First ride: Suzuki GSR750 ABS review

GSR750 versus life. Put through its paces on the commute, endless A-roads and twisty country lanes - how does Suzuki's middleweight stack up on UK roads?

It's obvious when you think about it: but there aren't many motorcycles out there that create a new niche when they enter the market - most new models are an answer to a rival manufacturer's offering or a slight tweak on an existing theme.

When a bike does barge its way onto the scene, creating a new niche, it's either seriously popular or left on the shelf. Take the second-coming of the V-Max, it looked promising on paper but no-one bought one. Then look at Ducati's Diavel; a similar formula that no-one said they wanted but they've been a real success for Ducati.

The thing about the niche-breakers is that, because they don't have any direct rivals, they become must-haves and everyone falls over each other trying to put a deposit down. If it wins your heart, no-ones going to stop you buying it. If it doesn't then it comes down to cost.

The problem with bikes like the GSR750 is that unless they're exceptionally good, they'll be second-best and will bump along the bottom of the sales charts, occasionally propped up by finance deals or discounts before fading into obscurity as another me-too middleweight offering that's good enough to sell but has the character and desirability of a food processor.

Launched in 2011, the GSR750's formula looks good; a de-tuned 2005 Suzuki GSX-R750 motor with a 'GSX-R750-derived' chassis. The brakes and suspension are basic - there's no suspension adjustment, no big angry-looking radial brakes, either. However, rather than just being a stripped-down sportsbike it features bespoke bodywork and has an angular watch-you-don't-cut-yourself-on-it profile. It looks up for it.

vs. The City Commute

If ever there was a hunting ground for the GSR750, surely the tightly-packed London streets is it. The GSR's riding position is almost perfect for the commute, you sit upright on the firm seat, arms wide, feet back. The bike itself feels narrow, but the mirrors let it down - they're large, wide and set at a perfect height to clip van wing-mirrors. I lost count of the number I clipped, but more in a week than I have all year. It's no biggy, I'd just replace them with smaller ones.

The almost in almost-perfect is the bars, for me, they're slightly too high up. Sure, lower bars put weight on your wrists, possibly inducing the dreaded ache, but with slightly lower and shorter bars, you'd feel more in command of the bike and filtering through small gaps would be easier. It seems a shame to waste a narrow and nimble bike with wide bars and cumbersome mirrors.

The motor is perfect in town, the fuelling from the bottom is crisp. First gear is very tall, topping out at 70mph, meaning you can rumble around in first and not be revving the knackers off it. Second tops out at 90mph - you could spend all day in second and not want for another gear, it'll pull well from walking pace.

The wheelbase feels quite long - 5cm longer than the GSX-R750 - meaning that, in solid traffic, the GSR isn't a point-and-squirt tool like a supermoto or scooter, but get into a rhythm and you can thread it through the gaps with the best of them.

ABS is the icing on the cake. As a commuter, I think you're mad if it's not on your bike-buying checklist. The ABS on the GSR isn't market leading but it works well and will no doubt save you from that u-turning taxi and take the edge of rain-soaked city roads.

Our test model, in Black, looks sharp on its own, but when parked up with other bikes it blends in and disappears under the radar, hopefully meaning it'll be less likely to be pinched.

vs. Long Blasts

The A303 isn't in danger of appearing on any 'must-ride' roads any time soon. And for good reason, it's duller than a book on chess. I set out on a 200-mile round-trip along the A303 to see what the GSR750 made of it.

The GSR750 cruises comfortably between 85 and 90mph. The de-tuned GSX-R750 motor isn't exactly packed with thrills but it'll deliver, mile after mile and even in top gear at 90mph its got plenty of extra roll-on power. I'd have this motor over a buzzy 600, anyday.

As with most naked bikes, what holds the bike back on journeys like this is its lack of fairing. The flyscreen does a good job up to 85mph, but again, slightly narrower bars set lower would help too. It feels like you're sat lower than the bars, meaning you present wide arms and a flat chest to the wind. It's quite hard to get away from the wind blast at triple-figure speeds but on the upside, it means you'll be keeping your speed somewhere near legal.

