few months ago we had the pleasure of a couple of
days with a new Suzuki GSX-R 1000. Now while that was great
for giving us, and you, an idea of what the bike was like
to ride, it didn’t really do much when it came to seeing
what it was like to live with. In fact, all we were able to
do last time was say that it handles well, it’s comfortable
enough and it’s fast.
A great word, and one used rather regularly when talking about
bikes like this. Frequently, it’s preceded by another
word to emphasise just how fast it is, but we’ll not
be using that here. In fact, this is a great time to blow
some of the nonsense that is being peddled by some alleged
experts about this bike. The GSX-R 1000 is not past it. It
isn’t over the hill, baggy, overweight or gutless. It
is about as far from those things as you can imagine while
remaining a usable road bike. It isn’t new for 2004,
it’s true. And it’s no longer the lightest and
most powerful in the class. But it’s more powerful than
some and lighter than some. And at the end of the day, any
litre class sports bike is far faster and more capable than
you or I will ever be. If you’re a professional superbike
or GP racer then please ignore that last comment – it’s
aimed at the mere mortals reading…
We’ve had this bike on test for the
best part of three weeks now, and it’s opened my eyes
to the reality of litre bike ownership. I’m going to
do something a little different here. I’m going to lead
with the conclusions of the test and then justify them. Why?
Because it feels the right thing to do. And because that’s
the over-riding impression that remains after an enthusiastic
ride on a GSX-R1000. The sensation of arriving at the end
of your journey just a little before you actually left.
The GSX-R 1000
is an incredibly capable road bike. It is comfortable and
usable with decent mirrors, excellent lights and plenty of
points to strap your luggage on. It handles wonderfully, managing
to be stable while not being too much hard work to get turning.
And it goes quite well too. Acceleration is positively brutal.
Overtakes take no more than a brief thought and a slight twist
and they are clear and done. When we had the chance to test
top speed it turned out to be simply ridiculous. And yet the
whole thing is as happy bimbling along at the national speed
limit as it is at warp factor 21. In a nutshell, I really
liked this bike and didn’t want to give it back.
Of course, every silver lining has a cloud.
And though it is difficult to find any real criticism to level
at the GSX-R 1000, the test period wasn’t entirely without
trauma. First of all, there’s something about having
a bike that is king of the production racing scene that will
be familiar to anyone who ever owned a Yamaha LC. Racers are,
on the whole, pretty decent people. But some of the folk around
racing aren’t. If you have a GSX-R 1000 then get a decent
alarm, a decent lock and a decent garage to keep it in. Because
even parking ours in front of a CCTV camera and illuminated
by spotlights didn’t stop it from going walkies. We
only got it back because the opportunist toe-rags who nicked
it didn’t have the brains to figure out how to get it
rolling and didn’t have a van with them to take it away.
They left it hidden in some bushes a few hundred yards from
the hotel. I found it, took it back in and left it in the
corridor outside my room for the rest of the night. But you
might not be so lucky, so take lots of precautions.
The other thing you will need to be careful
of is yourself. This bike is very fast. I think I may have
mentioned that before. And overtakes are very easy. I probably
mentioned that as well. Add the two together and you soon
find yourself doing devastatingly effective overtakes on cars
that are already exceeding the national speed limit by some
way. And that makes you very vulnerable when it comes to losing
your licence and, possibly, your liberty as well.
But enough waffle.
During the time we had this bike it was used in town, in the
countryside and on motorways, A roads and back roads. It was
used in the rain, in the dry, at night and… well, you
get the picture I’m sure. We did everything with this
bike that we possibly could. And what did we find? We found
that it was far better than we are at everything we asked
it to do, of course.
