30 May 2012 | Rod Chapman hauls on the leathers for a look at the latest in the GSX-R1 line
The never-ending cycle of sportsbike development is truly merciless. In one of the most cut-throat, competitive segments of the motorcycle market, engineers and designers work tirelessly to regularly revise, improve and update their offerings, packing even more performance into their bikes while keeping a tight rein on production costs. The market’s expectations are punishing – give us a better bike every two to three years, or we’ll desert you en masse for the competition’s latest and greatest.
As I digested the facts and new figures being put forward at the national press launch of the sixth generation of Suzuki’s GSX-R1000, held at Victoria’s Phillip Island circuit in early autumn, the lengths those boffins go to in refining a bike were clear: one per cent more weight over the front tyre; front brake calipers half a millimetre thinner; engine tappets now 2.5g lighter. We’re talking minute adjustments, but in the new GSX-R1000’s case there’s enough of them to deliver a mild overall update for Suzuki’s sporting flagship.
The extent of that update can be broadly summarised by the following three aspects: less weight; more midrange; better brakes. It’s evolution, not revolution, but while on a cosmetic level the bike may outwardly appear very similar to the outgoing model, dig a little deeper and you’ll find those three major areas of improvement have only been achieved through dozens of painstaking tweaks and refinements.
The output of the 999cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, in-line four-cylinder engine remains unchanged, at 136kW (185hp) and 111Nm (86.2ft-lb), but that power figure is now delivered 500rpm earlier, at 11,500rpm (while maximum torque is still delivered at the same 10,000rpm). However, Suzuki says the power and torque curves have been optimised – the bike now produces more low-down and midrange torque, with a slight rise in midrange power, too, all while achieving an impressive reduction in fuel consumption of a claimed eight per cent.
These benefits have been arrived at through the adoption of a new ECU with fresh mapping, new camshafts, new and lighter pistons, new valves and tappets, and a new four-into-two-into-one exhaust system, the latter replacing the old model’s twin-pipe set-up. The duration of the valve overlap has been shortened, while new pentagonal crankcase ventilation holes are larger than the old engine’s round equivalents, to help reduce pumping losses.
The chassis, meanwhile, has been revised with an emphasis on weight reduction, better weight distribution and better brake performance. The front stoppers now feature four-piston, radial-mount Brembo monobloc calipers. They still grip 310mm rotors, but those rotors are now 0.5mm thinner – every gram counts, eh? The Showa BPF fork features a softer overall setting and it’s 7mm shorter, while a new front axle shaft saves a further 38.9g. The seat material is said to be ‘grippier’ than before, and the bike is now a total of 15mm narrower, thanks to the new exhaust format. The OEM tyes have changed too – the new Gixxer runs Bridgestone’s new Battlax Hypersport S20 rubber, instead of Battlax BT016s. All up, the changes see the new machine tip the scales at a claimed curb weight of 203kg – 2kg lighter than its predecessor.
PROOF OF THE PUDDING
As the assembled journos suited up and exited the pit garage to be welcomed by a line of pristine, sparkling GSX-R1000s, it was clear the Island’s often temperamental weather gods were smiling. Clear blue skies, 30 degrees, barely a breath of wind. With no more than six or seven riders out on one of the world’s best race tracks at any one time, this was going to be an experience to savour.
I’ve sampled most generations of the Gixxer thou’ to have come along, and so hopping aboard the 2012-spec machine was like settling into a set of well-loved slippers – only, slippers capable of around 300km/h. For a dedicated sportsbike, the GSX-R1000’s ergonomics really are pretty damn comfy. Legroom is reasonable and there’s a decent amount of space to hunker down behind the screen at speed – even for this 6ft 2in (188cm) rider.
The dash layout leaves you in no doubt of this missile’s mission objective: getting through a corner – or around a race track – as rapidly and precisely as possible. The large tacho dominates the display, while the LCD readout provides a digi speedo and a host of other pertinent information, including a lap timer function, gear selection, engine temperature, trip meter, odometer, reserve trip and a clock.
I thumbed the starter, revelled in that familiar GSX-R rasp, pulled in the light cable clutch, snicked first on the typically slick six-speed gearbox, gave it a handful of revs and rolled off down the slip road, the scenery blurring around me as I shot into Turn One and set about getting some heat into the Bridgestone Hypersport rubber.
The latter isn’t a lengthy task in a bike with this sort of power-to-weight ratio. Let’s face it, for everyday riders (and everyday journalists) the power and torque outputs of any of the litre-class weapons deliver a ferociously fast ride. Yes, unleashing the Gixxer’s midrange revealed all the stomp of a horde of angry rhinos, but I don’t ever recall being disappointed by its midrange in years past, either. The fact is, once you’ve moved past 5000rpm there’s lashings of urge all the way to its 13,750rpm indicated redline – then it’s a matter of momentarily rolling off the throttle as you hook the next cog and do it all again.
