Suzuki’s GSX-R lineup changed the world upon its debut. Well, the motorcycling world anyway. Launched (literally) in 1985/86, the first year saw the debut of a blue-and-white 750cc machine. Radically different from anything up until then, it matched a stunningly light weight with a high horsepower engine and a racer’s ergonomics. In 1987, Suzuki brought forth a sibling–the 1100cc version complete with electronic anti-dive suspension and even more power. The intervening 20 years has seen the GSX-R model lineup go through five more generation changes culminating in this the K7 (2007) version.
The previous GSX-R1000 was truly a tough act to follow–the incredible K6 (model years 2005/06) dominated American road racing and, although it didn’t quite have the same success on the world stage (probably due as much to Troy Bayliss’ talent on the Ducati as anything), there are probably few among us that would doubt the accuracy of Suzuki’s tag-line: “Own the racetrack”. Sure the K6 was fast (ungodly fast actually), but it also turned that bit better than the competition without apparently sacrificing stability, and somehow it came on pipe a little more smoothly than the competition too.
So, when Suzuki was in development for this, the K7 version, it really must have been a challenge to improve the previous model. But, the engineers were smart. Instead of attempting to re-invent the whole machine with sweeping changes, they instead looked hard at a couple of areas where the K6 could be improved, and got it done. Those features stood out for me. I own a K6 and it has seen some fairly hard use as a track day tool, so when Suzuki invited me to Fontana to test the K7, I was very interested to check out the differences.
California Speedway at Fontana, CA is the only NASCAR type oval circuit – other than Daytona – left on the AMA racing calendar. I have heard that in general spectators and riders don’t particularly like the layout, but I have to say that Fontana’s mix of fast sweeping banking and tight technical infield section makes for a challenging – and for me – enjoyable track to ride.
Turning on the new big Gixxer’s ignition I noticed the first obvious difference from its predecessor. Although the cockpit gauge(s) are essentially the same, the previously black faced tachometer now has a nice checkered flag motif backing the needle and as the display initializes it goes through a cool high tech LCD bottom-to-top ‘sweep': very chic. The new engine mapping mode toggle switch is placed on the right handlebar and a corresponding readout appears on the display once the button is held down for more than 2 seconds. Changing the mode to ‘C’ (the most conservative power delivery) for my sighting laps on the cold Bridgestone BT-015s (street compound) tires seemed like a sensible idea and was a good opportunity to see if the mode function had any real world merit.
Having idled for a couple of minutes the engine was now nicely warm, so I pulled in the lever on the new hydraulic clutch and noticed immediately that it was lighter feeling and had more feel at bite than the previous cable operated offering. My K6 clutch after its 800 hard, track miles has now started to shudder and lurch on take off unless I’m really careful with how I engage it. Once underway it’s just fine, but it will be interesting to see how this new hydraulic version stands up to some serious abuse. Certainly on the over-run slowing into a corner, the slipper function works absolutely perfectly; it really feels (although I confess I haven’t tried it) as though I could slam the bike into first gear at 170 mph without any kind of problem; my mechanical sympathy prevents me from doing that to the plates. Really, the slipper mechanism works that well.
Leaving the pit lane area I accelerated reasonably hard onto the NASCAR apron and headed for the first real turn. The ‘C’ mode engine map was surprisingly strong power-wise; I had expected the engine to feel truly anemic, akin to running on three cylinders—but actually I found the bike to be nice and responsive with the full rpm range around the tachometer available. The motor felt healthy–it just didn’t have the giant push that full power delivers. I was pleasantly surprised enough to run a couple of laps in C mode and only found it beginning to lack somewhat once the tires were warm and I was heading on to the big, open expanse of the banking.The new mapping mode system allows changes to be made on the fly which is (somewhat naturally) very useful. Switching up into mode ‘B’ I really felt the engine to be a lot stronger; a lot closer to ‘normal’. It felt more akin to the bike’s sibling GSX-R750–except once the throttle is 98% open then the fuel map releases full power. This particular mode worked well too and if I wasn’t used to typical liter performance I’d still have been impressed with how fast the bike is. The power builds quickly at lower revs and fairly seamlessly moves to 100% when the throttle is wide open. The gentler initiation from lower down the rev range makes the motor more manageable, and although the bike is very fast it doesn’t quite have the intimidating mid-range grunt that comes with all the horsepower being used. I can really see this as a great option for track day use on a tight, twisty racetrack such as Loudon in New Hampshire or The Streets of Willow (Springs) – especially if you’re running street tires and it’s a hot day.
