Honda CBR1100XX vs. Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R vs. Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa - COMPARISON TEST

Life, liberty and the high-speed pursuit of happiness

Honda CBR1100XX, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R, and Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa
Highest expression of corporate ego in metal: Honda CBR1100XX, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R, and Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa.Jeff Allen

Gathered before you is 460 horsepower and 545 mph. You won't find another 3x3 comparison that has more of either of these thrilling commodities. But these bikes–the Honda CBR1100XX, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R and Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa– aren't just about sick excess, they're also three of the smoothest, best all-around streetbikes in the history of the wheel. Actually, make that three of the best vehicles, because there is nothing for sale, no license-plate-carrying conveyance capable of doing what these motorcycles can do. Particularly not for a roughly $11,000 asking price.

You want quick? Give these bikes 10 seconds and they’ll give you the quarter-mile. The ton comes up in half that time. Versatility? How about a third gear that will work from 15 to 145 mph? Yes, click the gearbox, one-two-three, lug down to a parking lot crawl, then, should the fancy arise, whack the throttle WFO and peel the paint off your helmet, all in less time than it takes to exchange top-of-the-morning pleasantries with your co-workers.

Each will approach (Honda) or better (Suzuki, Kawasaki) any other motorcycle made in both acceleration and terminal velocity, all while offering competent, sporty handling, great brakes and a comfy place to sit while watching the world ahead of you explode.

Speaking of which…

“Hey, doughboy, move your fat ass behind the bike so I can’t see it,” photographer/master of diplomacy Jeff Allen said to me as we lined up for a roadside static shot.

Okay, so he might be right, I may have stacked on a few extra pounds and the Aerostich doesn’t fit quite like it used to. But I was feeling a-okay about myself anyway, seeing as how I was in the company of these overpowered sumo-smackdown megabikes. I mean, have you seen the Hayabusa? It’s looks like the Stay Puft marshmallow machine…

Honda CBR1100XX, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R, Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa on-road action
It's always the guy in the Aerostich who has to carry the photographer as passenger.Jeff Allen

Seriously, though, these things are on the heavy side, each one a solid 100 pounds or more up on the hunger-striker 1000cc sport- Fours featured elsewhere in this issue, and a similar amount beyond those yappy little Shih Tzu-like 600s nipping at your toe- sliders on Racer Road.

But we’ve said it before–these road-burners are a different kind of drug. The weight isn’t the point, and if somebody gives you grief, the only response that matters is “Yes, but have you seen the dyno charts?” It’s like trying to explain your religious beliefs to somebody who disagrees with you. “Horsepower works in mysterious ways, my brother.”

Plus, the extra poundage lends a certain "Cadillac effect" to the ride quality. And with so much space between the axles, there's plenty of room for your body, even if you've gotten a little portly. Still, ergonomically, each of these bikes represents some sort of compromise to help deliver the speed of which their manufacturers wish them to be capable (high pegs, low windscreens). So, the seat foam falls readily to sphincter on each when you light up full thrust for superpyscho ground-bound flight (150 comes waaay too quickly), with wind-protection and ergos about as good as you could expect.

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But each bike also translates well to lower-stress daily use. Even the Ninja, with its ass-high seating position (higher even than last year due to a new subframe) and lowish bars does pretty well at keeping you comfy. The big fairing is a plus both at high speeds and just putting around–it offers the best protection of the group. As ever, the Hayabusa’s near- horizontal windscreen opens an upright-seated pilot to strong windblast at chest level, and obscures the gauges for taller riders who have good posture. Everything’s cool at full tuck, though, at which point if it weren’t for the speedo needle crowding 160 mph, you might actually call it serene behind the bubble. Likewise for the XX–good fairing with a skosh more wind protection than the ’Busa and none of the gauge obscurement.

