the background encouraged him to launch it just a little bit harder than the Busa. However, even more amazing than the sheer acceleration is how calmly these motorcycles carry massively illegal speeds and how willing they are to go even faster. 220kmph on either feels so placid it's almost as if the motorcycle is bored and taunting you to twist the throttle further.
A lethal game that's all too easy to get sucked into. Thankfully, both throttles have a long travel, making it tougher to get in a situation where you had to sneeze, only to wake up in the ICU two days later. The Kawasaki has a creamy smooth action from closed to open while the Busa's has quite an abrupt opening, making harder to be smooth on the gas. Both offer riding modes, the Kawasaki keeps it simple with Full and Low that drops power to about 75 percent. The Busa offers three modes. C is a lower power mode, B offers nearly full power but in a more linear curve with milder throttle response while A is the full 197PS monty. While the Suzie offers an extra riding mode the Kwaker responds with its three-stage traction control system, something the Busa could use on Mumbai and Punes slippery city roads.
The Hayabusa feels the more visceral of the two. It has a louder, more exciting intake growl, typical of a Suzuki inline four. There's also a mild vibration that creeps in at 3,500 rpm but disappears above 5,500rpm. In comparison, the ZX-14R is single malt smooth the entire time and feels a just a bit more linear in its power delivery.
The Ninja ZX-14R has clean instruments with large dual analogue speedo and tachometers flanking a digital screen. Got to love how the screen lights up in the shape of the headlamps at start-up
The only complaint I have with their performance is that both motorcycles are too quiet! I generally hate boisterously loud pipes - they're great for on-lookers but get drony and irritating on long rides. However, such fast motorcycles need to announce their arrival with a little more assertion. Even in heavy traffic, people simply don't hear either bike unless you constantly keep blipping the throttle, which let's be honest, makes you a bit of an arse. An aftermarket slip on with the baffles left inside would definitely improve things.
The Hayabusa's five-pod dials are busier to look at but provide heaps of information
Switchgear is intuitive and close to the Kawasaki in quality but not at the same level
Both are quite intimidating the first time out because they're just so large and girthsome. But as is the way with large motorcycles, the fear melts away as soon as you set off and you just have to be careful when stopping or take a u-turn. Soon enough, both motorcycles join the flow of traffic and only navigating through a bumper to bumper jam reminds of just how big they are. Both employ a stretched out, supersport style riding position with the feet back and arms stretched forward to wide clip-ons. Neither is as committed as a focussed supersport but the Busa is clearly the more extreme of the two. The Kawasaki's riding position doesn't feel vastly different but somehow is much kinder on the wrists and back without sacrificing the rider-motorcycle connection on a winding road. In fact, the ZX-14R feels even more involving on a fast and smooth ghat section.
Fully adjustable suspension features on both, but the ZX-14R with its remote preload adjustable Ohlins rear shock feels the plusher of the two. Ride quality is quite impressive on both motorcycles even through rough surfaces.
Naturally, quick reactions and extreme agility are not strong points but both corner with a confident and stable feel. On a flowing road they can carry immense speed with big lean through the bends. The difference between the two is that the Hayabusa needs more work. Both require some effort to get them turned in but the Busa is more demanding. But where the Kawasaki excels is in its smooth throttle; it's very easy to get back on the gas when leaned over. The Busa's sharp throttle produces a jerk when getting back on the throttle which tends to pull the bike out of line. It demands a supremely smooth right wrist and I found that the lower B mode was friendlier on a twisting road because of the gentler throttle action. So while the Busa is undoubtedly capable, the Kawasaki is easier in the twisties and ultimately, more rewarding.
A 310m dual disc set-up with ABS is common but the ZX-14R uses Brembo's acclaimed M50 monoblock callipers. Strangely I found the performance on both motorcycles to be quite similar, with decent bite and progression but ultimately a desire for more of both. I do believe this is down to this particular unit because the M50s are widely considered the best system around and are found only on the cream of the current litre-class crop.
From the tone of what you've just read, it would seem that the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R is the better motorcycle, and it is. However, I cannot stress enough upon the point that this in terms of sheer relativity. On it's own, the Suzuki Hayabusa is, even after all these years, an incredible motorcycle that will never cease to blow the mind. The fact that it is beginning to feel its age only becomes apparent when ridden back to back with the newer and magnificent Kawasaki ZX-14R that proves better in most categories but only slightly.
The truth is that while both are perfectly usable in our environment they're way too much motorcycle to safely explore. Still the desire they command is fully understandable and if you want one, you want one. If you have the extra Rs 5 lakh, it's a no brainer, the Kawasaki is the one to have. But for Rs 15.8 lakh on-road Mumbai, the Suzuki Hayabusa offers pretty much the same rush and the fact that it is now priced so well is impossible to ignore. And of course there's the fact that it is such an icon, something that the 14R can never claim no matter how good it is. Until Kawasaki can match the price by putting the ZX-14R into CKD production, the Hayabusa is still king of the roost.
Images by Anis Shaikh