2016 Suzuki GSX-S1000 : It’s okay to be a bit dubious when someone claims they can build a motorcycle that offers true sport heritage as well as everyday comfort but this time the rubber has indeed hit the road.
One For The Road
About one year ago I was in Spain for a new model event where Suzuki marketing guy Naoki Hirooka and I sat together at dinner one evening and started chatting about the future. He asked where I thought things were going. That depends, I answered. Cruisers, sportbikes or adventure bikes aren’t evolving at all in the same way. So we moved the topic to sportbikes. These marketing types aren’t generally open to discussing what’s coming up but I thought, let’s see where this goes.
Considering how far sales have dropped since the financial crisis, paying for sportbike development is obviously going to be an issue for the foreseeable future, I said. In my view, using sportbikes as platforms to produce more models and offset those costs would make sense.
Hirooka listened attentively, nodded politely and quietly hummed as I spoke. And then, with no hint whatsoever as to whether or not I was on the right track, he changed the subject.
Fast-forward a year later and we’re both at the technical presentation of the GSX-S1000. Of course, I’m thinking I was right: they used the GSX-R1000 platform and very economically turned it into not just a naked, but also a faired street bike in the GSX-S1000F (which wasn’t quite ready to be launched yet; both are 2016 models). Pricing on them was unknown at this writing but availability is summer 2015.
But the longer the presentation went on, the more I realized something about my logic was off.
The inline-four is derived from the 2005-2008 GSX-R1000 engine—chosen for its torque enhancing long-stroke design—but almost everything about it has been changed in one way or another with the goal of transforming it from a track focused motor into a street bike engine.
The fully adjustable fork is new, as are the wheels and entire brake system with standard ABS. For sure a component as costly as the frame is taken right off the GSX-R, right? Wrong: the twin spar design is similar, but this is a new frame. Of course, all body parts are new, along with the mapping and the three-level traction control that also acts as an anti-wheelie function. In the end, the swingarm is the only part lifted from the GSX-R1000 platofrm, because “it worked.”
I later sat down with Mr. Hirooka and asked why not just strip a GSX-R? This is a new bike! I’m glad it is, but what about the idea of reusing superbike technology to produce new models? Was I completely wrong? He said no, that I was right and that’s actually how they did create the GSX-S1000 and its “F” version. I was confused.
He went on to explain that using older tooling along with frame production technology from 2005 would have been too expensive, so they built a new frame that’s easier and more economical to produce with current technology. However, thanks to the knowledge acquired with the GSX-R, very little development was necessary to achieve the desired handling characteristics. That’s where savings were made. Superbike technology didn’t necessarily mean superbike parts.
The other important justification for giving the GSX-S1000 its own parts and particularly its own frame was the strong desire to give it a streetbike rather than a trackbike feel. Fascinating stuff.
Clearly, the decisions Suzuki made were the right ones. The GSX-S really is a nice ride. On twisty Spanish back roads, it immediately felt comfortable, tight, polished, and appropriate. There’s a feeling of high refinement about Japanese bikes that is even occasionally (sometimes rightfully so), interpreted as a lack of character.
But in other circumstances, that feeling of thorough, obsessive engineering —which comes mostly from the engine, but also from every other point of interaction between rider and bike including mechanical sounds and wind noise—becomes a reassuring one.
It somehow morphs into an unconditional level of trust between rider and bike. The GSX-S1000 is like that. Its engine isn’t a character king, but the sounds it makes come from decades of inline-four refining and polishing. The same is true of the slick shifting six-speed transmission and smooth clutch. When you’ve owned a GSX-R or any other brand of high-powered track-focused motorcycle, those aren’t just characteristics you simply “appreciate;” they are what you absolutely need to feel before you give any credibility to a machine that claims to be a GSX-R for the road. They can be felt on the new GSX-S1000.
Among the first questions potential buyers ask are, how much power does it make and how much was the original motor tamed? Suzuki claims 143 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 78 ft/lb. torque at 9,500 rpm—respectable, but not class-leading numbers. However, the power is just right for the street environment. Low-rpm torque is pleasantly fat, enough to allow for both short shifting and a strong pull. That friendly but fun and useful nature changes at precisely 8,000 rpm, where the GSX-R in the GSX-S wakes up. From there to the 11,500 rpm redline, there’s enough go to make any ex-litre bike owner smile. Record setting acceleration it isn’t, but it’s absolutely fun, especially as the upright riding position literally stretches the rider’s arms every time the throttle is twisted, which amplifies the feeling of intensity of the acceleration.
Complaints are few, but they do exist. Throttle abruptness at low revs on lower gears is a bit annoying, at least until the rider adapts and smoothens his input, at which point it isn’t so much of an issue.
Vibrations from the inline-four can become intrusive in the second half of the rev range, but not excessively so. The motor pleasantly and smoothly hums below that, where it’s used most of the time. Suzuki says it boosted intake noise, but there could be a bit more.
And finally, there’s no way to separate the (good, very efficient and three-way adjustable … plus Off) traction control and anti-wheelie functions, which means if traction control is on, the front wheel will be brought down when it leaves the pavement.
Setting ‘One’ (the least intrusive) allows that to briefly happen, but settings Two and Three keep the front tire on the ground. This behaviour is not uncommon at all with traction control equipped bikes, and, depending on the nature of the model, it may not be an issue.
But my position on this kind of motorcycle is the following: the GSX-S1000 is aimed at experienced riders who may have been a bit reckless on sportbikes back in the day. For them, power wheelies coming out of a turn on some back road are the definition of fun and electronics shouldn’t prevent that. Traction control can be deactivated, which allows the front wheel to get deliciously airborne when the digital tach reaches 8,000 rpm in first and second gear. But wouldn’t it be better if you could do that AND keep the added safety of TC? I think so.
After power, ex-GSX-R owners will probably wonder about comfort and handling and in both cases the GSX-S1000 is just brilliant. The riding position is exquisite. Feet are high and legs are bent sportbike-style, but not uncomfortably so, and there’s just enough of a lean forward to make the stance feel sporty without putting any weight on the hands, which fall very naturally on a handlebar that’s just appropriately wide for a naked.
The passenger seat is small —Suzuki believes the GSX-S1000 will be mostly ridden solo—but the rider’s portion is well formed, well padded and surprisingly comfortable, even on longer rides.
The way suspension is set is also a pleasant surprise. It’s just firm enough to naturally turn a twisty road into good times, but also soft enough to deal with real, everyday road conditions. Suzuki could have firmed it up considerably more to honour the GSX-R sporting heritage, but it wisely kept the mission in sight. There already are track-ready GSX-Rs for those who want one. This is a streetbike first. Which doesn’t mean that the GSX-R heritage isn’t felt on the GSX-S. It most certainly is, in the way the engine sounds and pulls and in the way handling is exact but not nervous.
Ultimately, the GSX-S1000 does achieve its goal. I know exactly who it’s aimed at because I am that rider. I grew up on sportbikes and couldn’t care less about how uncomfortable they were. But that was many years ago and nowadays, I have very little interest for track bikes on the street. Love ’em on the track though, but as everyday rides, I’ll pass, thank you very much. So when a manufacturer says it’s going to offer me both the sports heritage and the everyday comfort, I get cautiously optimistic. Many have tried, few have succeeded. KTM did with its 1290 Super Duke R, as did Kawasaki with the current Z1000.
And now, so has Suzuki with the GSX-S1000
- by Bertrand Gahel, July 2015 issue