The reign of the mighty Suzuki GSX-R1100 came to an end in 2001 when it was retired to make way for the all-new GSX-R1000. The king was dead, long live the king.
On paper, skeptics (mostly Fireblade and R1 fans) wrote off the new Gixer as just a bored-out 750 engine and frame. Claiming the bike was merely a desperate knee-jerk reaction by Suzuki to being left behind in the superbike sales race.
Unfortunately for them, the moment the Gixer was released to the press, they were forced to eat not only their words but also the Suzuki’s tire smoke. In very much the same way that the original Fireblade broke new ground, and was then chewed up and spat out by the Yamaha R1, Suzuki did the same to the mighty Yam.
And how did they do it, by going back to their roots and doing the one thing they’ve always been good at, building hooligan bikes. The K1 Gixer thou upped the power stakes overnight by managing to pack in 20 bhp more than its rivals and the difference was devastating.
Those early skeptics were right in part. Suzuki had taken their tried and tested liquid-cooled 750 engine as the base for the new 1-liter superbike. However, the number of internal changes meant that the similarities were only skin deep.
By adding 1mm to the bore and 13mm to the stroke the engine sported 998cc. Suzuki chose the bike to show off its all-new Dual Throttle Valve System. This used a servo to open the lower throttle valve and by keeping the crank the same width as its smaller brothers, kept the engine surprisingly narrow.
Like Honda before them, Suzuki went on the hunt for serious weight savings in the engine department. This was reflected in the likes of the pistons, which although slightly wider than the 750s were lighter. They also concentrated on reducing friction between moving parts and speed up the processing power of the ECU unit.
None of this was technically innovative by superbike standards, but the result was a narrow, light engine that produced serious bang for its buck. As for the frame, they managed to shoehorn the engine into the 750’s box-section aluminum beam frame but with beefed-up stress points.
Kayaba suspension replaced the standard Showa units and gold titanium nitride coated legs graced the upside-down forks which were fitted with six-pot calipers.
Thanks to other weight-saving aids like titanium exhaust downpipes, the GSX-R1000 tipped the scales at just 170kgs, a mere 4kgs heavier than the 750. With a red line of 12,000 rpm, the fast-revving engine kicked out a staggering 160bhp. A lead journalist of the day commented, that the bike handled so well it felt ‘race-ready’ adding that, the bike’s ‘wide and plentiful torque put it miles ahead of the rest.’
Much to the joy of Gixer fans around the globe, the big Suzuki continued to dominate the pack and by the time the bike had evolved into the GSX-R1000 K6, just four years later, it had become the fastest accelerating 1000cc road bike in the world.
It achieved this by upping capacity slightly, adding bigger valves, new throttle bodies, and a slipper clutch. Suzuki also managed to reduce the bike’s overall weight still further, slicing an amazing 4kgs off the original K1 model.
With all-new radial-mounted calipers and discs, titanium used on the silencer, and an all-new frame which reduced the overall length without affecting swinging arm length, the 178bhp bike now boasted the best power to weight ratio in its class. This came at a cost, however, with Suzuki being accused of taking the weight saving to extremes as reports emerged of cracking around the headstock, leaving the factory to retrofit extra bracing to all 2005/6 models.
Luckily for Suzuki testing revealed that the cracked frames were from bikes that had been badly landed after repeated wheelying and the mud never stuck. And besides, that same year, thanks to Troy Corser, the Suzuki became the first 1000cc inline-four motorcycle to take the World Superbike Crown. A fact that didn’t go unnoticed over at BMW, where legend has it, road tests of their world shattering S1000RR superbike engine were carried out using Gixer thou frames.
Speculation on that subject will forever be the topic of barroom discussion. But the fact remains, that by 2009 when the futuristic BMW was launched, with enough electronic equipment to put a space shuttle to shame, it raised the bar too high for the GSX-R1000 to jump over.
Within a year, any superbike worth it is salt was bristling with electronic rider aids. Suzuki refused to be drawn into the fight, relying instead on their tried and tested formula of blistering performance and rock-solid handling all under the rider’s control. This deliberate decision to remain low-tech hit sales leaving the GSX-R1000 out in the cold.
