Road Test: Suzuki Bandit 1200 VS 1250

With a cult following that makes Scientology look like a small book club gathering, Suzuki’s Bandit 1200 has brought big-bore grunt to the biking masses. Does the new water-cooled engine continue this reign, or relegate it now to a forgotten religion?

Posted: 13 April 2013
by Jon Urry

Links: Suzuki Bandit 1200S owners review and Niall'Mackenzie's Bandit 1200S review.

Visordown Motorcycle News

Ask most riders what bike they think did the most to define the 1990s and they will probably say Ducati’s 916, Honda’s FireBlade or Suzuki’s GSX-R750. Which is fair enough, as those have always been the attention grabbers, but there is a bike that had a far more subtle influence during the same period – Suzuki’s Bandit 1200.

Like a sleeper secret agent the Bandit has been doing its part to corrupt a generation of bikers into its wicked ways since it was launched in 1996. This big-bore monster was the first proper streetbike, boasting an air/oil-cooled 1,157cc motor that was very closely related to the legendary GSX-R1100’s lump while its styling was simple, naked and designed to show off this heart of metal. It wheelied like a banshee and went round corners, too. A perfect example of the philosophy keep it simple.

Throughout its eleven-year lifespan both the look and the physical components of the Bandit 1200 remained virtually unchanged. A few subtle tweaks here and there freshened it up while a stiffer chassis in 2005 provided a stopgap model for what was to come. In 2007 Suzuki took the plunge and fitted a new engine into the Bandit 1200, and not just any engine, a brand new water-cooled unit designed specifically for the bike. The Bandit was no longer living in the past, it now had its own heart as well as a new attitude. But it also had a new market positioning.

When it was launched the Bandit was the only big bore streetbike around. Now the market is flooded with them and the big Suzuki has been forced to find a new niche. Rather than chase the performance crowd with alloy frames, inverted forks, radial brakes and sharp styling the Bandit has pitched itself at the more budget-conscious buyer. With a price tag of £5,399 for a naked 1250 or £5,799 for a half-faired with ABS the Bandit is now a big-engined, classic-styled do it all machine. Is this a step in the right direction or has Suzuki sucked all the life out of a generation-defining machine?

Having spent nearly quarter of a century churning out what is essentially an unchanged motor there are no surprises that the old 1200 engine feels completely sorted. We have been harping on a lot recently about Euro 3 and emissions laws so I’ll skirt over the fact that if it wasn’t for this legislation, the chances are that the Bandit’s engine would have remained air-cooled until the sun finally exploded and all life on earth was wiped out. And even then somewhere on a distant star a little green man would still be desperately tuning up one of these lumps for drag racing. Owners of the GSX-R1100 (for this was the first bike to use the motor) must have thought they’d bought the Millenium Falcon by mistake in 1986, because even by modern standards the engine is a beauty. It must have kicked the arse out of the competition of the day. Back to back with the new water-cooled engine the old one feels far smoother. It’s an effortless engine to use. There is no fuss or drama, just a huge mountain of torque that is delivered in a perfectly smooth fashion. In comparison the new engine feels a bit less refined, has slightly more vibrations and just lacks that overall level of finish. It feels a bit like a cheap engine, which it is. But it’s still a strong powerplant and true to the Bandit’s values in every way.

I’m always reminded of a turbine engine when I ride the new 1250. In the redesign as well as a water jacket Suzuki did a load of internal work to make the motor spin up faster and give it even more torque. Open the throttle with the revs as low as 3,700rpm and the 1250 takes off like a cheetah. To all intents and purposes this is a monster twist-and-go engine, such is the infrequency that you have to change out of top. Which is a good thing because the gearbox is a step backwards. It’s not imprecise, just bloody loud and very clunky with every ratio change. It sounds like a little man inside the engine is physically hitting the cogs home with a hammer, and the throttle pick-up isn’t brilliant. Riding the carbed bike back to back with the injected one highlights just how smooth the initial pick up with carbs is. But carbs are dead now, and a little throttle snatch is just something we all just have to accept until it gets smoothed out in due course.

Although both Bandits share what looks like an identical steel cradle chassis nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the chassis’ design is similar, but the newer bike’s is stiffer and the suspension far, far superior. There is a reason that loads of Bandit 1200 owners tend to modify their bike with handling upgrades. Quite simply the stock units are crap and lose any resemblance of damping within a few years. Cornering on a second-hand Bandit is more of a case of brake, turn-in, wait for the pogo-effect to stop, then power out. Not so with the 1250, even if it is a new bike. Far firmer fork springs, an upgraded rear shock and improved damping all round means this bike corners, and does it well. Although it’s not as balanced as a modern performance streetbike the Bandit 1250 is more than capable of providing the rider with a bike that can be fun on the back roads without the feeling of riding a slightly out of control air-bed at speed.

