Its become an annual event. Larryfest is the last distance test ride of the year and occurs in October. Actually, this was only our second year, but both years to date have seen idyllic weather and taken place out of Larrys farmhouse in eastern Ontario. Which, as good fortune would have it, is also the ideal launching point for the best twisties you can find in Ontario.
Last year, we had the Fat Bastards of the dual sport crowd: the Triumph Tiger and BMWs R1150GS. This year we took a ride on Triumphs streetfighter Speed Triple and Suzukis revamped 2001 Bandit 1200S. I picked up the Bandit in Toronto, so that I could ride it up to Larryfest, where he had the Triumph waiting.
The old model Bandit 12 used to be my favourite bike. Im a naked guy (bikes, not body Im wearing socks right now), with a penchant for classic cooling fins, minimal plastic and a good turn of speed. The older Bandit was also a tall bugger, which suited my lankyness well. The new one has not just dropped the seat height by 45 mm, its got a new frame (and thus geometry), fairing, stiffer suspension, six piston calipers up front and a throttle position sensor, to name just the main modifications. Question is, on an already superb bike, are these changes made for better or for worse?
Heading out to Larryfest 2000, I was late getting out of the mess of Toronto. I hit rush hour and by the time Id gotten onto the back roads it was already getting dark and cold. Nevermind, this would be a good test for the new projector headlights and the fairing protection. Never one to be able to go slow when you can go fast, I held the throttle at a steady 120km/h and kept a keen lookout for any signs of wild or cop life.
I was a tad disappointed that the addition of a throttle sensor didnt seem to make much difference to the off-idle power output. The Bandit, even at 1200cc, likes to be revved. Below 4,500 rpm its a bit flat with a noticeable carb glitch just off idle. Above that and its like a scalded cat with a firework up its rear and a pack of dogs in hot pursuit. Oh, and in typical Suzuki style, the gearbox is the sweetest in the business.
Suzuki reckon that by having an extra slot under the screen part of the fairing gives the rider additional wind protection by using the extra wind flow to push the main flow up a tad more. Its hard to explain (see the included pic) but by the gods of Denmark, I do believe that it works.
Further comfort is achieved by a sensible riding position (up with a slight forward lean), reasonable seat and soft enough suspension to absorb all bumps, but hard enough to hold its line during sporty heroics. Suzuki have stiffened this up on the 2001 with good compromise. A common complaint used to be the overly-soft suspension, causing the bike to wallow somewhat when pushed. With relief, I also didnt feel cramped in my legs, which I had feared with the lower seat height. Well done Mr. Suzuki, all seems to be working fine here.
I got to Larryfest after what seemed like an eternity zig zagging across a moonlit rural eastern Ontario. A warm meal awaited, after which we spent the evening reacquainting ourselves with our good friends, the Scotches.
NUCLEAR RED ROADS
The next day we headed out into the cold morning in search of the smooth and twisty. I took the Speed Triple, Larry audible laughing ahead on the Bandit. I wonder why?
The Speed Triple has been with us for a few years to date with no major changes for 2001 except for the new Nuclear Red paint job. Im not quite sure what Triumph are trying to do with this, but Id guess that if you irradiate the colour red, it turns pink. Bit of an oxymoron cause it has to be one of the meanest looking bikes out there (paying homage to the streetbike hybrid found in Europe) but decked out in super bright pink. A bit like a mean ass body builder on gay pride day.
Within five minutes Larry had turned down a twisty, pot-holed and severely patched bit of road and I found out what the laugh was about. The Speed Triple has an incredibly taught and aggressive feel to it, aided by somewhat stiff suspension. On the smooth this is exhilarating, on the rough its back breaking. That bastard Tate must have been smirking all the way to the next stop.
At least he didnt act all surprised when I finally got to express my thoughts on the fact at our first photo shoot. Something to the effect of "yeah, rock hard isnt it? And thats after wed backed it off to the softest setting at the shop". Hmmhhh, and yet it still felt like riding a pogo stick without a spring. This could be a painful day.
Photo shoots are an ideal time to try and do a few stunts for the camera. This is when I found out just how much of a stuntmeister the Speed Triple is. The front brakes are just phenomenal. Theyre not even six pot calipers, but Triumphs own twin four pot jobbies. The brake lines braided steel and a firm squeeze of the front brake will have the back wheel spinning freely in the air and you looking like Tom Cruise in MI2 (sans blazing guns, chiseled body, income and groupies). In fact, I was even starting to get a few rolling stoppies happening, no doubt helped by the stiff suspension.
In contrast the Bandit has all new twin six pot calipers up front, which should be awesome but werent. I mean theyre still good, but I was disappointed to find that they didnt feel any noticeably better than the old four pots and definitely not as good as the Triumphs. On top of that they really showed up what must be the weakest point on the new Bandit. The Michelin Macadams are possibly the worst tires Ive experienced on a modern sport bike.
Trying to do stoppies would see the tire skid and slide as many times as it would actually bite and hoist up the back. They also gave very little feedback to the rider on the open road. On one particular fast turn I felt the rear end slip out a sizable distance and have also experienced the rear wheel spin under mild acceleration admittedly the tires were cold, but I havent had this happen on other bikes in similar conditions. Bad choice Mr. Suzuki, go directly to jail and do not pass go.
BOGIE, BOGIE, CALABOGIE
We traded bikes and ended up in the town of Calabogie for lunch where we met up with the infamous Paul Kett of Soapbox/opera fame and his trusty Honda Goldwing. Paul patiently rode with us as we explored a local damn for photo opportunities before finding what has to the best road in all of Ontario.
An orgy of twists, turns and short straights, all covered up with spanking new black top. Thank you Mr. Tate, I think Ill take the Speed Triple now.
Either this road was made for the Speed Triple or it was made for this road (actually neither, but lets not let fact get in the way of a good story shall we?). Did I mention the feedback this bike gives to the rider? Awesome. The triple motor lays down power from the get go, from where it climbs with a sweet linear predictability all the way to the 9,500 rpm redline/rev-limiter. Theres just enough vibration to make you experience the engine, but not the numbness. Combine this large spread of power with a short travel and very precise box, and you have a fun, brutish (and British) bike.
Speeds were fast and high speed cornering the flavour of the day. The Triple would give slight shivers over road irregularities, accelerating out of corners or just when sliding yer arse from one side to the other, in preparation for the next knee scraper. It was predictable, enjoyable and lotsa fun. More fun than a super sport bike really. Yes, they could go a lot faster and with less effort down the same stretch of road, but why take the extra speed risk when you could just get a bike like the Speed Triple and have more fun to boot?
It took a full half hour to get to the end. Larry was on my arse all the way through and claimed that the Bandit was wanting to go faster. I can believe it too, although I doubt he had just had quite the same exhilarating experience that I had. 10 minutes later, Paul rolled up on his Wing.
With adrenal glands firmly squirted, we said our goodbyes to Mr. Kett and meandered back to Larryfest headquarters at an altogether more civilised pace. Thankfully our friends the Scotches had managed to replenish themselves, and so came the end of Larryfest 2000.
What should we ride next year Mr, Tate? Make mine an FZ1.
Click here to read part 2, where we take a gander at the technical side of both bikes and get Mr. Tate to throw in his 2 cents worth for good measure.