Back in 2001, Suzuki showed a truly ridiculous concept bike at the Tokyo show. Powered by a supercharged Hayabusa engine and with a wealth of high tech gizmos - fingerprint starting, GPS navigation, voice controlled anti theft devices and the like - the B-King had radical styling to go with the overall concept. Obviously, this was just a concept bike and so was never going to get built, no matter how the audience clamoured for it. And clamour they did.The B-King (the name comes as an abbreviation of the original Boost King from the Supercharged engine) probably created more of a stir than any other concept bike we've seen. But it really wasn't viable for production.
So when Suzuki confirmed that they were going to build it we were pretty surprised at first, before becoming deeply cynical of what would come out. We've seen it before, when a radical concept bike has been released as a production machine and the only real similarity is the name and, perhaps, some faint styling cues. When it was announced that the production bike wouldn't be supercharged we all nodded sagely. See? Another cop out.
Then we read further down the spec sheet.
Alloy frame. Yeah, whatever. Fat, upside down forks. Yawn. Big, multi piston brakes. Woohoo. Engine out of the new Hayabusa. Check. Detuned, of course. What's that? One hundred and eighty one horsepower? One HUNDRED and EIGHTY ONE HORSEPOWER!!
What, in the name of all that's holy, are they playing at?
One hundred and eighty one horsepower. In a naked motorbike. Maybe they hadn't bottled out after all, then.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, meet the best comedy motorcycle anyone has ever produced. The Suzuki B-King is a big, striking motorbike. You are unlikely to ignore it, either styling or physical size. If you are the shy, quiet, retiring type who just wants to ride a motorbike and be left alone then I'd suggest you move along. Nothing to see for you here.
Let's just have a look at some of the details before we do anything else. The seriously businesslike front forks with dinner plate sized discs and proper sports tyre. Proper adjustment on the suspension, too. And radial brakes. This isn't just a piece of overstyled tat - there's serious running gear on this bike. Too large engine shoehorned into the frame but managing to look surprisingly tidy. Most liquid cooled motors look all wrong in naked bikes, but this seems to carry it off. The huge fuel tank. No, huge doesn't do it justice. It's two feet across, and only the cutouts at the back make it bearable to ride. Drop it off the stand and the tank would hit before the bars. Expensive it would be, yes. Sorry, the styling keeps bringing me back to Star Wars. Though from the front it's more like a Transformer, with the headlight as a head. That headlight is a masterpiece, looking amazing but still managing to be highly effective as well. On top of the tank there are a couple of buttons next to the filler cap, giving access to Suzuki's increasingly common power mode selector. Clocks are simple enough, dominated by the big tacho and digital speedo. Nothing controversial there - enough information for whatever you may want though there's no lap timer. Why would there be? Moving back, the entire rear end of the bike is dominated by a pair of enormous exhausts. They are so large that they're almost caricatures. In fact, the exhausts themselves aren't so huge, as you can see when you look at the exits. But the mouldings over the top have heat shields and conceal a mass of silencing and environmentally friendly stuff. You'll be pleased to know that Yoshimura make a set of pipes for it that look slightly more in keeping. Finish off at the back with a quick look at the industrial sized chain, hefty rear brake and fat (but still sporty) rear tyre and wander off shaking your head for a coffee. As if you need more of a stimulant.
Get on the B-King and it performs a magic act and shrinks under you. It never becomes a small bike, obviously, but both the weight and apparent bulk vanish. It's astonishingly well balanced. Turn on the ignition and the centre LCD display tells you what you're riding. In case you've forgotten. That then goes out and is replaced with useful stuff - trip meters, clock and so on. Thumb the button and to be honest the engine is almost disappointing. There's no mistaking the the potential that lies under your right hand, but the noise is muted, unthreatening, and there's no vibration, no sense of having a hundred and eighty one horses straining to be unleashed. Make sure Mode A is selected to get the full effect, snick into first on the normal excellent Suzuki gearbox and pull away. Hmm. No drive train snatch, no jerky throttle response, no drama at all. The chaps at Premier, whose demonstrator this is, warned me that I should let the tyres get warm before giving it any throttle. Obviously, warm is a subjective thing as five hundred yards down the road I gave it a bit of a handful. The viciously fast wheelie was softened only by the fact that the back tyre was spinning wildly. On a dry and reasonably warm road at about three quarters throttle. Hmm. Maybe they weren't kidding. First (and, I found later, second and third) demands a certain amount of respect. No problem, I can do respect.
