Over the years we've reviewed a fair few GSX-Rs here. And we've rarely (OK, never) found much fault with them. Is that because we're biased? I'd like to think not. I would prefer to think that, in much the same way that nobody really makes a bad motorcycle any more then Suzuki are congenitally incapable of making a bad GSX-R. We'll ignore the few that lost their way in the nineties for now. Anyway, 2011 brings us the latest incarnation of the evergreen GSX-R 750. After the sublime experience of the last model, which lasted an unprecedented three years without a material change, we naturally assumed that the 2011 bike would be essentially the same.
We were mistaken.
A look at the pre-launch blurb told us the facts. Lighter, smaller. No more power. Better named brakes and some more acronyms. Big deal. Really, in truth, how much difference could they make? Well, let's have a look.
At first glance, the family resemblence is very strong. Personally I don't think this is as pretty as the outgoing model, but it's still a fine looking bike. There's no way you'd mistake it for anything else, and that's a Good Thing. Some of my peers think it's time for the GSX-R range to change its look, but from where I stand there's nothing wrong with family identity. It helps, of course, that the GSX-R is the only three-quarter litre sportsbike on the market now, so Suzuki have an even stronger reason to maintain that heritage.
Anyway, a slightly closer look shows a bike that is actually quite noticeably smaller than its predecessor, especially around the tail which is sculpted and folded in an origami-like minimalist style. The mid section doesn't seem too different apart from the inevitable redesigned exhaust can, while the fairing is similar but seems to have stepped back to the K6 with a dual stacked headlight replacing the last model's triple unit.
Looking closer still shows some of the marketing points of the new bike. Front brake calipers are monoblocs from Brembo, albeit slightly cheap looking ones, and they hang off new Showa Big Piston Forks. There's also that new exhaust, which is far slimmer and frankly sexier looking than the blunderbuss on the old bike. Clocks are different, too, as is the switchgear. While the clocks are rather nice, the switchgear is, in my opinion anyway, a distinct step back with the headlamp flasher replaced by an utterly pointless mode switch, flashing now being achieved by pushing the headlamp switch down instead. It's counter-intuitive, uncomfortable and annoying. Oddly, the right hand bar, which formerly housed the mode switch, now has the same two buttons which instead control the display on the dash, cycling between trip meters, clock, brightness adjustment, odometer and lap timer. Yes, the GSX-R 750 now has a lap timer. Is it necessary? No. is it really quite cool to have? Hell yes. It stands to reason that if you need a lap timer then you need a shift light as well. The fact that a road bike doesn't need either is, of course, immaterial. Suzuki have improved the shift light from the earlier bike by adding three bright yellow LEDs which light progressively before the main white shift light comes on and blinds you. You can, of course, adjust the brightness as well as the limit that the main light comes on and the steps between the warning lights. It's useful when you're running a new bike in, and I suppose I use it on the track but I never had one when I raced and never blew an engine up. At least not from forgetting to change gear...
Getting on board really brings home just how small this bike is. Yes Suzuki have done something really smart. The middle bit, where you sit, put your feet and so on, has the same proportions as before. The bike is a bit skinnier, it's true, but the critical angles that your hips and knees have to contort into haven't noticeably changed. Which bodes well for general use.
Well, as we've got on we probably ought to go for a ride. Coming?
Turn the ignition on and you're rewarded with a veritable Christmas tree of lights as the dashboard wakes up to do its thing, accompanied by the whine of the fuel pump and (probably) the insistent beeping of your alarm, reminding you to disarm it before all hell lets loose. Pull in the clutch, thumb the starter and 750cc of prime Japanese alloy and steel whirrs into life beneath you. There's a surprisingly gruff intake sound, and the exhaust, though muted at low revs, has a pleasing bark when you blip the throttle. Throttle response is astoundingly quick. Sitting here, ready to go, one thing remains apparent. As with pretty well all GSX-Rs, the current 750 is beautifully laid out from a rider's perspective. Everything falls to hand perfectly and it really is a very comfortable place to be. Click the typically smooth gearbox into first and pull away easily. Suzukis are justly renowned for their smooth gearboxes and clutches, and the GSX-R does nothing to dent that reputation.
