Meet the Suzuki GSX-R1000, the bike Suzuki hopes will restore their brand image and see them return to the top of the sportsbike tree.
It has already got off to a good start – it made a winning debut in this year’s superstock class at the hands of Richard Cooper while Michael Dunlop piloted it to a win in this year’s Senior TT race. So, the package works, but just how good is it on Britain’s roads?
Looking at the bike in the flesh and the bike’s styling is dominated by THAT exhaust. Yes, the MotoGP paint is well finished, and the clocks look neat, if unspectacular, but there’s no getting away from that end can. It’s massive. Bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope. And it’s hideous too. Unfortunately, the official line from Suzuki is that they’d rather you didn’t ditch it in favour of a tasty, sleeker aftermarket item. Bummer. And then there’s the plastics. They’re very samey. Think evolution, not revolution. Shame.
Now we’ve addressed the elephants in the room, let’s get back to the bike itself. Swing a leg over the bike and the first the first thing you’ll notice is that everything feels ‘just so’. Everything fits – bars and pegs easily accommodate my 6ft 2in frame – yet the bike feels really small and compact. It feels very much like a 600 and makes you feel properly in control. It’s a neat trick.
Turn the key, watch the weirdly retro clocks do their thing, twist the throttle and the next thing you’ll notice is the exhaust note. Suzuki claims this is the most powerful, hardest-accelerating, cleanest-running GSX-R to date, and it sounds menacing. Angry even. As well as shorter-stroke dimensions, a higher compression ratio, a new valve operating system (finger followers instead of bucket tappets), this GSX-R features the MotoGP-developed SR-VVT (Suzuki Racing Variable Valve Timing). This centrifugally operated system, built into the intake cam sprocket, uses 12 steel balls and slanted grooves to rotate the sprocket and retard the intake valve timing at 10,000rpm.
A new, ride-by-wire intake system and revised ram-air system also help. The result of all that is a 14,500rpm rev limit and 199bhp peak power at 13,200rpm.
Sounds impressive enough, but words cannot do justice to just how rampant this combination feels on the open road. The bike has plenty of grunt on tap from 5,000rpm, but get the needle dancing above 10,000 rpm and the VVT system starts rotating the position of the cam sprocket on the camshaft – then you’ll feel the bike take off and accelerate like a locked-on heat seeking missile. It feels fast, really fast, so fast that you’ll have to recalibrate your mind to deal with the violent acceleration. Delivery is smooth, linear and instant – hedges fly past in blur as you scream your way to the limiter, seamlessly snicking gears thanks to the optional bi-directional quickshifter and autoblipper. It’s a pure assault on the senses – intoxicating and addictive – everything biking should be.
And that quickshifter is also worthy of praise. It’s as good as faultless. In the 1200 miles we spent together I never missed a shift or snicked a false neutral. It’s easily the best in class and far superior to the systems used by BMW, Aprilia and the likes. The fuelling is spot on too, allowing you to mete out all that power as you see fit. In fact, it’s so good that I never felt the need to try either of the two softer riding modes, both of which give a less immediate throttle response while still giving you access to all of those 199 ponies.
And then there’s the sophisticated suite of rider aids which do a good job of enhancing the riding experience. The traction control system is unobtrusive and works well. It’s divided into three categories, with levels 1 to 4 designed for the track, 5 to 8 for street riding, and 9 and 10 for wet riding conditions.
There’s no wheelie control as such, although the traction control cuts naturally bring the front wheel down. You can even adjust the traction control on the move, but you have to roll off to select the different settings. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it’s worth pointing out.
The ride is decent too, thanks to the suspension, which is still from Showa. The Big Piston Forks are proven, while the revised, multi-adjustable shock does a good job of smoothing out the worst bumps while letting you feel exactly what is happening beneath you.
Show the GSX-R a bend and the big Suzuki’s chassis shines. Suzuki’s engineers have again turned to MotoGP for the frame design, and to this end it is 20 per cent lighter than that used in the outgoing model. And rotating the engine back in the frame by six degrees has allowed its centre of mass to be moved forward by 20mm, and this, when combined with a 20mm extended swingarm, has resulted in more weight over the front wheel. This change inspires huge levels of confidence, allowing you to enjoy the accurate and predictable steering as you motor through the twisties.
Even the brakes – the traditional Achilles heel of every GSX-R – work. Yes, lack the savagery of a BMW S1000RR, but they’re a vast improvement on Gixxer’s of old. They’re consistent, progressive and have good ultimate stopping power.
A Gixxer has always been the weapon of choice for sporty road riders, but as the litre class moved on bikes like Aprilia’s RSV4, BMW’s S1000RR and Ducati’s Panigale meant the Gixxer suddenly felt very analogue in an age dominated by digital bikes. However, this bike is good enough to return Suzuki to the very pinnacle of the species. It really is that good, and even now, a week after I rode the bike, I’m still grinning like a loon in exactly the same way I did after my first ride. It may not be the most powerful, the fastest or the most agile, but it’s a supremely capable and confidence-inspiring motorcycle, one which has the perfect balance of rider-friendliness and blistering, exhilarating performance. Ride one and discover that intoxicating acceleration for yourself. I guarantee you’ll be smiling from ear to ear if you do.