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Words: Steve Bond
This bike is hot. Damn hot. It’s got the looks. It’s got the power. It’s got the reputation. It draws envious stares from the kids in Honda Civics. It’s even got mean sounding consonants in its name. It’s the 1998 Suzuki GSXR. This bike is so hot, it gives you a burning feeling in your loins… Ow! I mean really… YIKES! I think my ‘nads may actually be on fire!!!
Christ! I don’t care whether it’s the new GSXR 600 or the 750, I’ve never experienced that much heat coming off a bike that’s moving at or above the speed limit. Sure, I’m willing to accept that a fully faired bike will get quite hot in traffic jams, but this is ridiculous. If the outside temperature is anything above 15C expect your butt to fry, to burn your legs on the frame spars and your testicles (in appropriate cases) to crawl up into your gut where it’s cooler.
I don’t understand how all of these sportbikers can ride these around town wearing shorts without suffering 3rd degree burns on their thighs, but somehow they do.
However, we’re not here to discuss the practical fashion sense of the average urban biker, instead we’re on a quest to answer the age old question of “is bigger really better?”. For this we needed two very similar bikes of different displacements and of course, the opinion of a woman. Enter the 1998 Suzuki GSXR’s and two-stroke fanatic of many years, Laura Culic.
Initially, other than graphics, there seems to be no discernible difference between these two bikes. Closer inspection reveals six piston brakes bolted to a set of upside-down forks on the 750 as opposed to the standard units on the 600 and a big 750 decal on the appropriate bike. Perhaps more appropriately stated, there is a lack of any displacement revealing decal on the 600, allowing for greater pose value. Upon mounting, the bikes feel identical but for a slight weight advantage going to the 600.
They both start from cold with the assistance of the choke/fast idle acceptably and are ready to drive soon after. That is when any differences between the bikes become apparent.
Amazingly, there are not that many differences to note. Other than the previously mentioned suspension differences, the only other major difference is that the 750 is fuel-injected while the 600 is stuck in the 90’s with its carburetors. In the past I’ve only ridden 3 other bikes burdened with fuel-injection and they were all quite disappointing. They all seemed to run like a high strung two-stroke in that none of them liked steady throttle applications, all of them bucking and surging when being ridden in the real world.
So imagine my disappointment when I almost immediately noticed the same behavior (but not quite as severe) coming from the GSXR I was riding. A modern $12,000 sportbike shouldn’t exhibit this kind of behavior … damnit. Now imagine the further disappointment when I looked down and realized I was on the carburetted 600 and not the fuel-injected bike I thought I was on! Without question, the 600 suffers from the most piss-poor stock jetting I’ve experienced. At city speeds and/or over bumps, it just doesn’t seem happy.
Granted, I’m sure it’s a result of EPA testing and most owners will opt for a new (read loud) pipe and jet kit within the first year, which might just cure the problem. Fortunately for Suzuki though, the absolutely brilliant handling of this series far overshadows any minor bitchings that I might have. (Even Piero commented that he seriously enjoyed tossing it around between his legs…oh gawd…I hope he’s talking about the same thing I am…) Never before have I felt so confident so quickly on any bike. No matter what you throw it into, no matter how hard you try, it always feels like the bike wants you to try harder. So you do – and the bike still yawns – yearning, even begging for someone of great skill to try to push its limits.
Within minutes of first climbing aboard either of the new GSXR’s you are comfortably pushing your own limits. At lower speeds the 750 requires marginally more effort to throw around, partly due to it’s extra 10 kilos and partly due to it’s cleverly hidden steering damper, bolted in just above the rad.
Nice touch, but unless you are on the power hard through a corner exit, I’m not sure the damper was completely necessary. I felt just as confident and smooth on the 600 as I did on the 750 (even after suffering minor tankslappers on both).
Strangely enough, even with the inclusion of that damper, both bikes have a separate lug welded to their frames waiting to accept another. Could it be for double safety? Or could it be that Suzuki has learned to be doubly careful following their TL1000 handling fiasco last year? Both bikes run on Dunlop 207’s which seem to increase your confidence even more.
These tires will stick like glue with almost no warm up. The front always felt solid and performed quite impressively under braking. Both bikes could be coerced into lifting the rear wheel on cool pavement with no fear of losing traction.
