Suzuki's brilliant GSX-S1000 is the supersport of the naked bike class
Finally yielding to the plaintive cries of naked bike fans, Suzuki has put the storied GSX-R1000 motor in a streetbike – and what a wonderful, nutty, wheelie-happy streetbike it is. The GSX-S1000 brings the true inline-four slingshot experience to the naked bike class, with 145 screaming horsepower and a handling and comfort package to make it a true contender. But perhaps its biggest punch comes from its pricetag, where it undercuts the competition by an impressive margin.
If you were a law-flouting maniac in the mid-noughties, chances are you rocked your freeway wheelies on something blue and white. The K5 GSX-R1000 was an absolute revolution on two wheels, dominating the superbike class on roads and racetracks alike. It even won World Superbike with Australia's second-best Troy on it (the only time Suzuki has ever done it) until Australia's best Troy returned from MotoGP and put Ducati back on top in 2006.
Anyway, fast forward ten years and the super-naked class is where it's at – high performance superbike engines with street gearing and road-friendly ergonomics. In a flurry of really exciting bikes, Suzuki was nowhere to be found for the longest time. And no, I don't really count the B-King, that massive, barrel chested novelty naked with a Hayabusa motor in it. Too big, too heavy, too expensive.
The B-King had its own thing going on, but we've waited a long time for a proper Gixxer nakedbike. And now, they've done it. Suzuki went back to that famous long-stroke motor from 2005 as the basis for this: the GSX-S1000.
Nothing Gixxeeds like Gixxess, and I think this is a pretty good looking bike. I'm normally not a huge fan of these lightning bolt radiator covers, they remind me of the Honda CB1000R, and the main thing I thought about that bike was "gee, I wish it didn't have those try-hard little lightning bolts on it."
But they're not too gawky on the Suzi here, in fact they give it a meaty pair of shoulders and a cool profile from some interesting angles, especially if you've just fallen over. I love the matt black spike down into the bellypan, and something about those black braided radiator hoses just looks super cool to me too. I think this is one of the better looking naked bikes, albeit with a very Japanese edge to it.
Here's your specs: 145 horsepower, 106 newton-meters of torque. A wet weight of 209 kilos, with a full 17 liter tank (460 lbs/4.5 gal). By the numbers, it sits close to the Kawasaki Z1000, giving away 13 or so horses to the Yamaha MT10. The Euro bikes, from the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 to the BMW S1000R and KTM 1290 Super Duke R, add an extra helping of horsepower and fancy electronics, but you well and truly pay for those.
Numbers don't tell the whole story, though, and slinging a leg over the thing reveals a compact and light-feeling machine with one of the lowest seat heights in the class at 815 mm.
The riding position is upright yet aggressive. The broad seat gives you plenty of room to move around and the option to hunker down a bit if you want to go for top speed runs.
Firing up the engine reveals a small surprise. Suzuki's canned the old "pull the clutch in before you start it" routine and installed the same one-touch starter button as the SV650's got, so you don't have to hold it down. Nice!
As it fires into life, there's absolutely no question where its lineage lies. The sound is pure GSX-R, that familiar rough, bassy growl at idle giving way to a raspy midrange and a screamer of a top end. It's a little muted by the standard exhaust, but all the character's still there.
Letting out the clutch reveals small surprise #2 – the takeoff assist system. All it does is give a slight squirt of fuel to raise the idle whenever you go to let the clutch out in first gear, and yet I find it quietly reassuring when I'm doing a u-turn or skipping between lane-splitting lines in stopped traffic. It's a nice and subtle bit of user-focused technology.
Riding the GSX-S around town is good fun; slow and medium speed handling is superb, the mirrors are great and the clutch is light and easy. The engine doesn't feel like a gruntmaster, though. It needs half a handful to take off with any urgency, and while it's smooth and there's plenty of drive, it just seems to beg for more revs. Let's give it a few, then …
Ah. Right. That's what this bike is all about. Power builds smooth and strong as you run up the tacho, until about 8,000 rpm, at which point the Gixxess flings off its straitjacket and goes properly ballistic. We're talking genuine inline-four sportsbike slingshot territory. It ramps up dramatically from 8k up to its 12,500 rpm redline, delivering a screaming top-end that somehow feels like a lot more than 145 horsepower. It's simply awesome.
