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Jail Bait
Big-bore sports-tourers compared
Honda Blackbird vs BMW K1200RS vs Suzuki Hayabusa
May 2000



Spannerman was on the phone, more than a little excited about being cut loose with a serious test bike. “It’ll do 130 in first!” he squawked on morning one. Morning two: “It’ll do 180 in second!” Because you can launch happily in second on the Hayabusa, you could, in some states, go direct from your driveway to jail without having to change gear...

We got this group together for the annual Australian Motorcycle Trader Naracoorte Run, which was a big success. Hundreds of good people, a slick band and great food — all in South Australia’s Coonawarra winery district. The bikes were three of the ultimate litre-plus sport tourer offerings: BMW K1200RS, Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird and Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa.

Here we go
We’ve had a number of opportunities to play with all three bikes in various situations over recent times, and the Naracoorte Run provided a chance to put them together with a mixed batch of riders, over terrain varying from severely boring to sports stuff over a few days and around 1300km. Yep, comprehensive.

All three machines qualify as outrageously excessive — supremely powerful, capable of mauling 16 cents-worth of sports rubber per kilometre when used in anger, able to shoot their way to 200kmh-plus speeds quicker than anything with four wheels priced this side of $300,000 and, ironically, easy to use.

I’ll add a caveat to that. Which is that any 250-kilo-plus motorcycle with in excess of 130 horses is not for the beginner, or even the archetypal 40-plus rider getting back on a bike after a 20-year absence. The sheer forces — whether braking, accelerating or cornering — they can create are beyond normal experience. While the pressure required at the controls to produce those forces is slight. These are bikes which deserve respect, or they’ll bite. Hard.
Let’s have a look at them, starting with the BMW. The K12 is BMW’s most powerful motorcycle to date, with a claimed 130ps (97kW) at 8750rpm and 12.0kg-m or torque at 5500rpm. Not awesome urge, if you compare it to the Suzuki’s 45ps-higher claim. Though it’s more than enough to make a mess of the highway rules and your brain if you’re not up to speed.

The RS twelve is one of two remaining K-models in the Bimm stable, with the other being the big LT tourer. Its in-line, laid-on-the-side powerplant was introduced in 1984 as a potential replacement for the firm’s Boxer twins. Market forces vehemently shook their collective heads and, along the way, we have lost a sweet triple version.
Packaging includes a lot of adjustability, with items such as seat, levers, and screen height open to change, while you get heated handgrips, anti-lock braking and properly-fitted panniers. Meanwhile the driveline boasts shaft final drive — the only one in this class.

Honda’s Blackbird is in its second generation. The first carburetted version was launched in 1996 and this, the fuel-injected item, saw light early in 1999. The linked braking system — which we still see as a dumb idea — is in its third generation, is fitted to this bike and works well on the road.
In theory this is the latest version of the CBR1000 in-line four, which took over where Honda’s big V-four series left off after an ugly time on the market in the mid to late eighties. It also happens to be the first of the current crop of bikes garnering 300kmh shock horror headlines with its claimed 164ps (122kW) at 10,000rpm and 12.7kg-m of torque at 7250rpm.

Suzuki’s GSX1300R is an all-new beast, in theory, though you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see a progression from the GSX-R1100 powerplant to this item in fuel-injected form. It dropped in on us in late 1999, delivering on the promises of wild grunt backed up by distinctive looks.

While the Blackbird started the 300 kay headlines, the Hayabusa is the first one that delivers. And Kawasaki has just replied with its ZX-12R. The Suze claims 175ps (130kW) at 9800rpm and 14.1kg-m of torque at 7000. In a straight line, it feels substantially quicker than the ’Bird across the range. As you’ll discover, feelings can be both accurate and deceptive.

On the black stuff
The Bimm hums, the Blackbird growls and the Hayabusa snarls. It sounds corny, but get the three together and the aural experience is just plain weird.

They are very different machines to ride. Hop on the Bee Em and you meet Fat City in the grunt stakes. You fall into the saddle, and are coddled with a range of luxuries including sorted luggage, heated grips in winter and anti-lock braking. Shifting the screen to suit your height takes a second and the ride is plush — cosseting on a grand scale.
Wick up the throttle and shift through the box. The horizon gets bigger and more detailed awfully rapidly, though the combo of dry clutch and Bimm gearbox is the least slick of the three offerings.

The solo Paralever rear suspender works, while the Telelever front soaks bumps well, reports back on small stuff, too, but lacks feeling in the steering department. It’s an interesting combo, as you know exactly what the suspension is doing, but translating that to grip and direction is more difficult.