Let’s start with practicality. Not
normally the strong suit of a supersports 1000, and perhaps
a pointer that the GSX-R has gone a bit soft. Except, of course,
that it was always practical. Luggage hooks on the rear pegs
and moulded in either side of the number plate mean that you
can actually strap a bag on the back and be reasonably sure
that it will stay put. Especially if you use the pillion seat
instead of the cover – not an option we had but it would
have made a good thing even better. Add to that a seat that
actually offers some real comfort, a screen and fairing that
are reasonably protective and an engine that finds sensible
cruising speeds so easy that fuel consumption becomes laughable
and suddenly you consider going a whole lot further that you
normally would on a sports bike and wondering why the hell
anyone would buy one of the lardy sports tourers when this
does such a good job.
Then you need to do a decisive overtake.
Maybe you need to get past before some white lines or a bend,
maybe you’ve misjudged the closing speed of that truck
coming the other way or maybe the subject of your overtake
just needs to be shown what you and your bike can do. None
of these are good reasons but they all happen. Or maybe you’re
just being cautious and spending the least possible time on
the wrong side of the road, officer. Either way, you close
on your target and take a decent fistful of throttle. And
Jeez – you know why people go for lardy tourers. If
someone had been on the back the wheelie you just pulled would
have been a little more exciting than you needed. And if you’d
had luggage on elastics then it would be catching you up and
smacking you in the back just about…now.
OK, so forget
the lardy touring image. But remember that this is
a sports bike that you can actually ride somewhere rather
than trailering it.
Motorways, while dispatched easily enough,
are pretty boring places to be on a bike. And once off the
motorways and onto the less heavily trafficked A roads running
nearby, the GSX-R 1000 really shines. We already know that
it’s plenty fast enough, and then some, and that it
accelerates like a very quick thing. A quick look on the fairing
shows the letters GSX-R writ large, so the handling shouldn’t
be a surprise. But it is, nonetheless, very impressive. This
is quite a big bike, which no doubt contributes to the comfort,
but the ease with which it can be chucked around shows that
Suzuki have done a very neat job with the geometry. Likewise
the stability which is most evident on long sweeping bends,
though it is equally welcome accelerating off roundabouts
when the combination of quick direction changes and aggressive
cambers that can make the front rather light at the best of
times can sometimes offer more challenges than you might expect.
a large and very powerful motorcycle on back roads and byways
is often considered slightly eccentric. And although there
are plenty of B roads on which bikes like this can shine,
there are plenty that show up all the weaknesses inherent
I this, and any other, supersports machine. The biggest problem
is power delivery. Quite simply, the GSX-R 1000 is too damn
fast for most back roads, and even gentle riding starts to
degenerate into a ragged mess of hard braking followed by
cautious cornering while trying to avoid the gravel and potholes
so often encountered on less well used roads. Then a brief
burst of gentle acceleration which is still enough to push
your speed above what is ideal for the road and start the
whole process again. Not pretty and not much fun either.
One of the criticisms aimed at the original
GSX-R 1000 was the braking. or rather the lack of braking.
Personally I never really found it to be the issue everyone
made out. Sure, the brakes lacked a bit when compared to others
but they were still pretty good. Anyway, any questions about
braking efficiency have been well and truly laid to rest with
this latest incarnation of the bike. Massive calipers are
radially mounted to give maximum braking effect and they certainly
work, bringing speeds down from silly numbers with reassuring
ease. Lots of feel, too.
We have yet to spend any real quality time
with the other litre class supersports bikes. When we do,
I am sure that we will be impressed by their power and poise,
just the same as we were with the GSX-R 1000. And that’s
the rub. I fully admit that I like Suzukis. I like the noise
and the feel and the attitude that goes with them. So to me,
having only ridden the others on the track or briefly around
the block, the GSX-R 1000 is the best in the class. But I
know that Adrian has a soft spot for Yamahas in general and
R1s in particular, so he may well feel differently.
The truth is
this. Any and all of the litre class supersports bikes
currently on the market are massively capable, fast, stylish
and blessed with levels of handling only dreamed of just a
few short years ago. And the best one for you is whichever
you like best. They are all different, and long live those
Thanks to Botley Hill Farmhouse
in Tandridge, Surrey, for the use of their very pretty carpark.
Oh, and for excellent food and friendly staff as well...