Suzuki GSX-R1000 K9 - Mackenzie track test

No traction control, no fancy cranks and no need - the boss is back. Niall Mackenzie falls for Suzuki's new big GSX-R

Click to read: Suzuki GSX-R1000 K9 owners reviews, Suzuki GSX-R1000 K9 specs and to see the Suzuki GSX-R1000 K9 image gallery.

You could be forgiven for thinking very little has changed with Suzuki’s latest GSX-R 1000. After a passing glance at the NEC show, and with the R1 stealing all the media hype, I for one spent the winter assuming nothing much had changed bar some new graphics and the re-styled exhausts. But I couldn’t have been more wrong – with the exception of maybe the front mudguard, this bike is all-new from the ground up. Welcome then to the 2009 GSX-R1000, the darkest of dark horses.

I’m not sure if it was intentional but Suzuki has somehow managed to build a completely new motorcycle whilst keeping the changes so subtle you could easily mistake the new bike for the K7 K8 model. I’ve attended launches when manufacturers have claimed "45 changes", only to reveal that forty of them were the different engine studs. Not this time – the new 1000cc GSX-R has been revised everywhere. The tank, seat, fairing, wheels, engine, exhausts, suspension, electronics and dash are all new, making it quite the revelation of 2009.

With 1000cc sportsbikes now making more power than most riders can use, manufacturers are less interested in top speed and are nowadays concentrating much more on making their bikes user-friendly and safe to ride. Yamaha claim to have achieved this with their MotoGP-inspired cross-plane crank, where as Suzuki have gone done a more conventional route by chopping 5kg off the previous model’s overall weight, while also making major improvements to handling and grip.

The weight loss comes mainly from a lighter engine, chassis, suspension and wheels which, together with the 10mm shorter wheelbase to give the bike a more agile feel. The improved grip comes from a much more compact engine, which allows a longer swingarm to be fitted, in turn improving traction and boosting rider feel. Up front the new 43mm Showa big-piston forks do a good job keeping things stable at high speed, coping with bumps well and remaining planted in tighter corners. This type of fork is very lightweight but some suspension experts are already saying its method of construction may make it more susceptible to damage in the event of a crash.

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GSX-R1000 2

On the subject of suspension, the lightweight titanium-coated forks now have the compression and rebound damping adjustment nicely placed on the top of the fork, which is great except the preload adjustment has moved to the bottom so you'll still have to roll around on the floor at some stage. And while I'm moaning, although it only takes two minutes, you now have to remove a nicely moulded side cover to get at the rear suspension damping adjusters (holes will have to be bored) and can we have a nice remote preload adjuster (as found on the R1) next time instead of knuckle-skinning castellated nuts please?

The heart of the K9 GSX-R is the new 999cc shortstroke motor, which is now more compact due to the 1998 R1-style stacked gearbox, now all but standard issue on four-cylinder sportsbikes. Peak torque and power figures are exactly the same but there are numerous changes, many aimed to allow extra tuning for racing performance. Stronger pistons, bigger valves (now with dual springs), new camshafts plus a new crankshaft with a more efficient lubrication system are some of the features that give this engine the potential to make more power and rev harder while staying totally reliable. The adjustable slipper clutch has also been improved and is now operated with a cable to give more feel than the previous hydraulic system. Internal primary and secondary ratios have been changed resulting in the overall gearing being one tooth shorter.

Other engine improvements include shorter throttle bodies, a more advanced ECU and a trapezoidal oil cooler for better heat dissipation.

The Tokico front brake callipers are now a monobloc design and, though they nestle neatly in their mountings, they're nowhere near as pretty as the Brembo equivalents. The front discs remain 310mm in diameter and the Nissin radial master cylinder is fully adjustable. The rear brake caliper is now much smaller and is matched to a 210mm disc.

Unlike the most recent Fireblade and R1 there is no radical change of look for this K9 machine. The new lights and exhausts are pretty much all there is to it. I do like the dash however, or as Suzuki call it 'the visual communicator' – my new favourite term. This instrument cluster is by far the best from Suzuki to date. Most of their previous clocks have been pretty uninspiring. This time the visual communicator is much more stylish with a clear display for everything from the sequential shift lights, the power mode selector (your choices remain A, B or C) and the bigger, softer digital display ‘communicating’ speed and gear ratio. The three-stage power mode selector (still can’t see the point) is now on the left handlebar with the instrument control (including lap timer) switch on the right.

