As I scythed the big Gixxer past a line of cars on the two-lane highway I found myself wondering why everyone was driving so slowly. Glancing down at the speedometer I realized I was topping 100 mph; far from them going slowly, it was I who was traveling way too fast without realizing it.That was the problem with this bike—it was just so darn light and agile, yet so stable at speed, that I constantly found myself going a lot faster than I thought. The motor was incredibly powerful and, combined with its light weight, the bike was untouchable by anything else on the road. It was quite simply, The King of Sportbikes.
And that was in 1987 on my GSX-R1100.In the intervening 30 years, the GSX-R has gone through many incremental, and six generational, changes. Some improved it, some not so much.The 1000 came along in 2001, and it was an immediate success. To date, the GSX-R1000 has garnered an astonishing 12 World Endurance Championships and 10 AMA Superbike Championship titles in 15 years.I have personally kept in touch with the Gixxer model, as I raced a GSX-R750 SRAD in the late-1990s at both the Club and AMA level. I bought a new GSX-R1000 in 2005 from my local dealer who told me it was “The best turning machine on the market,” and I bought my current K7/K8 machine in 2008—a bike I still ride regularly. Forget about it being a nearly ten-year-old motorcycle—it is a remarkable machine, period.Unfortunately, in a way, that turned out to be a problem. The GSX-R1000 has been so good that Suzuki has been able to rest on its laurels. The bike hasn’t seen a significant redesign since 2009—some would argue perhaps even as far back as 2005.The original 1980s design concept that so defined the sportbike—make the bike “Run, Turn, and Stop”—stood the GSX-R in good stead. The bike is still an incredibly powerful, sweet-handling machine that does everything superbly well.However, it has lagged behind in some key areas—notably in the new electronic rider-aids. Also, the Gixxer’s peak power has fallen just enough behind the serious competition that Suzuki doesn’t have a bike on the World Superbike grid in 2017, either factory or satellite.So when a new GSX-R1000 was announced a couple years ago, it whetted everyone’s appetite—not least mine. We already comprehensively reviewed the technical aspects of the new GSX-R; suffice it to say, the (patented) variable valve train technology in a monster horsepower motor, a redesigned chassis with even more aggressive rake and trail numbers, and Suzuki’s new electronics suite to keep it all in check, hinted that Suzuki might be poised to regain the coveted King of Sportbikes crown.I tested the all new flagship version GSX-R1000R at the world-renowned Phillip Island Circuit on the southern coast of Australia. To say that I was intrigued would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions.Prior to Phillip Island, I visited Suzuki’s world headquarters in Hamamatsu, Japan and watched the first US-spec GSX-R1000R come off the production line. I first visited Suzuki’s Takatsuka engine manufacturing plant, and then on to the Toyokawa final motorcycle assembly plant.I came away feeling that all the workers at Suzuki have enormous pride in what they do; every single person seems to have enormous passion to produce the absolute best—and the employees clearly have the discipline and corporate culture to succeed.Worker after worker was absorbed and intent on the tasks at hand; the pride in each particular task was almost palpable. Each employee is acutely aware that everyone is a small, yet vital, cog in a huge machine. If a worker’s job is not done correctly, then the whole machine stops—so no one gets it wrong.The level of quality control at Suzuki is breathtaking. For instance, every single crankshaft— about 200 are made daily—goes through a process of forging, machining, hardening and final polishing, and is then inspected by hand using a small microscopic camera.The inspection goes so far as to check the internal oil channels and pathways to make sure everything is perfectly smooth and unobstructed. This level of detail examination was carried through every part of the motorcycle and its assembly. The employees at Suzuki take every aspect of its manufacturing very, very seriously. It is very striking to witness.I have never ridden Phillip Island Circuit before and, although I have plenty of track experience, I can now say I haven’t ridden anything like it either. I spent most of each session in a full racing tuck, and most of each lap in 4th and 5th gears, well into triple digits. As challenging as it is, boy, is it fun!Pulling out of the pits on my first lap, the GSX-R1000R felt comfortable and light. The Suzuki design engineers are obsessed with making their machines user-friendly, so no big surprise there.The three-quarter-inch narrower chassis was definitely noticeable; the bike seemed lighter, even though in actuality, it is not. I felt instantly comfortable and at home on the bike. While it is definitely compact, it fits my six-foot frame well.The reach to the handlebars is relatively short, so the new GSX-R isn’t a neck- or shoulder-breaker. The