Suzuki GSX-S1000 – 900+ Miles of Death Valley Testing
I have been a Suzuki fan for many, many years. It was back in the mid 90s that myself and old friend “Alcapone” used to ride literally everywhere on our GSX-Rs. I had the 1991 GSX-R 750, and he had the big 1100. My pride and joy was completely stock where as Al’s 1100 was a chopped up street fighter.
He had removed the perfectly good fairings and lumpy tail unit by choice. The huge fairing was replaced with a small aggressive looking headlight shroud, and the tail unit was dumped in favor of a sleek chiseled fiberglass unit. The low slung clip-ons were swapped out with wide motocross bars and the flashy 90’s paint scheme was drenched over with a solid metallic electric blue.
He loved that bike and I must admit being slightly jealous with all the extra attention it got over my pristine version of essentially the same model. Mad Al would wheelie that thing every chance he got, crossing those MX bars with the front wheel 5 feet off the ground like he was actually riding a dirt bike.
Bouncing off the rev limiter before every gear change made it sound like he was firing a Tommy Gun. (Which coincidentally, is how he earned the nickname Alcapone). He seemed to have so much more control than I did with my elbows glued to the tank by the tiny little clip on bars, and his upright riding position meant he was much less fatigued at the end of a tire shredding ride through the mountains. He affectionately named his magnum opus “The Blue Baboon.”
Fast forward 20 years and I get an email telling me that we would be getting the new Suzuki GSX-S1000 for a few days to test. Being the highly technical guy that I am, my first question was “what color is it ?” “Blue, of course” was the answer. Metallic Triton Blue to be precise, with an ever so subtle hint of the MotoGP derived neon yellow and white pin striping. The bike’s presence is striking. Very sleek and definitely a machine that looks much better in the flesh than in some photoshopped brochure at the dealership.
The first thing that struck me was how short and stocky it looks. Especially from behind with the wide, OEM 190/50/17 rear tire adding to the muscle bike image. The closer you look, the better it gets. Gold anodized, fully adjustable KYB forks peeking out behind the standard issue Renthal Fat Bars and what has to be the nicest digital dash display I’ve seen on any Japanese sport bike for quite some time.
I can’t help but think Suzuki took a page right out of Alcapone’s text book on how to build the perfect naked Suzuki, although, safe to say, the GSX-S would leave The Blue Baboon wanting for so much more. I cannot believe how good the stock exhaust looks on this bike. Its a short stout, square design that tucks neatly under the right foot rest and completely blends with the GSX-S profile. Unlike most other bikes in showrooms at the moment, where the first thing to go in the skip would be the hideous exhaust silencer, if this were my own personal ride, I don’t think I would change the pipe at all.
But enough about the pleasing aesthetics. We all know the reason you want to read this article in the first place–and that’s the motor. The GSX-S1000 boasts the same engine design as the 2005 World Superbike title winning GSX-R1000. However I must clarify that although it uses the same design, these motors are not bolted together from an old parts bin of left over casings. Suzuki has revised the championship winning formula to bring us an updated version of this magnificent power plant.
The long-stroke liter engine produces around 138 horsepower, but because of the way its tuned for good mid-range response makes it feel like there is a lot more than that. And although the RPM redline stops a little short of its GSX-R predecessor @ 11,500rpm, there is plenty of punch higher up in the range too. Before my first outing on the GSX-S1000, I had read a few negative reports of snappy power delivery, on and off throttle, especially in the lower rev range. And it’s true – you do notice it in the beginning, but after about 20 minutes or so, you instinctively compensate for the snap with a little smoother input.
Another adjustment I found necessary after a few miles was to turn my throttle hand slightly forward on the grip allowing me to access all the power without dislocating my wrist. There seems to be a lot of travel on that twistgrip and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it may be a side effect of trying to resolve the low rpm throttle issue, however this is an observation, not a complaint.
Our test ride would cover a total of 900 miles from the suburbs of LA into the heart of the infamous Death Valley over a period of three days. Just to be clear, that’s 3 days of riding some of the fastest, winding roads in the West with a band of very quick, very experienced riders – all on a bike I had never ridden before. Add to that, I would be hauling my belongings in soft luggage, slung precariously over each side of the GSX-S’s stubby tail piece.
I must say, I’ve never felt more at home on a bike from the get go as I did with the GSX-S. You know how they always said the Honda CBR was one of those bikes you could jump on for the first time and ride fast ? Well the Suzuki is no different. Maybe it has something to do with the low seat height (just shy of 32 inches) that makes you feel part of the bike. Almost like you’re sitting in it as opposed to perched on top like an afterthought in the design process.
Our group of 18 or so riders departed LA early that morning. I was not looking forward to the highway drone we would need to endure for at least an hour before we would see some curvy roads. However the GSX-S is quite happy at speeds of 60 to 80 mph on a flowing highway. Because it’s a naked, the air flow around your torso actually helps to keep you in the perfect riding position where you don’t even have to hold yourself upright.
Its all done for you. In fact, the lack of slippery aerodynamics only becomes a problem on that rare occasion you venture past the 120 mph mark. Another pleasant discovery after 45 minutes on the highway is that there is loads of space on the seat, and because the footrests are much lower than the GSX-R, you can wriggle around into at least three different positions to help break the monotony of the Interstate.
Predictably, as soon as we reached the bendy bits in the mountain passes, all the fast guys gas it. I’m so used to seeing them disappear into the distance without a hope of staying close. But not this time. Oh the joys of a liter bike!
The Suzuki is seriously quick and has absolutely no problem mixing it up with some of the best money can buy. Another observation I had after underestimating the bike’s hasty acceleration, is that the front brakes do feel a little vague. The bike sports chunky monobloc, radial mounted Brembos, squeezing 310mm rotors, so the only possible offender for the lack of initial bite would be the pads or possibly the rubber brake lines. An upgrade to the pads is planned; we’ll see if that sharpens up the bite a little.
Again, this is not really a complaint, as simply applying a little more pressure on the lever easily brushes off the required amount of speed. My test bike is the slightly more expensive ABS version–if you can call $10,499 expensive for how much bike you get. I would personally opt for the non-ABS version for the sole purpose of being able to boast about the $9,999 price tag.
The GSX-S electronics suite has on-the-fly adjustable ride modes. Mode 1 is for clean, dry pavement, and modes 2 & 3 are for less desirable, wet conditions. One thing I like about the traction control system is that you can easily turn it off completely for the full 1000cc wheelie experience. I did however, switch over to mode 3 after we hit an unexpected rain storm. It’s very reassuring to have all the options at your fingertips.
Hauling luggage on a trip like this is an unwelcome necessity, but truth be told, the extra weight wasn’t really much hindrance at all. I did contemplate stiffening things up a little on the rear after some of the long fast sweepers, but like most motorcycles, the rear shock lacks easily accessible adjustment options and so far I haven’t touched it. No doubt there are many top shelf replacement units available from Nitron, Ohlins or similar. I would say that the rear shock is one of the only components that’s not quite up to standard with the rest of the machine and would be my first upgrade.
After 900+ miles with the GSX-S1000 I can easily conclude that anyone would be hard pressed to find a nicer looking, better performing, more comfortable ride in this price range. The Suzuki is just as good at commuting to work as it is sprinting through your favorite canyon roads every weekend.
The Alcapones of this world need no longer spend thousands of dollars making their uncomfortable sport bikes rideable; Suzuki has done it all for us. The GSX-S1000 has all the makings of an iconic model that will be loved by many. The Blue Baboon, it seems, has been refined.
Read our first ride review of the Suzuki GSX-S1000