Take a sport bike beloved for its blend of power and handling and turn it into a naked. Sounds like a recipe for success, right?
We've seen other companies do it and the "super naked" segment has blown up, as of late. European brands BMW, KTM, Ducati, and Aprilia have mounted attacks on old staples, like the Honda CB1000R and Kawasaki Ninja 1000, making their claim to the throne like the seven different kingdoms of Westeros.
Now that each brand has a horse (or dragon) in the super-naked race (Suzuki's GSX-S1000 launches this summer), some of the manufacturers are beginning to realize there is a large market for smaller displacement sport nakeds. The Triumph Street Triple and Ducati Monster have long been fan favorites, and the newcomer Yamaha FZ-09 has been a huge hit.
The Suzuki GSX-R750 is arguably the perfect supersport motorcycle, making more power than 600s (and making most of that extra power in the low and mid range) while keeping its size much smaller than the 1000s. The idea of pairing that beautiful, inline-four, 750 cc motor I love so much with upright ergos that keep my back and wrists from getting grumpy had me incredibly excited to pick up Suzuki's newest naked. Unfortunately, the GSX-S750 feels like a huge miss — but we'll get to that after some specs.
Suzuki describes the 2015 GSX-S750's motor as based on the engine structure of the 2005 GSX-R750. It uses reshaped intake and exhaust ports and has a completely unique valve timing and lift. This, along with new fuel injectors set at a different angle in the dual throttle bodies, results in better fuel economy and a powerband much happier in lower revs than its supersport counterparts.
This "new" engine produces 105 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 59 foot-pounds of torque at 9,000 rpm, according to the manufacturer.
Nothing on the spec sheet really stands out, which is not a mark against the GSX-S, as no one could expect too much from a $8,000 motorcycle. No traction control, different fuel maps, or ABS. The frame is a hybrid tube-style and twin-spar steel frame. The bike has a 41 mm, inverted KYB fork that's adjustable for preload and link-type rear shock also adjustable only for preload. Twin, 310 mm brake rotors up front with two-piston calipers, and a single 240 mm disc at the rear with a solo-piston caliper. Wet weight: 463 pounds. Seat height: 32 inches. Fuel economy: 48 mpg. MSRP: $7,999.
Where Suzuki went wrong
First of all, let me say I was incredibly excited to ride this motorcycle. Suzuki announced it at the dealer convention in Las Vegas last year during EICMA, and I was far more interested in it than the upcoming GSX-S1000 super naked.
I'd hoped Suzuki had seen the growing trend of these smaller sporty nakeds selling well and, with the Yamaha FZ-09 paving the way, had come up with the ultimate mid-sized naked. The Gixxer 750 is my favorite Japanese sport bike and its motor is phenomenal. With Suzuki returning to competitiveness, I had high hopes for the fun a Gixxer 750 with an adjusted power band and comfy riding position could bring.
Unfortunately, the GSX-S750 isn't some new FZ-09 or Street Triple beater. In fact, it isn't new at all.
Instead, it's the same Suzuki GSR750 that's been available in other countries since 2011, which means it has all of the innovation and refinement you'd expect from a company that was struggling to keep the lights on after being hit the hardest by the recession.
The result is not a bike that's atrocious. It's just one that rides much more like the afterthought it is rather than the catalyst to push Suzuki forward that I hoped it would be. What I'm trying to say is, while I might have liked The Matrix, there's no way I would have been impressed by it if it came out after Inception. Here are a few of my interactions with the bike to illustrate.
Ride one, miles 0-40 — around town:
I fire up the bike and I'm rewarded with that quiet whir of a Japanese inline-four that's had countless hours of perfecting. Click the ultra-smooth gearbox into first, and everything feels wonderfully perfected. It always blows me away how perfect some of these little things feel when compared to the Italian counterparts. All is well so far.
But, as I open up the throttle and begin to release the clutch lever, things start to go wrong. There's a significant distance between when the throttle begins to turn and when I can feel the engine begin to slurp gas, despite feeling the cable pulling through the grip. The clutch lever on my press unit is adjusted all sorts of wrong, but that's easily fixable, and a few minutes later I'm on the road.
When you ride a different bike every week, there is always some adjustment time, but I usually acclimate quickly. With the GSX-S, the abruptness in the on-off throttle transition, combined with the bizarre throttle action, makes pulling away from a stop a little tricky, and I find myself revving her too high before slipping the clutch just so I know I won't get any surprises in the fueling. This is going to take some getting used to.
Ride two, miles 40-100 — canyons:
The on-off throttle issue is still present, but at least I'm getting more used to it. Or maybe I'm just starting to care less about feeling embarrassed at my lack of smoothness. This feels just like middle school (OK, and high school), and I quickly get over feeling self-conscious.
Against my better judgment, I decide I need to see how it does in the canyons and I head out to Glendora Mountain Road, which I'm very familiar with.
The GSX-S feels huge compared to the Street Triple or FZ-09 we reviewed, and doesn't carry its weight nearly as well as the Ducati Monster 821 I'm also riding. Suspension isn't as terrifying as the FZ-09's, but definitely is bouncy enough to zap the bulk of my confidence and keep my speeds police-friendly. The brakes feel a bit wooden on initial bite, but will slow you down if you grab a full, four-fingered handful.
Ride five, miles 300-400 — freeway:
I rode the 40 miles or so up to Los Angeles to meet the boys from Ronin Motorworks to ride the Ronin 47 (article coming soon!). After 25 miles on the I-5, I consider pulling over to stop and rest. The seat is far too soft and its constant bouncing and conforming to my butt and inner thighs is wreaking havoc on my sensitive bits. I finally get to Los Angeles and stretch out.