But trust me, you’ll be concentrating on the road ahead most of the time–particularly on the Hayabusa. Despite having its very-top-end speed electronically limited in the wake of all that velocity hubbub over in Europe a couple of years ago, the Hayabusa is still the King of Acceleration. Like every ’Busa we’ve tested before, this ’02 model (now with improved clutch action) broke easily into the 9s at the dragstrip, and delivered the kind of crushing roll-on performance that makes the bike so dear to us. Turning in a 2.6-second 60-80-mph time kept it well on top of the heap, although the Ninja was no slouch either, grinding out a 2.9-second run, with the XX another tenth behind at 3-flat. The numbers are all the more impressive when you consider the tall gearing with which these bikes are equipped. Should spacecraft ever need gearboxes, we have some ratio suggestions.

The podium was the same in the quarter-mile, although this heavily redone Ninja was barely off the Hayabusa’s 9.89-second E.T., with its equally brain-numbing 9.93 run, even bettering slightly the 144-mph terminal speed of the H-Bus. Stock bikes with street tires, running on pump gas turning in high-9-second quarter-mile times–it’s still un-freakin’-believable! Even the XX’s (relatively) slow 10.35 allows it to show taillight to most bikes on the road.

Honda CBR1100XX, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R, and Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa on-road action
Okay, so the Aerostich gets to ride free on the Honda CBR1100XX, one of the smoothest, most sublime high-speed motorcycles ever made, and the best candidate here for sport touring.Jeff Allen

As mentioned, the Great Top-Speed War of the last century is over–manufacturers agreed voluntarily to limit maximum production-bike velocity to 300 kph (186 mph). So the fact that the ZX-12R finally went faster than a speed-limited Hayabusa (186 mph vs. 184) simply isn’t relevant. Besides, do you think you’d notice the difference? Even on the 176-mph XX? As a note to the nutbags among you: Devices are available to defeat the ’Busa’s electronic limiter, which will unleash the last 8-10 mph on the top end, because God knows you have to have it…

Actually, no, you don’t, and we’d like to convince you of this. For as straight-line capable as this trio is, they’re just as much fun when the going gets kinky. Even with stability-promoting long wheelbases and road-hugging dry-weights of more than 500 pounds, changing direction is still what sporty bikes are all about. Sure, you may have to slow more for corner entrances with this semi-rotund bunch than on your average flyweight racer-rep, but that just means you’ll get to use even more of the profound amount of rubber-punishing torque when it comes time to leave the apex behind.

The bike upon which you’ll most look forward to the next apex is the Ninja–it is by some way the most sporting of this group. The 12R is the lightest, has the shortest wheelbase and the firmest suspension. Also, the 23.5-degree rake is the steepest. So despite taking the most effort to turn and being the least neutral-steering (it resists turning on its excellent brakes), it was the bike testers felt they could ride most aggressively.

It has a taller, more top-heavy feel than either the Honda or Suzuki, but after a few miles you just don’t notice. It also has the snappiest, quickest-revving engine, producing power sort of how one might expect a supernatural 750cc engine would–the 1199cc mill makes the most peak ponies by 3.6 bhp over the ’Busa, but only at the very top of its rev range. Lower down, the Suzuki makes more power sooner. The 1299cc Hayabusa also makes more torque, some 8 foot-pounds up at peak, while offering at least that much more twist from 3500 to 8500 rpm–right where it counts. Even after all these years, snapping the throttle open on the Hayabusa is still impressive, still incredible.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R wheelie action
As the saying goes, "It's Wednesday somewhere" when you're riding a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R.Jeff Allen

Add to this the Suzuki’s kinder, more neutral-steering chassis, and you’ve got quite the street-riding experience. The fully adjustable suspension is firm, but it’s more compliant and better balanced than the Ninja (both feature full adjustability, the Kawi even adding rear ride-height shims). The ’Busa’s brakes, meanwhile, were impressively powerful, but didn’t offer the feel or initial bite of the Ninja’s. Overall, though, the Suzuki is nearly as sporting, while being a little more comfortable and easier to ride than the Kawasaki.

All you have to do with the Honda to know it’s pitched toward a slightly different end-user is start with the rubber­­–the Dunlop Sportmax tires say “Touring” on the side. From there, move to the mostly non-adjustable suspension (just shock-spring preload and rebound damping), and carry on to the LBS linked brakes, where lever or pedal sends braking force to both wheels–nice except in the most aggressive riding, when it tends to make the rear end a little lively entering corners. There’s also some 20 bhp less power, although unless you plan a lot of head-to-head drags with Ninja or Hayabusa owners, you’ll never notice the lack. What you will notice every time you ride the XX is the fabulous refinement and smoothness of this motorcycle. Sure, all of these engines are smooth, but the XX’s is simply better. Control feel is also fantastic, as though every pivot and moving part were rolling in perfectly machined bearings. And with damping this good, who needs adjustments?