It’s something that an owner might learn over time, but three days wasn’t enough to become intimate with the remote feedback. Steering is simply the slowest of the three.

Switch to the Blackbird and you meet a slightly higher seat height, and the feeling you’re not so deeply enveloped in the bodywork. The power delivery is broad, though not as punchy at the low end as the Bimm. Shifting gears is super fast and the box easily the pick of the three. As is the smoothness of the powerplant — to the point of spooky.

Like the Bimm, the reach to the handlebars is long, though the positioning is fixed in the Honda’s case while the BMW’s can be adjusted.

The ‘Bird’s suspension is the best-sorted for solo use on the road of the three bikes, though there is no adjustment on the front while the rear can be adjusted for a wide variety of loads. In stock form, it rates among the best high-speed road suspension on the market.

Braking is very strong once the user learns how to apply it, but lacks feel at the levers compared to either of the other bikes. The third-generation linked brakes have been modded to the point where they are almost ‘invisible’ on the road, though they are still lacking on the track.

As for the Hayabusa, its tuning and control set-up easily makes it feel the strongest of the three at the red-light GP on the road. The reach to the handlebars is comparatively short, and the overall riding position is surprisingly comfortable.

There is an ever-present vibration at work and it has to be said that the gearbox is not Suzuki’s best. The throttle/clutch combo is easy to control on take-off and probably the best of the three.

It also has the most suspension adjustment of the three, though is the worst set-up in stock form, with the front running settings that are just way too hard. This may be to compensate for nutters prepared to try out the top-speed potential (the front end is stable at loony speeds), but is a pain in the wrists at road pace and gives the bike a tendency to understeer in most environments.

Yeah, but just how fast are they?
If you got the three bikes together for a top-gear throttle roll-on from 100kmh, what would your prediction be? C’mon, be honest. Mine was long-stroke Bimm to 130-140kmh, Blackbird and Hayabusa close behind, then Hayabusa and daylight second from around 160. We were in for a surprise. All three bikes run around 3400rpm at 100kmh in top, with the Nippon bikes running higher redlines.

The Bimm walked away by four bike lengths at 100, then the other two held it. Then the Blackbird leapt ahead at 160, smoking the Bimm and gaining six bike lengths on the Suzuki. Finally, at 220kmh, the Hayabusa pulled back the gap, and at 240kmh walked off... then, at 260-plus, we ran out of tarmac, accepted the Suzi as top-end king and went and had a good lie down!

That tells me two things. The first is that the BMW is not to be messed with when there’s a good rider on board. Number two is this whole horsepower race is essentially meaningless, but a good excuse to stick your head under the paint, nail the throttle, and see whose toy is quicker.

Harder, faster
If it came to a track session, there’s no question which motorcycle is the pick — the Hayabusa. It has a reasonably track-friendly riding position, much more cornering clearance than the Honda or BMW, more powerful front brakes, and the best compromise between power and feel at the throttle. My only bitch is that the feel of the front stoppers is a tenth or two behind the best in the business.

Give it top marks from this group when it comes to steering accuracy — that’s if you get the front suspension settings softened to sensible levels.

The Honda’s throttle is touchy in this environment, and the brakes lacking in feel — and the linked system makes the front-rear mix difficult to predict. Cornering clearance, while fine on the road, is not up to serious track work as the lower fairing panels suffer.

As for the Bimm, it simply doesn’t have the precision or turning speed of either Nippon bike in the steering department, though the braking and power delivery are good. There’s more than enough urge to make the jump out of a turn competitive and interesting, though it ultimately doesn’t have the mumbo in the 220kmh-plus range.

Horses for courses
If lots of long miles are your thing, with some good sporting experiences scattered among them, then the Bimmer is the pick. It’s easily the most expensive of the three and comes with an impressive list of comforts. Bags, ABS brakes, heated grips, best toolkit, adjustable screen — that sort of thing.

The Blackbird is the best road bike of the three if you are concerned about price and can live without the extras of the Bimm. Top engine/transmission package, best finish of the three, and very well sorted suspension. Honda offers panniers that are as ugly as the proverbial hatful of sphincters, and we recommend the pricey Corbin bags as an alternative for those who don’t plan to carry a lot.

Suzuki’s Hayabusa is, surprisingly, a good pillion carrier that comes with rear seat cover and alternative pillion grab handle (best of the group) as part of the stock package. It also happens to be an awesome road bike, lacking the refinement of the second-generation Blackbird but with the kudos of a genuine 300 kay top speed versus the Bird’s 280-ish.