After several laps I decided to switch modes again and try out version ‘A’ (the fastest) mode. Needless to say, full Gixxer liter power does rather unleash the Hounds of Hell, but despite the oh-my-god level of power that simply wants to rip the rear tire off its rim, the Gixxer 1000 has simply evolved far enough that the rush of power is somewhat manageable – assuming of course, you have the upper body strength to hold on. On a side note, I was aware that the engine seemed to vibrate a little less than my K6 and the engineer I spoke to put that down to bigger cylinder ports. Their greatly increased size over the predecessor’s have reduced crankcase pumping pressures between the cylinders and increased horsepower; but apparently a nice side benefit is to have helped the engine vibrate a little less too.
Coming out of the final sweeping left hander on to Fontana’s banking is really a place that will show up any handling deficiencies. The sudden transition from the flat surface to the relatively steep banking tends to make my K6 shake its head pretty violently as I accelerate hard in second gear (at over 100mph I might add) while leaned over. The culprit isn’t entirely the non-adjustable steering damper, but certainly that particular item doesn’t do as good a job as it might. Now on the K7 there is a completely new all-singing, all-dancing electronically and automatically adjustable damper, but still tucked out of sight in the same position by the lower triple clamp. Operated by the ECU it is linked to not just speed, but also engine RPM and the gear selected at the time. The fact that this all-new Gixxer took my ‘Fontana challenge’ in its stride–accelerating hard while leaned over but with minimal head shake–is not only a great testament to how well the damper works but is also clearly down to the slightly revised numbers (increased trail and wheelbase) on the all new chassis.
Stuff all this into your calculator and the numbers seem to add up to the new Gixxer-1000 being one confidence inspiring motorcycle. It has slightly better stability without sacrificing the aforementioned ability to turn in–and a new steering damper that works really well and quietens down any head shaking at the bars. The only slight downside to Suzuki’s new big boy is the increase in weight of almost 13lbs. It’s still the lightest bike in class though and frankly most of that extra heft can be blamed on the twin-sided exhaust system that must have fallen out of the ugly tree. Presumably Suzuki is well aware that we’ll all be junking it anyway in favor of a new Ti system from Yoshimura, Arrow (or your favorite brand as appropriate) so who cares what it looks like or how much weight it adds?
So, ultimately what was my judgment of the new weapon compared to ‘ole faithful’? (I never would have thought I’d refer to it as that!) For me, this latest generation Suzuki 1000 really is a noticeable improvement over the previous one in some key areas. The new bike retains all the points we loved on the stunningly capable previous model–and yet the chassis is slightly more stable and the engine is a little smoother. The new clutch performed better, but as I mentioned, perhaps the comparison isn’t yet fair as mine had been thrashed somewhat.
But the new fuel mapping ‘mode’ choice system—and I’ve seen it referred to as “gimmicky” elsewhere—actually seems to have a viable, real-world use to it. If you street ride one of these beasts, rely on mode ‘C’ for around town toodling, especially if you happen to get caught in a rain shower or the roads are a bit slick; there’s plenty of power in reserve and you’ll probably get less tickets as a side benefit. If you’re a track day regular you’ll love the choice between ‘B’ and ‘A’ mode depending on what tires you’re running and what type of track you’re at on that particular day.
Without a doubt the K7 Gixxer is once again the liter-bike to beat as it incorporates some real world improvements and innovations over its predecessor. I was truly impressed. Anyone wanna buy a used K6?