There was a rumor a decade or so back that noted dragracing tuner Byron Hines had a new-in-the-crate Kawasaki ZX-10 (precursor to the ZX-11) stored in the Vance & Hines warehouse. It was alleged that he purchased and stored the ZX-10 because he figured it would be the last production motorcycle with that kind of performance. No more, nada, the final frontier-there was no way the manufacturers would be willing to produce a faster, more powerful machine.
Of course, we all know what's transpired since then.
The same could be said of the year 2000 open-class sportbikes. Engines cranking out around 130 horsepower, incredibly nimble handling and a lack of heft that big bikes a decade ago could only dream of...it couldn't possibly get any better than this. Could it? Say hello to the new Suzuki GSX-R1000. And say goodbye to your driver's license if you don't possess a modicum of self-control.
We can practically guarantee that if you've never pulled a power wheelie before, you can-and probably will-on this bike. Any motorcycle that puts out 143 horsepower while weighing less than 400 pounds dry surely will be a cure for the mono-wheel deficient. But unfortunately for the competition, horn monos are only a fringe benefit of the big Suzuki's incredible performance capabilities. Just when we thought the bar couldn't be set any higher, Suzuki comes along and literally boots it out of the stadium.
The new GSX-R1000 follows the modular model philosophy Suzuki has been using since its original 750/1100 pairing in 1987. Utilizing many of the same basic engine, chassis and even bodywork components enables a manufacturer to avoid buying new tooling and dies, thus drastically cutting production costs. This has never been more apparent in Suzuki's lineup than this year; other than a few minor suspension and chassis differences, the new 600, 750 and 1000 GSX-Rs appear so similar it's difficult to tell them apart at first glance. While some GSX-R1000 owners initially may be dismayed that their bike looks nearly identical to the 750, after a few twists of the throttle they won't care.
At the heart of this forward propulsion is a 988cc four using the same basic engine cases as the 750, plus the exact same cylinder head. This allowed Suzuki engineers to keep the big GSX-R's engine width the same, with just an incremental gain in height (14mm) and length (6mm). The motor is 8.8 pounds heavier (mostly due to a larger, stouter crankshaft), but weight loss in other areas of the chassis helps offset much of that gain.
Employing the 750 cylinder head meant the bore could be enlarged by only 1mm. Thus, in order to achieve the necessary displacement, the crankshaft stroke was increased by a whopping 13mm; this puts the GSX-R in the same relatively undersquare bore/stroke league as the Yamaha R1, compared to the revvier, oversquare (bigger bore/shorter stroke) motors of the Honda CBR929RR and Kawasaki ZX-9R.
Breathing through the same dual-throttle-valve EFI system as the 750 (using 42mm throttle bodies) with such a long stroke means that the 1000's intake velocity is kept high at lower rpm-this should translate into excellent torque in the bottom half of the rev range, like the R1. And it does; only the Suzook has enough mid-rpm punch to make even Yamaha's all-conquering R1 seem a bit weak. A handful of throttle anywhere above 3500 rpm in the lower gears results in head-snapping acceleration.
This is not only a boon to circulating twisty pavement, but also makes for a big advantage in urban environs; the easy accessibility of the power means you can squirt out of harm's way quickly and with little fanfare. However, it forces you to watch your speed in the city; simply zipping up to cruise mode in third gear will have you doing 55 mph in a heartbeat. And big handfuls of throttle in first or second will have you in the mono-wheeled position which is often frowned upon by law enforcement.
Speaking of urban usage, the big GSX-R is far more hospitable than you'd think for such a sport-focused machine. Since the chassis specs are identical to the 750, the 1000's ergonomics are the same; the seat height is a bit tall, but well-padded, although the reach to the bars is longer than the R1, CBR or ZX-9R. Yet while possessing the "raciest" riding position of the four, the GSX-R is not a rack by any means; accommodations are quite palatable for most highway drones. Wind protection is very good, and rearward view from the mirrors is fairly clear without interference from your elbows. And thanks to the engine counterbalancer, vibration at 70 mph on the highway is practically nil, with only a barely perceptible vibe felt in the bars.
