Test Ride: Suzuki Bandit

Words: Rob Harris/Piero Zambotti

First View
Piero Zambotti

My first impression of the Bandit 1200, shortly after I picked it up at Suzuki Canada, was just how torquey the motor is. While doing a couple laps of the parking lot to familiarise myself with the bike, the front wheel would readily jump up a couple inches with just the slightest provocation.

After adjusting the adjustable front brake lever, I boarded the Don Valley Parkway to get to downtown Toronto. Cruising around 100-120 km/h unfortunately causes the engine to buzz slightly, accelerating to 160 solves the problem, and actually feels more relaxed than riding in this buzzy zone.

At this point, I also noticed how pleasant the ergonomics of the whole bike were. The superbike handlebars and the moderately rearset pegs are perfectly matched, the gas tank isn’t uncomfortably wide, and blends very nicely with the thick comfy seat. Even though the hideous mirrors look like they came from seventies chopper, they remain clear and give an excellent rear view.

The gearing of the bike is tall, with 100km/h turning 3500 rpm on the tach, but this didn’t seem to hold it back in terms of roll on power. Want to smoke that tin box that’s tailed you for the last couple miles? The Bandit will give ZX-11’s problems up to 170 in top gear roll ons, so cars are readily smoked with no downshift needed.

In town, it feels like a giant motocrosser, easily lofting the front wheel way up in the air on power alone from stop sign to stop sign. For a bike with such a large motor, the Bandit is slim, and this, along with the easy wheelies and the upright riding position, makes it more fun in town than other more committed sportbikes. Wide bars make steering quick and light, the clutch only needs two fingers on the lever, and the exhaust is extremely quiet, even by 1997 standards.

The gearbox, like most Suzuki gearboxes, is excellent. Apart from being a little loud when going through the 1-2 or the 2-1 shift at low speed, the cogs shift lightly and positively, with or without the clutch, and the abundant torque makes shifting almost optional in town.

 Contrary to popular belief, this is in fact big and very clever. The trick is to do it with someone else’s bike.

While sitting in traffic, the motor surges a bit at idle, yet apart from that, I found the carburetion to be nicely sorted. The only downside is the choke, which is another one of these diabolical 5000rpm-when-cold jobs. Once warm, the motor is extremely smooth throughout the rev range, save for the buzzy patch from 4000-5000rpm, or 100-125km/h in top, and has instant torque and power right from 1500rpm, exactly where it’s needed for the urban jungle.

The big torque the Bandit has at low revs is excellent fun; roll the gas

open at 25km/h in first, and the front wheel claws the sky instantly, and with throttle modulation, holds it there for the duration of first gear. After doing this a number of times, it got entertaining watching the speedometer needle jump from 25 to 110 as the front wheel came back down to earth.

The price for the fantastic low end and midrange is the top end power. Although the Bandit pulls hard up to 8500rpm, it doesn’t have the mental lunge a CBR900RR has at higher engine speeds. Then again, a 900RR doesn’t have anywhere near the low end of the Bandit, and realistically speaking, the easy-to-launch 1200 has a decent chance at keeping up with any race replica away from a standing start. You simply twist the throttle open, and you’re gone. Usually on the back wheel, I should add.

I planned a trip to Ottawa that composed of boring highways and tasty backroads to find out how the Bandit really worked over the long haul. En route to Kingston, I found the Bandit had no trouble cruising at whatever speed I wanted, no matter how high that was. The tall fifth gear lets the engine pull just 7000rpm at 200km/h, and even flat out, at a hair under an indicated 250*, the motor is still only at 8500. The bike is utterly stable at any speed, is unaffected by grated highway surfaces, and is unruffled by sidewinds, too.

* Tested on the exclusive CMG test track, located at a secret hide away in a totally imaginary place.

The small fairing actually gives good protection up to 160km/h; higher cruising speeds made me resort to putting my left arm across the tank to support myself as I tucked in behind the screen to escape the wind blast. Tuck in even lower, and you’ll find the “farty zone”, where the wind blast takes on an amusing flatulent rumbling sound as it hurtles past – slightly lower handlebars may be a benefit here.

Despite a high average speed, the Bandit went over 240km on one 20L tank of gas, only dipping into reserve forty clicks from Kingston. There is very little difference in handling with a full tank of fuel, and the cheap grade of gas I bought didn’t seem to affect how the motor ran at all. Unfortunately, at this point, some fastener had loosened and the fairing started resonating. I found this annoying at low speed, and even tightening every fairing fastener in sight didn’t make it go away.

At Kingston I departed the ‘comatosing’ 401 for Hwy 10. Many of the fast corners made large elevation changes while they snaked through the forest; and the majority of them were blind too. A cutting-edge sportbike, like a CBR900RR, would be frustrating to ride here because you wouldn’t be able to use much of the bike’s handling potential while keeping the level of safety needed on a road with blind corners.

