Eyewitness 1999: The birth of the 'Busa

Published: 08 September 2015

Would Suzuki’s speedster really do 200mph? And what would law-makers think?

uzuki’s GSX-1300R Hayabusa was the first production motorcycle that threatened to break the 200mph barrier. Although it never quite managed it in standard trim, its outrageous 175bhp was enough to pull an eye-watering (and genuine) 194mph and create a stir in the corridors of power. The bike was so outrageously fast that it marked the end of the long-running battle to build the world’s fastest production bike and, following its launch, most manufacturers signed up to a gentleman’s agreement to limit future bikes to 300kph/186mph. But back in the good old days of 1999, just £8299 was enough to buy you a top speed that even Grand Prix racers struggled to match.
 


Roger Simmons

Suzuki GB’s chief mechanic and test rider at the time of the Hayabusa launch

 
 


Chris Moss

Former MCN road tester, now freelance motorcycle journalist

Roger Simmons: ‘At the time, Suzuki were determined to produce a high-speed touring bike that would just be unbelievably better and faster than anything else. I don’t think anyone anticipated the reaction that it caused though – it spiralled out of control. As soon as people started talking about the 200mph barrier, that really ruffled some feathers. I mean, 180mph bikes didn’t seem to bother anyone but as soon as you mentioned 200mph people got really spooked!’

Chris Moss: ‘There’s nothing quite as seductive as power and speed. We knew the Hayabusa was going to be fat, slippery, and fast, and it really didn’t disappoint. It was ridiculously rapid, but it was just so easy to go fast on it too – you didn’t even have to rev it, you just opened the throttle.’

Simmons: ‘I was involved in the testing of the prototype about a year before the bike was launched. We did a lot of riding on the German autobahns and it was just unbelievable – no-one had ever experienced anything like that before. The tyre manufacturers just sh*t themselves! Only Bridgestone stuck with us – everyone else pulled out because tyres were just de-laminating all over the place.’

Moss: ‘At the launch, we put a camera on the tank and tried to ride it flat-out on the roads in Spain to see what top speed we could record. I think we got an indicated 197mph on the clock but I couldn’t get tucked in properly because of the camera so we could have gone faster. I remember my rucksack flew open and I lost practically my whole life – including my asthma inhaler – it was like a speeding fine from God!’

Simmons: ‘We were out at Catalunya for about two weeks prior to the launch, running the bikes for one-hour sessions on the track to see how the tyres would hold up. The press got 30-minute sessions. But in a brave move by Suzuki, they built in a day to let the press loose on the streets as well. You couldn’t really stretch a Hayabusa’s legs around the Catalunya circuit so they let them out on the roads. Obviously things got a bit wild then...’

Moss: ‘I had to go on the Johnnie Walker Show on Radio 2 to defend the bike amidst all the panic that it could do 200mph. Johnnie was great about it but, in general, there were too many people in suits trying to make laws about something they didn’t understand. A 200mph bike is no more dangerous than a 180mph bike and nobody complained about those. It was a typical political over-reaction.’

Simmons: ‘Aerodynamics played a big part in achieving the Hayabusa’s top speed, but pure power was the main thing. Suzuki built prototypes that made more power than the production model because we knew if we were aiming to build a bike capable of about 200mph then the prototypes would have to be tested beyond that – more like 215mph. The sad thing is those prototypes were probably destroyed. The Japanese are very unsympathetic and unsentimental about that sort of thing. Those bikes would have carried markings saying “Use internally or destroy.”’


Moss: ‘That was a bike that you certainly didn’t leave behind when you got on the plane home from the launch. It made a mark on you, it stayed with you because it was so impressive and so stupidly fast. It wasn’t an attractive bike by any stretch but that really didn’t matter – all you needed to look at were the speedo and rev counter.’ 

Simmons: ‘People still use the Hayabusa as a benchmark for top speed now and yet it’s 16 years old, so that shows just how far ahead of the game it was in 1999. It still holds its head up now as a performance motorcycle.’