2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 review: The Big Gixxer is back with a vengeance
With a complete overhaul for 2017 and a peak of 202 horsepower, the big Gixxer is well and truly back in the pantheon of the world's greatest superbikes. But Suzuki has gone to great lengths to beef up the midrange and make this thing dominate the road like never before.
"I'm done with the GSX-250R," I tell Lewis Croft from Suzuki. "Great bike built around a bit of a disappointing motor. Send the truck out to grab it when you're ready." "I'll do you one better," says Lewis. "How would you like a bit of a horsepower injection? I'm feeling like getting out of the office. I can bring the new GSX-R1000 right over to you and do a swap."
Yes. Yes, a horsepower injection is just what we need. Putting the humble 250 next to the 1000, you'd have to be clued-in to pick the difference at a glance. The MotoGP-inspired bodywork and paint jobs are all but identical. But one bike's a commuter at heart, and the other is an open-class liter superbike designed to paint beautiful black lines from apexes to corner exits on racetracks.
2017 sees a complete overhaul for the Big Gixxer, which finally puts it back at the pointy end of the superbike class after a few years off in the weeds while BMW, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati pushed stock horsepower figures into the 200s and loaded their flagship bikes up with awesome electronics to keep it all under control.
The 2017 GSX-R1000 pokes out a thoroughly competitive 202 horsepower (150 kW), or a little more than eight times what I've been feeling wringing the neck of the GSX-250R.
And it's funny; every time I hop on a modern superbike, I think to myself, "righto, a literbike. I've got a K5 Gixxer in my stable, I know what these things are like, I know what to expect." And I lope it around town, and chuck a couple of wheelies, and I feel like I've got it all sorted out.
And then I go out onto some lonely piece of road, turn off all the nanna buttons and wrench the throttle to the stop through a few gears just to see what it feels like. And immediately I find myself sitting several inches higher in my seat thanks to a steaming fresh load in my underwear.
202 horsepower is such a matter-of-fact figure. So is 201 kilos fully fueled (443 lbs). They give you some idea of what this thing is like, but at full throttle, your rational brain just goes out of the window the first time you run into the redline. The lizard brain takes over. You don't know whether to fight, flee, feed or whatever the other F is. You're paralyzed by how fast the horizon is advancing on you.
And then, over the course of a couple of weeks and a few good rides, it starts feeling like a good and proper amount of power to have. You find yourself attacking the twisties in first gear just to give yourself access to more of the grunt. And the conversion is complete: you're a Gixxer bro.
The 2017 GSX-R1000, like all its inline four-engined brethren, is not a bike focused on grunt at road speeds. It's vastly oversquare, each cylinder having a bore of 76 mm and a stroke of just 55.1 mm, a configuration that emphasizes wild top-end horsepower at the expense of low-end torque. Indeed, it's disarmingly civilized at lower revs. The throttle snatch issues from the magnificent GSX-S1000 nakedbike are gone, and acceleration is smooth and rapid.
Take the tacho into the midrange – which is as powerful as this bike will get without hitting the racetrack – and the Gixxer benefits from a number of technologies designed to beef up the power in the road riding zone.
Variable valve timing is the big ticket item here; a system that uses centrifugal force to push a series of steel balls outward in the intake valve sprocket, which operates a mechanism that alters the valve timing. This means the Gixxer can run an advanced intake timing at low revs, for increased power in the midrange, and a significantly retarded one as the engine speed gets up past 10,000 rpm, for a knock-your-block-off run to the redline.
The air intake gets attention too, but not to the degree of using variable length intake trumpets. Instead, the Suzuki uses a stacked system for the outer two cylinders that effectively lets air in from both lengths without needing a mechanical intervention. And an extra set of top feed fuel injectors spray fuel directly into the intake funnels from the top of the airbox to complement the primary injectors in the throttle bodies.
Then there's the exhaust headers – headers 1 and 4 are linked, as are 2 and 3 – and there's a set of butterfly valves in each of these connector tubes that can open and close to control exhaust gas pressure waves.
