TOKYO, Japan, October 2001: At the annual motorcycle show here this month, among the parade of exotic concept bikes, one neo hot-rod spoke to us–literally–more than any other, the Suzuki B-King. Like the guy in the urban legend who put a solid-fuel Jet Assisted Take-Off (JATO) unit in the back of his ’67 Impala, the saki must have been flowing when a Suzuki engineer said, “Aha! I know, let’s take a 170-horsepower GSX1300 Hayabusa engine, supercharge it, and stick it in a naked bike! It can have wild styling, like a cross between the Alien and Judge Dredd’s flying Lawmaster motorcycle, and high-tech gizmos like the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) Trans-Am from Knight Rider. It could talk back to the rider, for example…though maybe without the sarcastic one-liners.”
And with that the 2001 concept B-King, or “Boost King,” was born. Supercharged Hayabusa GSX1300 in-line four. 240-series rear tire. Self diagnostics, advanced telemetry, even a GPS-based weather-warning system. These were some of the “Brains” of the Suzuki-proclaimed “King of the Bs,” which also had starting with fingerprint recognition, and a theft alarm that featured a mic and speaker so the owner could “talk” with the potential thief via mobile phone (“Stop! Or I’ll say stop again!”). “Bold” and “Beauty” sum up the high-quality build and styling according to Suzuki, which for the most part has carried over to the 2008 production B-King you see before you, right down to the twin underseat rocket-launcher mufflers and flared tailsection, scowling futuristic headlight and bulging tank side covers.
In the six years it’s taken for the B-King to become reality, most of its conceptual “brains” have given way to the exigencies of the marketplace. There’s no fingerprint recognition, GPS or telemetry on the production bike, and the only time this motorcycle talks to you is when you twist the loud handle. The supercharger “boost” is history, too. Though with 145 horsepower at the rear wheel (measured without ram air) from the Hayabusa’s liquid-cooled, DOHC, 1,340cc in-line four, the only person I can think of who might want it is supposedly behind the wheel of an Impala embedded in a cliff in Arizona.
Equally as important as horsepower is the 87 lb-ft of peak torque with which this bizarre creation twists that back tire, now “merely” a 200-series Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier. Suzuki says the only differences between the B-King’s mill and the Hayabusa’s are in the intake and exhaust systems, the latter mostly due to differences in frame construction. Intake still has ram air and uses the same cam profiles, and Suzuki’s Dual Throttle Valve System is employed in the throttle bodies to prevent abrupt throttle response. Like its titanium intake and exhaust valves, the B-King’s throttle bodies are a touch smaller in diameter (44mm vs. 46mm) to help broaden its powerband, but there are still two 12-hole fuel injectors per cylinder and a SET (Suzuki Exhaust Tuning) valve in the exhaust that varies exhaust volume with engine speed. A catalyzer and oxygen sensor in the 4-2-1 exhaust help keep emissions Euro 3/Tier 2 compliant without any hiccups or surging. Absent in the new Hayabusa but still featured in the 2008 B-King is a gear-driven balancer, which effectively dampens the vibes from its compact, solid-mounted engine.
Power–oh so much heavenly power–travels rearward in the B-King through a hydraulically actuated wet clutch, six-speed transmission and O-ring chain. The engine unit is hung as a stressed member in the cast-aluminum, twin-spar perimeter frame, off the back of which pivots a lovely braced cast-aluminum swingarm. Up front the KYB fully adjustable male-slider fork is made exclusively for the B-King; in back is a KYB fully adjustable single shock that’s mounted with a progressive link and has a piggyback reservoir.
As you might imagine, the B-King is pricey at $12,899 ($13,499 for the ABS model), but I have never seen this level of fit and finish in a Suzuki. Welds have been reduced to a minimum in the frame and swingarm, and little touches like the titanium-tone handlebar, high-gloss engine paint and chrome covers and smoked-chrome headlight reflector give the bike an aura of luxury. It also exudes an image of power like no other sport standard, largely due to its steroidal powerplant, massive fuel tank and twin howitzer mufflers. In typical subtle Suzuki fashion the bike comes in rich all-black or silver-and-black paint, but can you imagine the B-King done up in say, yellow and black, or some other wild color combo? The mind reels.
