2014 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R ABS & Suzuki Hayabusa Limited Edition Review
In the world of two-wheelers, the hyperbike reigns above all. Capable of an electronically limited 186 mph top speed, quarter-mile times in the 9s, great handling, well-mannered, and reasonably comfortable for any length of time, they find themselves falling into a number of categories — sport, touring, drag, urban.
The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R and Suzuki Hayabusa are a pair of luxurious, high-performance motorcycles capable of great speeds and spirited long distance riding. They are a marvelous amalgamation of brute force, grace, and serious intentions.
When first faced with this comparison, one expected that the ZX-14R, as the newer entrant in the category and the bearer of all the extra electronic wizardry, would be the unassailable king. In fact, unless we are counting fractions here and there, the winner is the rider who selects from two substantial vehicles that are alike in many ways, yet differ in how they deliver the hyperbike experience.
The ZX-14R arrives with a useful retinue of electronics, including three-mode traction control and two fuel injection maps (full- and half-power). Mechanically, the Ninja features ABS (a non-ABS version is available), a slipper clutch, and fully radial front brakes—the essentials.
Weighing in at a claimed 591 pounds at the curb, this visually muscular machine is not lacking in any area, with its hidden heart being the hauntingly smooth 1441cc, DOHC inline-four with dual gear-driven counterbalancers.
Ergonomically, its seating position is midway between a SuperSport and a true upright—clip-ons are at the top of the triple clamps. There is little pressure on the wrists and, due to its wide subframe, Kawasaki was able to incorporate a comfortably broad seat. Although the windscreen is low, it manages to direct the airflow around and over the helmet. There is enough air circulation for comfort on hot days, yet it offers good protection in cooler weather and higher speeds. Combine this with favorable bar-peg-seat geometry and slightly soft suspension (called “comfortable sport suspension” by Kawasaki) and the result is a bike that is rideable for an entire day.
When ridden hard through the canyons, the suspension on the ZX is very good, within reasonable limits — remember, the bike weighs nearly 600 pounds. Standard equipment is a 190mm rear tire with a slightly lower profile for a wider contact patch from the Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport tires, rather than slightly faster steering. Given the available power on tap, this makes sense.
Twisting roads reveal the Ninja to be eager to turn in, and surprisingly willing to respond to rider input at almost any point in the turn—much like a smaller bike. It can lean in aggressively, hold or tighten its line at will, and respond neutrally to trail braking with the front brakes.
Having said that, it still doesn’t have the precise, taut feel of a superbike. I did attempt several changes in the fully adjustable suspension and, while I could tighten things up a bit, the ZX-14R has a tendency to wallow over uneven pavement.
The power of the ZX-14R is, as you would expect, beyond reproach. Once the apex is reached, the brutal, snarling drive out of the corners must be experienced to be fully understood. This is one of the reasons you buy a hyperbike with seemingly unlimited power in reserve.
The three-way traction control helps tame the beast; I adjusted it to its least intrusive setting and found it to be just that — unobtrusive. On dry roads and with a judicious use of the right wrist, you will automatically keep the traction control at bay.
With semi-floating 310mm petal rotors in the front and the radial mounting of the master cylinder and Nissin calipers, braking is undeniably strong. Kawasaki employs rubber brake lines, and these give the Ninja a nicely soft initial bite—those who prefer more aggressive and exacting braking for track riding can switch to steel-braided lines.
On the freeways, the Kawasaki is smooth with negligible vibration at any speed. The highway ride is plush with little or no jostling over seams and small road blemishes and this is where its weight and soft-leaning suspension pays dividends. Whether on the highways or byways, the Ninja’s power is also accompanied by plenty of heat on the legs. When tested on a hot day, it was quite uncomfortable.
The ZX-14R has impeccable manners at high speed and is calm in an urban environment, offering neither tantrums nor reminders of its potential. It enjoys being ridden casually and doesn’t mind riding in top gear at any speed over 50 mph.
The Ninja will loaf along while all the time ready to charge ahead from 3500 rpm and up, and a controlled twist of the throttle unleashes a flurry of activity that is predictable and never surprises. Still, it is worth remembering that the magnificently smooth motor can either turn 9-second quarter mile times in stock trim in the right hands, or punish the foolhardy.
Top shelf components are utilized to tame the prodigious power that the motor produces, and the tremendous speeds attainable within mere seconds —first gear alone will take you over 90 mph. Kawasaki has taken this marvelous engine, which can produce 35 mpg when ridden conservatively, and combined it with a glass-smooth 6-speed transmission mated to a hydraulically operated slipper clutch, all wrapped within a monocoque aluminum frame.
The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R is truly a gentlemen’s hyperbike of the highest magnitude.
The original hyperbike, the Suzuki Hayabusa has been in production since 1999 and has gone through two major design transitions in that period, enjoying its latest major revamp in 2008. Included standard are three fuel injection maps (full power with sharp response, a bit less power with soft response, and two- thirds power), ABS, and programmable shift lights for the drag- strip aficionados. Fans of the twisties will like the slipper clutch and light clutch pull.
Predictably, the motor is a 1340cc, DOHC, inline-four design. Although the architecture of the Hayabusa’s engine is the same as the ZX-14R, they have distinct personalities. Unlike the ZX’s always-silky character, the Busa enjoys a throbbing, baritone rumble with a raspy accent.
