From the first time I saw the 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa, I knew I had to have one and I knew it had to be the copper colored 1999 (unrestricted) version. In 2004, I finally got the nerve to sell my beloved 1996 GSXR750, and started looking for my Busa. I was able to find an adult-owned, original ’99 Busa with only 9,000 miles on CycleTrader.com – it was only 3,000 miles away from Maryland in Oregon.
After a great buying experience, my bike was shipped cross-country just as Maryland was hit with a few feet of snow. My home was inaccessible by tractor trailer, so it was delivered to my in-law’s home just as I finished shoveling out their driveway. I spent the next two months waiting for spring and dreaming of my first ride on this beast.
That very first twist of the wrist was witnessed by my wife and in-laws with a bit of trepidation. Totally unaware of what I was about to unleash, I brought the revs up to about 7k and let the lock-up clutch out. I don’t think the front tire came down until I was out of sight.
I soon realized it would prolong my life if I opted to ride this bike as a sport-tourer, as it is designated. A Corbin seat and Beetlebags, Helibars, Zero Gravity windscreen, and a Garmin GPS, were a good start. Avon Storm STs and EBC pads added control. A slipper clutch conversion helped keep the front tire on the ground. The final modifications were a Power Commander, Micron exhaust, MotoLights (fogs), Flame sliders and PriorityLites (tail light blinker and running lights).
This bike has offered me the best of all worlds. Equipped as it is, it handles highway miles at ease, provides a decent riding position for my 6’1” frame. With a slightly smaller rear sprocket, I’m able to get an exceptional 40mpg average. In the twisties it feels more like a streetfighter than a 1+-liter giant. Before my wife and I had children, I would commute every day it wasn’t snowing, looking for ways to increase my commuting distance.
The straight-line speed of the Hayabusa needs no verification; there is simply nothing like it. I had the bike Dyno’d for a custom Power Commander map at about 40,000 miles – the attendant was shocked at the 170 rear wheel horsepower and 126 ft. lbs. of torque. But it is the handling of this big bike that is so impressive. All one need do is look through the turns, and the old Busa leans effortlessly into the sweepers. With slightly more press and body angle, the 1299ccs easily navigate switchbacks and esses. What also amazes me is how the power is available anywhere, at any time. A full-throttle twist from 30mph in third gear would choke many bikes – not the Busa. It just takes the command to heart and builds the speed until your butt hits the cowl and you realize you better start rolling off a bit. Keeping the 170 ponies in check is the most demanding part of the ride.
Some of my favorite trips include the Blue Ridge Parkway, The Dragon, circumnavigation of Lakes Erie and Ontario, a great ride through Vermont to Montreal and Mt. Washington, NH, and an annual trip to the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days in Lexington, OH.
For the Lake Erie trip, my buddy Bill (on a Concours) assured me it was only 500 miles around the lake and that we’d make it easily in one day. We left Erie, PA at 6a and headed southwest, crossing into Canada at Detroit/Windsor. I was still feeling pretty good as we passed 500 miles several hours short of Buffalo, still in Canada. 500 miles was apparently the length of the shoreline. After 16 hours and 701 miles, I vowed never to talk to Bill again as I tried to unbend myself.
During the return trip from Montreal, our group of five made the summit of Mt. Washington in wind, fog and rain. Descending the mountain, the weather improved and I was able to get a great shot of the valley through a break in the clouds, remembering to thank my bike for this experience. From there we checked out the lighthouses of Maine, then back home down the East coast through Newport, RI. During a stop in Boston, I noticed my saddle bags were resting on my exhaust. Over 400 miles from home, the aluminum sub-frame had cracked, something common to this lightweight section. I decided to leave my friends and try to make it home for repairs. That ended up being a very stressful 750-mile day. The Busa once again got me home safely and without further issues. I purchased a steel sub-frame on eBay, and I was back in business.
On one trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, Bill and I (same buddy, but now on a V-Strom) planned to go to the flat-track races one Friday evening. We spent some time in the pits to kill time and inquired about track days and race lessons. The person we spoke to asked if we’d like to get on the track that afternoon. As unbelievable as it sounds, they allowed us free-of-charge to take our bikes on the track for individual instruction for as many laps as we could get before the rain started. We figured we’d be ‘touring’ around the course at 50mph. Long story short, we ended up with over 40 miles of fast laps and top speeds around 110mph, pegs dragged and an experience of a lifetime. Along with being sorer than I’d been in a long time, I boiled off my brake fluid, damaged the clutch basket and cracked the clutch slave cylinder cover; all this was discovered as I rode the bike the 400 miles back home. Again, the Busa got me home safely. A few repairs later, we were back on the street. Because of this track experience, I built and now race a vintage CB350, and it has nearly changed my life.
Another proud moment for me was to have my Busa selected as one of the most influential motorcycles in history for the AMA’s 85th Anniversary. The AMA sought out the most influential bikes from the last 85 years. Once again I rode the bike to the Vintage Motorcycle Days, and my bike was on display beside some awesome classics.
As you can tell, I don’t hide this bike; I ride it – a lot. I don’t baby it either. And even though I’ve broken it a few times, it has never let me down. Now that I have three young children to cart around, my Busa doesn’t get ridden as much these days. Sitting in my garage, freshly waxed, it is ready when I am, and it never fails to put a smile on my face the instant I twist the throttle. I have a laundry list of items I want to recondition (suspension, transmission) and I steal time every now and then to spend some time working on ‘my ol’ friend.’ I feel like I’ve done this bike justice through the adventures we’ve shared, and if it has a soul, I imagine it is smiling. It is truly part of me and who I am. With 65,000 miles on the odometer now, there are many, many miles left in both of us – around Lake Huron is planned for summer 2013.