Shift and repeat, shift and repeat; the usual background chatter of my mind soon faded to silence, as all my mental faculties became focussed on the task at hand – the distilled essence of motorcycling pleasure. On one rather risqué lap I saw 280km/h flash up on the speedo before I braked for Turn One – a bit too fast for my liking, but then the GSX-R’s new Brembo front stoppers – an update from the old Tokicos – wash off speed with mind-boggling pace, and an incredibly high level of feel and feedback, too.
I’ll be totally honest: I couldn’t fault the Gixxer’s handling and track manners, but that’s from the perspective of someone who laps the Island at just under two minutes. I’m no racer, but I enjoy cutting loose on the odd track day and tackling the hills in a ‘spirited’ manner. Team Suzuki ace Josh Waters was obviously pretty happy with the new package, though – in its first outing, in round one of this year’s Australian Superbike Championship, he piloted a barely fettled example to pole and then a double victory at this very circuit. Team Suzuki boss Phil Tainton said he’s got 212.5hp at the rear wheel out of one so far – the best figure he’s ever achieved for a GSX-R. He’s hopeful of finding another five horses, too. Those points alone say more about the new GSX-R1000’s potency than I ever could.
The gearbox is typically Suzuki sweet, while the chassis and revised suspension add up to a wonderfully responsive package that can alter a line in a heartbeat. There was the occasional headshake exiting Siberia when cranked over and hard on the gas, but it was never a cause for concern, the bike soon settling itself as I gave the right clip-on a shove to lay it over for the Hayshed. I found the standard settings on the suspension package were entirely adequate. The Showa BPF fork can be adjusted with ease, and because both the compression and rebound adjustors are up the top, making small track-day alterations pose a minimum of fuss. You need to pop out a sidecover to reveal the threaded preload collar and compression damping adjustor for the rear monoshock, but again – it’s no big issue.
The new Brembo brakes are a sheer delight, but – in a sign of the times – I noticed I became aware of the absence of ABS. And then several other things, too…
After recently sampling BMW’s S 1000 RR at the same track just a few weeks earlier, and after having read Alan Cathcart’s review of Ducati’s Panigale in MT #254, the Suzuki’s level of technological wizardry was looking conspicuously dated. Yes, you still get three different ride modes – full output, full output with softer throttle response and reduced output and the softest throttle response (effectively a rain mode), accessible via two buttons on the left-hand hand grip and able to be altered ‘on the fly’. Yes, you get a slipper clutch to help keep things neat and settled on downshifts before corner entries. But you don’t get ABS, you don’t get traction control, you don’t get wheelie control and you don’t get a quickshifter – which are all available on the two Euros.
The Japanese are playing catch-up to the Europeans in this respect right now, but to counter the contrast the Suzuki still has an ace up its sleeve – its price. In recent years Suzuki has built a real reputation as a major ‘bang for your buck’ manufacturer, and that hold true here. At $17,990 (plus ORC), the GSX-R1000 is $4300 cheaper than the BMW and $9000 cheaper than the Ducati. It’s also $1009 cheaper than Kawasaki’s ZX-10R, $2009 cheaper than Yamaha’s YZF-R1, and $500 cheaper than Honda’s CBR1000RR Fireblade. Hell, it’s even $1000 cheaper than last year’s GSX-R1000!
Cosmetically, bar the single pipe it’s largely unchanged. I’m not a fan of the carbonfibre print on the plastic sidepanels (to my mind, the biking equivalent of a fake designer-label handbag), but it’s still an undeniably sharp-looking machine. The paddock stand spools and pillion seat cowl are factory accessories ($56.00 and $103.77 respectively), and you get a choice of traditional Suzuki blue and white, or black.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Take that pricing on board and the lack of electrickery isn’t such a big deal. What you’re left with is a hard-charging sporting thoroughbred in the traditional sense, where the onus is on the rider and the rider alone to get the best out of the machine. The new 2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is not an earth-shattering update, but it is a worthy evolutionary improvement and it certainly does represent excellent value.
– Incredible performance
– Surprisingly roomy
– Superb suspension
– Fantastic value
– Electronics look dated and simplistic next to more recent gear
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, DOHC, four-stroke, in-line four-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 74.5mm x 57.3mm
Compression ratio: 12.9:1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame: Alloy beam
Front suspension: Inverted 43mm Showa BPF fork, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Showa monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brakes: Twin 310mm discs with radial-mount, four-piston Brembo calipers
Rear brake: Single 220mm disc with single-piston Nissin caliper
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed wet weight: 203kg
Seat height: 810mm
Fuel capacity: 17.5lt
Max. power: 136kW (185hp) at 11,500rpm
Max. torque: 117Nm (86.2ft-lb) at 10,000rpm
Colours: Blue/white or black
Bike supplied by: Suzuki Australia
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres
*Manufacturer’s list price, excluding dealer and statutory costs