The fuel injection's overall performance is well sorted, with only a bit of fluffiness in the throttle response below 3000 rpm. There is still some of the typical GSX-R "eagerness" (surging, as if to say, "Let's get going-whaddya think you're riding, a Gold Wing?") at very light throttle settings around 4000 to 4500 rpm in the lower gears, but shifting up a cog cures that instantly. Fuel mileage was average, with the dash's low fuel light starting to blink at 140 to 150 miles, signaling you have approximately 25 to 30 miles of range left; when the light stays lit, you have 10 miles, max.
Of course, all this talk about hospitable city manners is completely missing the point of the new GSX-R1000. And that is to strafe the nearest corner apex with power and handling heretofore unseen in the open class.
The same long-stroke motor configuration that sustains high intake velocity at lower rpm (contributing to the Suzuki's class-stomping midrange) also allowed GSX-R engineers to fit more aggressive camshafts with increased lift and duration for top-end power. And from that aspect too, the big Suzook towers over the competition; one only needs to look at the dyno chart graph which builds to an astounding 143.1 horsepower at 11,000 rpm for the proof on paper.
But it's the proof on pavement which is even more eye-opening. The GSX-R1000's top-end pull is so strong that if it weren't for the muffled exhaust note (which is one of the best sounding stock systems in the business), you'd think you were astride a full-blown racebike. And yet there are no major bumps or dips in the power curve, just a smooth transition from monster midrange to absolute mondo top end. There are only a couple of bikes that can match the big GSX-R for upper-rpm acceleration, and they have horsepower ratings in the 160s. Those two bikes (the Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZX-12R) are also more than 100 pounds heavier, and are far too big and unwieldy to have a hope of keeping the GSX-R in sight when the road turns twisty.
While we're on the subject of weight, we should note this fact: while Suzuki initially claimed the GSX-R1000 only weighs six pounds more than the 750, our scales found that difference to be a little more. As in closer to 11 pounds, which is still pretty incredible. Extensive attention to detail in trimming weight wherever possible results in a new standard of open-class performance.
The big GSX-R's impressive power curve gives you the best of both worlds when negotiating twisting tarmac, and makes shifting more of an option than a necessity. We reckon, however, that most riders (on the street, at least) will opt to access the Suzuki's fantastic midrange strength off corner exits, rather than be forced to deal with the bike's tremendous top-end power, that can literally unseat rear tire traction at will. If there was ever a sportbike that will teach you the true meaning of throttle control, the GSX-R1000 is it.
All this power and acceleration would mean very little if the chassis wasn't up to the task of harnessing that speed. Thankfully, Suzuki has surrounded the GSX-R's superb motor with a chassis that is every bit the powerplant's equal. The frame and swingarm are closely based on the latest generation 750's design; details such as the 0.5mm-thicker frame spars that increase torsional rigidity by a claimed 6 percent, and internal ribs in the swingarm which boost stiffness in that area by a claimed 1 percent (well, it's not like the beefy-looking unit was weak to start with) help deal with the motor's added power.
Although the GSX-R1000's chassis possesses identical steering geometry and wheelbase numbers to the 750 (24.5 degrees rake/96mm trail, 55.5-inch wheelbase), Suzuki engineers added more front end weight bias to counter the literbike's far stronger output. In doing so, they have endowed the big GSX-R with a handling balance that is one of our favorites for inspiring confidence. Front end feel while charging into corners is excellent, with well-chosen spring and damping rates keeping the chassis in control at all times. Stability through the gnarliest, bumpiest corners is rock-solid, no doubt aided by the non-adjustable steering damper mounted underneath the lower triple clamp.