Ronin's head mechanic hopped on a spare bike to follow me up some twisty roads, and we hit a bit of freeway before making our way into the hills.
The Ronin has a seat which feels like it's made of wood (much like many new KTMs), which actually felt much more comfortable. As we start up the hill, I remind myself that I'm now riding a motorcycle that is one of 47 instead of one of a few thousand, and that it's worth $40,000 instead of $8,000 and that I need to really behave myself. A few hundred yards and two turns later, I'm hanging off the thing and taking turns at much closer to "fast Sean" speeds than I promised myself. Compared to the Ronin, the GSX-S feels like trying to ride a pogo stick.
Ride eight, miles 600-1,000 — pie time
As many of you read, I rode the GSX-S750 to get some pie with some buddies and we ended up leading the police on a freeway chase. What I didn't mention in that story was that I had to set my sit/stand desk to "stand mode" the next day because my butt hurt so bad and that Zach still hasn't quit mentioning how scary it was when he was behind me and the bike tried to launch me off the seat after hitting a bump mid-corner.
Despite its flaws, the Suzuki does do a few things well. The seating position is a nice blend of neutral with just enough forward lean to keep high speed buffeting at tolerable levels (which is a problem with any naked).
Once into the powerband, around 5,000 rpm, the motor pulls incredibly smoothly through the rev range, up to the bike's 11,250 rpm rev limiter.
The looks have grown on me a bit, and feel safe enough that I think many people who don't want anything too weird looking will gravitate towards it.
Since it is larger than the competition in this segment, I could easily see riders with bigger frames gravitating towards the GSX-S750.
As I've mentioned, there are a lot of things I think can be improved on.
For something this sporty, I'd like brakes with more bite to help give the rider some confidence. Also, no one should be using Tokico sliding-caliper brakes on sport bikes in 2015. Sliding caliper brakes have their piston or pistons mounted on only one side of the caliper. This causes a lot of flex which negatively impacts feel, while also applying less pressure than brakes with pistons mounted on opposing sides (which is why the brakes felt wooden and needed a full, four-finger grab).
While the suspension could also use a little work, it isn't much of an issue until you start getting into some sporty riding.
The biggest thing Suzuki could improve is the overall weight and weight distribution of the bike. It feels much more like the 1,000 cc super nakeds it's the little sibling to than the other motorcycles it's supposedly competing against.
It's hard to be too harsh on the stock fueling of motorcycles these days, with OEMs neutering their bikes to get them through emissions hurdles. However, given that the GSX-S750 is only a 49-state bike (not legal for sale in California), Suzuki should have had a little extra room to get this better sorted. If Triumph and Ducati can nail the fueling with the Street Triple and Monster, others should be able to, as well, but I also think we're just going to have to get used to re-mapping sport nakeds and sport bikes.
Finally, 49-state-only is lame.
Suzuki's press materials make no attempt to hide the fact that the Yamaha FZ-09 is the main competition. Their opinion is that the extra displacement of the Yamaha doesn't buy you enough of a power bump to make the $191 dollar price gap or increase in insurance worth it. Both bikes need work in the fueling and suspension department for any sort of sport riding, but the Yamaha needs a little more help in both areas, although the Suzuki's brakes are an extra area of need. For me, in the end it comes down to torque and size when looking at these two bikes, and the Yamaha wins both those areas by a mile.
Buyers looking at the Suzuki may also consider the Honda CBR650F, which comes in with about 20 fewer ponies and costs $500 more. The Honda feels far lighter, handles better, and does that annoying Honda thing where everything on the bike just works, despite using budget parts. I criticized the Honda for many of the same reasons I did this Suzuki. Both are just too little, too late and aren't interesting in the current landscape of motorcycles.
Many will see the Triumph Street Triple as a competitor, but I think it's basically on the opposite end of the sport-naked spectrum with a sportier riding position, smaller size, higher price tag, and completely different engine characteristics. If you're looking for more of a canyon or track bike, there's no question it's the bike you want. It beats the Suzuki at everything but being big.
Finally, there is the Ducati Monster 821, which is $3,000 more but has one of my absolute favorite motors powering it. The Ducati takes the cake across the board, save maybe the clutch and gearbox, but its price puts it out of the debate for most people. We'll have a full review coming shortly.
I wasn't able to attend the press launch in Austin, Texas, but my peers who went told me the bike was bland and lacking in several areas. You can imagine my surprise when most of the reviews written from the launch had nice things to say. Overall, my experience with the bike falls much more in line with the few firsthand reports I got via text rather than much of what I've read on various sites.
Again, let me reiterate the that GSX-S750 is not a terrible motorcycle, nor is it the disaster waiting to happen that the FZ-09 was when I first reviewed that. The problem is that there just isn't anything to get excited about (which I think is necessary for bikes that aren't being marketed as utilitarian).
I review bikes with a few questions in mind. "Who could or should I recommend this to?" "What does this bike do or provide that its competitors don't?" The Suzuki GSX-S750 just doesn't do anything you can't get elsewhere, unless maybe you're a larger person who doesn't want to feel big on an FZ-09, CBR650F, or Street Triple, and you want the cheapest option.
To anyone reading this at Suzuki: I'm glad you're back and I'm glad you're trying to fill holes where other brands are showing there's a market. Turning the GSX-R750 into a naked is a fantastic idea, but we deserve better than this. You've proven with the V-Strom that you can make an incredible bike without going nuts on performance parts, and between what I've heard about the upcoming GSX-S1000 and news of an all-new GSX-R1000, we know you know how to make a bike that goes fast and handles well. Take this thing back to the drawing board and give us something that makes us forget about the FZ-09 and lives up to the GSX-R750 name.