On the move but at low speed the whole thing feels familiar to anyone who has ever ridden a GSX-R. Until the road ges bumpier. Hallo. What's this? Bumps are being soaked up, especially by the front, in a most un-sportsbike style. This bodes ill for higher speed control. Have Suzuki gone soft?
No, of course they haven't. Pressing on at considerably higher speeds reveals a front end that's as beautifully planted and stable as we've come to expect, just much better at absorbing bumps. That'll be one of the results of the Big Piston forks that we've heard so much about in the past couple of years. The front, by the way, is perfectly matched to the rear as far as spring rates go, making the bike immensely stable in spite of its fairly aggressive geometry. The spring rates are matched by the multiple adjustments available. One of the odd things to get used to with the new forks is the lack of preload adjusters on the top. Just as we've got used to having a big nut to adjust spring preload, Showa come along and change everything. The preload adjusters are now at the bottom of the fork legs where rebound damping used to be, while both rebound and compression adjusters are now on the top. It's confusing but only briefly. At the back, the usual rebound and preload adjusters are joined by both high and low speed compression adjustment to give you the potential to utterly screw up the out of the box excellent handling. Oh, and as usual these days Suzuki have fitted their standard speed sensitive steering damper, which works well in that you essentially forget it's there. I suspect that it's redundant, and just there for liability purposes, but I haven't had time to check that for certain yet. This is probably as good a place as any to discuss Suzuki's Drive Mode Selector. I can, at a push, see the point of it on a litre class bike. They're a bit scary sometimes and being able to take the savage edge off the power delivery might just be a Good Thing in genuinely bad weather. Though equally you could use a Rider Drive Mode Selector and simply not opem the throttle so far or so hard. Eitehr way, though, while the new 750 is fast and punches way above its weight in terms of power, it doesn't (and can't) have the vicious torque delivery that so readily unhooks rear tyres and needs artificial taming. Now at least there are only two modes on this (and, even more pointlessly, the 600 as well), Mode A representing full fat and Mode B completely emasculated. There is a world of difference between the two, as you will find out when you either try them out of curiousity or accidentally hit the mode button instead of flashing to let someone out of a junction...and wonder why two of your plug leads have just come off.
Anyway, back to the ride.
Traffic and other urban experiences are easily dealt with, the GSX-R's agile steering and inherent good balance making lane changing a breeze while the relatively slim bodywork means that gaps are easily exploited. The mirrors are excellent, offering as clear a view behind as can reasonably be expected on a sportsbike and steadily refusing to blur. They're also easy to fold in for those extra-tight gaps, which is a welcome bonus. The sharp throttle response and strong brakes (more on both of those later) are icing on the cake, improving safety margins and making sure that the traffic light GP is rarely, if ever, a problem. That nice compliant suspension makes things better still, absorbing all but the worst London's pothole riddled roads can throw at you. And the riding position, offering as it does at least a nod in the direction of orthopaedic sympathy, makes commuting a genuinely valid possibility.
Now of course most people, and I count myself in that number, don't buy sports bikes to ride in town. Well, not solely, anyway. The GSX-R's spiritual home is the racetrack, of course, but nice open roads will have to suffice at the moment - a track test will follow in the new year. Out on the open road the new GSX-R really starts to shine. In fact, I still struggle to get my head around just how different, and how improved, the 2011 model is compared to its already very capable predecessors. Suzuki have been very smart this year. They haven't chased ever smaller gains in power and torque. They haven't upped the rev limit to maximise a razor sharp powerband. No, what they have done is work on the engine to make it respond faster, to make the midrange fatter and the torque more accessible. In simple terms, they've made the power easier to get at. They've done that by shedding weight inside to lose inertia (makes the engine speed up and slow down quicker), they've reduced friction and pumping losses (makes the power go where you want it rather than get sapped just trying to make the engine turn) and they've finessed everything on the combustion and inlet side to make sure that all the fuel burnt is burned as efficiently as possible before being pushed out of the new and improved exhaust. The result is an engine that punches like a litre bike while having the rapid throttle response of a smaller, revvier lump. It's a neat trick that I suspect other manufacturers will be aping in the near future.
