There are those, and I generally count myself in their number, who feel that litre bikes are, frankly, a little pointless in this era of imprisonable speeding offences, overcrowded roads, slipping driving standards and so on. Apart from the sheer pointlessness of the performance, the savage delivery of all that power from what is still a pretty small engine renders that performance inaccessible to all but the bravest and most skilled riders.
No, only kidding. Of course I understand why you'd want to have something that fast, something that much more than necessary. Because you can. But I'd still suggest that the comments about accessibility retain an element of truth. Ride a litre bike as hard as it's capable of being ridden and sooner or later - probably sooner - you're going to overwhelm that back tyre with a handful of throttle and, at the very least, have a very uncomfortable moment. Or perhaps you'll just find the front coming up when you could do with it being planted to, say, carry on taking that roundabout exit and staying on your side of the road. And that's in the dry. Come the rain and you'll be splashing around as gingerly as you like while kiddies on 125s go past sticking their fingers up at you. OK, so I'm exaggerating. But riding a full fat litre class sportsbike in the rain is no joke - the tightrope you're normally riding has just got a lot narrower. And some humourist has greased it.
Traction control has been around for a while, especially on race bikes, and it's been tried on the road with varying degrees of success. The trouble is that, unless it's extremely expensive and a little unfriendly to use, traction control is often rather intrusive, spoiling throttle response and interfering with the riding experience generally. It's bad enough in a car, where you've got more grip and a softer response anyway. On a bike it's generally pretty horrible, making it feel as though you've got a massively loose chain that takes forever to get tight and transmit the power before kicking it in with a bang. No, traction control isn't, I'd suggest, the way to go on road bikes. What we really need is a bike that combines the best of both worlds - the easy accessibility of, say, a 600 with the stomp of a 1000 in one package.
And that's what Suzuki have given us in the GSX-R 1000 K7.
There are those who have suggested that the mode switch on the right handlebar is little more than a gimmick. Perhaps, if you're a massively experienced rider with a good amount of skill then it's not going to get much use. And of course if you're a hard bitten press hack with an image to preserve then you're going to dismiss its value out of hand and very publicly. But if you're a normal human being, or even that rarest of things - an honest and unbiased journalist - then you'll have to accept that it's actually a bloody good idea. The principle is really simple. There are three modes, A, B and, you've guessed it, C. In mode C the bike produces, I'd guess, around a hundred to a hundred and ten horsepower. In other words it's a fairly grunty 600. Mode A offers the full, undiluted litre bike experience with a claimed hundred and eighty odd horses at your disposal. Mode B, the default mode, gives the tamer power up to three quarter throttle and then reverts to the full monty. You can switch between modes on the fly and you can certainly feel the difference. Mode C allowed me to use full throttle while still banked hard over, and while acceleration was quite acceptable it was also far from threatening on a dry and reasonably well surfaced road. On the same corner at the same speed, mode A provoked a brief squirm from the back followed by a wheelie as I wound it open. I never hit full throttle as I would not have made the corner, but on a more user friendly (read boring) stretch I was able to demonstrate to myself that performance is truly staggering and so much faster than last year's model.
Suzuki have, to oversimplify rather, given us a bar mounted, pre-programmed Power Commander, allowing us to adjust ignition and fuelling maps at will, obviously using presets. It's a neat idea and I can see how it would appeal to both gadget freaks and well intentioned (but less experienced) superbike riders. It should be something that we all welcome as an important safety innovation, but I can't help suspect that our arrogance and pride will relegate it to something that only gets used either in atrocious conditions or when we've amassed sufficient penalty points that a less potent bike seems a attractive prospect. Which is a shame.
But of course this is a GSX-R, and as such there's a heck of a lot more to it than just a clever switch. Last year's bike, you may recall, was fast, light, comfortable and handled brilliantly. The only slight criticism, and it's a subjective one, was the looks. Particularly the enormous exhaust. This year's model is a pretty radical departure from the norm in many ways, and nothing more than an evolutionary step in others.
First of all, Suzuki decided that last year's rip-snorting fire breathing monster was just too gutless. So they fiddled around and came up with a few more horses and a little extra torque as well. As before, there's a slipper clutch attached to the typically slick six speed box. Suzuki have, very sensibly, stuck by their guns and stayed away from underseat exhausts. But while everyone else gets a lot more space to fill with catalysts and silencers, their adherence to sound engineering, as opposed to aesthetic and fashion, principles means that Suzuki had a bit of a problem. Their revamped engine needed to shift an awful lot of exhaust gas, and the upcoming noise and emissions requirements meant an enormous silencer would be needed if all that good work wasn't to be wasted in a strangled and inefficient exhaust. So they did the simple and logical thing. They went back to having two cans. Nothing original - Yamaha and Kawasaki both have twin cans on their litre class sportsbikes - but a bit of a revelation to have them clear and proud on the sides.
The chassis has been tweaked to give a little more stability, especially mid corner. The old bike was very good but in extreme conditions (like on the track) it all got a little flighty. These geometry changes make the racebike an incredibly potent package and make the roadbike better at handling mid corner upsets like surface imperfections, roadkill or even the occasional bit of wheelspin without getting all excitable and squirrelly. Brakes have had some detail improvement, giving improved heat transfer away from the discs while still keeping the feel and eye-popping stopping power of the old model. There's also another first for the factory. An electronic steering damper has been fitted, similar to that on the Honda Fireblade but a little more discreet.