footpegs are high and rearset, yet they don’t make my legs feel uncomfortably cramped. I rarely touched down the pegs during the day, so clearly the height is about right.Pulling on to the circuit and leaning the bike into Turn 2, the GSX-R1000R went quickly and naturally to almost full lean angle. When I then discovered the corner tightens up into a long exit, I had no problem dialing in more lean angle and simply absorbing the turn with no problem.On a later lap I went in a little hot and found myself in the middle of the corner running wide. I had to focus on bringing the GSX-R back across my projected line. To my surprise and delight, the Gixxer not only managed it seamlessly and easily, it exited precisely where I was aiming and I was able to get back on the gas at my normal point with no loss of momentum.Accelerating down the long-ish chute towards Turn 3—the legendary Stoner Corner—I was shocked at how quickly the GSX-R1000R motor picked up, and how quickly it went to triple-digit speed. Suzuki has stuffed a lot of usable horsepower into that smooth, high-revving inline-4.Fortunately, for as potentially violent as that could be, the new ride-by-wire fueling is perfectly mapped and the feel at the throttle couldn’t be any smoother. The bike simply leaped off each corner with a rapidity that surprised me.In addition to the power, the thing that really stood out was the rock-solid stability of the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000R chassis. I wasn’t expecting the bike to be nervous, but its aggressive 23.3 degrees of rake (compared to 23.8 last year) and 3.74 inches of trail (3.85 in 2016) might imply a stability trade-off for a machine that has additional agility. Not so.Whether I was furiously hard on the gas, hard braking from top speed at the end of the straight, or changing line mid-corner, I couldn’t upset the handling; yet, the motorcycle still feels light and quick-turning. The wheelbase is just over a half-inch longer than its predecessor, but I think the big change to the weight distribution is what keeps the GSX-R so balanced and the front so positively planted.Suzuki rotated the motor backwards six degrees, and the measurement from the swingarm pivot to each axle dramatically changed. From the pivot to the front axle is now three-quarters of an inch shorter, and from the pivot to the rear axle now just more than an inch-and-a-half longer; the net effect is putting more weight on the front.I survived a potentially ugly incident on only my third lap when I got it wrong out of the final turn on to the straight and ran a little wide at around 120 mph. As I hit the slippery rumble strip with some lean angle, the GSX-R1000R shook its head quickly three times—and it then immediately went back to razor straight with no input from me.Once my heartbeat had settled down, I was amazed at how quickly the bike had composed itself, and how the shaking handlebars didn’t transmit anything through the chassis to the rear. The 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000R is a bike that wants to stay stable whether it’s leaned far over or upright in a straight line; unlike some superbikes I’ve ridden, it doesn’t want to hurt you.Lesson learned, I figured out the right line after that, and in my later sessions with increased confidence, coming on to the straight throttle pinned in fourth gear was pretty stirring, I can tell you.I had the traction control set at 3 (out of 10 total, with levels 1-5 recommended for track riding) and on the competition-spec Bridgestone Battlax Racing Street RS10 tires, the rear was spinning up with the TC holding it in a minimal, controlled slide. The yellow TC light was flashing, so I knew it wasn’t my imagination, but I was super-impressed at how the TC simply held the rear without it going over my head. The performance was consistent, lap after lap, and I simply don’t have the skill or desire to do that without electronics help.Phillip Island is not a wheelie-prone circuit—the speeds are simply too high. Still, it bears mentioning that the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000R (along with the new Honda CBR1000RR and last year’s Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R) does not have a dedicated wheelie control—it’s built into the TC. However, the TC does use pitch (back and forth) data from the IMU (inertial measurement unit) and doesn’t rely on just the difference in wheel speeds to mitigate wheelies, so it works well.On one cool down lap, I experimented with trying to wheelie by simply whacking the throttle in first gear. In TC setting 5, the front didn’t come up at all; in TC3, it came up about a foot; and in TC1 it came up a bit more than that. To do a full power-wheelie, I had to turn the TC off and then I could do as I pleased.
Howling out of the final corner and up the straight on the GSX-R1000 is motorcycling’s equivalent of smoking crack cocaine. I’ve never done the latter, but the former is so ridiculously addicting I assume the correlation is right. This is maximum grin-inducing stuff as the Suzuki’s 200 horsepower smoothly rushed in. It was incredible.
