Test ride: 2018 Suzuki GSX-R1000R

I’ll admit it.  The first ride or two, I rode the 2018 GSX-R1000R like an old-timer.  No, not 10 below the speed limit in the fast lane with the blinker on for the last five minutes, wearing those huge sunglasses that fit over regular glasses.  No, what I did was use the clutch for shifts, cut the throttle on upshifts, blipped the throttle on downshifts, and modulated the throttle and clutch on fast takeoffs from a stop.  I rode it like a Luddite.

The GSX-R1000R was all new in 2017 (see Costa’s racetrack review here), a step up from the “regular” GSX-R1000, and a technical tour de force blessed with digital brainpower unseen in previous GSX-Rs.  The short list of tech goes something like this: quick shifter, traction control, launch control, drive mode selector, ABS, Motion Track Brake System, Inertial Measurement Unit, variable cam timing, Showa Balance Free suspension, and a configurable digital dash.

Not too long ago, this level of techno-wizardry was only found on MotoGP machines, and not too long before that, it didn’t exist on motorcycles anywhere.  But today it can be found at your local Suzuki dealer for a cool $22,199: a bargain compared to a million-dollar race bike, and $3,500 more than the base model GSX-R1000 at $18,699.

For the price difference between the GSXR1000 and GSX-R1000R, the “R” gets a quick shifter, launch control system, Showa Balance Free front forks, Balance Free lite shock, lightweight upper triple-clamp, black LCD instrument panel face, LED position lights, and a lightweight battery.  Both models feature an identical engine, exhaust system, chassis and brakes, IMU sensor, Suzuki Drive Mode selector, easy start system, low RPM assist, and traction control system. Also, in Canada, both models include ABS as standard.

How does it ride?

Even though the GSX-R1000R is a 1000cc, 200-horsepower beast, it doesn’t necessarily ride like one.  Dimensionally, it feels only a little bigger than your average Supersport 600, with a reasonably comfortable seat, peg height and clip-on reach and height. The steering is quick but stable.  Clutch lever pull is light, and Suzuki’s Low RPM Assist system actually adjusts the engine revs electronically when starting from a stop or riding slowly, making riding simple in stop-and-go traffic.  It’s not a tightly-wound beast when ridden at a sane, street-legal pace.

Throttle response for street riding is a little abrupt, so a push of a button on the left handlebar allows you to select from three modes labelled A, B and C.  A mode gives the sharpest throttle response at all throttle openings, B provides softer throttle response up to middle throttle openings, and C mode offers even softer throttle response all the way up to high throttle openings.  I found for most street riding, the B mode allowed for smoother riding in traffic without dulling throttle response too much.  That said, I still left the bike in A mode for most of the test.

The engine has a broad spread of power, even for a litre bike, thanks to “Suzuki Racing WT”, or SR-WT, a system that mechanically and automatically varies the intake cam timing at high RPM.  Intake cam timing is not compromised for either low RPM or high RPM operation.

The “Suzuki Dual-Stage Intake” (S-DSI) also helps with the smooth power delivery, mimicking a variable-length intake funnel system by stacking a longer funnel on top of a shorter one, in sequence, with a gap between the two.  At lower RPM, the intake air flows through the two funnels and the longer funnel keeps the air velocity high for better low RPM power; at higher RPM, the intake air also flows through the gap between the two funnels, maximizing airflow for better high RPM power.  S-DSI is only found on two of the four cylinders, which Suzuki says produces a smoother, broader powerband.

And finally, “Suzuki Advanced Exhaust System with Suzuki Exhaust Tuning-Alpha” uses butterfly valves and balance tubes to optimize the exhaust flow at various RPM for maximum power throughout the rev range.

Controlling the power

Traction control and ABS are two things that aren’t often pushed to their limit on the street when riding at a close-to-legal pace in the dry.  Luckily or unluckily, the week of my test was without any precipitation, so I wasn’t able to test the mettle of these systems in the wet, where they are more likely to be required on public roads.  The same goes for Suzuki’s Motion Track Brake System, which takes information from the Inertial Measurement Unit to optimize brake pressure when the motorcycle is leaned over in a turn, and also works to reduce rear-wheel lift when braking hard, especially downhill.

The quick shifter on this bike is brilliant and quite useful on both street or track.  If you’ve never ridden with one before, it is nothing short of a revelation to be able to click off gears, up or down, without using the clutch or modulating the throttle at all.  Low RPM, high RPM, it doesn’t matter, the system is smooth and reliable.  When accelerating hard, the bike sounds the same as you hear on the on-board camera feed of MotoGP bikes: the revs rising, a momentary pause (sometimes almost imperceptible, depending on rpm and throttle opening), and the rev note changes to a lower rpm and instantly resumes rising.  It shifts faster than any human can, and being able to hold on tight with both hands, not having to adjust your throttle grip, and simply tapping on the shifter, is a fantastic thing on a bike this powerful.  It has arm-stretching, hand-grip-threatening power that needs to be felt to be believed.

