Suzuki’s late-arriving GSX250R has found its place while competing in a very tough category. Yet, it leaves at least one rider yearning for just that little bit extra.
So Very Close
There is much to like about the new Suzuki GSX250R. The liquid-cooled 248cc parallel twin, while small, still snarls to an epic redline through a six-speed transmission. The bike looks precisely like what it is intend to look like: the other members of the GSX-R family and may even look a little better than the new GSX-R1000 with its single ovoid headlight where instead the 250 sports a creased and edgier design although it helped that the GSX250R we sampled came dressed completely in gloss black to add some stealthy darkness and attitude.
The bike’s proportions are balanced and require a close look to notice that the 250 isn’t one of its larger stable mates. Larger is almost a misnomer as the 250 is longer both overall and in wheelbase than the GSX-R600 and is wider with higher ground clearance … and the 140 rear tire doesn’t shout “skinny.”
There is also a large and comprehensive digital display, a luminous taillight, front accent lighting and an oversized exhaust. Simply put, it looks good for $4,699. But there are a few hints to hierarchy even though the engine is completely hidden by the shrouds of the fairing. The rims are pretty basic and the front wheel sports only a single petal disc and traditional non-inverted forks which are a dead giveaway but only if you know what you are looking for. Suzuki kept the badging of the bike subtle and you have to look to find the “250.” Why is that all-important? Simple. Nobody wants other riders to think they are riding the “small” bike. The GSX250R has attitude that belies its displacement. Perfect for the segment.
Riding the bike however makes the engine size obvious as there is no getting around the lack of displacement and displacement is an interesting discussion regarding this offering. Suzuki has come late to the small sportbike market in Canada and faces long established competition in the Ninja 300 and the CBR300 and the more recent Yamaha R3 and KTM 390. This is supposedly the slam-dunk segment for attracting new riders so it’s surprising that Suzuki came to market with a displacement disadvantage.
The Kawasaki and Honda offerings have long moved to 300 while KTM and Yamaha arrived well above the mark. But there is a displacement limit in this segment as there is only so big you can get without either cannibalizing the sales of more expensive and larger displacement bikes or simply edging a model out of the entry level class. It can’t be a race to bigger and more powerful because those bikes already exist. Success here is a balance between rideability and price. But where is the sweet spot: 250, 300, 320 or 390?
Here’s an interesting train of thought. The bikes in the segment should be priced low enough to make them appealing to a budget conscious rider. They should offer a level of performance that makes them enjoyable and satisfying. But how satisfying? If this is the entry segment don’t you want your riders to eventually “graduate” to something bigger both in displacement and profit margin? Where does the “I need something bigger” segment end? Arguably, a modern 400cc machine could provide an unlimited source of enjoyment to the point a rider wouldn’t have to purchase a new machine. On the lower side of the segment we know from Honda’s CBR125 that unless the motorcycle is simply a substitute for an urban scooter that its limitations quickly require an upgrade to something bigger with the ability to comfortably range beyond the city limits. A 250 approaches the minimum, which makes the GSX250R a quandary.
But don’t jump to the conclusion that an “entry” level bike is only for entry-level riders. Simply labeling the GSX250R entry level implies characteristics that don’t fit as well as calling it a “budget” option might. I had a blast on the GSX250R.
So then why was I lamenting the lack of displacement? Simple. Riding the GSX250R is going to make many riders, better riders. Despite the lack of horsepower and torque, there’s still a competent engine that tachs-up over 10,000 rpm and combines with a low weight (178 kg) to allow the rider to feel exactly what is happening with the bike, where the power lies and to what extent more is available.
You could use it as a commuter and never leave the city but then you’d never fully appreciate its nuances. Instead, take it into the country for a longer ride where carrying speed, anticipating the engine’s response to grades and corners makes you consider where you are in the powerband, where you need to be and what the engine is doing.
Both the tach and the surprisingly loud growl of the exhaust offer important feedback as there is minimal vibration even at redline. Power here is not a bottomless pit so you use what you have to its maximum effect and you can do most of this within spitting distance of the speed limit which you can not do on a larger sport bike like the GSX250R’s closest cousin, the GSX-R600. Slower traffic becomes not a pylon but a problem for which a solution can be worked out. For knowing your machine, the GSX250R is ideal.
The GSX250R is easily fast enough for most riders as triple-digit highway speeds are all possible with a little extra to spare. The challenge is the torque. There isn’t much. If you are rolling on at 90 to 100 kmh and require a sudden burst of power, you aren’t going to get it. There will be acceleration but not instantaneous. The cam profile maximizes acceleration for speeds between 20 and 90 kmh, right where you need it for most riding situations.
The lack of hard, fast acceleration is the most significant concern with the GSX250R. I would happily ride the bike 500 km into the interior of BC but I’d be clenching a little on twisty roads with limited and short passing opportunities—especially uphill with some luggage. This is where an additional, say, 125 cubes would come handy in turning the GSX250R from an excellent machine to something that could be an all-round—and indefinite—riding machine. It is simply too good not to get the displacement boost because it is so very close.
A long ride, albeit occasionally clenching, is not a challenge for a couple of reasons. I was riding and then I was riding a little more after that. I began to have serious doubts about the accuracy of the fuel gauge. Surely it wasn’t correct. I would open the cap, peek inside, and sure enough there was still fuel sloshing around. At around 330 km I finally gave up the quest to see how far I could go. The digital gauge was alternating between two and one flashing bars. Not bad for a 15-litre tank.
The onboard computer once indicated an economy of 35km/litre for a technical range of 525 km (the factory spec range is 480 km). Somewhere between 350 and 400 is probably more likely considering the nature of the engine that can be used conservatively or continually bumped against the rev limiter. The petal disc brakes do their job well as they benefit from the bike’s low mass and moderate speed capabilities.
A second factor toward enjoying a long ride with this bike is its surprising comfort. While designed to look like a racer replica, the ergonomics are much friendlier. The clip-on bars are higher, the tank narrower, the seat thicker and the legroom less cramped—remember that dimensionally it’s a larger bike than the 600.
The suspension is compliant enough to make the ride smooth but not overly plush as the bike tracks purposefully through corners.
The entry segment sportbike is a tough category. The volume is large, which is why the long-lived Ninja 250 eventually had to compete with Honda and then Yamaha and then KTM. The Suzuki GSX250R has a lot going for it including being arguably the best looking bike in the group, with great comfort and fuel economy but the engine, no matter how enjoyable it may be, lacks just the few extra foot-pounds of torque that would make it a very long-term keeper. This has nothing to do with top speed but rather the ability to accelerate above 95 kmh when you truly need hard highway roll-ons. Around town this is a non-issue, as the GSX250R will easily outpace traffic.
Perhaps I am being too critical on the GSX250R for an aspect of riding that isn’t supposed to be in its repertoire and there are other bikes that would serve the purpose. For the inexperienced rider or someone who wants a stylish, light, and maneuverable bike for city riding, the GSX250R is ideal. The problem (if you can call it that) is that the bike is so enjoyable, so close to an all-rounder that it will also appeal to experienced riders but ultimately leave them wanting a little more power and torque up where the good stuff happens. Not a whole lot more, but more. So close and all for under $4,700. So very close indeed.
by John Molony