As I sat in the press presentation on the all-new 2016 Suzuki GSX-S1000 before our first ride, a pit began to form in my stomach.
I spent the entirety of my last Suzuki review bemoaning where Suzuki went wrong with the GSX-S750, a fact that even the ride's photographer brought up when he saw me that morning. The thing is, I'm a big fan of the brand. I adore the V-Strom 1000 and would own a GSX-R750 before most other sport bikes. Both of those facts probably had a great effect on my being disappointed with their first naked bike. All of this also set the bar pretty high for this GSX-S1000.
As we mounted the GSX-S1000s that morning, I knew the next mile would perhaps be the most important of the entire ride. Either Suzuki built something worthy of the GSX-R livery it was painted in, or I was going to have to write once again about how a brand I was rooting for had missed the mark.
Just 5,280 feet later, neither Monterey coastal traffic nor the sprinkler pointed into the road that hosed me down that gloomy morning could keep a grin off my face. This was going to be a great day.
The full-sized, sport naked/roadster segment has become a popular one in the past few years and Suzuki claimed to study the competition well before entering it. Suzuki holds the reputation of the GSX moniker in high esteem, with the GSXRR MotoGP bike, the GSX-R line of supersports, and the Hayabusa, which carries the GSX badge. The GSX-S line had to live up to that reputation.
Before setting pen to paper, the GSX-S design team used a global market study to try to determine just what aspects were important to riders in this segment. They found that things like light weight and good handling were rated far higher than things like top speed or max power. While it was funny to watch the press team squirm as they said that top speed and max power weren't important, I actually couldn't agree with their findings more. The real question now was, were they trying to defend a slow bike, or had they really just stopped trying to win on paper?
On paper, the 998 cc inline-four, liquid-cooled engine makes 145 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 78.2 foot-pounds of torque at 9,500 rpm. Suzuki used what's often viewed as the best and most streetable motor from their supersport heritage, and retuned the K5 motor from the 2005 GSX-R1000 for this new roadster. Those of you who spent any time on that machine can start salivating, while the rest of you just need to know that's a really good thing. The K5 motor had a longer stroke, with a bore and stroke of 73.4 mm x 59.0 mm, which lead to better acceleration and throttle response. Bore and stroke remain the same for the naked, while the naked gets lighter pistons, new camshafts designed for better valve timing, iridium spark plugs, and the cylinders are leaned forward 23 degrees. The compression ratio is slightly less than the K5 GSX-R, at 12.2:1 instead of 12.5:1.
Both the gearbox and back-torque-limiting clutch are borrowed from the current GSX-R1000. The transmission is a close-ratio, six-speed unit. The airbox and exhaust system are all new and place the catalytic converter at the header collector box, making it easier to swap the exhaust.
Like the V-Strom 1000, the GSX-S1000 comes with Suzuki's Traction Control system. The system features four modes, which Suzuki says are optimized for sport, street, and low-traction situations, plus off. In our relatively short first ride, we didn't have the chance to test these settings thoroughly on the GSX-S, but I spent a pretty slippery day on the Strom in the L.A. River and can attest the system worked well there.
The K5 motor is wrapped in an aluminum twin-spar frame which is actually lighter than that of the GSX-R1000, though they share the same arched swingarm.
Suspension is handled by a 43 mm KYB inverted fork up front, which allows for 4.7 inches of travel. It's adjustable for spring preload, compression damping, and rebound damping. The rear gets a KYB, single link-style shock, which provides 5.1 inches of travel and is adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping.
Stopping power is delivered by Brembo four-piston, monobloc calipers, which bite a pair of 310 mm floating rotors up front and a single 220 mm rotor at the rear with a single Nissin caliper.
Like any good sport bike, the GSX-S comes on 17-inch wheels. Suzuki opted for Dunlop Sportmax D214F rubber as stock in 120/70-17 and 190/50-17 sizes.
One feature completely new to motorcycling, though one we've had in cars for a while, is Suzuki's new Easy Start System, which simply requires the rider to press the starter for an instant, leaving the motorcycle to turn the starter motor until the bike starts. Once running, the 32-bit ECM controlled system automatically determines the best idle speed.
