PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA—Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 and I have a long history. The first international press launch I attended was for the second-generation K3 model in 2003, at the famed and fast Phillip Island racetrack in Australia.
Back then, before 2008’s world economic fiasco, Japanese bike makers were redesigning supersport machines every two years. In 2005 we got the K5 (which I had also ridden at Phillip Island), ’07 brought the K7, and ’09 the K9, but the major updates stopped there. Aside from some minor revisions and the introduction of ABS in 2016, the GSX-R1000 remained largely unchanged for eight years.
Well, for 2017, Suzuki’s open-class supersport is entirely new. And for the first time since its introduction in 2001, there are two models: the GSX-R1000 and the higher-spec 1000R. We were invited back to Phillip Island to ride the latter.
Here’s what’s new
While its competitors have all inched their way up to the 200-horsepower threshold, the GSX-R1000 had to make do with a paltry 182 hp, until this year. The bike’s new engine now claims 199 hp, and like its rivals, it now has traction control to help the rider keep the wheels in line.
The new 999 cc inline four has a 1.5 mm larger bore and a 2.2 mm shorter stroke, which allows it to rev an additional 1,000 rpm before it hits redline at 14,500 rpm. Suzuki has borrowed some high-speed trickery from its MotoGP programme, like variable valve timing. The intake cam sprocket has a mechanism that advances it by 8 degrees, starting at about 10,000 rpm. This allows the engine to produce about the same amount of peak torque (up to 86.7 lb.-ft. from 86) despite the shorter stroke, while maximizing output at high rpm.
The system is very simple and requires no electronics or hydraulics, but rather relies on centrifugal force, using a series of rollers that ride in channels in the sprocket, thus offsetting the cam timing. A diaphragm spring returns the cam to its original position at lower revs. To deal with the increased revs, the valves now have finger followers instead of heavier bucket-type shims, and the exhaust valves are now titanium.
The engine is 6.6 mm narrower and 22 mm shorter, and the shorter length allows the use of a 40 mm-longer swingarm while increasing wheelbase by only 15 mm. What this all means is there’s now more forward weight bias, and better traction when accelerating out of corners. The gearbox is now a cassette type, meaning racer types can remove and service the transmission without splitting the cases. The big Gixxer also gets a mechanically-assisted slipper clutch, which lightens lever effort and reduces wheel hop when decelerating hard.
Chassis geometry is altered only slightly, since the GSX-R was already a stellar handler. Aside from the slightly longer wheelbase, rake angle is almost identical at 23 degrees (the variation is in fractions of a degree), and trail is reduced by 3 mm to 95 mm. The GSX-R has also lost three kilos, now weighing in at 202 kg, while the higher-spec 1000R weighs 203 kg, due to different suspension components and added electronics.
About that R
For the first time since the GSX-R1000 was introduced, there will also be a higher-performance version available: the GSX-R1000R. Both machines share engines, frames and brakes, but the R gets upgraded Balance Free Showa suspension (easily identifiable by the piggyback reservoirs on the forks), a lighter top tripleclamp, a quick shifter that works on the up- and downshifts, launch control, a lighter battery and LED position lights in the fairing.
Both bikes have 10 mm larger front discs (320 mm) made by Brembo. The discs feature five floating pins and five T-drive pins, which reduce the tendency to loosen and rattle with age. The latest Brembo monobloc calipers provide the stopping power, assisted by lean-sensing and rear-wheel-lift-mitigating ABS. The ABS is neither adjustable nor switchable, but we’ll get to that.
There are three ride modes (A, B, and C), each getting progressively milder. We tested the bikes only in the most aggressive A mode. The traction control has eight levels with the lower numbers providing less intervention, and it can be turned off; I rode in levels 5 and 3.
An all-new instrument panel is entirely digital, and it displays engine speed, road speed, gear position, fuel level, TC level, time, ambient temperature, coolant temperature, fuel consumption, and two trip meters. The standard model’s gauge has a grey background, while the R’s is black, and it also displays launch control and quick-shift info.
Dude, ride the bike already
First, you must understand that Phillip Island is like no other racetrack in the world. It is fast. Very, very fast. Because of its flowing, high-speed layout it is my absolutely favourite racetrack. The GSX-R1000 has also been a favourite of mine over the years because throughout all of its previous generational iterations, it had remained an easy-to ride, user-friendly open classer.
Hopping onto the GSX-R1000R I felt an immediate familiarity with the machine, maybe partly because the riding position is identical to the previous bike, save for a lower fuel tank. It is narrower between the legs (the frame is 20 mm narrower at the spars), and feels smaller than before.
We rode the first three of five 20-minute track sessions on the OEM Bridgestone RS10 tires with the TC set to level 3, and then switched to race-compound R10s with the TC set to the more intrusive level 5. The suspension was adjusted to the factory settings, which immediately proved too soft for my lardy 220-lb ass (fully geared, at least).
When cranked over at high speed the bike wallowed around, though it didn’t startle and still provided great feedback, allowing me to easily manage the wallowing. The front end also chattered as I braked hard into the entry of the Turn 10 hairpin. I knew speeds would increase through the day, so I asked to firm up the suspension.
