2011 Suzuki GSX1250FA | Review

2011 Suzuki Motorcycle

I married into a family of engineers. And, in talking with my in-laws over the years, I’ve grown to understand the best and “most elegant” engineering solutions are often the most simple.

The motorcycle market has spent many years becoming more segmented with more specialized bikes for specific types of riding offering more technology to the rider, and that is a good thing in many ways.

But the need for simple, clean designs and simplified, yet effective engineering solutions has never been greater given the weak economy and state of the dollar. After all, how many riders can really afford multiple bikes to get several types of riding experiences anymore?

I spent a recent weekend running canyons and exploring greater Los Angeles with the one of the latest offerings in the sport-touring class – Suzuki’s redesigned big Bandit, the GSX1250FA. It is an elegantly, simple bike that affords sport-touring riders a great “do it all” type of bike that handles sportbike duty, touring and commuting with ease.

Having owned a few GSX-R sportbikes over the years, I have recognized that Suzuki has always been a great engine company. The GSX1250FA offers a smooth, almost buttery, 1255 cc, DOHC fuel-injected inline-4 powerplant that offers plenty of torque for street use and a linear, powerband through most of its rev range. This powerband is key to the bike’s personality, as it offers an appealing combination of acceleration with ease of use.

The GSX1250FA’s over-square design is a proven one. The engine has been configured to be a torquey street engine, with an almost “electric motor power delivery” in the way it builds power. This is exemplified in being able to pull away from a stop in not only second gear, but third with nary a lugging of the engine and drivetrain. Impressive.

With my weekend featuring a circuitous route around northwestern Los Angeles that spanned from the far side of the farm country of Somis to the far eastern side of downtown Burbank and many of the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains in between, the GSX1250FA registered a little over 41 mpg. That figure was achieved with a fairly heavy throttle hand on mid-grade gasoline.

What is new is a liquid-cooled oil cooler for this motor. The GSX offering better cooling than past air-cooled oil cooler designs and I guess technically now making it a “water-cooled” motor, albeit indirectly. This liquid-cooled oil cooler also avoids a large radiator up front, giving the GSX1250FA a less “front heavy” appearance in that area and a more sport bike-like appearance overall.

You can look into the front fairing and see a nice polished header system looking back, vs. a radiator or its guard. Elegant. Simple. As for engine heat, there is a bit of heat on the rider’s lower right leg in traffic (hence the polished heat shield on the exhaust piping in that area). While this heat is nothing too uncomfortable for the rider to deal with, it is noticeable on a warm day.

While some may moan at this big motor for not quite delivering 100 hp, the powerband is so smooth and tractable that you almost don’t need any more ponies, at least not at sane public road speeds.

Those looking for a big power hit in the upper rev ranges should look elsewhere though, but, all in all, the GSX1250FA’s engine is a sweet design that offers great balance between sport riding power needs, around town flexibility and usable torque to make this an entertaining motorcycle.

Complementing the GSX1250FA’s engine is a constant mesh 6-speed transmission that offered relatively smooth shifting once it was warmed up, and an easy to find neutral and an overall ease of use that I’ve often found in Suzuki motorcycles.

With close ratio gearing, this transmission is a blast to use and makes the most of the wide powerband while still allowing high speed cruising and long legs as attested by the mpg returned on my ride.

A hydraulic clutch offers great lever feel without too much effort. An adjustable clutch lever is a nice touch, too. The only concern is a stout crunch when shifting into first from a stop when cold–not out of sync with other transmission designs of this vintage, but louder than more modern transmission designs. Once warm though, the transmission is a great match for this engine. Lastly a good old chain drive with a metal chain guard makes for a simple final drive system that many still believe in, myself included.

