Surely the designers of the GSX-R750 engine and the Hayabusa must be the most demonic characters to walk the face of this planet? Let's all meet up in the year 2000 – when James May finds more life in a bowl of noodles…
s a Westerner, I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the idea that noodles should be slurped. Not only is it considered good form in Japan, it’s supposed to be improved the flavour, too. My technique is more one of getting a healthy bundle of this in my gob and then discreetly biting off the dangly bits so they fall back into the bowl. This is a mistake. At the end of the meal you’re left with a lot of short bits that are impossible to pick up with the chopsticks. You might as well up-end the bowl in your lap and have done with it.
Messrs Hiroshi Moritake (left) and Etsuji Kato (right) slurp vigorously, great lengths of noodle disappearing into their deadpan faces with ne’er a splatter on shirt or table. This increases my unease. These men are preceded by terrifying reputations in the form of the new Suzuki GSX-R750 and the Hayabusa, of whose development teams they were, respectively, project leaders. To be honest, I was hoping for men in the mould of Honda’s notorious Baba-san: chain-smoking, bike-crashing, Fireblade-designing and, generally, a slightly unhinged lunatic. But no, they are calm itself. Which actually makes them more sinister.
Pleasantries snatched between noodles and chopstick faux pas establish that Moritake-san has been at Suzuki since 1972, when he contributed to the RE5’s rotary engine: “Too heavy, too expensive.” He has worded on the whole GSX-R series as an engineer and since 1992 has been chief of that bike’s engine design. He also fronted both TL1000 projects. Bodes well, then, for some interesting character revelations further down the bowl.
Kato-san arrived in 1979 and cut his teeth on 125 and 250 singles, later having much to do with the GSX750E. He, too, is an engine specialist and in particular an expert in the design of pistons and other internal moving parts, saying, “I am interested in saving weight.” Each describes himself as a ‘responsible adult’ and admits, after a brief conference, to “enjoying motorcycles”. Oh. Slurp. But the Japanese are notoriously reserved people, so all that’s called for is a bit of discreet probing to uncover the nutter that must lark inside of them. Something from their schooldays should do for a start.
Hobbies? 'Sleeping. I work very hard'
Moritake rode a motorcycle but never bothered to get a licence, so “never on road”. Kato, meanwhile, was “interested in mechanical things, but not really bikes”. Wrist watches, for example. Er… Slurp. Hobbies then – a bit of drinking, brawling and karaoke, surely? Moritake: “Working. And golf.” Kato “Sleeping. Because I work very hard.” Still, bet they’ve got a few trick bikes between them, blue printed versions of their own creations, perhaps? It transpires that each drives a modest Suzuki car, though Moritake does own a 50cc scooter. Mr Kato doesn’t actually own a bike. This is hardly widow – making stuff.
There’s nowt for it but to pile straight in with contentious stuff. Like, the Hayabusa is just too fast, isn’t it? It’s silly. “For Japan, yes,” says Kato. So its corporate pride, then. “We are not competing,” he says. “We never set the target of the fastest bike in the world. We wanted effortless performance, and we wanted the owners to feel proud.” Because they have the fastest bike in the world? “When we launched the Hayabusa, we explained that we weren’t trying for the fastest, which we keep trying to tell journalists. But they don’t understand.” And if the ZX12 goes faster? “The speed is not an issue. But if the Kawasaki’s total performance is better, then we’ll see.” This is more like it.
Bring more noodles.
I put it to Kato – san that if manufacturers could establish a gentlemen’s agreement on top speed, then all this business of world’s fastest could be forgotten and we might enjoy balance of abilities. He reveals that the Hayabasa could actually be geared to go faster anyway. “We are always aiming for balance.” So there’s no danger, then, that engine performance will outstrip chassis design again, as it did in the 1970s? Now Mr Moritake leans forward: “No. Never again. Never.”
And while I have him between bowls, I suggest to Mr Moritake that, in the light of yet another new Blade, it’s time to give the GSX – R a bigger engine. The 750 is done for you, surely? “The 750 package is well balanced for total performance. There is still room to improve; it is still possible to make it lighter. We are keen to continue this bike for as long as possible. But we will study the new Honda.” So, as the man responsible for both, Moritake is perfectly placed to tell me where the future lies – GSX – R four, or TL twin: “Both will continue.” Bloody hell.
Perhaps I’be broached a few serious Japanese taboos here, because suddenly the Suzuki PR man rises and says that Mr Gixer and Mr Busa are required elsewhere. Time up, and still I have an overwhelming impression that two of the world’s most anarchic bikes are the work of two of the most mild – mannered men I ever met. This is frankly disappointing. Or is it reassuring?
I pursue them through the crowds at the Tokyo bike show to ask them: “Are mad bikes better when they’re the work of well – balanced people?” There is a flurry of translation, Mr Gixer smiles, Mr Busa smiles, and then they laugh and their eyes sparkle with the deep – rooted mischief that makes these bikes possible. And then, just as this is about to become interesting, or because it is, they’re gone.
Words: James May Pics: Stephen Lovell-Davis