Although seat and suspension feel firm, it's not an uncomfortable combination and for me, a firm bike is hugely preferable to one that wallows at 90mph and spends the next half-mile gently bouncing up and down after hitting a bump in the road.

The 17.5-litre tank is par for the course on bikes like this. If it had a 20-litre tank that would be something to talk about, but the well-fuelled GSR makes good of what its got.

When the tank's full there are five bars on the fuel gauge. After 130 miles we got down to 1 bar, with the fuel light blinking. Now we're into fuel-station roulette. You never know whether that last bar has the same as the previous 4, in which case I've got over 30 miles left until I'm calling the AA (130 miles / 4 bars = 32-ish miles per bar) of whether I'm running on fumes. After 10 miles and what feels like pushing limits, I see a petrol station ahead and fill up, with 141 miles on the clock.

After 14 litres, we're full, meaning the GSR750 has an easy 170-mile range at 85mph. The fuel-warning indicator coming on with 30-miles to go is premature and likely to raise blood pressure for no good reason. If I had my way, I'd standardise all bikes to show an orange fuel-warning light on with two litres of juice left.

I averaged 49.7mpg according to the GSR750's clocks over our 214-mile round-trip. Cruising at 65mph for 5 miles, I got the average up to 63.6mpg.

Fit a larger fly-screen and some lower bars and the GSR750 would be more than up to the job of regular 300-mile days.

vs. Twisty Country Roads

The motor - while everything you need - doesn't tempt the hooligan out from within. It's plenty torquey and drives well in the mid-range but it lacks that top-end fizz, it feels slightly lazy to get going and when it does get going, it doesn't blow your socks off. The extra fizz, in the form of 30bhp, has been engineered out of the GSX-R750 motor to make the GSR750's lump more real-world usable. Gone is the mad eyeball-distorting rush, replaced with what the police might call 'making efficient progress'.

That doesn't mean you and the GSR can't hustle down your favourite country road - you just won't be doing it by the seat of your pants.

What I want from a bike to blast around on at the weekend is that puppy-like excitement, where the front-end feels light and lively, the engine responsive and the bike eager to flick into a corner. The GSR feels stable, not lively, willing but not eager. It'll do what you ask of it, but I dare say it doesn't feel instinctive.

vs. The Conclusion

The GSR750 trounces the GSR600 in every respect. I didn't rate the GSR600; ugly, cheap-looking, badly-fuelled. If you've got a GSR600 and you like it, then you'll love the GSR750.

At £6,999 for the standard GSR750 and £7,399 for the ABS model, I'd get the ABS model every time, no question. One slight knock; scratch an engine casing, exhaust, bar-end and you'll be £500 out of pocket and that's if you're lucky, ABS could save you from that knock. Not to mention the peace of mind ABS brings when you're knackered and riding through nasty conditions. I can't see a reason to go without it.

If I was commuting and scratching on the weekend, I'd choose the £7349 Kawasaki Z750R; while the engines feel similar and would both benefit from a little more fizz, the Z750R features better quality suspension and the chassis - thanks to its shorter wheelbase - feels better suited to twisty stuff.

If I was regularly clocking up 300-miles on the weekend, the GSR's fuel-economy is hugely appealing, especially when compared to Yamaha's FZ8 which is a lot thirstier. However, the Fazer 8 ABS at £7,999, with its half-fairing presents a real challenge to the GSR.

The GSR750 was never going to be a niche-breaker, it isn't a bike that sets your pulse racing and it's something you'll buy with your head, not your heart.

If your riding is an average mix of commuting, long-distance and weekend blasts and you want a bike that punches well above the average, the GSR750 is well worth a look.

Price: £6,999 or £7,399 with ABS

Colours: Black, White, Metallic Blue. Non-ABS version also available in Red