The GSX’s tube frame and straightforward suspension, all culled from its Bandit lineage, offer great performance for the money. With a 25.3-degree rake and 140mm of trail in the front fork, the GSX strikes a balanced compromise between quick steering and high levels of stability. With a wheelbase of 58.5 inches and a curb weight of 567 pounds, the GSX1250FA offers plenty of room for two up riding while still delivering a sporting feel. It rides like a much lighter motorcycle at speed with great steering feel and a low amount of effort in corners.

The GSX features a classic 43mm stanchion tube telescopic front fork. While the GSX1250FA’s front suspension may not be as trick as some of the upside down fork designs in this class, but the front suspension offers great feel and communication to the rider while soaking up road imperfections with ease.

Augmented with a proven coil shock linked to the aluminum swingarm, the rear suspension offers spring preload to compensate for two- up riding’s added weight. Completing the suspension are Bridgestone Battleax sport touring tires that offer great grip and a compliant ride on black aluminum three spoke wheels that hide brake dust and road grime nicely.

All in all, a simple, well-engineered suspension that provided a level of firmness for sport riding that was confidence-inspiring at spirited rates of travel; while also soaking up imperfections and worn freeway systems with ease. You could rack up a lot of miles on the GSX1250FA and have a comfortable, fun time doing so. This suspension also makes it a pretty friendly commuter within a bike with a lot of personality.

The GSX’s ergonomics are about perfect for a sport-touring motorcycle. The seat is firmly padded–not too wide but supportive while the reach to the bars leans the rider a bit forward, while not being so far forward as on a true sport bike. The seat’s height can be adjusted by swapping some brackets and mounting bumpers around to give taller riders more leg room or shorter ones better reach to the ground. The rider’s feet are underneath his knees and up slightly when on the pegs, ideally suited to more spirited riding occasions. While not a Gold Wing, the GSX1250FA is pretty comfortable for just about any type of sport or touring riding.

Wind protection from the new full fairing and sport touring windshield is adequate at best. You will get some wind on you with this bike, but that’s what sport touring is about to many riders. Riders seeking a higher level of wind protection will need an aftermarket windshield or another motorcycle with a much bigger fairing to ride. Mirrors on the GSX will be familiar to Suzuki riders. They are well placed for rear vision and virtually vibration free. Why can’t all bikes have mirrors that work as well as these?

The pull pack handlebar offers an average width and the switchgear is traditional Suzuki, easy to use with everything where you need it. The chrome tubular bar offers an easy place to clamp on a GPS system, too. One issue to be on the look out for is the turning radius of the bike does make the handlebars come very close to the tank at full steering lock, offering the potential for pinched pinkies. Careful riders shouldn’t have a problem though.

Gauges are right from the Suzuki sportbike parts bin. With a gear indicator, fuel gauge, a clock, warning lights, a digital speedo and clear analog tach and a couple of tripmeters in a compact layout nicely set into the inner fairing. These gauges make it easy to keep tabs on the bike. Heck there’s even a programmable shift light for those who want to practice his inner Mladin. One thing missing, though, is an engine temperature readout, which could come in handy on hot days with two up riding and luggage or commuting on an Inland Empire freeway during rush hour.

One major nod to technological advancement on the GSX1250FA is the digital ABS braking system. Based within large 310 mm front rotors and Tokico calipers, the digital ABS system offers a level of additional braking confidence, especially in slippery conditions. The brakes performed admirably in my one really aggressive stop needed on the Ventura Freeway.

These brakes are very good, derived, albeit without ABS, from recent GSX-R gear. Offering a linear feel with the ABS engaging in a not-too-obtrusive way these brakes seem to say “simple” while still offering the advantages of ABS. Once again, an adjustable front lever was a nice touch for riders with smaller hands. The braking system was simply very good in all conditions, right on target for this motorcycle’s mission.

Suzuki provided this test GSX1250FA with a complete set of hard saddlebags and tail trunk. Part of their new Genuine Suzuki Accessories line for this motorcycle. The bags were easy to operate, simple to put on their mounting brackets and get off quickly with integrated carry handles making them easy to handle off the bike. The brackets are finished in the same matte black finish as the GSX’s frame, so they integrate with the bike nicely.