And it’s comfortable too. The new Bandit 1250 shares an almost identical riding position to the old Bandit, a factor that made it far easier for Suzuki to slide the Bandit towards the sports touring sector. For day-to-day riding few bikes offer the Bandit’s levels of comfort, excellent 150-plus mile tank range and awesome engine grunt. As for the brakes, well Bandit brakes have never really been that good from day one. Both bikes share identical six-piston Tokico set-ups with the modern bike’s feeling better simply due to the fact they haven’t gone through a winter yet. Give them a few years and, like the old 1200s, they will be requiring a set of steel lines and some better brake pads.

Umm, bit of a quick one this. The only real styling changes of any note happened in 2005 when the Bandit 1200 was tweaked to make it look like the new Bandit 650. The clocks were changed to the new style with a digital speedo and analogue clock (previously both dials were analogue). Unfortunately the horrible fake chrome surround was retained. A few bits of plastic were altered here and there, the most noticeable being the half-faired Bandit’s nose fairing’s light, but you’d struggle to really spot any significant changes. The Bandit has never won any beauty contests, never even wanted to, but it’s a solid-looking bike if you’re more worried about how your bike performs rather than the details of how it looks. CONCLUSION
With the introduction of the 1250 Suzuki has moved the Bandit a considerable step forward. Not only is the chassis far superior the finish seems better, the price is simply stunning and the ride hugely improved. The only part of the old Bandit that really holds a candle to the new one is the engine, which is still superb. If your budget is tight an old Bandit 1200 with re-valved forks and a new shock would be a great buy, but if you look at the current finance deals around a new bike often makes more financial sense. The new bike has it.

Price: £5,250
Engine: 1,255cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve inline four
Power: 100bhp @ 7,900rpm (c)
Torque: 80lb.ft @ 3,700rpm (c)
Front suspension: 43mm RWU forks, adjustable preload
Rear suspension: Uni-Trak monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brake: 310mm discs, four-piston Tokico calipers
Rear brake: 240mm disc, single piston caliper
Weight: 244kg wet (t)
Seat height: 810mm
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Top speed: 144.7mph (t)
Quarter mile: 12.07sec@116mph

Price: £3,000
Engine: 1,157cc, air-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve inline four
Power: 98.4bhp @ 7,900rpm (t)
Torque: 69.4lb.ft @ 6,900rpm (t)
Front suspension: 43mm RWU forks, adjustable preload
Rear suspension: Uni-Trak monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brake: 310mm discs, four-piston Tokico calipers
Rear brake: 240mm disc, single piston caliper
Weight: 245kg wet (t)
Seat height: 805mm
Fuel capacity: 20 litres
Top speed: 139.2mph (t)
Quarter mile: 11.54sec@129mph

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Discuss this story

 Hi Guys

 My name is dave robinson ex pat now living in new zealand, i bought my bandit some 3 years ago and i can tell you woow the top speed of my bike is in kilometers and i have reached the speed of 250ks two up and with a 46ltr givi top box. when i solo ride this bike goes of the clock wich is 260ks. My BH is 110 i had this tested at a bike show on a dino tune. Thanks for all the info on your web site.

cheers Bandit rider Dave

Posted: 08/04/2009 at 00:16

hey Dave
yeah, I've only just bought a 2001 bandit 1200s and it flys. fierce machine.
Mine has a bit of a whine in 3rd gear, is that a normal thing? or is this somthing that I should be concerned about ? The bike has only done 15,000k's and is in pristine condition.
There is no way I'll be doing those sorts of speeds on mine, but I really enjoy the acceleration !

Cheers, the other Bandit Rider Dave

Posted: 19/05/2009 at 00:34

Hi there,

 Yes same problem in 3rd gear like a cars reversing kind of whine. I've purchased a K3 with only 8300miles on the clock.The 3rd gear was fine when I got the bike and has only got worse in the last couple of weeks. I've spoken to alot of mechanics who haven't ever heard of the problem. The bikes going in this tuesday for MOT and to have the gearbox checked.I hope It's nothing serious.Sorry I couldn't offer a solution but I'll keep you posted.

Posted: 25/10/2009 at 22:21

Fit a louder can. Do the airbox mod, get it dynojetted, and you'll have close to 120bhp on tap.

Get a 35mm Jack Up kit too. Gives you more ground clearance and speeds up the steering without upsetting stability. Renthals are a good investment too. Give a slightly better riding position, are slightly wider giving more leverage, and look good. And a rear hugger is a wise buy.

If you reallywant to start spending money then GSXR1100 forks are cool. and a 1254 cc big bore kit gives huge power gains. Spend some of it on a quality rear shock though.

Then there are all of the visual 'enhancements' that you can make too. Bates headlamps, stainless bolt kits, anodised this and that,  Polished wheels. Etc, etc.

There are numerous websites dedicated to the bike too. Just type Bandit 1200 into Google.

Posted: 27/10/2009 at 22:14

The gear whine is normal as mine did so since new.  I now have 38,000+ miles on my 2002 1200S and the tranny is very slick shfiting.  I never have any chips or metal on the drain plug so I would venture that the whine is not doing any harm. 

