Since its introduction in late 2000, the first-generation Suzuki GSX-R1000 has steamrollered its way through any form of comparison test. In addition to outpowering all-new open-class competition in 2002 ("Target Fixation," August 2002), the big GSX-R has been SR's Bike of the Year two years on the run. But all has not been rosy in GSX-R land, as the 1000 and its brute power barely edged Yamaha's 2002 R1 (with slightly better streetability) last year. And many of our testers over the past two years, while admitting to the Suzuki's functional superiority, have pointed to a different bike they would spend their own money on.
Faced with new Superbike rules that allow the use of 1000cc four-cylinder machines, in addition to what will undoubtedly again be all-new open-class competition for 2004, Suzuki's two-pronged preemptive strike is the 2003 GSX-R1000. The new bike incorporates structural changes that make it more suitable for Superbike competition, as well as updates aimed at making it nicer for, well...everyone else. To showcase its new flagship, Suzuki held the press introduction at Phillip Island in Australia, a stunningly beautiful 12-turn track that makes Willow Springs seem tight and slow in comparison. A day and a half were set aside for riding on the track, but no street ride was planned. I didn't complain too much.
Suzuki's concept for the GSX-R1000 remains as it was at the bike's original introduction: "Own the racetrack." And while the bike's main intention is to win races, this also refers to escalating track day attendance and the bike's performance in stock or near-stock form on the racetrack. With that concept in mind, Suzuki engineers addressed five areas of improvement: More efficient combustion (with "improved power output feeling"), reduced mechanical losses inside the engine, improved handling, reduced weight, and styling for performance. While the basic engine and its internals boast few changes for 2003, it's the intake, exhaust, and electrical systems that have been upgraded to effect most of the combustion improvements. And in the handling department, the new frame-fabricated with extruded beams rather than stamped sections-has sharper geometry numbers. Friction in the suspension has been reduced, and four-pot radial front brakes replace the old bike's six-pot setup. The end result is a bike that's five pounds lighter, and approximately five ponies more powerful than its predecessor.
Get on with it then!
The Phillip Island track is scary fast. My last visit there was for the original R6 launch, and the track seemed completely different on the GSX-R1000, as sections that could be taken flat out on the Yamaha are suddenly turns on the big Suzuki. While my first riding session was cut short due to a vibration from an out-of-round or unbalanced tire, it was enough for me to realize that the GSX-R remains as powerful as always-no surprise there, but it's always a bit of an eye opener when you hop on one after a few months away. More importantly, readily noticeable about the 2003 iteration is the crispness of the fuel injection. The bike behaves much better at partial throttle openings, while still ultra-crisp and always ready with power on demand. My initial impression was that the new bike had the power and response of our BOTY-modified GSX-R of last year, which had a Yoshimura exhaust and EMS installed-and close to 150 horsepower.
Another easily noticeable difference in this year's bike is the brake setup. Whereas the six-piston calipers and 320mm discs of the old bike were quick to fade, the four-pot radial-mount calipers and 300mm discs provide amazing stopping power with just a light pull on the lever. To my two-fingered pull, the brakes felt a bit on the touchy side, but not nearly as grabby as the similar setup used on this year's Kawasaki ZX-6R. Over the course of a half-hour session, I did notice the lever coming in slightly closer to the bar-say the equivalent of one click on the lever's adjuster-but with no degradation in performance at all.
Stacked front headlights allow...
Stacked front headlights allow the 1000's ram air ducts to be located 20mm closer to the center of the nose, the point of highest air pressure. The windscreen is slightly more upright (and 10mm taller) for better wind protection, and the fuel tank is narrower where it meets the seat.
With fresh buns fitted and no vibration for session two, I began to reaquaint myself with the circuit and the GSX-R's power. With a new throttle body setup and multi-hole injectors, the 1000's power delivery is excellent-dial in 10 percent more throttle, you get 10 percent more power, even in the faster corners. Response from a closed throttle is still not quite on par with Yamaha's suction-piston arrangement, although the GSX-R's throttle return spring seems quite light this year and makes finding the actual instance of the plates opening a bit difficult. Careful matching of engine revs and road speed is essential when downshifting the new bike (even though the transmission is unchanged), as any mismatch would result immediately in wheel hop-something that wasn't a factor with the old bike.
Phillip Island, one of those awesome Grand Prix-spec tracks on which bumps are few and far between, does have some rippled pavement that unsettled the GSX-R's front end with the stock suspension settings. This year's chassis has slightly less front-end weight bias compared to last year's, and I would spend the rest of the day working toward putting some more weight over the front tire. With the suspension tweaked to that effect, the big Suzuki glided over what few bumps the track has with little fanfare. Gone is the high-speed harshness in the fork of last year's bike, but rather you feel every ripple and crack in the road-much like, say, the GSX-R600's suspension action. As you would expect with the sharpened geometry this year (.5 degrees less rake, 5mm more trail), the 1000 steers decidedly quicker than its predecessor. Not lightning quick, like a CBR954RR, but the new Suzuki definitely needs its steering damper, whereas the old bike could do without.
