First Ride: 2008 Suzuki GSX650F

Just a Bandit with a full fairing? Jon Bentman flies to France and discovers the new GSX650F is a bike that’s much greater than the sum of its parts

It was a case of nip/tuck. Nose on the tank, toes curled round the pegs, throttle pinned. Watching the two identical bikes ahead for clues as to just how fast the next curve was going to be. Calculating where to apex to get the best run onto the following straight. I’d inch forward, maybe even make a few feet on the two guys ahead, momentarily catching the whiff of cheap aftershave as favoured in Peterborough’s environs, then, in the wipe of a nose, lose the tow again.

With over 11,000rpm on the tacho, in fifth, it felt sorely fast and a quick glance at the speedo showed 196. Only this was kilometres per hour, not miles, so in truth an imperial 120 or thereabouts. An illegal velocity in the UK of course (oh, and in France too I hear), but not entirely mental – almost ‘pony’ in a modern context. Yet when we pulled up some ten minutes later it was grins all round. There was the usual excited burn-up banter.

The talk was of fond memories, too. Some of us were likening this experience to our bad old days slipstreaming our mates on LCs, essentially flashbacks to our first sport biking experiences. All of which must have been happily observed by the Suzuki personnel. This new GSX650F – Suzuki call it an ‘all day sports bike’ (a hint of Little Chef menu there) – is a bike that will apparently suit the novice and the veteran rider alike. So, seeing as Suzuki had five seasoned journos genuinely enthusing about the bike while simultaneously dropping-in the yesteryear comparisons, well, they knew it was a case of mission accomplished.

It feels more than just a little awkward to be so enthusiastic about the GSX650F. It is, after all, little more than a Bandit 650 with a full fairing and some minor tweaks. And seeing as it’s only making a claimed 85bhp, then really this must be soft-sports at best. Yet the final execution, the performance, the handling – you can’t help but be impressed.

And while there’s no denying the Bandit heritage, Suzuki have gone to some lengths to individualise the new bike. While the engine architecture (bore and stroke etc) remains identical to the Bandit, a modified ECM, throttle bodies and injectors provide for a subtly more racey power delivery with more mid to top end. Equally the suspension has been given the makeover treatment, different part numbers revealing altered valving in the forks and the addition of rebound damping adjustment showing the rear shock to be a higher quality unit too.


It is a bit remiss to label this GSX650F as a lightly modified Bandit. To do so overlooks the development that’s gone into the package and the technology that goes with it. This is not a basic package.

Take the fuel injection for a start. This is dual butterfly, SDTV in Suzuki speak, actuation just like on the GSX-Rs. While your throttle hand operates the primary butterfly (‘valve’ according to Suzuki) the ECM operates the second, making its adjustments according to the revs, gear and your own input.

This new 656cc motor isn’t to be sneezed at either. As well as the stacked gearbox and hydraulic clutch, again we’re finding GSX-R-style features like SCEM coated cylinders, direct ignition spark plugs, PVD ion-plated piston rings and an automatic hydraulic cam chain adjuster. The exhaust is a 4-2-1 type with catalyzer and Lambda sensor, ensuring emissions comply with Euro 3 Tier 2 requirements.

The chassis benefits most from subtly revalved and upgraded suspension units. While the 41mm Kayaba forks have detail changes (over the Bandit) in the valving, the rear shock gains rebound damping adjustment. The brakes are very effective, Tokico four-piston calipers offering strength and feel. A twin piston Nissin operates on the rear 240mm disc.

The full-fairing is well designed. By virtue of the GSX-R1000K5 vertically stacked headlamp  it gains significant street appeal while providing good protection for the rider.

The fairing mounted mirrors do a decent job too. The instruments, a white faced tacho and LCD speedo are again GSX-R-alike, offering a cool upgrade over the chromed case retro clocks on the Bandit. Practical types might lament the lack of a centrestand but the chain adjusters are of a tidy design that will allow easy adjustment even with the wheel on the ground, on sidestand.

Suzuki GSX650F Review

And then we can add the fairing. It’s undeniably racey with that GSX-R1000K5 headlight, the fake air intakes and GSX-R-style clocks set into the nicely enclosed cockpit – even if the final effect does look just a little bit Yamaha Thunder Cat. More memories. Yet despite the sporting pretensions the handlebar and footrests are unchanged from the Bandit, offering a relaxed ride position. All-up something a showroom lackey (back in the day) would have called a sports tourer. But to Suzuki today it’s an ‘all day sports’. Marketing men, eh?

Immediately you’re struck by the size of the beast. Maybe it’s that fairing, but it looks much more than simply a jazzed Bandit. Physically it looks and feels more a 750 than 650. There’s the huge muffler too; despite having a cat in the collector box there’s a monster 1,000cc-sports (of old) sized silencer can. Probably the only clue to its true size is the 160-section rear tyre. Otherwise it’s all looking suitably chunky. Yet the seat height is a lowish 770mm, lower than any of the current naked 600s.

