The smaller "Bandit" proves to be a superb replacement for the aging Katana series
With the long-overdue demise of the 600 and 750 Katana series, Suzuki has filled that "economical sportbike" gap in its '08 lineup with the new GSX650F. A bike that actually debuted last year in Canada and Europe in basic naked-bike form as the '07 model Bandit 650S, the GSX650F is similar in concept to the Bandit 1250S in that it breaks with tradition by not being just a rehashed version of a past generation sportbike. In fact, like the 1250S the GSX650F boasts an all-new engine and chassis designed specifically for this model.
The new middleweight's liquid-cooled, 656cc, DOHC four-cylinder engine is tailored specifically for low-end and midrange response rather than top-end power. Instead of the normal radically oversquare engine configuration, the GSX650F utilizes an old-style, longer-stroke 65.5 x 48.7mm layout. The four valves per cylinder are canted at a 17-degree included angle, with pistons sporting ion-coated rings for less friction forcing an 11.5:1 compression ratio, and Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valve System in the 36mm throttle bodies breathing through midrange-tuned cams. The 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust utilizes a large-capacity catalyzer and oxygen sensor to pass strict Euro III and EPA Tier 2 standards. A six-speed transmission works through a hydraulic-actuated clutch for easy gearshifts.
The double-cradle steel-tube frame is a fairly conventional unit that sports some conservative steering-geometry numbers (26- degree rake, 108mm trail) coupled with a near-60-inch wheelbase. A 41mm conventional fork with preload adjustability and a single shock out back with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload handle road-holding duties, while four-piston Tokico calipers bite on 310mm discs up front with a single 240mm disc in the rear.
The GSX650F's cockpit is nicely...
The GSX650F's cockpit is nicely laid out with a comfortable handlebar bend, excellent mirrors and an instrument panel that's easy to read at a glance. The fuel gauge was very pessimistic on our test bike; with the last fuel bar flashing there was still over a gallon of fuel left.
Unlike the foreign-model Bandit 650S, the GSX650F comes wrapped in a full fairing with distinct GSX-R overtones. The fairing and windscreen are much taller and wider, though, in order to work with the GSXF's upright ergos; the upper triple clamp holds a set of conventional handlebars. Also befitting the Suzuki's entry-level intentions is very manageable 30.3-inch seat height.
Just as with the Bandit 1250S, spec-chart mavens surveying the GSXF's dyno chart will look at its 75-horsepower peak output and presume the new Suzuki to be nothing more than a pale weakling of a middleweight that can barely get out of its own way-but nothing could be further from actual reality. The GSXF's V-twin-like flat torque curve allows responsive acceleration in urban environs without having to rev the piss out of the engine or hastily grab multiple downshifts. A short first gear makes quick work out of holeshotting traffic from a stoplight with little of the heavy throttle and deft clutch management usually required on a middleweight, and even passing highway traffic at 60-70 mph often doesn't require a downshift. The GSXF's powerplant provides easily ccessible power that offers a much more hospitable environment for a novice rider to learn in.
That flat torque curve pays major dividends in the twisty sections as well, allowing more concentration on steering, throttle control and corner speed and less on gear selection. Adding icing to the cake is the GSXF's throttle response, which is one of the smoothest we've ever experienced on a fuel-injected motorcycle. With the engine tuned for responsive torque, naturally there's not a whole lot of power up top, and acceleration tails off above 9500 rpm, so trying to wring out the Suzuki's engine like your average supersport mill won't work. Anyone riding it as such will be disappointed-but they probably should be riding a different bike in the first place.
The GSXF's steering habits are lighter than the relaxed front-end geometry and long wheelbase numbers would suggest. There's plenty of stability to keep things from becoming unruly over midcorner bumps, yet steering is responsive enough to permit line changes without too much effort. It's only when big directional changes are attempted that the Suzuki's conservative setup and sizable weight-a hefty 535 pounds-make themselves known. The Bridgestone BT-020 rubber fitted as standard equipment on the GSXF surely helps with the surprisingly light steering, but the old-generation tires only offer an adequate balance of grip and wear rates.
Despite its minimal adjustability and budget-oriented origins, the suspension does an admirable job of handling everything from the mangled pavement of the city to a spirited run through the canyons. Except for some buzziness in the handlebars, even fairly long superslab stints are tolerable, although the upright ergos, good wind protection and wide, comfy saddle help considerably in that regard (the four-cylinder also sips fuel, with 200 miles easily possible with the five-gallon tank). The spring and damping rates are a very acceptable compromise that offers up a smooth enough ride while keeping the chassis well under control at the moderately aggressive speeds the GSXF is easily capable of. Get too aggressive, however, and the Suzuki quickly lets you know you're approaching its limits, as its porkiness starts to overwhelm the suspension. That limit is a lot higher than you'd think for a bike of this sort, though, and again is well outside its intended scope of use.
Even though the front brake calipers are four-piston Tokico units from an earlier-generation GSX-R, braking action isn't as good as you'd expect, even accounting for the Suzuki's intended market. Initial bite feels pretty wooden, and any real braking power requires a pretty firm squeeze on the lever to extract it. Seeing as the calipers are old GSX-R units, replacing the brake pads with a more responsive compound shouldn't be a problem.
The GSX650F is a superb replacement for the ancient 600 and 750 Katanas, offering far better real-world performance with much better comfort and economy. And with a sticker price of just $6999, a definite bargain in our book.
'08 Suzuki GSX650F
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline, DOHC, 4-stroke four
Bore x stroke: 65.5 x 48.7mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Induction: SDTV EFI, 36mm throttle bodies, single inj./cyl.
Front tire: Bridgestone BT-011FN 120/70ZR-17
Rear tire: Bridgestone BT-020RF 160/60ZR-17
Rake/trail: 26 deg./4.2 in. (108mm)
Wheelbase: 57.9 in. (1470mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. (19L); 4.9 gal. (18.5L) CA model
Weight: 535 lb. wet; 505 lb. dry
Fuel economy: 34-52 mpg, 43 mpg avg.
Quarter-mile: 11.94 sec. @ 110.1 mphRoll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.49 sec.; 80-100 mph/5.18 sec.
Top speed: 125.6 mph