The Suzuki GSX-S1000 has a wet weight of 459 pounds for the non-ABS model, but you can add another four pounds if you want the ABS, and another 11 on top of that if you want the faired GSX-S1000F. The base version will be available in Metallic Triton Blue and Matte Fiber Gray and carry an MSRP of $9,999. The ABS and faired model (which also comes with ABS standard) are available in the Triton Blue as well as Sparkle Black and Pearl Red Mira and will go on sale for $10,499 and $10,999 respectively.
Testing the GSX-S1000 and GSX-S1000F
To test Suzuki's new nakeds, we went to Monterey, Calif., for a ride in some of northern California's twisty bits. For the first half of the day, we rode the naked ABS model, and then we switched to the faired F model after lunch.
As much as we like to brag about our roads in So Cal, northern California is home to some of the most beautiful roads I've ever seen. Not only are they lined with gorgeous forests and redwoods, but they were clearly designed by riders, as they're littered with banked turns and perfect asphalt.
We started the morning making our way north on the Pacific Coast Highway, with Highway 9 in our sights. Within the first 100 feet, I began to ponder how the same company could have produced the GSX-S1000 and GSX-S750. The 750 feels the way many big nakeds did when they first began hitting the scene — like detuned sport bikes fitted with lower-spec components. After Suzuki made such a big deal about re-tuning the GSX-R K5 motor, I was sure this naked would be more of the same. Instead, the GSX-S feels the way I assumed sport nakeds would feel the very first time I sat on one: like a sportbike with lower gearing and higher bars.
In all honesty, there is no better way to describe riding the GSX-S1000. It just feels like riding a sportbike that someone made comfortable and with lower gearing. The power feels like a sport bike with more low end, the brakes and suspension feel like a sport bike — it even sounds like a sport bike. The only other bike that matches this sensation is the Aprilia Tuono, which is an absolutely mental machine (although its seat and range would make a ride like this day's nearly impossible).
The riding position feels natural and quite comfortable, with a moderate peg position that didn't have my knees cramping or my mind worrying too much about scraping in corners. The reach to the bars fit riders from five feet, eight inches, to six feet, two inches. I was struck by how narrow the handlebar felt. Often, wide bars come as a sign of other handling issues that require the ability to apply more leverage, but in the case of the GSX-S1000 I found almost the opposite to be true. The GSX-S handles sharper than its sport bike brother, and I found myself actually wishing it had a little more trail, so the handling would not be as unusually quick.
The GSX-S is also incredibly stable at speed. Lots of sport-naked motorcycles suffer from front ends that feel light under acceleration, but the GSX-S gave me no headshake or wiggle accelerating hard out of corners or cresting rises at higher speeds.
After a quick lunch at Alice's Restaurant (worth the trip if you're ever within a few hundred miles, both for the food and the surrounding roads, which are fantastic), we swapped for a ride on the faired GSX-S1000F. The two bikes are nearly identical except for the addition of some fairing bits, a windscreen, and what we were told was a negligible amount of extra oil in the fork to account for the additional weight. As one might expect, the GSX-S1000F felt just like the naked while feeling a little more like a sport-tourer. Suzuki didn't mention plans to include saddle bags in their Suzuki accessories, but a pair of aftermarket ones would put this near the top of my sport-touring list in no time.
The biggest highlight of the GSX-S1000 is that Suzuki did everything I'd hoped they'd do with the GSX-S750. It's lighter than the 750. It has better brakes and suspension than the 750. Most importantly, it has a motor that's more like its sport bike siblings than the 750.
The 4.5-gallon tank didn't feel huge or bulky between my legs and made moving around the bike easy. While the aesthetics definitely require a certain sort of taste to enjoy, Suzuki didn't leave any sections of the bike undesigned and the fit and finish is high quality throughout.
The power, though not best in class, is simply glorious and is perfect for the street. It kicks in strong right around 2,000 rpm, but then turns it up a notch when it hits 6,000 rpm, pulling hard through 10,000 rpm.
The GSX-S1000 blends, perhaps better than any bike available on the market, a true sport bike experience without the sore back or wrists normally accompanied by a day destroying knee pucks in the fun stuff. The GSX-S1000 blows its obvious rivals out of the water and, if Suzuki were to give the same treatment to the 750, they'd have something really special.