The launch control feature is a neat little trick to help harness all that power, whereby you push the starter button when at a stop, the LC indicator comes on, and you can peg the throttle with the clutch in and in gear.  The computer holds the RPM at 10,000, and the rider simply has to let out the clutch and feather it as needed to control the launch.  Once the clutch is let out all the way, the rider simply keeps the throttle pegged and taps the shifter through the gears as necessary, letting the quick shifter do its thing.  The launch control takes the guesswork out of throttle inputs and lets the rider simply use the clutch to control power delivery.

The upgraded Showa suspension on this “R” model is interesting because instead of feeling stiffer and heavily damped for track use, it is actually very compliant and comfortable over less than perfect surfaces.  The fact is, a compliant suspension will allow the tires to follow the ground more smoothly, increasing grip.  Yet if the suspension is too soft, the bike will wallow and be imprecise.

What Suzuki and Showa have done is create a damping system (“Balance Free”) that equalizes the oil pressure on either side of the piston inside the fork and shock that forces the oil through the damping circuits.   This “frees” the damping circuit from the influence of unequal pressure, thus allowing the suspension to be more active and compliant, while not necessarily requiring lower damping rates to achieve this effect.  The result is a ride that is more comfortable on the street, with more traction on the track, while still being properly damped for track duty.

Good looks to match

Aesthetically, this is one of the best looking GSX-Rs to come along in a long time.  In my tester’s limited edition Metallic Triton Blue with Team Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP graphics, the bike is stunning and a fantastic tribute to Suzuki’s MotoGP efforts.  The one blemish on an otherwise outstanding looking motorcycle is the almost comically large exhaust muffler.  It’s no wonder that the first modification many riders do on their bikes is to replace the stock can with an aftermarket slip-on.

It is interesting to see that many of the technologies found on the GSX-R1000R that are meant to allow it to be a track demon actually make it a better street bike.  The compliant suspension, the quick shifter, launch control, traction control, and drive mode selector all allow the bike to be more comfortable, easier to ride, and safer on the street, even though they were intended to make the bike faster on the track.

You won’t mistake this bike for a tourer, or even a sport-touring bike, but you will be more comfortable and safer, and still be able to tap into its monstrous 200 horsepower and race-bike handling as the need arises.  Even old-timer Luddites can appreciate that.

2018 Suzuki GSX-R1000R Key Specs:
Price: $22,199
Engine: 999.8 cc inline four
Curb weight: 203 kg
Power: 199 hp @ 13,200 rpm
Torque: 86.7 lb-ft @ 10,800 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,425 mm
Length: 2075 mm
Seat height: 825 mm
Brakes: Dual Brembo stainless steel 320mm discs, Brembo T-drive floating mounts, radial mount Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers front, single 220mm disc and Nissin single-piston caliper rear, ABS with Motion Track Brake System
Front suspension:  Inverted telescopic Showa Balance Free Front forks, adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Progressive link type, coil spring, oil damped Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion lite shock, adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping.
Tires: 120/70/ZR17 front, 190/55/ZR17 rear

5 thoughts on “Test ride: 2018 Suzuki GSX-R1000R”

  1. I’m a 40 something lover of motorcycles. I’ve always had a thing for sport bikes. Owned 7+ motorcycles. I would like to think I’m the target market. I’ve saved money, I have a place to keep my bike, I’ve taken FAST racing school. But there is no way I’m going to pay that kind of money and then the insurance to put that thing on the road. I may also be in the minority but I really don’t want superfluous electronics that I suspect are driving up the cost. (Will an autonomous self driving motorcycle come in the future? What a great sport bike you won’t have to shift gears or even drive…. Sorry NO! Give me a choice on base model without the Nintendo options. And! All those electronics and no collision warning, Come on!! Perhaps I could add some perspective…. look up Manuals Matter: Porsche 911 GT3 – Carfection on youtube.

  2. Having just received an insurance quote for $5000/yr for a 17 year old ZX-12R, I am wondering how the company sells enough of these machines to make them even worth importing.

    Lovely bike though.

      1. Ontari-owe. I was quoted $1200 for a ZZR1200, which surely is not a whole lot removed from a ZX12R. A ZX11 was just as expensive as the 12, and it’s practically the same bike as the ZZR.

        1. The country funny that way isn’t it? Another thing that bothers me is that we pay by displacement not horsepower. There are old 650’s that have the same horsepower as a KTM Duke 390.

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