Bear in mind though there doesn’t seem to be a way to mount the hard saddlebags on the GSX1250FA without needing the rack and mounting frame for the tail trunk too, as both mounting systems for all the bags bolt together in order to mount to the motorcycle. It is clean system to be sure, but you’ll need to plan your purchase accordingly if you are thinking of just going with the saddlebags only.

The rack for the tail trunk offers a sturdy luggage rack/plate (with a traditional Suzuki “S” logo stamped in it) that can easily accommodate a soft duffle bag while you’re saving up for the official Suzuki hard trail trunk. However, the lock to remove the seat is inaccessible to the full-sized ignition key with the saddlebag in place over it. A bit of a nit, especially given how easily the saddlebags are removed, but it may be an issue with fully-loaded saddlebags and a tired rider needing a tool or to check the owner’s manual a at the end of a long ride.

The GSX1250FA’s tail trunk easily fit a full-face helmet in a bag. The saddlebags, with elastic luggage retention systems and leashed covers to keep your gear from falling on the ground were not quite roomy enough for this tester’s size large helmet though. To be fair, though, there are helmet hooks under the seat to retain you and your pillion’s helmet when off the bike.

Lastly, the trail trunk and saddlebag locks are not keyed the same, like on other bikes in this segment–a minor annoyance to many who have come to expect this in their hard luggage systems. All the bags offer carrying handles to make them easy to carry off the bike and are shaped to stand by them selves on a flat surface. A nice design overall.

The bags are finished in a matte black plastic finish that I would suspect should be more durable to scuffs and leg scrapes over time versus an all-gloss black finish. The tail trunk does have a gloss black finish on its lid to tie into the GSX’s all-black “Night Rider” paint scheme which gave the bike a classic look while still maintaining some aggressive attitude. The trunk’s overall shape seems to be pretty comfortable for a passenger to relax against, but a back pad for the passenger to rest against on the tail trunk would also be a helpful accessory for Suzuki to consider.

The 2011 Suzuki GSX1250FA has a lot going for it and it makes for a great alternative to other bikes in the segment that are heavier, more powerful and more complex. The GSX offers nice power for just about any riding situation, comfy yet sporty ergonomics, nice styling and confidence-inspiring handling. ABS brakes, and optional luggage is simple to use and remove make for a great start towards high level of sport touring cred among those not considering a Suzuki in the past–all in a bike with a MSRP of just $11,599.

What’s missing? The aforementioned temp gauge and perhaps a lockable compartment for small items in the front fairing inner (there seems to be room to add one). The GSX strikes me as a great platform for more accessories to be engineered for more sport-touring effectiveness. Optional heated grips would be nice. A Powerlet plug for both rider and passenger to plug in heated gear or perhaps a heated seat as accessories would also be welcome “One Key” lock sets for the bag system seem like a viable option, too. A cross bar to mount a GPS system for the chrome handlebar and a taller windshield for those needing more wind protection also seem like nice ideas.

The Suzuki GSX1250FA is chocked full of great equipment and nice ideas. Nice styling, a buttery smooth, powerful motor. Suspension that hits the sweet spot between sportbike and tourer/commuter just right in a wheelbase that allows for all-day comfort. Heck, there’s even a standard center stand and real tool kit that’s under the seat.

Just like when motorcyclists lived in a simpler time; with motorcycles riders needed to adapt to the “ride at hand” vs. having a dedicated motorcycle for each type of ride they were on. The 2011 Suzuki GSX1250FA strikes an elegant chord for those riders looking for a “simpler may be better” line of engineering thought.

Riding Style

Helmet: Shoei X-Eleven Glory
Jacket: Cortech GX Air Series 2
Gloves: Tour Master Summer Elite
Pants: Cortech DSX Denim
Boots: TCX AirTech