Here's the problem though: 8,000rpm represents about 95kmh in first gear, which means that like most liter sportsbikes, you barely enter the Gixxess's party zone by the time you hit the speed limit. At max horsepower you're handing in your license at 138 km/h (85 mph). It's such a compelling top end that you wanna dig yourself a little hole and live there, but I don't think cops generally tend to respond well if you tell them "but officer, the bike was begging for it!"
Compare that gearing to Kawasaki's Z1000, which makes a claimed 142 horsepower, but squishes that down into a top speed of 110 kmh (68 mph) in first. In fact, second gear on the Kawasaki is almost the same ratio as first on the Suzi.
That's not to say the GSX-S feels massively overgeared, it just might be a bit too fast for the world it's got to live in most of the time. I'd be going a tooth down at the front sprocket and as many teeth up on the rear as I could fit, because that top end is too good not to indulge in daily.
Out on a lonely, twisty road, just look out. Letting this thing have its head is an exhilarating thrill any biker will enjoy. If you need anything higher than second gear on a twisty road, I'd suggest it's not a twisty road at all, it's a straight one with a slight bend in it.
A lot of my twisty miles were done in wet, mossy or greasy conditions, but the GSX-S's superb handling made for a confidence-inspiring partner in crime. The suspension felt a little soft and bouncy for my fat rump, but a couple of turns of rebound soon got that under control and we were off.
On Dunlop Q3s, the bike turns in with minimal effort and displays beautiful cornering manners. I felt like I always had options available; where to apex, when to get off the brakes, whether to exit wide or tight, what kind of body position I wanted to bring to the table.
Speaking of the brakes, the GSX-S wears 310 mm discs with a pair of radial Brembo monobloc calipers. A standard non-switchable ABS system takes some of the initial bite out of them, but they're strong and capable. If you want to be a goon and pull skids and stoppies, you'll need to pull the fuse under the seat.
With standard ABS and 3-level switchable traction control, you get most of the electronic goodies you expect from a liter-class nakedbike in 2016, but it ditches a few things I find annoying on other bikes. Like riding modes. I generally don't really use them unless they control suspension as well. The Suzi has one throttle map and it's fine* in all conditions, you just choose how much traction control you want from a simple 4-level switch.
And if you choose no traction control, which is my default setting, it stays off even the next time you power the bike up. I can't actually think of another bike with traction control that doesn't try to save you from yourself by going into nanna mode every time you turn it on. I guess Suzuki knew that just wouldn't fly with wheelie-happy gixxer riders, and it's something I wish other manufacturers would do as well.
*One small caveat to the throttle map would be the snatchy uptake from a closed throttle, particularly higher up the rev range where you'll spend your time in the twisties. It's not a problem at all around town, just when you're really going for it, and it made me more tentative than I could have been on the wet, mossy roads I was trying to go fast on. The GSX-S is not the first bike to have this problem, nor will it be the last. As I understand it, it's an emissions issue, and while it won't annoy everyone, it did annoy me.
There's various ways you can get rid of it: some aftermarket ECU flashes claim to do the job, others might look at fitting a more progressive throttle cam to try to solve it mechanically, and the Rolls-Royce solution would be to fit a Power Commander and have the bike professionally tuned, which reportedly opens up a juicy extra helping of power as well as making for a much smoother transition on and off the gas.
When it comes to stunting, the GSX-S's engine character and tall gearing combine to make it probably the best wheelie bike I've ever ridden. It doesn't want to lift off the power, but a quick flick of clutch brings it up smoothly and predictably, and once you've got it up, the long first and second gears pretty much mean you don't have to put it down, even if you can't hit balance point or change gears on the back wheel. But beware: when that front wheel finally comes back to Earth, you're going to be traveling at a rate of knots, so pick your spots!
This bike is a genuine beast that will run with pretty much anything in the super-naked class. It's exciting and involving to ride, and feels tight and well put together. Surprising to find, then, that it's also the cheapest. At $14990 in Australia (US$10,499), it undercuts the AUD$15490 Z1000 (US$11,999), and it's a lot cheaper than the AUD$17,999 Yamaha MT10/FZ10 (US$12,999). As for the Euro bikes, feel free to keep going upward.
So the Gixxess offers a huge value proposition for the crazy performance and all-day comfort it offers. At that price, it deserves to sell by the truckload.
More information: Suzuki GSX-S1000