The upgraded dashboard includes...
The upgraded dashboard includes a programmable shift light, which is a bit dim to see in bright sunlight.
Once the bike was set up and I was comfortable with the track, I started to have some fun during the last session of the day. Now I usually don't test my personal limits on these overseas junkets, but the combination of the tires (the new BT012 rear and revised BT011 front worked surprisingly well, offering good traction and predictable performance), the GSX-R1000, and the track had me riding a bit headstrong. During the session, I found myself charging into turns faster and faster, as I was easily able to scrub off excess speed by pushing the front end-something I can normally do only on a bike and track I am quite familiar with. And when the rear tire spun up on corner exits, it was completely mundane and unexciting. How the new GSX-R will fare with race tires remains to be seen, but there is no way I could have ridden the old bike like that.
On the second track day, I experimented more with the chassis settings, and found that even small adjustments to the fork and shock make a big difference to the bike's feel. While the damping adjustments provide an excellent range and should be tunable for pretty much any situation, the new bike's fork tubes can only be raised in the triple clamps a few millimeters before the clip-ons run out of clamping area (as the fork tubes slim down immediately below the handlebars). Ride-height adjustments will have to be made with shims under the shock clevis or a ride-height-adjustable shock.
In summary, the new GSX-R, while not leaps and bounds superior to the old bike (could anything be?) is definitely a better motorcycle. Nicer power delivery, a more solid chassis with much slicker suspension, and-perhaps most important of all-styling that sets it apart from the 600 and 750. With no new open-class competition for this year, it will be interesting to see how the new GSX-R stacks up against the amazing new middleweights when our Bike of the Year shootout rolls around, and then how it fares next year against what you can bet will be another round of all-new liter bikes.
Engine type: Liquid cooled, 4-stroke,
DOHC in-line four
Bore x stroke: 73.0 x 59.0mm
Compression ratio: 12.0:1
Carburetion: Fuel Injection, 42mm throttle bodies
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT011 FF
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT012 RF
Rake/trail: 23.5 deg./3.6 in. (91mm)
Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1410mm)
Seat height: 32.8 in. (830mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal. (18L)
Claimed dry weight: 370 lb. (168kg)
The 2003 GSX-R's frame uses extruded members (instead of stamped and welded sections) for the main spars, with two internal reinforcing ribs. The critical frame dimensions (swingarm to steering head) are unchanged, but rake is decreased by a half degree. The large subframe mounting tab (which was prone to snapping off in a crash) is eliminated, and the subframe bolts directly to the main frame spars.
new frame also incorporates an adjustable swingarm pivot setup similar to that used on the GSX-R750. Inserts with varying offsets can be used to raise or lower the pivot position.
The front fork now has a "diamond-like coating," (DLC) which is an amorphous (noncrystalline) structure having properties of both diamond (extremely hard) and graphite (very slippery). From the press materials, it appears that DLC reduces friction by as much as five times more than the previous titanium nitride coating. Internally, the fork springs are 10 percent stiffer, rebound and low-speed compression damping have been increased, and high-speed compression damping has been decreased.
A new muffler has 40 percent more capacity than the previous unit, providing less back pressure for the same sound output. As with the 2002 unit, the entire exhaust system is fabricated from titanium except for the silencer's aluminum skin.
With upgraded internals, the rear shock boasts 60 percent less friction than the previous boinger. A 15 percent stiffer spring has less preload, and damping rates have been increased by 30 to 60 percent.
These new Tokiko four-pot radial-mount calipers incorporate four separate pads, as opposed to the more common two-pad setup. The brake discs themselves are 300mm in diameter (down 20mm) and 5.5mm thick (up .5mm). The only change to the rear brake is a new hanger, which eliminates the caliper's torque arm.
The external oil line that used to run from the cam chain tensioner body to the front of the crankcase has been replaced with these internal oil passages.
Twin double-barrel throttle bodies replace the old bike's quad single-barrel setup, which eliminates two connecting links for the throttle plates. The new throttle bodies, which utilize resin fuel pipes as opposed to a combination of aluminum and resin, are almost one pound lighter than previously. The 2002 bike's pintle-type injectors are replaced with four-hole units for improved atomization of the fuel.
Internal engine changes include these lighter camshafts, which are identical to the 2002 units but have a slightly larger inside diameter.
Crankcase pumping losses have been reduced thanks to these 35mm ventilation holes in the upper crankcase half, one between each cylinder and one between cylinder #1 and the rotor cavity.
A 22-pole rotor (up from eight poles) sends a more accurate signal to the smaller ECU, which now has a 32-bit processor (compared to 16-bit) and 256KB of memory (up from 96KB). The additional computing power allows for eight injection maps in total: One for each cylinder for first through fourth gears, and one for each cylinder for fifth and sixth gears. The old ECU had shared maps for the two outside and the two inside cylinders, a total of four maps.
This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Sport Rider.