And naturally the whole symphony is now conducted by a fully electronic fly-by-wire throttle that helps keep the bike Euro IV-compliant while enabling fun stuff like riding modes and traction control, the latter of which is a 10-stage, lean angle-sensitive system ranging from zero, to "I wanna lift the front wheel and slide the back a fair bit," to "keep things under control," to "hold my hand, mummy."
As with the GSX-S1000, whatever level and fuel map you dial in will stay that way until you actively change it, even if you turn the bike off. That's certainly my preference, because I like to ride this Gixxer in full-fat A mode with the traction control off pretty much everywhere except the freeway, where B mode is less jerky. I spent a day in the mountains in the wet, and never once felt I had to turn on the traction control or soften off the throttle. It's that good.
The electronics package on the GSX-R lags slightly behind the top-end competition; there's no quickshifter, and despite the fact that the bike runs a six-axis IMU, the non-switchable ABS system included isn't Continental's lean angle-sensitive Cornering ABS.
If these bits of gear are your bag, you can opt for the GSX-R1000R, which costs more, but includes all three plus an uprated set of Showa Balance Free suspension.
I can see the benefits of Cornering ABS, and I've heard the quickshifter is terrific, but I wouldn't upgrade on behalf of the standard Gixxer's suspension: Showa Big Piston forks and a fully adjustable remote reservoir shock. While the standard ride was a touch firm with me on board, I didn't touch the clickers once and the bike behaved exceptionally well in the wet, the dry, fast sweepers, slow tight twisties and a few goat tracks in between.
Feel for the road is brilliant, the bike's geometry is superb and it's one of the sweetest steering motorcycles I've ever ridden. I'm sure at least some of that's a reflection on the awesome Bridgestone RS10 supersport tires it runs; these are magnificent gear on any bike, and fit my personal handling preferences spot on.
The fuel tank holds a measly 16 liters (4.2 gallons), and consumption is on the good side of average at 6.5 liters/100km (36 mpg) for a range around 200 km (124 mi) before the light comes on. For some supersport bikes, that's all you'd want before taking a fuel break, but I found the GSX-R pretty comfy in the scheme of things and wouldn't mind more range.
In two weeks and the full gamut of riding conditions, I hunted hard, and found precious little to fault this bike on. It's an absolute weapon of a commuter, with fold-in mirrors to make it pencil-thin for lane splitting. It's fine for a superbike on the highway (although a cruise control button would be very welcome in a future update), and once I hit the twisty roads, it made me feel like an invincible riding god.
With the traction control off and A mode on the dial, it's the first bike I can remember that's smooth enough to leave in that psychopathic first gear on a twisty road. A touch of extra gas on the corner exits lifts the front wheel to the sky in a display of effortless road dominance. It flattered my middle-of-the-road riding skills like few other sportsbikes ever have – and oddly enough, instead of feeling disappointed when I jumped back on my 2005 model, I found the new GSX-R taught me new ways to appreciate the old bike.
There's nothing particularly exotic about a GSX-R. It looks good, but not great. It sounds good, and feels smooth with an engineered-in rough edge that reminds you to keep your wits about you, but it's no Panigale in terms of an emotional, demanding riding experience.
What it is, is the apotheosis of the Japanese inline four: savagely fast, ruthlessly competent, faultlessly reliable, calm, focused and collected. It's a bike that gets out of the way and becomes an extension of you, so you can concentrate on lines and braking points in the knowledge it'll do exactly what you expect. It's a scalpel.
At AU$23,990 ride away in Australia (US$14,599 without ABS in the USA), the GSX-R1000 is a fair step up in price from the previous model and right in the thick of it with the 2017 R1, ZX10R and BMW S1000RR base model.
The GSX-R1000R ups the ante to AU$27,490 ($16,999 in the USA), putting it up closer to the Sport pack version of the S1000RR. I suspect it'll suffer a little for the lack of cruise control, lightweight rims and active suspension you get with the Beemer at that spec level.
I've absolutely loved my two weeks on board the standard model, and I think it'll win over a lot of test riders. For something so damn extreme in terms of top-end power, razor-sharp handling and racetrack focus, I think the big Gixxer does an excellent job of being a thoroughly rideable roadbike. Make mine matte black!
Source: Suzuki GSX-R1000