Where the Kawasaki feels as if it could be a sport-tourer — and the ZX-14R is the basis of the magnificent Concours 14 — the Hayabusa’s wind protection is not as effective at speed on the freeway, and the draft is more focused on the shoulders and helmet.
On the highway, the Hayabusa is a bit tighter, with more forward lean, slightly higher peg locations, more weight on the wrists, and not quite as smooth or supple as the ZX. Like the Ninja, the Hayabusa also bakes the rider’s legs on hot days, favoring the right leg with an extra measure.
My disappointment in the Hayabusa’s interstate deportment was forgotten when I pitched the bike into the esses on a recently repaved, tightly curled canyon road. As much as I admire the handling of the Ninja and its propensity to turn fast and tighten up easily, I found the Hayabusa to be even more agreeable.
As with most large sport bikes on the market today, modern engineering allows them to be known for feeling a lot lighter and more nimble than their weights would belie. This is especially true for the Peregrine Falcon (Hayabusa in English), as it simply swoops through turns with ease. It often grinds peg feelers and is always accompanied by that wonderful cacophony of raspy growl and intake noise.
Twist the throttle and you get that certain howl accompanied by a melodious air box symphony and the engine just explodes to life from 3000 rpm on up. The Busa has a bottom-end hit, if distant memory recalls accurately, like the secondaries kicking in on an old dual-quad 427, only an order of magnitude greater. The Suzuki is a tiny bit buzzy over 5000 rpm, but never intrusive and always a joy to flog.
The Hayabusa’s twin-spar aluminum frame is supplemented by fully adjustable suspension that you can set up to be satisfyingly firm. While the limits in the corners make themselves known sooner than on a pure superbike, for a bike that weighs a claimed 586 pounds at the curb, this baby feels almost like a GSX-R1000 bike, but with greater comfort and more power.
Premium Brembo Monobloc brake calipers up front and a Tokico binder in the rear, along with standard ABS have all been added in 2013. As with the ZX, rubber brake lines are fitted. Yet, even without stainless-wrapped lines, it supplies formidable braking power worthy of a vehicle capable of low-earth orbit. Because there are so few filling stations above the stratosphere, the 5.5-gallon fuel tank (about a quart less than the ZX), and our observed 42 mpg, offered a 200 mile range before searching for the nearest docking station.
Unique to the Hayabusa are the diversified types of riders (and non-riding fans) that revolve around its unrestrained hyperbike image. Few are the vehicles that have so many and varied aftermarket offerings that allow it to be a vastly different bike depending on the owner’s inclinations.
The Hayabusa is commonly used for top-speed runs on the salt and its powerplant is often harvested and used for other speed applications. Add an extended swing arm and one of the many turbo kits available, and you’ve got a sub-8-second drag bike.
Then there are the legions of show bike builders who have produced every kind of custom imaginable, some at astronomical costs. Whether you carve canyons, eat salt, drag race, mega-tour, partake in dyno warfare, add woofer speakers to your sub-frame or chariot-like hub cap knives, or you belong to a club exclusive to the marque, consider that the Hayabusa owner is a member of a diversified fraternity that must make Suzuki proud and the envy of other manufacturers.
I have no doubt that the Kawasaki could play in these wide-ranging sub-cultures like the Busa, what with its power and unique looks, but so many factors affect the growth of an ecosystem surrounding any given product and this takes time.
It is easy to see why the Hayabusa has that certain something. It can bite hard and many love it for so many reasons. This result can never be built around any bike that does not engender, love it or hate it, a deep respect and perhaps a bit of fear.
If you are in the mood to go fast, but not stress, these two motorcycles are happy riding the tight stuff in third gear where mere mortal bikes are in first or second. Both pull awfully hard off 3000 rpm in any gear and can cruise all day on the highway.
The ZX-14R’s character is a bit more refined, slightly faster in a straight line, smoother over the road, offers a few more amenities (most notably traction control) and is easy to love. The Hayabusa offers better handling, a sportier approach, slightly better braking, a more visceral experience, and a universe of aftermarket baubles rarely equaled in motorcycle annals.
“If you’re looking for massive road presence and unstoppable shove in a smooth, elegant package, then the ZX will get your vote,” Coram Publishing President Arthur Coldwells said to me after our extensive testing of the two motorcycles. “If you’re looking for a tightly-focused hyperbike that is one of the most charismatic motorcycles ever made, then you will want the Hayabusa.”
It is futile for any rider to select a “winner” between the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R and Suzuki Hayabusa on behalf of someone else. Which bike is right for you is determined by your subjective desires and certain ego-based, romantic notions of the buyer.
To make a purchase decision here on a cold-blooded compilation of performance numbers would be to ignore two unique characters that, in many cases, yield the same result by taking different routes. Listen to your heart, and the right path will reveal itself.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet (Black): HJC RPHA 10 Cage
- Jacket: Cortech GX Sport 3
- Gloves: Klim Element Long
- Pants: Tour Master Flex
- Boots: Sidi ST
- Helmet: Joe Rocket Speedmaster Carbon
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Reactor 3.0
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Phoenix 4.0
- Pants: Joe Rocket Phoenix 3.0
- Footwear: Joe Rocket Velocity V2X
Story from the November/December issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For a digital version, click here.