While steering effort doesn't rank among the more lithe bikes in the class (CBR929RR and ZX-9R), the GSX-R's turn-in manners aren't heavy by any means, and feel very neutral. Helping in this regard are the marvelous handling characteristics of the stock Bridgestone BT010 radials. Besides offering excellent traction, the BT010s are very linear in their steering response, and provide good bump absorption at all lean angles on the street. In fact, some of our testers preferred the GSX-R1000's steering manners to the 750.
Suspension action from the 43mm inverted Kayaba fork (featuring expensive titanium nitride-coated inner tubes) and piggyback-reservoir-equipped shock garnered raves all around from our testers, with the aforementioned spot-on spring and damping rates providing a broad envelope of performance (although again, we'd prefer a spring preload spanner in the tool kit). Both the fork and shock are lighter than the items on the GSX-R750 (360 grams for the fork, 180 grams for the shock); we had the chance to lift each component at the Road Atlanta intro, and were astounded by how light they felt.
The brakes held up their end of the performance equation just as well as the rest of the bike. Power, feel and modulation were excellent during our street testing, and the high lever effort we complained about at the racetrack introduction never materialized. Geez, isn't there something about this bike we can bitch about?
Well, as you've obviously surmised by now, we like-no, make that love-the new GSX-R1000. It's easy to be seduced by 143 horsepower from a stock open-class sportbike, but when it weighs only a smidge more than its already featherweight 750 sibling and is harnessed in the same type of sweet-steering, confidence-inspiring chassis, all hope is lost. The smiles and raves erupting from every person who just got off the GSX-R1000 was all the confirmation we needed to know that Suzuki's latest is something special.
Is this the final pinnacle of sportbike performance as we know it? We certainly hope not.
GSX-R vs. R1: Top dogs scrap it out
Yeah, there're probably a lot of you out there who are thinking, "What's this all about? The Gixxer's got 10 more horsepower and is six pounds lighter-end of story." Not so fast, Einstein; a bike may sound lean and mean on paper, but that doesn't automatically signify it will be the new mack daddy. And when the incumbent is none other than Yamaha's omnipotent YZF-R1, then you'd better have your shift together.
Things are pretty close chassis-wise. Both bikes exhibit rock-solid stability up to triple-digit speeds. But when the pace starts getting red-hot, the Suzuki begins to eke out an advantage. The GSX-R's front end feels more planted when really charging through a set of turns, with a more pronounced forward weight bias than the R1, even though the R1 pilot is closer to the front wheel. Being fitted with a steering damper stock doesn't hurt the GSX-R's stability factor, either.
Although neither bike is as nimble as Honda's 929RR, they are by no means ponderous. However, the Suzuki's overall steering effort is easier than the R1, despite the steering damper. The R1's stubbier clip-ons seem to negate the advantage of its more upright riding position (which theoretically would allow better leverage on the bars), requiring some muscle for quick turn-ins. And the GSX-R's balanced handling feel had a few testers preferring the big 1000 to its lighter 750 sibling.
Suspension action was much more controlled on the Suzuki, with the GSX-R dealing with bumps and chassis pitch situations (such as quick left/right transitions or aggressive throttle inputs) that had the R1 coming unraveled just a bit. Front fork damping in particular was superior on the Gixxer, promoting increased confidence through better feedback. Braking power and modulation was a toss-up; some preferred the more immediate grab of the Suzuki's binders, while others liked the Yamaha's slightly better feel.
But there was no denying that the Suzuki has the jam on the R1. The Yamaha's perfect carburetion was much smoother and crisper below 4000 rpm, but anything above that, and the GSX-R's power advantage became immediately obvious. The Suzuki's brutal midrange can be more work in the tighter sections than the Yamaha, but give both a chance to stretch their legs at any time, and the Gixxer will begin to walk away. In this particular performance arena, you simply can't argue with a superior power-to-weight ratio.