No-one for a moment thought Suzuki would ever leave it there and thankfully, in the winter of 2016 at the EICMA show in Milan – a show traditionally used to introduce new models to the world – Suzuki revealed the 2017 GSX-R1000 and its racier brother 1000R. The machines, they hoped would put them back in the race.
Not since 2009 has Gixer thou undergone such a massive re-design and now finally with electronic rider aids, the question is simple, have they done enough, or is it too little too late?
At the heart of the new bike is a completely redesigned power plant, which has been built to increase top-end power without sacrificing low or mid-range punch. Easy when you say it fast, but to achieve this they’ve leaned heavily on lessons learned the hard way over the last decade on their MotoGP bikes.
Chief amongst these innovations is something call SR-VVT (Suzuki Racing Variable Valve Timing) which to cut a long, very technical story short, uses centrifugal force to push ball bearings into a grooved sprocket on the intake cam. When the required rpm is reached, the additional weight of the steel balls being forced into the outer edges of their grooves, retards intake valve timing, resulting in more power at high revs. The bottom line, which let’s face it, people are interested in, is an increase in horsepower over the old model to almost 200bhp.
The race bread technology continues in the cylinder head, where hollow camshafts operate pivoting finger cam followers. These replace the heavier bucket type and give a total weight reduction of just under 100 grams.
This may seem like a lot of effort to save a paltry amount but the less weight a component has to move around at 14,500 rpm (the new engine’s red line) reduces the amount of moving mass and thus allows for faster movement, which in this case means higher, faster revs.
Also new for 2017, is the bike’s ride-by-wire system, which allows fuel to be metered more precisely. With two injectors per cylinder, gas is pumped in continuously by one, whilst the other (Top Feed Injector) kicks- in at high revs.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that increases in horsepower mean larger engines, but the new GSX-R1000R’s are narrower by 6.6mm. The cylinder angle has also moved forward a few degrees, allowing it to move closer to the front wheel and help with centralizing mass, making an already agile, steady, highly maneuverable bike, even more balanced.
And whilst on the subject of handling, the chassis has received a total overhaul, which has left it 10% lighter and considerably narrower than its predecessor. The bike also gets a new swinging arm that is 40mm longer but significantly stiffer.
As for the suspension, the higher-spec GSX-R1000R gets the incredible Showa Balance Free Front fork with lightened triple clamp on point duty and Balance Free Rear Cushion Lite shock on the rear. Weight saving six-spoke mag wheels replace the traditional three speakers, with the rear tire increasing in size slightly to 190/55-17.
Every bike in the 1000cc superbike class now sports electronic rider aids as standard, and although Suzuki has resisted going head to head with the competition, they now have no choice.
To this end, the bike comes with a three-axis, multi-directional IMU, and a host of sensors that send information to an ECM. This, in turn, controls a ten-level traction control system, which reduces engine power when traction is lost, but no independent wheelie control.
The Suzuki also gets a three-level Drive Mode Selector (S-DMS) that adjusts mapping and power delivery to suit different conditions. All still allow for full power to be used when the bike’s software accepts it. Both Drive Mode Selector and Traction Control can be altered whilst on the move as long as the throttle is shut off.
Radial-mounted Brembo calipers now work on slightly bigger rotors and the bike’s ABS is non-adjustable. Ironically, the ABS and upgraded suspension components add around 4kgs to the weight of the standard model.
The R also comes with a bi-direction quick shifter whose in-line electronic sensor in the linkage allows for full-throttle, clutchless gear changes and an auto-blip for matching engine speeds on downshifts. And talking of engine speeds, the bike’s Launch Control function, removes the drama from flat out racing starts, by holding the engine at 10,000rpm leaving the rider to concentrate on getting the lever-action right.
Suzuki has always had a reputation for building fast edgy bikes, which appeal to their army of die-hard fans no matter what. But is that sufficient to put the new GSX-R1000R back at the top of its class? There can be no doubt that the new bike is a stunning combination of speed and finesse. This, on paper, puts it close to the top, but will it be enough to retain that all-important brand loyalty in the face of some seriously stiff competition? Only time and bike sales will tell.