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GSX-R Overall and specs

Incredibly, from the first right-hander, the big Suzuki was happy to weave its way up and down through the next ten corners in second gear. With the slowest corner being 40mph and the fastest 110mph this was truly impressive and as I mentioned earlier, on circuit at least, the throttle to rear wheel connection was faultless. Even when the standard BT-016 road tyres were past their best I could easily feel the rear moving around both on corner entry and exit.

If I were to take a calculated guess I would say the new R1 probably takes this a stage further giving even more feel which would definitely benefit less experienced riders. Also, with the R1's power delivery being softer and more linear I’d imagine the Yamaha will be easier on tyres but I’m guessing so we’ll have to wait for myself and Whitham to give them a good trashing on the imminent group test.

After a time though, the standard suspension settings proved just too soft, delivering too much squat on acceleration and unsettling the bike through changes of direction. Initially I added 2mm more preload front and rear, which improved the weight transfer considerably, and later added 2 clicks of low-speed compression damping to the rear which made things even sweeter. Quite often small changes are difficult to feel on standard suspension so I was impressed that I could feel an improvement.

I once saw a very capable rider get wiped out on an out-of-control ZX-10R on Almeria's straight so I know the fast, uphill undulations are the ultimate stability test. The Suzuki was rock solid. Later I was looking up for my braking point with the speedo showing 180mph in fifth and without a wobble. On the brakes there’s a little too much dive but a really positive return to the forks. And although the rear tyre tended to wander the front didn’t which, taking nothing away from Bridgestones, tells me the new forks are something special.

The K9 GSX-R1000 is not as good looking as the Fireblade and it doesn’t have the technical innovation of the R1, but when it comes to performance I think all three will be close without being copies of each – right now we truly are spoilt for choice.

Specifications

Price: £9800
Engine: 16-valve, inline four, 999cc
Power: 180bhp @ 12,000rpm
Torque: 86lb.ft @ 10,000rpm
Front suspension: 43mm Showa big-piston forks, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 310mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Wet weight: 203kg
Seat height: 810mm
Fuel capcity: 17.5 litres
Top speed: 185mph (est)
Colours: Blue/White, Black

Visordown rating: 5/5

GSX-R1000 3

Last but not least is the overall finish, and once again I think this is Suzuki’s best effort to date. There is a quality feel to the bike, one you’d normally only associate with Honda. This model may have been late in arriving but one gets the impression it wasn’t leaving Japan until it was perfect. Without pulling the bodywork off it appears there has been more emphasis on quality control, especially when it comes to neat engine cases, chassis welding and paintwork. Have a poke around and you’ll be impressed.

Important as it is, that’s enough technical drivel – now let me tell you what it’s like to ride.

Most sportsbike launches are now track-based so we were lucky that this one included riding from our hotel and up through some twisty Andalucian mountain passes to the Almeria circuit in a sunny but chilly southern Spain.

After setting off my first impression was the overall handling is now lighter, though for me the engine note and feel is no different to the last model. During a nippy hour-long ride I couldn’t really push too hard but if there was one thing that stood out it was that the front suspension delivers plenty confidence at all times. The improved speed-sensitive steering damper may have helped but I didn’t once detect any headshake under acceleration, plus the big-piston forks soaked up high and low speed bumps with ease. Also, through the smooth, meandering roads both the front and rear Bridgestone BT-016s felt planted but I was less happy with the snatchy on/off throttle response. This wasn’t a problem during the track riding so maybe I was asking too much of it by riding in tall gears at low speeds, giving the transmission a hard time. The GSX-R riding position has always worked for me and again this one feels much the same. Should it not suit everyone there is always the option to move the foot pegs 14mm laterally or vertically.

The brief road ride took us up to the Almeria circuit, a very popular venue for race testing and trackdays due to its combination of twisting back section and two long straights.

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