Now all that motive urge needs to be tamed, and Suzuki have taken the radical step of going to Italian brake maestros Brembo to finally shake off the accusations of being under-braked. In truth, I don't actually feel that this has been the case for a long time, but the reputation hung around like a bad smell from the perhaps justified criticisms of the K1-K3 series bikes, before getting radial calipers with the K4. But I digress. The Brembos are four piston monobloc calipers, mechanically identical to those found on top end Ducatis, Aprilias and MVs. In other words, genuinely tasty. It's unfortunate that Suzuki have enected to finish them in a slightly cheap looking silver instead of the much nicer titanium finish on the Italian machines, but then you can't see them from the saddle, can you? You may not be able to see them, but you can certainly feel them. In this case they give you the power to either scrub off speed with absolutely no fuss and drama, as urgently or as gently as you wish. Or you can lift the back wheel and have it gently waving in the air as the front tyre howls and your eyeballs stick to the inside of your visor. Your choice.
Of course there are plenty of bikes out there with great engines or excellent brakes, or even both, that are let down by a mediocre chassis. The GSX-R 750 isn't one of them. Last year's bike handled well. Brilliantly, even. This year's makes it look baggy and uncontrolled in comparison. Those front forks, compliant and comfortable at lower speeds, transorm into something truly wonderful as the pace picks up. A couple of years ago you'd have been pushed to get this level of control from top end Ohlins race kit, and now it's fitted as standard to the GSX-R. The rear damper hasn't changed from last year, simply having the settings tweaked to match the front, but it's not missing anything as it also offers superlative damping control in both rebound and compression. The new chassis is shorter and more aggressive than before, which is easily felt, but is also significantly lighter. And that's where the difference really shows. Overall the 2011 bike is a whole eight kilos lighter than the previous model. Eight kilos. That's over seventeen pounds. And as three quarters of that is in the chassis, one way or another, you're going to feel it most in the ease with which you can throw the new GSX-R around. It's a real revelation, and fast road riding is a joy as the bike goes exactly where you want it to go and tracks a line without any disturbance from surface irregularities and other unpleasantness. At the same time, a miscalculation on your part can be dealt with by a gentle bit of braking if necessary and a swift change in line, which is always reassuring. Bends are despatched with little more than a thought and a brief dip of the shoulder, while tighter stuff is tackled just as easily. I know it's a cliche and I'm sorry, but the GSX-R literally goes where you want it to go with very little more effort than thinking about it. Straights and open sections are simply gobbled up as the easy revving motor and slick gearbox encourage you to perhaps take the occasional liberty with the speed limit. They are just guidelines, right?
When you're not really on a charge, though, the GSX-R still works well. The engine is relaxed enough to allow a comfortable cruise, while the riding position is sufficiently flexible to let you sit up and ride for distance equally well as being tucked in and going for it. The clocks are beautifully clear and the mirrors, as always, do a reasonable job of letting you see at least a reasonable proportion of what might be behind. As has been the case with GSX-Rs for most of the time, they are truly a paradox. Because on one hand you have the archetypical headbanger's motorbike - fast, light, agile and willing to make a mockery of the entire gamut of the Road Traffic Act as fast as you can say "Lock me up this instant." But on the other you have civilised, fairly comfortable, quite practical machine that you can use for commuting, touring or making charity deliveries to orphanages.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the simplest argument I have to justify the fact that I have recently parted with my own hard-earned to buy one. Because, quite simply, I don't believe that there is currently a better all round sportsbike on the market in the UK.