Just before Halloween 2023, enduro riding maniac Matt Spears, whose Gold Wing off road work you may already be familiar with, introduced his latest project. It’s an off-road Suzuki Hayabusa, and if you think that sounds mental, you should really watch the video.
Spears, who’s been riding enduro since he was a kid, undeniably has both a whole lot of skills and confidence. If anyone is going to carve a niche for themselves out of off-roading bikes that most people would deem entirely inappropriate for the task, it’s going to be someone with those characteristics. Is it a good idea? That all depends on whether you get up the hill or not.
In any case, after learning a little bit about what the Hayabusa could do out of the box, Spears and his buddies got together for a garage day before the next ride. They had a few key modifications in mind to get the Hayabusa more hill climb-ready, including knobby tires, a bigger rear sprocket, a custom crash cage, and a skid plate to help protect the engine.
The knobbies they had weren’t made to fit stock Hayabusa wheels—and also, this group of guys doesn’t just have a tire machine in their garage. So, that meant they had to use some creative means to try to mount the tires and get them to bead properly so they could be filled with air.
That’s another difference, too—the Hayabusa’s stock wheels are made to run tubeless tires, but most dirt bikes use a tubed setup. With so many tricky factors to overcome, could they get it to work? (Don’t try this at home, kids.)
Eventually, they did manage to get the tires to fit on the Hayabusa wheels—even though the rear tire ended up widening and flattening so much to fit the extra width of the rim that it effectively became a low-profile knobby. They also hold air, which is the important thing. But then, they came to another problem.
As you may already be aware, when you modify one thing on a bike (or a car, for that matter), you also have to see how it’s going to interact with other things on that vehicle. Changing the size and shape of tires, for example, can negatively impact how the wheel interacts with the suspension, surrounding bodywork, or other component that are located nearest to the wheel in question.
In this case, Spears and friends discover that the oil cooler is rubbing against the new knobby front tire when the suspension is compressed. So, they do what anyone in this situation would probably do: Start modifying the tire to get it to fit. Shaving some height off the middle knobs on the tire seems to do the trick.
That’s one problem conquered, but turning the handlebars side to side quickly reveals another problem: The big knobby totally rubs against the fairings on the ‘Busa. Luckily, it’s nothing that a hastily Sharpie-marked line and a Dremel can’t fix. After cutting both side fairings to accommodate the new tire, that mod seems ready to work.
Then it’s on to building a cage for the thing, which involves a lot of steel tubing, eyeballing holes to cut out in the side fairing so they can mount the cage properly, and of course plenty of welding. I’m an obsessive measurer (and maybe you are too), but if you’re good at eyeballing, you’re good at eyeballing. It seems to work for these guys, because the results speak for themselves.
Once they get the cage on, and the little skid plate (on which the paint still isn’t dry) mounted, it’s time to take the ‘Busa out for its first hill climb. The larger rear sprocket makes it a bit easier to control the power with the new gear ratios, but it’s still a whole lot more power than any dirt bike. Learning how to effectively use it will be interesting.
The final 10 minutes or so of the video are the Hayabusa’s first hill climb—and we won’t spoil what happens here, because you should really just watch it for yourself. All we’ll tell you for now is that the roost on this thing is absolutely insane, and you do not want to be behind it when it’s riding dirt.