At 10,000 rpm, the variable valve timing comes into play and retards the intake camshaft to a maximum of six degrees, enhancing the Suzuki’s top end power. At that point, the two small green lights flanking the shift light at the top of the instrument pod come on, quickly followed by the two amber lights at 12,000 rpm. Finally, the white shift light in the center displays at 14,000 rpm.However, there is little to no need for the lights as far as I was concerned. I reveled in that insane, howling, screaming motor as it hit its crazy 14,500 rev limit—and this is a motor that keeps pulling all the way until the limiter forces me to stop.I confess I hit that limiter multiple times just because I could—what an experience. Fortunately, the limiter is soft, so while there’s some popping through the pipe as it activates, there’s no hitting a wall—it’s just time to change up a gear.I was seeing over 180 mph on the clock each lap before I hit the brakes for Turn 1. It’s very, very fast, and difficult to judge just how insanely quickly you can go through it. There’s a nice handy white line painted across the width of the straight at the 200-meter countdown to Turn 1, and I used that as my braking marker.With all four fingers, I found I could grab the brakes quickly and hard without any snatch or overbite from the brakes. The Brembo calipers grip huge 330mm T-Drive rotors; the combination works powerfully, yet with a ton of feel.In my first session I felt a minor shuddering coming up from the front end when really hammering the brakes from this speed, so for the second session I had a Suzuki engineer add a half turn of compression damping to the front BFF fork; that cured it. Clearly, the hard braking was over-compressing the front fork, so just that tad of additional compression damping stopped it.Hard on the brakes from that speed I often feel some movement from the back end as the rear tire is just kissing the tarmac and big braking forces get transmitted through the chassis—except that the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000R didn’t do it.The standard ABS includes Suzuki’s new Motion Track Brake System that reads data from the six-axis IMU, which constantly monitors pitch, roll, and yaw. The TC and cornering ABS use that data as well. The system modulates brake pressure to keep the rear wheel down and the chassis in line.Suzuki claims it is especially effective during hard braking on downhill sections of track, and the entry to Phillip Island’s Turn 1 is a perfect example of that. Suzuki also claims the system encourages the use of more aggressive brake pads for better initial bite and more total braking force.The redesigned slipper clutch and flawless blip-downshifter don’t hurt either—the latter’s operation being so smooth to engage, the downshift was barely perceptible. The combination of technologies has an amazing effect on hard braking stability. I have been feeling the rear end of bikes wandering a bit under hard braking for years and although they’re not necessarily alone, Suzuki has completely eliminated it on the 2017 GSX-R1000R.The GSX-R1000R comes with the uber-cool looking Showa WSBK-style suspension with the oddly named Balance Free Fork with remote reservoir and the Balance Free Rear Cushion shock.Despite the dreadful marketing nomenclature, the suspension itself is awesome. It’s sensitive enough that if you want to adjust it a little, it has a noticeable effect. Of course, you can quickly and easily undo any adjustment if you get it wrong.After adding compression damping to the front, I found the rear was starting to squat a little under very hard acceleration coming out of the corners; in the very fast final turn on to the straight, it created a little waggle at the handlebars.Clearly, I had changed the weight distribution under power, so I had two clicks of compression damping added at the rear. I liked how the GSX-R1000R responded to these small changes, and was thoroughly impressed how beautifully it handled after that. The fork shudder on the brakes had gone, and so had the slight handlebar shake—as I said, this is a very stable machine that wants to play nice.Another absolute standout on the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000R is the bi-directional quickshifter for the new cassette-style gearbox. The quickshift system monitors shift-linkage movement, as well as stroke, shift-cam rotation, and throttle valve position. Using that information, it retards the ignition on upshifts, and opens the butterflies for downshifts.The net result is that gear changes are the smoothest I have ever felt on a motorcycle, and there are some pretty good ones out there, so that’s really saying something. A couple of times I realized I hadn’t quite pressured the lever enough, yet the next gear still engaged smoothly with no false neutrals. The gears mesh together perfectly; they simply go from one to the next one, whether you’re going up or down the transmission, in an almost seamless-feeling way.It is easy to see that the GSX-R’s bodywork has been completely redesigned; there’s method behind that, of course. Suzuki spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel getting the bike’s slipperiness to where they needed it, and even items like the fairing bolts now have flat heads to enhance that.The overall fairing width has been reduced by over a half-inch, helping with the reduced frontal area, and the new gas tank makes it easier to tuck in. I appreciated it on the straight, as I was able to get my chin on the tank without difficulty. Tucked behind the bubble, the wind blast was definitely minimized and clearly helps the high-speed stability too.Other items to note are the easy-start function (just a quick prod at the button lights the motor as long as the bike is in neutral), a low-rpm assist to help avoid stalling, and launch control for racing starts.The new LCD instrument pod has a black background on the R model, and six-levels of brightness adjustment. Although this isn’t a pretty, colored TFT display like some competitors, the display is clear and easy to read. Most importantly, the information is very well laid out, so I have no complaint with it.The all-new Suzuki GSX-R1000R hugely impressed me. Actually, I only had one day on the one track to test it, but in that short time, the motorcycle didn’t just impress me—it blew me away.Suzuki has achieved that with a screaming motor with humongous, yet controlled power, and an agile chassis that is also among the most stable superbikes I’ve ridden. Those fundamental needs for fast riding are wrapped within easy to ride ergonomics that fully integrate you with the machine.The feedback from every system is precise. I could feel everything the GSX-R was telling me, whether I was accelerating hard out of a corner with the tire just past its limit of traction, or braking deep into a corner with the front buried into the tarmac and then turning-in. I felt completely connected to the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000R.Riding Style
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This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena gives us his impression of the outrageously cool-looking new Indian Scout Rogue. The Rogue features a larger front wheel among several other changes, and the bobbed-looks and excellent 100 horsepower motor make the Scout Rogue an interesting—and very real—competitor to the offerings from Milwaukee.
In the second segment Neale Bayly brings us the third and final segment from Brian Slark—the man who helped bring Norton motorcycles to America. Having spent 27 years and counting at the Barber Museum in Birmingham Alabama, Brian talks us through the final part of his career, that of course includes how the museum got started and where it’s going.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!