Cosmetically, the front is little changed from the outgoing version. And that's no bad thing, as it was a fine looking bike before. There have been a few refinements, of course, but the family lineage is certainly very much in evidence. Of course, the twin exhausts dominate the rear aspect of the bike. And while they're an improvement on the bulbous single pipe on the old bike, they're not exactly stunningly attractive. They do, however, make a fantastic noise. Suzuki have certainly recruited some engineers with real passion on their exhaust development team, as they are turing out bikes which comply perfectly with the letter of the law while at the same time sticking to the spirit of biking A very neat trick. Especially when you consider that our test bike was fitted with a pair of beautifully made and stunning looking Yoshimura cans which were actually quieter than standard!
Anyhow. We've stood around looking at it long enough. Finish your coffee, get suited up and let's go for a ride.
Swing your leg over the GSX-R 1000 and you are immediately struck by how compact it is. Not small, because unlike some others in the class there is still room to move around. But compact, because there's no wasted volume anywhere. Looking down at the clocks the strong family resemblance remains with a large analogue tacho and a smaller digital speedo. As with the rest of the range, there is a clear digital gear indicator and there is the unique addition of a mode indicator next to it. All the usual suspects are present otherwise - twin trip meters, reserve gauge, clock and so on, though the mode switch on the right hand bar is obviously a little special.
Start the engine and you'll immediately notice just how quiet it is. Blip the throttle and see how quickly it responds, too. On startup the mode switch defaults to position B. You need to turn the selector on by pressing either button and holding it in for five seconds, otherwise you're stuck in mode B. Which isn't necessarily such a bad thing, but it does rather defeat the object of having the button there in the first place. Whatever you've decided to do with the mode switch, though, pulling away you'll find the GSX-R 1000 is easy to handle, with alight clutch and smooth Suzuki gearbox. Actually, the box isn't quite as slick changing as others in the range, though it's by no means intrusive. No, I think the slipper clutch interferes a little, especially on the downshift, and just makes the transition a little notchier than usual. But it's still a lovely box, and I never managed to invoke a false neutral whether I used the clutch or not.
Around town, the riding position is OK though inevitably compromised. You do put a lot of weight through your wrists, but it's nowhere near as bad as some of the opposition. The seat is comfortable, the mirrors work well (and are easily folded for filtering through narrow gaps) and the power delivery is faultless. A warm day will see the bike generating a fantastic amount of heat, and though it copes fine you may start to cook yourself after an hour or so. Best get out of town, then.
Of course, bikes like this don't belong in the city, and when you get out of the constraints of the urban sprawl and find yourself able to let it have its head, even a little, things really get interesting. The first thing you'll notice, for the simple reason that it's impossible not to, is just how remarkably easy this bike is to ride quickly. It gathers speed at an astonishing rate, it remains spectacularly composed, even on iffy road surfaces or under hard acceleration, and it handles brilliantly. Stability was sought and, clearly, stability was found. But this comes at a price. That composure and stability, while working for the rider at middling speeds, starts to work against him as the pace increases. It is, as I said earlier, ever so easy to ride quickly. But to ride fast takes a whole new level of effort. The larger rear tyre and more conservative geometry of the 1000 makes for an extremely physical ride when really pressing on, which can get tiring. There's no doubt that the bike handles extremely well and is a quantum improvement over the original, but it's still not as easy to ride fast as, say, its 750 stablemate.
One thing I was impressed by, though, was the unintrusive but calming behaviour of the new electronic steering damper tucked away below the bottom yoke. It's not adjustable but it seems to kick in at just the right time anyway. Mind you, I'm not actually convinced that it is needed at all, what with that super stable chassis.
Brakes, you'll be relieved to know, are of a similar capability to the rest of the package. I don't think they're the strongest out there but they are beautifully progressive and certainly haul the bike down from warp speed at an extremely respectable rate. They also have plenty of feel, a real bonus on something as likely as this to have some mid corner braking going on after a too-hot approach...
GSX-Rs have always been something of a paradox in that they are full-on hardcore sports bikes that remain surprisingly civilised. And that trait continues with the 1000. It has a comfortable seat, there is room (and provision) to strap on luggage and the riding position is fine for an average size person to ride pretty much all day without getting cramp or needing an osteopath. The fairing even works quite well, deflecting most of the massive breeze and the associated weather, bugs and airborne detritus. Tank range, by the way, is around a hundred ad forty miles when riding enthusiastically. Rather more, I should imagine, when ridden with a little more restraint.
So what have we got? We've got a bike that is comfortable, practical and looks great. It's stupidly, ridiculously fast yet can be ridden all day long at a reasonable pace. It has all the useful touches that you need to make a bike easy to live with and it's a complete pussy cat to ride when you want it to be. So it really is a bike for all seasons, and one that I would heartily endorse if you're in the market for a litre class sportsbike. The mode switch, dismissed in some quarters as a gimmick, is a genuinely useful safety tool and the steering damper is far better than the hydraulic one it replaces.
There's really only one thing that goes against the GSX-R 1000K7. And it's called the GSX-R 750 K7. The 1000 is a fabulous bike and if your heart is set on a litre machine then it should, I believe, be this one. But the 750 is easier to ride fast, probably more forgiving, certainly less physically tiring and significantly cheaper to buy, run and insure. And it isn't that much slower. So while I would thoroughly recommend the GSX-R 1000 as the best of the current crop of litre bikes...there's still a nagging doubt that the 750 is a better bike overall.
PS Thanks to Premier
Suzuki of West Wickham, Kent for the loan of their demonstrator. Call them on 020 877 8040 for anything Suzuki related - they're really rather good.