The motor is almost gem-like. The water-cooling makes it quieter than the old air- and oil-cooled Bandit motors and credit to Suzuki, the fuelling is entirely flawless. In fact the power characteristics take the term ‘linear’ dangerously close to its Oxford definition, and if this was a Honda we’d be tempted to drop in a ‘bland’ or two somewhere in the critique. But that’s not necessary, for after a while you do begin to differentiate, just, the three stages in its power curve.

Bottom end is simply immaculate and the revs build quickly – only not necessarily to the accompaniment of a sudden rush in velocity. At 7,000rpm the mid range hit (such as it is) kicks in, and best power is made from here through to 10,000rpm. After that the motor willingly holds on, bless it, right up to the redline at just past 12,000 when a white shift light blinks to indicate its time for a gear change  (very racey). Easy, willing, and back in 1988 it would have been downright brilliant. In 2008, it is nicely adequate.

With that motor in mind it’s fair to say the GSX is not overly blessed with character, yet it is engaging. A bit like an air-cooled Ducati sports – wind on the throttle and everything happens in an increasingly erstwhile manner, without ever actually turning hyper-drive. And this of course makes it an easy companion. Buzzing through the stunning deep reds and golds of the autumnal fields and woods of southern France we enjoyed an almost carefree sporting ride, without the usual attendant fear of virtual atomisation should we make even a slight mistake. This is speed of an old-world style. Hence the old-timer reveries.

Yet as the pace quickened the GSX continued to hang in there. It doesn’t fall into a well of inadequacy as Bandits often do. Hit the brakes hard for a hairpin and for a start there’s real retardation thanks to the four-piston calipers clamping onto sizeable 310mm discs. And you can count on the forks keeping everything composed too. After that there’s no mid-corner wallowing and you can go for maximum beans on the exit without fear of a massive highside (that’s 85bhp for you). And each stir of the gearbox is a delve into the world of the sublimely slick. How is it Suzuki do their gearboxes so well? And how is it BMW haven’t caught on to their formula as yet?

It’s all excellent fun – until some mate turns up with his 600 supersports that is. Yeah, the truth is the GSX650F is a sports bike that weighs a hefty 216kg dry. Compare that with a 2007 GSX-R600 that has claimed stats of 120bhp and 175kg and you start understanding the context. It simply hasn’t got the firepower nor the slim hips to be utterly electrifying, but that is half its appeal. To find comparable performance figures you can peel back two whole decades, back to that 1988 date again, when the old ‘Teapot’, as the GSX600F was called back then, offered a surprisingly similar 86bhp for 223kg of bulk. It’s worth remembering that back then the likes of James Whitham would have caned his Teapot, probably in Durex colours, around the TT course at an average of 106mph. So you can see, we’re still not talking entirely soft here.

If you’re looking for the GSX650F’s USP – unique selling point – then we’re talking all-round competence. That doesn’t sound like a selling point, nor does it sound unique. But it is. You see, considering the budget price the GSX has got plenty of performance and a pretty useful chassis. Yes, for just a few hundred quid more you could buy the exciting Triumph Street Triple instead, but then with the Suzuki you’re also getting supersports looks and this damn fine fairing. And that is worth mentioning, for it works so well.

The screen felt to be just at the right height and with a wee slot at its base it does pull off that ever so difficult trick of spilling a smooth airflow over the rider’s head. All round weather protection felt good too and it didn’t buzz either, unlike CBF types. And so it turns what is a decent upper-middleweight do-all into a properly handy distance machine.

Riding on these smooth fast roads inland of Beziers I couldn’t help but imagine how useful this bike would be for a full-on continental tour. It’s fast enough when you want it to be but it’s also calm and smooth enough for those long days in the saddle. That fairing, aided and abetted by nicely relaxed handlebar and footrest positioning, mean you could you make a lot of progress for not a lot of bother. Not something you can realistically consider with the Street Triple.

And of course you’re getting all this versatility for not a lot of dough. A proper sports tourer, sorry, ‘all day sports’ for less than £5,000? With modest running costs too – Suzuki have been working on their maintenance schedules so that the costly first valve check doesn’t come up until 15,000 miles. Owners are bound to festoon their GSX’s with race cans, tail-tidies and braided brake lines on, making them more individual, more sporty-looking. The whole package looks very cool too. In the office we’ve wrestled with the debate that we really shouldn’t mention the GSX and the Bandit in the same breath, seeing as the GSX looks so different, so much better. The received wisdom suggests guys will buy the GSX that would never look twice at a Bandit.

Yep, Suzuki have done a fine job. While still very typically a Suzuki, and a fine one at that, we couldn’t help but be impressed with the ride quality and the sophistication (black-painted headers aside). The GSX looks a lot of bike because it is a lot of bike...

Suzuki GSX650F

Price: £4,999
Engine: 656cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16 valve, four cylinder, four-stroke
Power: 85bhp @ 8,900rpm
Front suspension: 41mm Kayaba forks, adj for preload
Rear suspension: Kayaba shock, link type, adj for preload and rebound damping
Front brake: 310mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 240mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 216kg (claimed)
Seat height: 770mm
Fuel capacity: 19l
Top speed: 130mph (est)
Colours: Blue/White, Black/Silver