Like the others, the XX has a sporty riding position, but the footpegs are the lowest (they were making that scraping sound through the last set of corners, unlike the other two bikes’). It’s a bit more of a handful at the limit, protesting brusque inputs, but the XX has by far the most neutral steering. In fact, through fast sweepers, it’s as though the bike finds its own line, the bars guiding your hands instead of the other way around. And even in the tight stuff, trail-braking has no effect on cornering attitude. It’s fabulous. No motorcycle this big and powerful should have such wonderful, light steering.

Where does that leave us? Ultimately, in normal street riding where full-throttle and triple-digit speeds are rarely seen, each bike is effectively the same “speed.” So it works like this: If you want to slap on some saddlebags and hit the road, get the Double X, because what it gives up in outright performance is canceled out by its refinement and comfort. If you want to slap on a set of knee pucks and hit Racer Road, get the ZX-12R, because what it gives away in refinement is made up for in outright cut-and-thrust cornering prowess. If you want to do both, the Hayabusa is the correct answer. Whatever you decide, may all your straightaways be long and unpatrolled.

Honda CBR1100XX studio side view
Later fuel-injected Honda CBR1100XX models like this one had better throttle response and improved midrange torque vs. early carbureted versions.Courtesy of Honda

Honda CBR1100XX

THE NUMBERS
UPS Smoothest bike ever?
▲ Perfect fuel-injection
▲ Linked brakes
DOWNS ▼ Slowest of the fastest
▼ “Sweet” engine
▼ Linked brakes
▼ Where’s the Super Blackbird?
Price $10,999
Dry weight 528 lbs.
Wheelbase 59.0 in.
Seat height 31.5 in.
Fuel mileage 27.5 mpg
0-60 mph 2.65 sec.
1/4-mile 10.35 sec. @ 137.35 mph
Horsepower 139.5 bhp @ 9900 rpm
Torque 80.3 ft.-lbs. @ 7400 rpm
Top speed 176 mph
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R studio side view
Hopes were high for the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R on its initial launch. It didn't quite crush the Suzuki Hayabusa as many expected it might. The 12R did remain the most sportbike-like of this class.Courtesy of Kawasaki

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R

THE NUMBERS
UPS ▲ Fabulous brakes
Finally faster than a Hayabusa
Lightest
DOWNS Only faster than a speed-limited Hayabusa
Least comfortable
False fuel gauge
Price $10,999
Dry weight 512 lbs.
Wheelbase 57.2 in.
Seat height 32.0 in.
Fuel mileage 26.0 mpg
0-60 mph 2.59 sec.
1/4-mile 9.93 sec. @ 144.01 mph
Horsepower 162.8 bhp @ 9900 rpm
Torque 90.5 ft.-lbs. @ 7500 rpm
Top speed 186 mph
Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa studio side view
When the Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa debuted, it changed the very definition of high performance. At the launch Suzuki said the bike invented a new class which they called "Ultimate Sport." We chuckled at the PR hyperbole. Until we rode the bike. OK, then, Ultimate Sport it is!Courtesy of Suzuki
Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa studio side view
Suzuki GSX1300R HayabusaCourtesy of Suzuki
THE NUMBERS
UPS Torque!
Power!
Torque!
DOWNS Top speed limited
Numb front brakes
Still a threat to your driver’s license (or is that an Up?)
Price $10,849
Dry weight 528 lbs.
Wheelbase 58.5 in.
Seat height 31.0 in.
Fuel mileage 31.0 mpg
0-60 mph 2.47 sec.
1/4-mile 9.89 sec. @ 143.55 mph
Horsepower 159.2 bhp @ 9250 rpm
Torque 98.2 ft.-lbs. @ 6900 rpm
Top speed 184 mph