In fact, the 750 accomplished this trick almost magically. The combination of feedback from the upgraded forks and the power from the 6-piston calipers allowed for some pretty entertaining rolling stoppies.
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Just don’t try anything like that on wet pavement though (as if anyone would), because these tires behave entirely different in the rain.
I would go as far as to say they suck. Riding around in the rain is always a blast and even the crappiest tires on the crappiest bike become great fun in wet conditions. But the combination of the Gixxers and the 207’s did not make for a comfortable wet ride. The tires seemed to break traction and spin unpredictably and at the most inopportune moments. Heck, I almost joined the Piero club, highsiding all of me off the 600 but for the tips of my fingers. I’m not even going to pretend that skill saved me from this one.
I came within a gnat’s hair of wadding the baby gixxer and experiencing a nasty editor ‘arris-sponsored stoning(whipping Nick, whipping …. we’re not savages here – Ed) .
One other positive note that does come up about the tires has to do with their longevity. Assuming that a sticky compound like the 207’s would wear fairly quickly, I was amazed that there was no evidence of tire wear whatsoever after a 2000 km weekend. At least not in the middle of the tire! 8 hours straight on a hard-core sportbike gives you a lot of time to think about stuff.
Things like: Why is the solo tailpiece on the 600 so beat up? When we picked up the bike, the top edge of said tailpiece looked like it had been cleaned with coarse sandpaper. Research suggested that a low hanging rucksack was responsible for the damage. Considering that there was only 650 km from new on the bike, I’d advise owners to be very careful with their bodywork. (Of course, this also brings up the question of how can some of those other guys do a true test of a bike in only 650km?)
Many other things became quite noticeable on this trip, most notably was the seat. Can I call it a seat? Maybe I should call it a board Ð it sure felt like one after an hour.
Not that this really mattered because there was plenty of weight on your wrists and enough vibration from the bars to make your hands feel like tuning forks by then so you didn’t really notice it anyway. And that heat thing I mentioned earlier suddenly becomes a luxurious option when the sun goes down and the temperature drops into the single digits.
Also, while moose dodging in northern Ontario, it became apparent that the GSXR’s have fantastic headlights. Even at 160 km/h you still feel like you can see for miles further than you have to. A nice touch in the spring caribou suicide season. But does any of this really matter? How many sportbike owners are going to go on major tours with their bikes?Not too many.
Does the average GSXR buyer care that there is a very annoying flashing fuel light in place of a reserve switch? Does he or she care that the 600 and 750 really don’t seem to have $1400 worth of difference?
Probably not. Because it seems to me that the most oft asked question I heard was “why buy the 600 when for an extra grand or so you could get the 750?” Well, let’s go over that in detail. The only differences that you will truly notice with the added cost are the aforementioned upgraded brakes and suspension.
And of course, the obvious 150cc’s of engine displacement equating to about 15 – 20% more horsepower. Other costs that are often forgotten are additional insurance, more complex maintenance and replacement/maintenance costs of the fancier bits. Yes, I did notice some difference in the quality of suspension and brakes.
I suppose I noticed a little difference in power, but when the 600 is already hovering around 100 rear wheel horses, and it’s difficult to find a place to use them, why bother with more? I suppose that to the owners of the bigger bikes it’s not a matter of what they will do as much as it is a matter of what they could potentially do. That’s called pose value.
Pose value is very important in this market. It’s amazing how much more attention was drawn by the blue and white paint scheme of the 600 as opposed to the more mature (and in my pathetic opinion, more attractive) red, black and silver colours of the 750. On the 600 I was constantly swarmed by drooling teenagers whereas the 750 drew the interest of the ladies. Heck, it even won me a date with a friendly officer of the law. And yes, it was a woman.
So is bigger really better? This is where Laura and I begin to differ in opinion slightly. For me, I had to try very hard under controlled conditions to find a difference between the bikes. The 750 approached its limits with a little less drama than the 600, but drama can also make for fun. Other than that, it boils down to price and components. If the upgrades seem worth the extra cash, remind yourself that the $1400 suggested retail price difference is just the start of the additional investment. Don’t forget the additional insurance each year, the more complex maintenance of the fuel injection, and the replacement/maintenance costs of the fancier bits.