The Bandit was awesome. I entered the sweepers at around 140, and once I the exit came in sight, I’d roll on the power, let the midrange effortlessly grab some cornering speed, and gently increase my lean angle as the bike accelerated through the bend. The Suzuki exited most corners at around 160-170, and I’d roll off the gas to coast back down to 140 to flick into the next curve. The 1200 works beautifully in this sport touring mode, feeling taut and controlled while being comfortable and relaxing at the same time. Accelerating from crossroads is fun; the tall first and second gears (180 in second gear!?) combined with gruntmeister power allows one to grab a great big helping of speed with just a half hearted stab of the gas. The relaxed composure of the Bandit at low warp gives enthusiastic riders the confidence to up the pace, and the bike is unfazed by the higher loads, retaining its easy-to-control poise. Eventually the limit will be reached when the pegs and the brake pedal scrape. Consider grinding the pegs the limit, because as I found out, the next things to touch are the muffler can and the engine mount! I had a big slide during the photo shoot when the muffler and the mount dug in – the Surgeon General advises that grounding out such things can be hazardous to your health.

The brakes are excellent; you can lift the back wheel up with just two fingers on the lever, and the floating discs make nifty whizzing sounds as they constantly centre themselves on the rotor carriers.

Both front and rear suspensions are a little soft but well damped, although I’d go for even more damping on the rear given the choice. I didn’t notice a difference when I adjusted the shock to full rebound, although I got stuck in the city after that, and wasn’t riding as hard.

Steering felt impressively light and nimble for a large, relatively heavy motorcycle, and on the street had no hint of tankslapping or weaving. You can change lines while leaned over without protest. The excellent Bridgestone BT54 Battlaxes never gave me a scary moment, even when inspection showed they were approaching the edge of the tread when I was strafing backroads. With these tires, ground clearance is the Bandit 1200’s cornering speed limit.

I had a lot of fun riding the Bandit 1200. It’s the kind of bike that you could use for nearly anything: touring, sport riding, commuting, and wheelies are all excellent fun when you have a Bandit 12. It’s a simple, uncomplicated bike that’s based on proven high performance technology, and that works very, very well as a sportbike for the real world. Piero Zambotti

Second View
Rob Harris

I managed to pry the 1200 Bandit out of Pieros grubby little hands just long enough for a week long road trip down to Cape Cod in Massachusetts along with the Missus on the faithful GS750. This 2600Km round trip gave me a good impression ofthe Bandit, most of which has already been well covered by Piero. I do however, dispute the seat comfort bit. It was shite. Okay, I may be more sensitive in the derriere than most, but that seat had me in pain way before it was time for a gas refill. That’s a shame because it severely limits the bike’s long distance usability.

Apart from seat limitations the Bandit ate up the highway miles with ease. The small fairing looks useless but in fact does an excellent job – keeping the brunt of the wind off the rider. There is that uncomfortable buzz at legal speeds though and the temptation to cruise at 130 is too great.

It’s not big and it’s not clever … but sometimes you gotta laugh!
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That’s official thanks to Officer Bendzus, a New York Trooper with a little radar gun and a crappy attitude. How can you say we were both speeding, when it was obvious that my poor wife momentarily lost her mind and zoomed past me right at the moment we passed you? Oh well, looks like we can’t go through New York state again.

If any of you still haven’t checked out the White Mountains of Vermont, then it’s time to get off your dusty ass and explore. It’s a much needed antidote to the malaise of Ontarios flat lands, with real mountains and actual bends in the roads! Unfortunately it was getting late and we still

Exhibit A: Heather checks out the cliff edge. Obvious suicidal tendencies (she’s mad) your Honor!
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had a while to go to get to the Cape sometime that day. So we upped the pace and hit New Hampshire. Now I know this has nothing to do with the Bandit (except that I was riding it at the time), but New Hampshire doesn’t quite seem to be in its rightful place so far north. There’s no helmet laws and it’s rare to see them used, but there’s also a kind of disconcerting wackiness around. One that you might associate more with the southern states, than the north east. I thought this was well summed up by the “live free or die” moto on all the license plates. It seemed ironic therefore when we suddenly came across toll booths and had to pay 50 cents/bike so that we could “live free or die” for another 20 miles.

Anyway, I digress, what about the Bandit? My supremo cornering test finally came when we got out of Boston to the base of Cape Cod. Here we find a rare phenomenon for North America – Traffic Circles, or knee-down-bike-scraping-mental-high-speed-roundabouts as we call them back in England. Two trips around saw me getting my knee as close to the ground as I care for, with no disobedience from either bike nor tires. One and half hours later, just shy of midnight, we hit my aunts cottage in Wellfleet. I could no longer put any pressure on my butt cheeks, and so face down in bed I quickly lost consciousness.

Would I buy this bike? If the truth be known, I’m too cheap to buy any new bike. I would however recommend it should it find its way onto your short list, providing you have buns of steel of course.

Oh, and what was the result of our New York speed test? Heather pleaded guilty and got a US$100 fine, but I would have none of it. However, faced with a subsequent expensive little excursion (at very short notice) down to Dansville, with no guarantees, I changed my plea to guilty but with an explaination (i.e. I wasn’t really guilty but I couldn’t afford to go and defend myself). After a chat on the phone with the judge, I duely ran around getting notorised statements and express delivered them so that I could stand fast in the face of injustice and repression. Two weeks later my extra work paid off as I received notice that I too owed US$100 and had exactly minus two days to pay or the Department of Motor Vehicles in Albany would suspend my drivers licence.

The cheque’s ‘in the post’.


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