Pinned in fourth gear, I urge myself to tip into turn one without rolling the throttle from the stop, lap after lap I’ve dared myself and bottled it. This time, I nail it. I’m flat out on a Suzuki GSX-R at Silverstone, just days before Alex Rins was doing exactly the same thing as me and that makes me feel good.
To ride a GSX-R fast on track is to experience undiluted performance. Four years ago I did an entire tank of fuel on a GSX-R 1000 at the Dunlop test track in Mireval, I didn’t want it to end and even now the memory burns like it was yesterday. A fast Suzuki is a harmonious thing and when I pitch into turn one on the stop in fourth, my smile, confidence and corner speed swells. I spend the rest of the session searching for corner speed, clinging onto every single rpm like it’s my last.
I could carry on pretending that I’m on a GSX-R 1000 but I’m guessing you’ve had a look at these pictures and realised that that’s not the case. I’m riding the all-new GSX-R 125 and it’s Stowe rather than the international layout at Silverstone.
Both might be smaller in size than you’d want, but they are perfectly matched and, despite looming clouds and the odd droplet of rain on my visor, I’m having a ball.
When we clapped eyes on the baby Gixxer at the bike show late last year, I made jokes about how when we got to ride it, I might need someone to help pull it out of my ass when I was done. It looked and felt dinky sat on the stand next to bigger, faster GSX-Rs. The reality is nowhere near as painful, there’s actually more room than you need on the seat and it’s further from the ground than you might expect, at 785mm. For those of you reading this in black and white, 785mm is the same as a Kawasaki ER6, or an 821 Monster low seat.
The stretch to the bars is anything but, they’re easy to get and there’s plenty of lock available. Let’s not kid ourselves for a second though, I’m a lot heavier than the target market at 14.9 stone and I’m also probably taller than the average spotty millennial at six foot. It still works for my size wise and above, I saw Geoff from the Daily Mirror riding this bike and he’s so tall I get a nosebleed every time I talk to him.
We’re not here to talk dimensions, though. We’re here for some performance. The GSX-R125 does indeed have enough go to match the show. If you ignore every other sector of the market and just think about 125s, this bike is a little scorcher. It’s not very often you need to be pinned in second gear by the end of pit lane, we did one these, feeding ourselves out onto Stowe and immediately assuming the smallest possible shape on the back of the bike in order to pretend we were all 17.
OE Dunlop tyres provide mountains of grip and the sound of slider on tarmac comes on turn one of lap one. The combination of not having 190bhp and being very easy to ride means this little bike immediately accepts your friend request and you can get stuck straight into messing around together. There’s torque in the lower half of the rev range but to be honest, I spent most of my track time with the revs absolutely buried in the red. It felt like the most effective way of making progress round the track and also, to be honest, it was really good fun.
Direction changes were painless, there’s very little mass to disagree with what I was asking of the bike, just 134 kilograms ready to ride (the same weight as 191 iPads) means it’s going where you want it to. That’s not to say you wont get things wrong if you don’t treat the bike with some respect. By session three on track, chaos had started to descend and we were chasing each other round living out grey haired Moto3 fantasies. I came out of the pinned third gear chicane out the back of the track and promptly found myself on the grass doing 60 odd mph. It was at that stage that I realised that 60mph doesn’t care how you got there, it’s still 60mph and it hurts just the same as the 1000cc version of 60 mph. I threaded my way back on track, doing that nervous laughter you do in case your mates can hear you, when you actually just want to sit in silence for a minute and smoke a fag at your own stupidity.
The stupidity didn’t stop there, thankfully. The GSX-R was more than up to pretty much anything we could throw at it. Just when it felt like I’d nailed a section of the track and decided it was physically impossible for this bike to go faster than I was making it go, Taylor Mackenzie would fly past me, close enough to suck the pretty stickers off the side of the bike and fast enough for me to realise why he does his job and I do mine. Not once did the brakes not provide me with all the feel and performance I asked for and the small but perfectly formed suspension setup is just as in tune with the rest of the bike as any other GSX-R in the range.
Session after session the little GSX-Rs took quite a pounding, never once returning less than 66 mpg. To be honest, thrashing the daylights out of them felt like the right thing to do, these were GSX-Rs after all and they have a bit of a reputation to uphold. That was my biggest question of this bike. Does the target market know enough about ‘brand GSX-R’ to understand why they should want one? When I was 17, the SRAD GSX-R 750 was in it’s second year, I’d grown up with pictures of various GSX-Rs on my bedroom walls, the term Gixxer meant something to me and by the time Chris Walker was snapping 40 pence valve clips in BSB a few years later, I could have bored the pants off anyone with Suzuki history and GSX-R knowledge.
That was 20 years ago, though and I wondered if today’s 17 year old could do the same. I put the question to various Suzuki employees and the answer was pretty much the same every time. Fathers and uncles have their role to play in passing on the GSX-R baton. It’s up to us to paint the picture, to talk of K5 lunacy and SRAD battles of old. Of legendary laps of entire counties, or of that time I rode a GSX-R to the Nurburgring car park from Calais docks in under three hours. If you’ve owned or ridden a GSX-R, then by rights you’re part of the legend that needs to be passed along to the next generation. This little bike is good enough to keep their interest once they get on it, but it’s down to us to get them into showrooms and onto test rides in the first place. Once they return from the test ride, they’ll have to do nothing more than chuck £33 down as a deposit and then find 89 quid a month for three years. No balloon payment or PCP nonsense at the end, they can just walk away with the bike and scratch their name into the GSX-R family tree. They’ll have every right to as well, it might be small, but it is every inch a GSX-R.