Still a contender after all these years

Year after year, Suzuki’s liter-bike proves to be a perennial favorite. Whether it’s slicing through traffic, carving up a mountain road, or piling on interstate miles, the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is a do-it-all sportbike. Although it’s been three years since it received any technical updates, the GSX-R continues to impress on the street, and with an MSRP of $13,599, riders get a lot of bike for the money.

As always the Suzuki GSX-R1000’s ergonomics and general cockpit layout are one of its best attributes. The hand and foot controls are placed at a relaxed level, and the position of the foot pegs can be adjusted to suit your particular needs.
Another tremendous plus is a seat that measures 31.9-inches off the ground, which is only 0.2 inches taller than the low and lean RC8R. It’s also ranked as the most comfy motorcycle in this test. A broad upper fairing and windscreen complement the riding position, which together make the Suzuki the machine of choice for all-day rides as evident by its top score in the Overall Comfort category. It was also noted that it is one of the larger-feeling bikes in the test. That hurt the R1 but seemed to work to the advantage of the GSX-R.

On the scales, the Gixxer tipped in at 460 pounds with its 4.6-gallon fuel tank filled, which is third-highest capacity. That equates to it dragging 21 pounds more than the class-leading ZX-10R, but still 13 less than the porky R1 and right on par with the defending class champion BMW. So, that goes to show that a bike can overcome the weight disadvantage if it carries the weight well. Overall, our testing troupe was pleased with how the GSX-R1000 feels on the street. The GSX-R is the original superbike, so it comes as no surprise that Suzuki has the recipe down to a science.

“The Suzuki just fits right,” confirms Mr. Steeves. “Sure it isn’t the smallest bike, or the lightest, but everything just works. It’s a really comfortable bike to ride yet it still feels sporty in the corners.”

A mixed digital and analog dash display is functional and is easy to see while riding. Our experienced riders didn’t play with its electronically adjustable S-DMS engine maps, but our less experienced testers applauded the system. By default full-power A-mode is activated when the bike is started. The rider can then choose B- or C-mode via a trigger on the left side switchgear. B-mode reduces power and makes it feel like a GSX-R750 for lack of a better explanation and C-mode further reduces power down approximately 30-horses to that of a GSX-R600 with a plug wire off. That in turn makes it less intimidating to ride in more demanding riding situations like tight corners, wet roads, dirty roads and so on. Unlike the R1 modes, the GSX-R seems to affect a positive difference in the power delivery and that is how a selectable power system should work.

“For me the adjustable engine maps are a big plus,” adds our superbike novice Ray Gauger. “On the freeway and around town A-mode is just fine but when I’m riding up Palomar I prefer B-mode. It just makes it easier for me to ride and I don’t have to worry about getting in over my head.”

Fire up the engine and the Suzuki unleashes a tough-sounding exhaust note. Our sound meter registered 86 dB at idle which was louder than the rest of the Inline-Fours, as well as Ducati’s 1198. It still didn’t register as high as the loud-mouthed KTM. At higher engine speeds (6650 rpm) it emitted 100 dB, identical to some of the other Inline-Fours. Out on the road it sounds even better, delivering a throaty roar during hard acceleration that will make a Gixxer-purist’s ears perk up from a mile away.

Excellent GSX-R1000 drivetrain componentry make it one of the easier bikes to launch off the line at the drag strip or a stop light. Even though first gear is tall and capable of 100 mph, the acute feel from the cable-actuated clutch allows the rider to escape the line easily. Even though it doesn’t employ a speed-shifter, the six-speed gearbox performs flawlessly, and the 17/42 final drive gearing isn’t overly tall for either street or track use. It’s also got one of the best slipper-clutches in the business. In our acceleration tests, the GSX-R had the second-fastest 0-to-60 time behind the mighty BMW at 2.89 seconds and third-fastest quarter-mile time of 10.18 seconds at 144.2 mph, which proves the effectiveness of its powertrain despite being a little on the heavy side. Only the CBR1000RR and S1000RR split the timing lights quicker, but it was a mere three-hundredths of a second quicker than the new ZX-10R. That’s a testament to the age-defying design of this current GSX-R1000.

The engine’s bottom-end power proved the strongest of the Inlines, delivering the most torque at low rpm. With the exception of the Twins, the Honda is the only bike to surpass it through the mid-range before it arrives at its 76.02 lb-ft peak at 10,000 revs. Keep on revving the engine and power comes on even stronger on up to its 156.44 horsepower peak at 11,800 rpm. That’s good for third-highest behind the Kawasaki and BMW. In measured fuel economy, we noted a 33.9 mpg average, which netted a range of nearly 156 miles between fill-ups from its 4.6 gallon fuel tank. That puts it on the lower end of the other Inline Fours, with the exception of the thirsty R1.

“It’s got a strong engine,” sums up Steeves. “It doesn’t quite have the mid-range of the Honda or the Twins but it’s got beans everywhere else. Plus the powerband is so smooth that it’s a really easy bike to ride and the induction howl sounds pretty cool when you’re pinning it.”

Even though the Gixxer doesn’t steer as sharply as say the Honda or KTM, it turns in such a predicable manner that it’s easy to get comfortable at the controls when jamming through corners. The suspension also does a great job of soaking up rough pavement while still maintaining a high level of pitch and damping control when you’re really going for it. Another plus is how solid the chassis feels on all road surfaces and speeds. For an all-around bike, the Suzuki GSX-R1000 is still pretty hard to beat.

“Just like the Honda, the Suzuki is one of the easiest bikes to hop on and go fast,” explains Dawes. “It’s a hard bike to fault. From the engine to the chassis and ergos, it all just plain works … and if it had a little bit better styling I’d probably pick this as the bike I would to ride every day.”

While the GSX-R struggled slightly with its braking performance on the racetrack, on the street the Tokico braking components get the job done. The front brakes offer plenty of feel, even if they don’t have as much initial bite as say the BMW. It took the Suzuki 140 feet to come to a complete stop from 60 mph in our braking test, one foot better than the Brembo-equipped Ducati. As with any of these bikes, outright stopping power is tremendous, and since you are not constantly hammering the brakes on the street, there is none of the quirky fade and growing brake lever that has been the Achilles' heel of the GSX-R for a while now. The rear brake functions excellently too and is on par with the other Inline Fours according to our resident hooligan hot-dogger, who spends more time on one wheel than many of us spend on two, so he rides that rear brake quite a bit.

Versatile: That is the word that best describes the GSX-R1000. It’s a machine that’s capable of devouring mile after mile during the daily commute but can still rip around corners on a weekend escapade. Take it one step further and hit a few track days if that is your cup of tea. The GSX-R1000 is good there too. Sure, if it could lose a little weight, handle a little sharper and pump out some more power, it might have something for the top two bikes, but this machine has been around for a half-decade. That’s what is most impressive about the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R1000. It is still a contender after all these years.