While the GSX-S surpassed most of my expectations, and even some of my hopes, that isn't to say it's without fault. The transition between on and off throttle ranged from off-putting during our sections in traffic to confidence-jarring in the tight stuff. Once fueling was engaged, power was incredibly linear, but that initial jolt kept forcing its way to the forefront of my attention. This is the case with a lot of powerful bikes these days, and is most likely due mainly to emissions regulations. If I were buying the GSX-S, a reflash of the ECU would be high on my upgrade list.
Earlier, I mentioned the narrow bars and also noted that the bike's handling bordered on too quick. So this next one is going to sound a little bizarre. I found my arms cramped and awkward when sport riding, given how narrow the bars are, but I'm hesitant to say I would just add wider bars because I wouldn't want to add more leverage to the already sharp handling. So, I guess I'd probably try wider bars and a steering stabilizer, if one of these GSX-S1000s found its way into my garage.
The close-ratio gearbox is also a little too close-ratio in my opinion. Cruising at 85 mph put me at 6,250 rpm in fifth gear and 6,000 rpm in sixth, which left me searching for another gear. With such an impressive low end, I'd drop a tooth or two on the rear sprocket to help improve freeway cruising.
While I liked the look and feel of the fuel tank, the range-until-empty gauge said 155 miles when the tank was full. If accurate, that could be a problem for those who want to use the GSX-S1000F as a sport-tourer.
Finally, there is the seat. While it has ample padding (far more than the KTM or Aprilia competition), its shape created an incredibly hot pressure spot right behind my manly bits. I didn't notice it quite as strongly on our route to lunch, because the twisty roads kept me moving around on the seat. After lunch, on the F, I end up taking a long stretch of freeway back to the hotel and by the end of the 120-mile trek, I was pretty miserable.
The competition: GSX-S1000
The GSX-S's main competition comes from the Kawasaki Z1000 and Honda CB1000R. The Kawasaki uses a 1,043 cc inline-four that makes similar power, but weighs more (480 pounds) and handles like it weighs far more. It also costs quite a bit more at $11,999. The Honda is also heavier, coming in at 480 pounds wet, and makes a little over 20 horsepower less at 123. The Honda is also more expensive, with an MSRP of $11,760.
If you want to look a little farther, the Yamaha FZ-09 is an option at $8,190. The Suzuki makes a good deal more power, but the 414-pound wet weight of the Yamaha means they actually feel quite similar. As we've discussed at length, the FZ-09 is going to need a host of upgrades if you're looking for a sporty ride, however, which will bring its price more in line with the GSX-S1000. At that point, it's basically a choice of taste and which style bike or motor gets your heart going.
On the more expensive side, there is also the Ducati Monster 821 which costs more at $11,495, makes less power with only 112 horsepower, and will likely cost more to service. That said, it also has incredible fueling that feeds a simply glorious twin motor I fell in love with. Practical buyers will opt for the Suzuki, but I have to admit the choice would be really difficult for me. The Monster 1200 is always an option, as well, but its 135 horsepower and 87 foot-pounds of torque will run you $13,695 — though that also buys you beautiful suspension and that gorgeous TFT, full-color screen.
Let's not forget the Triumph Speed Triple. For $12,799, you get a bike that weighs the same, makes a little less power (but it's also made a little lower in the rev range), and a look that is... more polarizing.
The competition: GSX-S1000F
The only direct competitor for the fairinged GSX-S1000F is the Kawasaki Ninja 1000. It uses the same 1,043 cc inline-four as the Z1000, but adds another 30 pounds for a wet weight of 509.
If you want to look farther than the Ninja, there are other options, like the 800 cc Honda Interceptor ($12,499), the longer-toothed Yamaha FZ1 ($10,790), and the $14,950 BMW R1200RS.
In my conclusion of the GSX-S750, I wrote that the bike was just nothing to be excited about and that Suzuki didn't deliver the bike I knew they were capable of creating. The GSX-S1000 is something to be very excited about, and that's before considering the price. Suzuki was actually worried that the price was too low, and would send the message that the bike was a "parts bin special," which is something I can tell you is not so, after having spent some time with the bike and its designers.
The GSX-S1000 is not a perfect motorcycle, but it's the best I can think of at delivering the experience of riding a sport bike without the track-biased ergonomic drawbacks that usually entails. I think Suzuki nailed it with this bike, and the only negative now is that I need to come up with a good reason to get them to loan me one for longer.