We'd never thought we'd see the day when Yamaha's R1 actually felt a little down on power. But when you've a bike as stout as the new GSX-R1000, then all bets are off. Not that you see us complaining.... -K.K.
+ Most powerful motor in the class by a long shot
+ Same great handling/steering chassis as 750
+ Mondo wheelie machine
- Mondo wheelies equals possible loss of license
- Your buddies with 929s, R1s and ZX-9Rs won't want to ride with you anymore
- Looks almost identical to 600/750
X Better get in line at your local dealership now
Suggested retail price: $10,399
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, inline, four-stroke four
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves/cyl.; shim-under-bucket adjustment
Bore x stroke: 73 x 59mm
Compression ratio: 12.0:1
Carburetion: Electronic fuel injection, 42mm throttle bodies
Front suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Front brake: 2, six-piston calipers; 320mm discs
Rear brake: Twin-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.; cast aluminum
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17 in.; cast aluminum
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17 Bridgestone BT011F E
Rear tire: 190/50 ZR17 Bridgestone BT010R E
Rake/trail: 24 degrees/ 13.8 in. (96mm)
Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1410mm)
Seat height: 32.7 in. (830mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal. (18L)
Weight: 437 lb. (198kg) wet; 408 lb. (185kg) dry
Instruments: Tachometer, digital LCD display with speedometer, odometer/dual tripmeter, clock, coolant temperature, lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low oil pressure, low fuel level, high engine temperature, fuel injection problem
Fuel consumption: 36 to 44 mpg, 40 mpg avg.
Top speed: 179 mph
Quarter-mile: 10.10 sec. @ 141.70 mph
Roll-ons: 60-80mph/2.73 sec. 80-100mph/2.79 sec.
I can't help but be reminded of the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears when I ride the GSX-R1000. You know the one, where Goldilocks tries the papa bear's bed, and it's too hard. Then the mama bear's bed is too soft, and the baby bear's bed is just right? Well of the three GSX-Rs, the 1000 is my favorite. It just seems like the engine and chassis combination works together as a package better than the other two GSX-Rs. It makes sense when you think about it. Because the basic platform is shared among the three bikes, Suzuki can take the price difference between the 750 and 1000, and instead of using that money to design a whole new bike, it goes toward development and better componentry such as titanium nitride-coated fork tubes.
But that's not what this bike is about. The GSX-R1000 is about power. Twist that throttle, and you're going places. I don't think it's possible to understand how fast the Suzuki is without actually riding it. The closest I can explain it is this: riding the 1000 is like watching a chase scene in a bad movie, when you can tell the background traffic on the highway is only going 20 mph. You can make that happen on the GSX-R-except that the other cars are going regular speed. It's fast. That it works really well is just a bonus.
When Trevitt first had a chance to ride the GSX-R1000 (I'd been hoarding the keys when it first arrived at the office), his initial remark as he pulled up next to me at a stoplight was, "This thing is stupid!"
Uh...say what? "Why?," I asked. "I just barely grabbed the throttle at 4000 rpm, and the front end wants to go into a wheelstand!"
It brought back memories from my early racing days when friends would come back from riding a motorcycle that peeled their face back and set their hair on fire. They'd return to the pits with maniacal grins on their faces, and simply describe the bike as "stupid fast" or "crazy fast."
The new GSX-R1000 slots right into that category. It was easy to think that the previous open-class benchmarks would be exceeded, but not by a whole lot. The big Suzook, however, basically blows them out of the water. Twisting the right-hand grip on this thing isn't just hitting the fast-forward button-it's more like teleportation. Thankfully, the rest of the chassis is as good as the GSX-R's monster motor. Nicely balanced handling feel, good suspension, brakes-it's all there. Funny how a bike like that can cause such a furor in the office, though. Once the test was finished, the others have been looking for the key to the GSX-R in vain.
This story originally appeared in the June 2001 issue of Sport Rider.