In this new digital era of complex electronics and multiple rider aids, Suzuki’s revised-for-2012 GSX-R1000 still relies on human reflexes to go fast around the track. From the press introduction in Miami, Bertrand Gahel weighs in on one of the last remaining analogue superbikes.
The Human Touch
For a while there, the litre class looked like it had reached a plateau. It seemed as though some manufacturers no longer even considered it essential to push The Numbers—horsepower and weight. In that context and at that point in time, Suzuki’s fast and tight GSX-R1000 comfortably sat at the King’s throne, a regular spot for the multiple championship-winning model since its 2001 introduction.
But then, you know who (BMW) unleashed you know what (S1000RR), and the superbike world went back to war. It can be argued that the Germans were the first to bring traction control to the masses (actually, Ducati’s 1098R was the real first) and that the Electronic Revolution was destined to happen anyway.
But the point is, traction control, wheelie control and even ABS have now become musts in the class, just as fat rubber, upside-down forks and fuel injection have been in the past. So, in this new digital context, a lightly revised GSX-R1000 lacking contemporary electronic wizardry must logically equate to too little, too late, right? Not so fast.
It is a well-known fact that a significant portion of sportbike buyers shop by specs and that for them, today, the absence of technology like traction control may amount to a deal breaker. Even if most do not actually use the entire technology present on their bikes (nothing new here), that technology represents a major part of what attracts them to these machines. So for them, the more advanced the better, and for that reason, models such as the 2012 GSX-R1000—or the very similarly positioned 2012 Honda CBR1000RR—probably won’t be on their radar, even at a lower price of $14,999. Fair enough. While I completely get all that, something doesn’t quite add up.
I recently spent an entire day lapping the Homestead Miami Speedway on the 2012 GSX-R1000 during its North American press introduction. It was an open track format, which basically meant journalists could ride as much as they wanted. Over the course of that day, I rode a lot and well, constantly lowering my lap times, pulling countless 100-mph power wheelies and going fast enough, often enough, to leave the test with my speed fix totally taken care of.
The big GSX-R is still an amazing machine. Although I hadn’t been on one for a couple of years, it felt like an old friend, as though it was my personal bike. Japanese sportbikes are like that in general, but the GSX-R1000 literally exudes that sense of déjà vu, of immediate comfort and instant confidence. It lets itself be ridden without interfering, almost as if it voluntarily checked its ego at the door and accepted the humble role of the perfect track tool. It is a quality you just can’t appreciate until you’ve fought to adapt to a bike to make it go fast around a racetrack. And it’s a quality the GSX-R1000 defines. Add to that transparent nature the benefit of much improved new brakes that provide the pleasant combination of immense stopping power and a friendly, progressive initial bite, along with a slightly faster revving engine, and you’ve got one serious track weapon.
Call me Old School, but not once during all those laps, through all those crazy corner entries and hard exits and intense braking did I wish for help from an electronic brain. I wasn’t just fine, I was having a ton of fun. I realize this might raise a few eyebrows, but it felt refreshing not to be monitored by a computer, even though TC-equipped bikes haven’t been around very long. It felt like the relation between rider and machine was totally unfiltered and undiluted. It felt like it should be—not perfect, but pure.
I could stand the thing on its rear wheel exiting corners without fear of some program deciding to slam it down for the benefit of lap times. I could feel the back end squirming around when I got back hard on the gas exiting a turn, and I knew it was my own skill and nothing else keeping the whole exercise from turning into a disaster. It felt gratifyingly honest.
Now, on any of the TC bikes, the technology can be turned off, making it possible to ride them like the GSX-R, without assistance. But when TC is present, you end up using it. To feel safer, to go faster, to eliminate some of the risk, because you paid for it, whatever.
Traction control is the future and quite obviously it will be on the sixth generation of the GSX-R1000 when it’s introduced, probably in the near future. All of which makes this revised and refined fifth generation version something of an in-between model, only there, really, to keep some spotlight on the big Gixxer until the next one shows up. So, no, it doesn’t have TC, which automatically deprives it of any latest and greatest accolade. It won’t, however, deprive its owner of bragging rights for he’ll unquestionably be the one doing the riding.
Ten things about the 2012 GSX-R1000
1. Improved throttle response, power and midrange acceleration.
2. Eight per cent better fuel economy.
3. Switch from twin to single muffler.
4. 11 per cent lighter pistons.
5. Larger crankcase ventilation holes for lower pumping loss.
6. Compression ratio bumped from 12.8:1 to 12.9:1.
7. Engine control module with optimized settings.
8. Front calipers switched to lighter Brembo monoblocs.
9. Overall two kg weight reduction.
10. Shorter, lighter Big Piston Fork with revised settings.
By Bertrand Gahel Canadian Biker 2012