First ride: Suzuki Bandit 1250S review

At £7,299 the Bandit 1250 could be the steal of the century

IF there is a motorcycle on the market that promises better value than the Bandit 1250S, I don’t know what it is.

Four cylinders, 1,255 cubes and 80lbft – that's not far off superbike territory – for £7,299 plus on-the-road charges. There is no other proposition quite like it at the price. It would have to be pretty bad to not warrant a recommendation.

And we already know the Bandit 1250 is not bad because it has several years of production not to mention a bit of a cult following behind it. It was first introduced in 2007 to replace the 11-year-old air-cooled Bandit 1200, granddad of the modern naked muscle bike. To the disappointment of many, Suzuki inexplicably dropped it in 2012. This year, in a moment of marketing clarity, the firm reintroduced it.

It returns with the same engine and styling updates including a redesigned nose fairing that now wraps around the sides of the radiator. It’s got new vents below the headlights and has been wind-tunnel tested for improved aerodynamics and better wind protection for rider and pillion according to Suzuki. It may not amount to a whole lot of change but that doesn’t matter, because the Bandit has also come back cheaper than ever. According to Suzuki it was £7,555 when last on sale in the UK, £256 more expensive than it is now. It returns bearings gifts.  

I suppose you could argue the model has never left Suzuki’s line-up because the GSX1250FA is essentially a fully-faired version of the same machine, with hard luggage and a higher price of £7,999. In that case an entry-level Bandit just got £700 cheaper.

How can Suzuki do it? I was worried the answer to that question would reveal itself in spongey brakes or bouncy suspension. I suspected the Bandit would feel left behind by 2015 standards. 

But I still don't have the answer: everything about the Bandit 1250 seemed better than I had predicted. The suspension is soft-ish but well-enough damped, offering a mix of comfort and composure in proportions appropriate to the machine. The shock is adjustable for rebound damping and preload, the fork for preload only.

The brakes are sharp, with four-pot opposed piston Tokico calipers on the front discs instead of the sliding calipers I might have expected at this price. There’s strong bite at a two-finger pull on the span-adjustable lever.

The bike’s greatest asset is that engine. At 97hp, peak power is in no danger of breaking any records but the Bandit is about big-bore grunt, not peaky top-end. Peak torque is right down at 3,700rpm. It’s delicious between 3,000 and 5,000, lazily fast, with the sumptuous smoothness that characterises in-line-fours. It's not loud but makes a nice, deep four-cylinder sound through that humongous exhaust.   

Peak power is at 7,500rpm so there isn’t too much to be gained by revving all the way to the 9,500rpm red-line. The Bandit will go there, more than happily, but there is no peaky encore after that mid-range, just a smooth, linear rise and plateau of drive.

It’s quite a heavy motorcycle, at 254kg wet, and it's never going to feel like a sports bike, but it handles and turns well, responding readily to a bit of counter-steer through the wide bars. Its size lends it road presence.

The bars are also high, and sweep back towards the rider a little, making an upright, very comfortable riding position. Low speed manoeuvres are aided by that natural position while the leverage of the wide bars and a good steering angle help with U-turns. At 825mm, the seat is low enough for an average-height rider to get both feet flat on the ground.  It can be lowered a further 20mm by removing and refitting rubber spacers under the seat, with a screwdriver.   

On twisty roads the Bandit changed direction with ease but I wasn’t sure quite how far I ought to push it. A peculiarity of the front end, perhaps a result of those high, back-sweeping bars, is that the wheel feels a little far away. I thought the Dunlop Sportmax tyres might grip quite well but the machine’s weight, soft-ish suspension and the slightly remote-feeling of the front end took away some of the feel and confidence needed to rigorously test the hypothesis. It didn’t stop me having fun.

Possibly the strongest argument for the Bandit 1250, and the thing that makes it such good value, is that it’s a lot of bikes in one, and can be whichever one suits your mood at any given time.

If you’re a bit tired and just want to get home, it can be a gentle, undemanding giant, with a throttle response as easy as the riding position. But it can exhilarate too with that mid-range, which becomes impossible to resist after dabbling once.

You could commute on it, over long or short distances, in all weathers. You could go for a ride with your mates on it and keep up. You could tour on it, certainly. Official hard luggage will be available from around November according to Suzuki, with price to be confirmed.

It’s easily comfortable enough to spend hours in the saddle, with a soft rider’s seat and a good amount of legroom. The pillion gets an equally comfy-looking and spacious seat with a big grab-rail.  

There’s some upper-body wind protection but I wondered whether there couldn’t be a bit more, to quieten the wind. The Bandit's not sporty-looking, so there isn't much to lose by giving it a taller screen.  

If I found any tell-tale sign of the bike’s low price it may have been in the ABS, which comes as standard. On one occasion it activated in response to some irregularities in road surface, leaving me drifting toward a car that had just unexpectedly changed course. I was brakeless for probably less than a second but long enough to be worried. I don’t believe there had been any danger of the front wheel locking. I suspect the ABS system may not be the most sophisticated available.   

Equipment is uncomplicated. The dash is two big, round clocks, one a dial rev counter and the other a digital speedometer, with trip meters and a fuel gauge. No average fuel economy or range. 

Average fuel consumption on a mix of roads, calculated from receipts, was 38.4mpg, giving a range of about 160 miles from the 19-litre tank.

I’d probably like a more useful under-seat compartment on a machine like this. There’s definitely space under there for a disc lock but I couldn’t quite work out where to put it to be sure of finding it in the same place later. I used my pocket instead.

There are two hook-type under-seat helmet locks, four points for luggage straps or bungee cords (two on the grab-rail and two on the pillion footrest hangers) and a centre-stand which the Bandit is quiet easily hauled onto.

Typically of Suzukis, the Bandit 1250S requires you to pull in the clutch before it will start, even in neutral. What’s that about?

And while the mirrors fold back easily, there’s no reference mark on the stems to remind you where they should return to. The SV650 has very similar mirrors but they do have reference marks, so you don’t have to mess around readjusting them all the time. I’m being really picky now though, and probably a bit OCD.

If anything puts people off the Bandit it won’t be the mirrors. It will probably be the dated looks. That’s part of the reason it’s cheap: it is an old model, without loads of development costs to recoup. You won’t find a motorcycle that does so much, so well, for so little and looks fresh off a designer’s drawing board.

If you’ve got about seven grand to spend and want as much motorcycle as that can possibly get you, my tip is to look happily out of date on a Suzuki Bandit 1250S.

Model tested: Suzuki Bandit 1250S

Price: £7,295 plus on-the-road charges

Engine: 1255cc in-line-four

Power: 97hp @ 7,500rpm

Torque: 80lbft @ 3,700rpm

Kerb weight: 254kg

Frame: tubular steel double cradle

Tank capacity: 19 litres

Average fuel consumption (on mix of roads, calculated from receipts): 38.4mpg

Seat height: 805-825mm

Colours: red, black, white

Availability: now

Watch our video review of the Suzuki Bandit 1250S

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