So will your heart the first time you twist GO. Power delivery is as smooth and seamless as a rheostat, assuming that rheostat is attached to the main fuel tank on Apollo 12. There’s instant starting with no fast-idle lever and little warm-up required, and then the only thing between you and hyperspace, Chewy, is your right wrist. I don’t have the guts to nail the throttle on the B-King in any gear lower than third without leaning down way out over the headlight, and even then the front end gets light enough to make me thankful for the standard steering damper, a seemingly high-quality unit with a piggyback reservoir. Though its power delivery is very linear and the bike is surprisingly easy to ride, suffice it to say that your dreams of becoming an astronaut will be closer to reality than ever when you liftoff on the B-King.
Just in case that much power is too intimidating, or maybe the roads are wet and slippery and wheelspin much more likely, Suzuki has equipped the B-King with its Drive Mode Selector system from the GSX-R1000 and Hayabusa. Instead of three modes, however, the B-King gets just A and B. A is how God and those saki-addled Japanese engineers intended you and the engine to rock out; B is your parents yelling at you to turn the music down, as it lowers overall power and torque output with a second engine control map in the ECM that’s a real party pooper. It even seems to lower fuel economy a mpg or two. The buttons to switch back and forth are in the chrome tank-top console along with the recessed ignition switch and more buttons for displaying average speed, a timer, maintenance interval, and clock. Other features of the LCD display in the central round analog tachometer are bar-type temp and fuel gauges, twin tripmeters and A/B mode indicators. Speed and gear position are shown in a separate LCD display to the right, and the instrument cluster in the headlight cowl also has all of the usual indicators and warning lights. No JATO ignition light, though.
It’s hard to put this big a motor and all of that other nice stuff in a standard without making it a tad porky, and the 572-pound wet B-King definitely has to shop at the Big and Tall for its royal raiment or robes or whatever. Good reason for Suzuki to outfit the bike with a fine chassis and suspension, not to mention its light hollow-cast wheels and excellent radials. When your eyeballs aren’t being slammed into your cerebral cortex by its straight-line acceleration, the B-King spins around a corner rather well, feeling like a somewhat smaller sportbike even if it tends to run a little wide. Though not exactly flickable, like an SV650, it certainly turns easier than a Hayabusa in a tight corner with a minimum of effort, and delivers rocklike stability in fast sweepers with ample cornering clearance. It neither stands up in corners under braking nor resists turning in, and if you’re worried about leaving long, expensive 200-series black streaks accelerating out of corners, just put it in B mode.
Front braking power is linear and superbly strong thanks to large floating dual discs and opposed, radial-mount four-piston calipers, though the single-piston brake caliper in back is weak and wooden feeling at the pedal. Suspension on the B-King is taut and compliant without harshness front and rear, and all of those adjusters actually make a difference. For long highway rides the damping and front preload are easily softened up in a jiffy. The rear shock unfortunately has ring-and-locknut spring preload adjustment, but it really only needs changing if you ride with a passenger, and one look at the pop-on pillion pad and AWOL grab handles will tell you’re not going to be doing that much. Passenger footpeg hangers even unbolt from the frame for a cleaner look. Rider comfort is middling on long rides. Although the grips are perfectly positioned for leaning into the wind and that thin-looking seat pad spreads your weight out pretty well, it had me squirming after 60 or 70 miles, and legroom is definitely sportbike cramped, even with my 29-inch inseam. Brake and clutch levers are adjustable, but the mirrors are badly positioned and vibrate a lot even though the bike is otherwise smooth. Perhaps Suzuki thought we’d never be looking back….
In a word, overall I’m astounded by the B-King. Here’s a concept bike that–like one of Big Daddy Rat’s wild customs or some kind of sci-fi Transformer–we never expected to see in real life, and all of a sudden here it is. American Suzuki won’t be bringing a lot of these bad ol’ B-Kings in, so if you want to board the next flight to Zeta 13, better get a ticket soon.
Oh, and seriously consider the ABS model, no kidding.