The lower gearing of the older Bandist gives it an edge at the drag strip over the 1250.  I would imagine that with a sprocket change the 1250 would do better in the 1/4 than the 1200.

Posted: 03/01/2011 at 17:51

The old bandit was held back by its exhaust silencer. Just changing that will give the old girl the edge over the new imposter.

As posted above, if you also derestrict the airbox and jet to suit you've got 120 horses at the back wheel (dyno verified).

Posted: 10/03/2011 at 13:12

Hi you all, I own the 1999 Bandit 1200 S and what a bike . I do all sorts of things with this bike and I have to say it handles well in all conditions . But i have a question ...what would be the best gear ratio can anybody tell me ?I am looking at top end.

Posted: 20/01/2012 at 09:41

Well heck, I would just add a tooth or two two the front sprocket, depending on how small of a guy you are, you might be able to throw three on the front and lose a few at the rear with all that power. You might have to take a grinder to some parts of the front cover to accommodate though. No biggy at any rate.

As well I too have the third gear whine...

Posted: 04/03/2012 at 19:23

What upside down forks can i fit to my 1200 f she is a fanfastic bike love riding her just want to make her look good or better

Posted: 20/05/2012 at 09:17

I put on a Delkevic Carbon fiber can, removed the db killer and am running K and N oval filters and am running 155 mainjets. It is still a little lean and that is the largest mainjet available right? What do you do with a cam or a big bore kit? Just run lean?

Posted: 04/12/2013 at 06:49

Having the option of buying every model of used Bandit 1200 years ago, I opted for the original MK1 versions. Simply put, the original  just looks the best to me of the lot of them.

My gripes with considering owning a 1250 are,,, (1) the horrible stock colours available, (2) the water cooling that should make the engine quieter but doesn't, (3) the six speed transmission that should give you an effective overdrive, yet its not quite as you would expect, (4) improved engine performance considering its got FI, yet its not making performance headlines, (5) What you get for the rather high price.

So instead of buying a 1250 and complaining about its shortcomings, I simply bought three used Mk1s and made them into the bikes I like. The end result is three times the fun for less than the price of one 1250.

Posted: 04/12/2013 at 18:18

Learned on a Bandit 1200 Mk1. I  liked it a lot. My only beef was the front forks. They dive under braking like Ashley Young on speed.

Posted: 05/12/2013 at 19:49

Not sure where you got the bike specs, but they're wrong. The 1250 is 40 lbs heavier with 2" more wheelbase. As you found out, the 1250 engine is not as smooth, and neither is the tranny. Regardless of how much the suspension was upgraded, a reworked fork and new shock is required. The only positive the 1250 has over the 1200 is EFI.

The original 1200S was, and still is, the best do it all bike ever manufactured. Yeah, it needs a can and airbox work and jetting, and rework of the fork and a new shock, along with links to raise the rear. Not sure why you trash the brakes - HH pads puts them on par with anything else on the street. Properly outfitted and ridden, sport bikes have a difficult time leaving it behind, and it's as comfortable as any sport tourer on the market. That's why I still have my '97 - there's nothing out there to take its place.

Posted: 15/08/2014 at 20:46

had a '98 1200s in maroon 17 years ago, loved it, had 10k on the clock then was lunched by a pedestrian, got oil cooled GSXR's after that for a few years then had fifteen years on the road again on a '97 bandit 1200, same model and colour as I had 17 years ago, but this one is an italian import with 1500 miles on the clock...changing the shock for a GSXR 1100L shock as I have had enough of the bouncing and soft rear, and fitting progressive fork springs over winter...14t front sprocket livens the bike up and it'll then pull its top speed which is approx 140mph which is plenty...jack up kits ruin the handling entirely, and are for posers!! 

GSXR motor wants to be revved and gives great power delivery, great fun above 7k revs! no gearbox whine from this one or my last one, and would only be due from overuse of third pulls well in top gear from 30mph so shouldn't be sticking in third gear anyway!!

these bikes are amazing and if serviced regular will do 100k no problem...

mk1 bandit looks nicer than later models, goes better, easier to work on, and isn't as heavy, and they handle better too...paid £2295 for mine with 1300 miles on the clock, bargain I reckon, and will be keeping it...might buy an early GSXR 750 for Sunday scratching, but the bandit is good for everything else. Paul Poole Dorset

Posted: 16/09/2015 at 23:03


Posted: 18/09/2015 at 12:51

Since previous posting I have put Hagon progressive springs in the front forks. Totally transformed the front end. No more diving!

Posted: 18/09/2015 at 12:52

since last post have tried to put gsxr1100L shock onto my '97 bandit 1200s, but the blo**y thing doesn't fit...only bought it because I was told it would fit straight on...

anyone got any suggestions for a replacement shock ? am trying to avoid paying £300 for a Hagon unit, as I'm not sure how much stronger the spring on that will be, and there is no point replacing the standard bouncy shock for another one with the same gauge spring!! 

Posted: 18/09/2015 at 18:52

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