A new Suzuki GSX-R1000 with 202hp? 2017 is winning already.
16 years after the first GSX-R1000 rocked our world, Suzuki once again has a GSX-R1000 ready to challenge for top superbike honours. We took to the fast turns of Phillip Island to see if the new bike could live up to the legacy of the original.
The GSX-R name has long been an icon; four letters that conjure up images of hard and fast sports bikes flashing by in a howl of bright bodywork. The original GSX-R1000 from 2001 set a new benchmark for outright production bike performance. It was a game-changing bike, mentioned in the same breath as the ‘98 Yamaha R1 and the original Honda Fireblade before that. Recent iterations of the cult classic Suzuki have been fantastic bikes, solid favourites here at SuperBike but always served with a caveat. “The GSX-R1000 is a great road bike but…”, “In isolation, the GSX-R is all the track bike you’ll ever need, but…”, “We love the GSX-R thou, but…”; the ‘but’ always being centred around a growing power and technology deficit to the class leading machines. I’m going to ‘but’ it again though, because despite no rider aids, despite giving away 20-odd hp you never got off one without looking back and loving it for the riding experience it just blessed you with. This isn’t about explaining why we love the old GSX-R though; this is about the new GSX-R, the fast GSX-R1000, the GSX-R1000 that comes without a ‘but’ in sight.
“We designed this GSX-R1000 to be the best 1000cc sports bike, especially on track, but without losing the traits that make the previous model so popular.” Those were the words straight from the GSX-R project leader’s mouth, which roughly translated, mean “See that S 1000 RR-shaped cake over there? Well we’re having that cake. And we’re going to eat it too.” Track performance to beat the best, without losing the GSX-R’s compliance and road performance – if they’ve managed that then we’re all winners. The numbers on paper certainly add up – 202hp and 202kg (or 203kg for the ‘R’ model) and if the butt-dyno is anything to go by, they’re not telling huge porky pies there. Even out of the fast fifth gear corners of Phillip Island the new bike surges forward with an urgency that the old model would fail to match in third. The power is progressive, there’s no sudden lurch and it feels just as good as the old engine, albeit with the scenery whizzing past at a noticeably faster rate.
So where did they find these ponies then? A good mix of clever engineering and traditional techniques have gone into the development of an all-new engine. Larger pistons and a shorter stroke have yielded another 1,000rpm, helping the 999.8cc motor turn more dead dinosaurs into metaphorical horses. To avoid the engine becoming a peaky old thing, Suzuki has dropped a few cunning little tricks into the pot. A centrifugal variable valve timing system from the MotoGP bike gives an undetectable shift in inlet cam timing at 10,000rpm; clever exhaust valves on the link pipes modify gas flow at various engine speeds and stacked inlet trumpets give the effect of a variable intake system without the weight of extra motors to control them. The result is fast. Bloody fast, shrinking Phillip Island’s straights and howling out of the turns on a wave of predictable, seamless power. The torque-boosting trickery means you can take any turn a gear higher and still trouble the 190/55-17 Bridgestone RS10 rear on the way out. Like the way we snuck that new, larger-profile tyre size into the sentence there? Seamless really, like the bi-directional quickshifter. Ah yes, if you pick the R model, you get one of those too, letting you shift up and down the gears without troubling the clutch lever.
The outgoing GSX-R1000 gave us no reason to criticize the chassis, but with a big power hike from the new engine Suzuki made some significant changes to reduce weight, improve front end feel and keep the thing stable. The cylinders of the engine have been tilted back, making it 22mm shorter and allowing a longer swingarm and a more forward weight bias. The overall wheelbase has been stretched 15mm to cope with the demands of the extra poke. The other dimensions of the bike have shrunk; it’s narrower, has a lower fuel tank and a smaller frontal profile. That might sound like bad news for anyone over 4 foot tall, but Suzuki put a lot of wind tunnel hours in to make the fairing as effective as possible. I’m definitely not the tallest rider on earth (Ed – 5’8” stood on his skateboard…) but I had no complaints about the wind and neither did any of the normal-sized humans on the launch. I’m pleased to say that the handling really doesn’t feel much different from the outgoing bike, despite the extra power trying to mess things up. Neutral, stable and predictable; all words that make it sound a little boring, but the GSX-R is anything but. Instead of fighting the thing every time you wind the gas on hard, it just hooks up and fires itself at the next braking zone. And when you arrive there, the stability stretches to the brakes too. So when an old racing mate thinks he’s going to stick a move on you into the Honda hairpin, you just hold your breath for a couple of seconds longer, then anchor up hard and giggle as the bike sorts it all out. Your buddy will be giggling too – you can really take liberties with the GSX-R and get it into all sorts of shapes without ever feeling like you’re about to splatter pride and bodywork all over the apex.
As well as the raw mechanical improvements to handling and speed, Suzuki’s engineers have redressed the balance in rider assistance too. And boy have they got it right. Just as the Suzuki’s surprised everyone at MotoGP with the GSX-RR’s performance, the electronics package on the new GSX-R blew us away on the launch. The 10-stage traction control delivers ten different levels of skids for ten different levels of confidence. If you’re feeling a little nervous or the conditions are sketchy, dial it up to nine or ten and enjoy the full electronic bodyguard. If you’re ready to get things moving around, then back it off to level one or two and it’ll leave you well alone until you get things really out of shape. Having the option to dial in a bit more traction control as tyres wear or your brain fades keeps you out on track, having fun for longer with less risk.
The ABS, in track mode at least, is the best I’ve tried yet. Other systems cope well with track use by leaving you alone as much as possible, letting you slide the rear around and stoppie to your heart’s content. But the GSX-R’s ABS steps in to control the stoppies so smoothly and discreetly that you’re hard pushed to tell it’s there at all. And that’s the ideal aim for any rider aid – if it can trick you into thinking you are the one with all the skill and talent, then it’s done its job perfectly.
It took a good hour of whizzing round in circles on a little island off the south of Australia for me to realise the most impressive trick that Suzuki has pulled with the new GSX-R1000. It’s just so damn effortless to ride fast. The closest contact I’d previously had with Phillip Island was sitting too close to the TV last time the MotoGP circus was in town. It’s a track that demands commitment and concentration with 100+mph corner entries and long turns with late apexes. I’m only one session in, happily egging myself on to leave the braking for the ridiculously fast turn one later and later when it strikes me. This is a track that I’ve never even visited before and a bike that I’ve never ridden; yet I feel completely at home. Nothing about the bike is vying for my attention; no sudden bursts of power or over sharp steering getting the thing into a flap. All this leaves you free to think about more important things like grip, line choice, braking markers and not splattering errant birds that have wandered onto the racing line.
By the last session of a long hot day of riding, I have to admit to being pretty fried. At a point where I would normally pull in and call it a day, the Suzuki provides me with another option. Rather than howling around looking for a lap record, I knock the pace off to 85% and just ride round. Sniffing up lungfuls of fresh sea air, that intake snarl we all know and love blasts the perfect acoustic accompaniment to round out a perfect day on, at that exact moment, the perfect bike. It’s going to take a close-fought group test to see if Suzuki has achieved its aim of superbike domination. Until then, for the sheer pleasure of linking up apexes with stripes of tyre rubber and knee sliders the new GSX-R1000 is damn near perfect.
Words: Chris Northover Images: Suzuki