If track days are a major part of your riding bag, it’s definitely the Suzuki with sorted suspension.

Guy Allen

What we liked — and not so much...

The AMT guide to the good 
and bad on your way to jail...

Style
Oh yes...
1. Organic Hayabusa curves in silver and blue — weirdly sexy.
2. The Blackbird’s headlight — double-pointy and definitely male.
3. The lights-action-nutter instrument needle dance to the red end of the dials when you switch on the Hirebus. Very cool — for a while.

What the Dickens..?
1. Hayabusa in two-tone brown — where’s the suede seat? And that pillion seat cowl — what happened to family-planning?
2. Bimmer in dyslexic Lego styling — no matter what hue you paint it.
3. Slab-sided Blackbird fairing shape — what happened to curves?

Fit/finish
 And the winners are...
1. Surprise pillion award for the affectionately-named Hire-bus.
2. Rider-coddling award to the ’Bird.
3. Cleverly disguised tourer-with-the-lot award for the Bimm.

No cigar folks...
1. Blackbird is definitely a one-man or one-woman bike — forget pillions. If you’re honestly selfish, this is also a ‘like’.
2. Hayabusa detail looks and feels as though two different people worked on it.
3. Bimm has sex-appeal surgically removed and requires medium to short legs.

Performance
It’s a beauty cobber...
1. Slick and fast everything on the Blackbird.
2. Unbelievably casual hi-po stomp from the Hayabusa.
3. Watch that K12 rider — a good one will nail both of the above on a good day.

Friday afternoon decisions...
1. Talk us through the wet-cement-in-the-front-end feel of the Hayabusa in stock trim.
2. And those dopey linked brakes on the Blackbird.
3. Earth to K12 front end — are you receiving?

Blackbird specs

ENGINE
Engine type: In-line four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, Four-stroke
Bore x stroke: 79mm x 58mm
Displacement: 1137cc 
Compression ratio: 11.0:1 

TRANSMISSION
Type: Six-speed constant mesh

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Alloy twin-spar with engine as stressed member
Front suspension: 43mm cartridge type conventional forks 
Rear suspension: Pro-link rising-rate linkage with gas/oil monoshock, stepless rebound damping and adjustable spring preload

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Dry weight (claimed): 223kg 
Seat height (claimed): 810mm
Fuel capacity: 24 litres

PERFORMANCE
Maximum power (claimed): 164ps at 10,000rpm
Maximum torque (claimed): 12.7kg-m at 7,250rpm

OTHER STUFF
Test bike supplied by Honda MPE, Vic Recommended retail price: $18,190
More on the CBR1100XX

BMW K1200RS specs

ENGINE
Engine type: In-line four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, Four-stroke 
Bore x stroke: 70.5mm x 75mm
Displacement: 1171cc 
Compression ratio: 11.5:1 

TRANSMISSION
Type: Six-speed constant mesh

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Cast aluminium backbone type
Front suspension: BMW Telelever with leading arms frame mounted
Rear suspension: Swinging arm (BMW) Paralever

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Dry weight (claimed): 285kg 
Seat height (claimed): 770 or 800mm
Fuel capacity: 21 litres

PERFORMANCE
Maximum power (claimed): 130ps at 8,750rpm
Maximum torque (claimed): 12.0kg-m at 5,500rpm

OTHER STUFF
Test bike supplied by BMW Australia, Vic Recommended retail price: $24,200
More on the K1200RS

Hayabusa specs

ENGINE
Engine type: In-line four-cylinder, 
liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, Four-stroke 
Bore x stroke: 81mm x 63mm
Displacement: 1298cc 
Compression ratio: 11.0:1 

TRANSMISSION
Type: Six-speed constant mesh

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Twin spar aluminium frame
Front suspension: 43mm inverted forks with inner cartridge, 14-step rebound and 13-step compression damping, 15mm spring preload adjustment
Rear suspension: Swingarm, progressive linkage, 22-step rebound and compression damping adjustment

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Dry weight (claimed): 215kg 
Seat height (claimed): 805mm
Fuel capacity: 22 litres

PERFORMANCE
Maximum power (claimed): 175ps at 9,800rpm
Maximum torque (claimed): 14.1kg-m at 7,000rpm

OTHER STUFF
Test bike supplied by Suzuki Australia, Vic Recommended retail price: $17,990

Guy Allen



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