Personally, I’d be quite happy with the 600. It does everything just fine. It has well proven and cheaper tuning options, and handles beautifully. I suppose this just means that I’m comfortable enough with myself and my riding to know that I don’t need an extra 150 cc’s in that area.
Now Laura on the other hand, seemed to feel much more confident on the 750 than the 600. The increased smoothness, the improved fuel delivery from the fuel injection and the slightly more stable steering all combined to help her enjoy the ride a little more. Even though she had a limited amount of time on the bigger bike, and was endlessly commenting that “it’s no two-stroke” she still came out praising it.
Now what can we conclude? Well, I guess which is the better bike depends on who you ask, and guys, if she tells you that size doesn’t matter… she’s lying, (sorry Piero).
GSXR600 Track Session
By Steve Bond
Quick review. I used to roadrace, but hadn’t done so since 1976. I’d NEVER ridden at Shannonville Motorsports Park and hadn’t attempted to ride a modern four-stroke rapidly since er well, ever. Perfect circumstances to flog someone else’s motorcycle around Shannonville.
For the first few sessions, I was astride a CBR600 F3 and felt like a fish out of water. I had big-time trouble coping with the power and the foreign feel of a modern sports bike. I was overbraking into the corners, then accelerating, turning in too early, picking it up, leaning it over. I felt like a complete fraud. I’d won some roadraces in the ’70s, but for the life of me, riding like this I couldn’t see how. Instead of ‘Feel the force Luke,’ it was more like ‘Feel the farce Bondo.’ After a while though it came together and I started to find braking points, turn-in points and where to get on the gas. It was deja vu all over again.
I was fully prepared to not like this motorcycle. I’d driven several GSXR750’s for short periods of time, and the comfort level matched having myself folded into an envelope and mailed to Istanbul. The little 600 fitted me perfectly, much to my great surprise, and after a couple of warm up laps to heat up the tires, I began to feel at home. The reach to the bars was not extreme, the pegs were fairly high, but not uncomfortable even for my 37 inch inseam. All controls were light and easy to operate.
The motor revved willingly and was very powerful, going about its business without straining and very little fuss. Midrange was surprisingly strong and I never felt the need to row through the gearbox in order to get a full head of steam. It was odd, in a way. The Gixxer pulls from down low, but makes unbelievable power from 7000 and up. Every motorcycle I own wouldn’t even rev to 7000 without scattering its innards from here to eternity. Brakes stop you RFN without drama and lever feel was excellent yet easy to moderate.
For years I had happily existed as a vintage aficionado. Horsepower? Don’t need it. Spar-type perimeter frame? Overkill. Sticky tires? What for? Who’s going to ride fast enough to test the limits of adhesion? But the first time I accelerated the Suzuki GSXR600 down the pit lane, something clicked. It was as if the mystical voice was whispering in my ear, ‘Be at one with the Suzuki. BE the Suzuki.’ I was the Suzuki.
I turned a few hot laps (for me anyway), riding around with Dan Graham on his CBR600 F3. Now, Dan and I both started racing production bikes back in the early 70s, me on Kawasaki 350 triples and he on RD350 Yamahas. We’ve raced literally thousands of miles side by side on various machines up to and including TZ Yamahas. Anyway, Dan purchased his ‘Miguel replica’ F3 last year and has quite a few ‘track days’ on the bike as well as untold thousands of klicks on the twisties around his cottage. He’s got a lot of experience on the Honda and was circulating Shannonville quite rapidly.
After some spirited laps, I was feeling comfortable and getting up to speed on the Suzook. It was like old times again as Dan followed me around for a while and then got by me. I couldn’t have that, so I tucked in behind him and stepped up the pace. I found the Suzuki very forgiving as I (of course) got into a few (okay, most) of the corners a little hot and found I could trail the brakes very deep into a corner without worry. The front end always felt firmly planted, never twitchy or like it was going to wash out. And, no matter how ham-fisted I was with the throttle, the OEM tires were predictable and very forgiving in their feedback.
After the third fifteen-minute session on the little GSXR, I never wanted to give it back. For a vintage guy, that says a lot.