Compression and rebound damping settings were firmed up front and rear (unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the adjustment sheet so I don’t know by how much), and I immediately noticed a reduction in both the wallowing and the wheel chatter, my estimate putting the improvement to about 70 per cent. Speeds were also limited in the first three sessions by the OEM tires, which returned some spectacular, mid-turn slides.
As I mentioned earlier, the GSX-R1000 has always been user-friendly, and that hasn’t changed despite the relatively large jump in performance. Power delivery in the most aggressive A mode is exceptionally smooth, and I found myself opening the throttle full very early at corner exit. Power delivery through the midrange felt almost docile, until I looked down at the speedo, which I did just before braking for Turn 1, and saw 290 km/h. But I did so only once, and I suspect the speeds increased in the later sessions on the race rubber.
I had the suspension adjusted one final time before the third session, and the tech who made the adjustment told me the rear rebound was set to the maximum level for the OEM tires, though more adjustment was available. This settled the bike down, raising my comfort level, and my speed. Corners 3 and 8 are incredibly fast bends, taken at more than 210 km/h, yet the 1000R railed through there with confidence-inspiring stability, only occasionally squirming a bit on the edge of traction.
Of particular note is just how forgiving the 1000R was through the fastest sections, providing excellent feedback to what was happening at the contact patches, while allowing for effortless corrections if I trail-braked into the slower turns too aggressively.
The last two sessions in the afternoon were on the racy R10s, though I didn’t alter the suspension adjustment from the third session, while TC was set to the more intrusive level 5. At level 3, the TC allowed for some wheel spin, which was both felt and witnessed by the increasing amount of black stripes at the exit of every corner. However, it was entirely seamless in operation, never giving a hint that it was managing grip by sputtering the engine. I didn’t notice it any more in level 5 with the grippier tires, only the added speed.
An interesting note is that our hosts gave us the option of taking out the ABS fuse (it cannot be turned off otherwise), but I chose to leave it in — if the bike, a high-performance supersport machine, was designed with non-switchable ABS, I wanted to test it at its limit.
This decision on Suzuki’s part led me to believe that maybe the system was not up to par with the race ABS systems on other open-class supersport bikes, but my suspicions were unfounded. Despite being limited to only one setting, it nonetheless works flawlessly at the limit, and beyond. The ABS was completely invisible, and only on a couple of occasions did it trip, while braking exceptionally hard going into Turn 10, and even then only with minimal intervention, allowing me to maintain my line.
A big plus for the new GSX-R is the addition of a quick shifter, which works up and down the gearbox. It provided full-throttle up-shifts with no throttle lag whatsoever, and allowed me to hammer down two clutchless gear changes into second, coming out of Lukey Heights and into T10, without missing a beat. Combined with the slipper clutch, the quick-shifter is surely worth several tenths of a second when lapping.
The penultimate session was probably my fastest. It was aided by the added grip of the race-compound tires, but no doubt also inspired by the former world champion who shared the track with us. Glancing in my mirrors, I caught glimpses of a bike catching up to me, the only bike to do so thus far. As the rider caught up and passed, I recognised the red, white and blue helmet livery of Kevin Schwantz.
He graciously slowed and let me follow for three awe-inspiring laps, showing me a slightly different way around a few of the corners, and helping me pick up the pace. As I busted a sweat trying to keep up, he looked like he was on a cool-down lap, moving in slow motion and barely hanging off the bike. His unmistakable riding style was evident, though, as he let the bike squirm and wiggle around on the edge of traction as he got hard on the gas exiting corners. After about three laps, he simply picked up the pace again and chased down another rider.
In the last eight years, the GSX-R1000’s Japanese competitors, with the exception of Honda, have all been fitted with trick ABS and traction control, and have pushed toward 200 hp. In that time, we’ve also seen the German introduction into the supersport class with the BMW S1000RR, which has proven a class leader, and whose design, incidentally, was inspired by the 2005 GSX-R1000. As for the Honda CBR1000RR, it also gets a substantial update and equally substantial boost in performance, with new electronics for 2017, though I haven’t yet had the chance to ride it.
The previous-generation GSX-R1000 was easy to ride. In previous shootouts in which I’ve participated, it proved to be the bike to ride when someone wanted to relax a bit, without really slowing down. Suzuki has now raised its level of performance to at least on par with the competition, while maintaining its easy-going nature. The electronics are not quite up to spec when compared to the R1, ZX-10R and S1000RR, particularly regarding the adjustability of the ABS and the lack of wheelie control (though the TC does provide some management for the latter), but I can’t fault the ABS settings as delivered from the factory, anyway.
Of course, this added performance comes at a price, and the 2017 GSX-R1000 now retails for $18,399, an increase of $3,400 over the previous model, while the 1000R retails for $21,899. If you jumped at that increase, note that the new CBR1000RR and Yamaha R1 start at $19,999 (the SP and R1M cost $23,999 and $24,999 respectively), while the S1000RR and ZX-10R ABS undercut the Suzuki by just $200 each. So aside from being user-friendly, it’s also relatively affordable.
As to how it performs against its competitors only a shootout will tell, but I suspect that just like when I was tailing Schwantz, they’re probably busting a sweat right now.