Here's a surprising thing. Despite the B-King being big and heavy, and vanishing act notwithstanding it is a big, heavy motorbike, you can throw it around like something half its size. And it loves it. I like powerful naked bikes because they can be fun. But the B-King takes it onto another level. You can ride everywhere in clouds of tyre smoke if you want. You can ride everywhere scraping your knees on each corner and generally making like a GP God. You can bimble around like a commuter and filter through traffic like an IAM instructor if you fancy it. I'm sure if you could find someone bendy and deranged enough you could go two up touring on it. The thing is, you could do all of these things on the same journey. Well, maybe not the pillion thing. But the rest you could do between two sets of lights on the way to work. Please don't ask me to explain how I know this.
Anyway. The B-King handles remarkably well. The front feels secure and well planted, the back predictable and reasonably easy to catch when it breaks away. Throttle response is beautifully moderated and actually it is perfectly possible to ride sensibly, never light the back and keep both wheels on the ground. Some people will probably buy it and do just that. Maybe they want something small to tow their caravan or similar. Seriously, though, the mode selector switch has its place. But the throttle is so nice that if you're even vaguely competent then you probably don't need any electronic jiggery pokery to keep you out of trouble. For the record, though, turning the power down just gave the engine a rather flat feel and stopped it from behaving quite so dramatically. So probably exactly what was intended. It would be useful in really nasty conditions, guess, but then again if it were than bad I would be very wary about taking something that would be so expensive to drop anyway.
In town the width slows down filtering a little but the enomous presence seemed to encourage drivers to get out of the way. Even scooter boys gave us a respectfully wide berth, which said quite a lot. And out of town handling was predictable, stable and very nice. The B-King is a surprisingly civilised place to be. When your arms and head aren't being ripped off by acceleration or wind force, that is. I have no idea what the top speed is because the bike had plenty to go when my neck cried enough. It's plenty fast enough and then some, that's for sure.
Brakes. Always nice to have with a hundred and eighty one horsepower. That number just won't go away, will it? That's the trouble with putting such an outrageously powerful, brilliant engine in a motorbike. It rather dominates everything else, no matter how good it may be. Like the brakes. Which are sublimely good. I mean, they are so good they make my GSX-R feel soggy in comparison. But still they warrant virtually no comment when compared to that engine.
Running costs will be commensurate with the available performance, at a guess. In the time I had the bike nothing needed adjustment, of course, but I wouldn't expect a chain or rear tyre to last very long. Fuel consumption seemed OK because most of the time you're not going to be using the full potential of that engine so you're on small throttle openings. And Suzukis tend not to break or to need much outside normal servicing. So if you can buy it and insure it you can run it.
So here's a conclusion, gleaned from a long and glorious weekend. Suzuki's B-King is immense in every sense. Immense power. Immense presence. Immense fun. It made me laugh out loud every time I opened the throttle. People's reactions to it made me laugh. The feeling of having my arms torn out made me laugh. It honestly is like sitting on the Millennium Falcon when they finally get the hyperdrive going and everything turns into little streaks of light. Things happen very fast, but the B-King is good enough that it actually helps you deal with the astonishing performance available rather than working against you. In short, it's a brilliant motorbike hampered only by its physical size and daunting reputation. Everyone should try one of these at least once. Just remember to take your cheque book...
As usual, thanks to Premier
Suzuki in West Wickham, Kent - 020 8777 8040 - for the loan of their demonstrator for a few days. Nice people, private company, worth doing business with.