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The GSX-R Family

Like a Mafioso crime family the GSX-R clan has forced a place in biking society through aggression and intimidation. With two new members introduced this year we gather the family together for a reunion

Four letters, that's all. Four consonants that, if Carol Vorderman had picked them out and placed them on the Countdown board, even the maddeningly squirmworthy Richard Whiteley wouldn't have uttered a mundane comment about. G, S, X and R. On the face of it they don't look like much.

But put them together, add a hyphen, and you have something special, something magical and something very, very naughty. The four most recognisable letters in motorcycling and a cult unto themselves. In 1985 the world was introduced to these four letters. It would never be the same again.

Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa

The Don - Hayabusa

Godfather meets gangsta in biking's biggest bling thing

Like a Brando-esque figure in the Godfather films, the GSX1300R Hayabusa commands respect. It may not be the quickest on the draw, the sharpest dressed or the best in a scrap, but the Hayabusa still has a presence that demands it be taken seriously, even in the company of its siblings.

Named after a Japanese falcon that preys on other birds - which many saw as a not-so-subtle dig at Honda, whose Super Blackbird was the 'Busa's main competition - it was, with a claimed top speed close to the 200mph mark, the fastest production motorcycle in the world. Backed up by its analogue speedo which showed 220mph on its face when flat out, the Hayabusa also produced a claimed 172bhp. Which was stunning in 1999 when it was unveiled, and still raises eyebrows now.

Unfortunately the Hayabusa was launched at a time when politicians were starting to take an unhealthy interest in bikes, and especially the speeds they were capable of. Suzuki limited the 'Busa to  300kph - 186mph in our money - after a gentleman's agreement was reached with the other Japanese manufacturers. But this token gesture didn't help reduce spiralling insurance costs, or mask the bulbous look of the bike that helped its aerodynamics, or cover the terrible tea-stain paint scheme.

So the 'Busa kind of fell into biking's no-mans land. Suzuki continued to produce the bike, but didn't see the need to update it at all. And so it has remained the same since it was first introduced (although the speedo was changed in 2002 so it no longer read over 186mph) and has been consigned to the developmental back burner.

Does it deserve to be there? Not really, because the Hayabusa represents biking's big push when, like the Yuppies in the late 80s, it was cool to be flash about the size of your wedge. Sit on it and you instantly feel empowered; it's a big bike but still retains a sense of sportiness about it, albeit with a sensible edge. Although how anything with a genuine 160bhp at the rear wheel can be ever be sensible is less clear.

The 'Busa's seat is large and padded, and the bars are sportily placed but not excessively raked down. It's a position that seems to split riders, some find it comfortable, some don't. Depends what you're used to. If you try one after a sports 600 it will seem comfortable, but if you are more used to a tourer it can feel cramped.

On the move the 'Busa lacks a bit of the GSX-R feel. The motor is enormously powerful but delivers its power smoothly, not in a typically harsh and vibey GSX-R way. Even compared to modern machines the 'Busa's 1300cc lump delivers a hell of a kick, but its punch is delivered in a more relaxed, long-legged fashion.

"The 'Busa doesn't feel that fast, even though it is," reckoned Bertie, "but what is going on with that screen? It's far too low and the top lip manages to obscure the speedo between 80 and 120mph. How stupid is that? You go and make the fastest production motorcycle then design a screen that hides the digits in the most vital area."

Apart from this glaring oversight the main problems with the Hayabusa stem from its weight - a claimed 215kg dry - and this shows in its handling.

Tipping into corners it feels top-heavy, flopping over on its side. On the roads the extra weight makes it more stable over bumps and through fast corners, but at low speed that mass takes some muscling into bends. Where the other GSX-Rs take no more than a twitch of brain synapses to turn them, the Hayabusa requires some thought.

And it's the same for the brakes. The six-piston calipers are starting to show their age, requiring a good solid tug to get them gripping and they never feel as though they are excessive, simply adequate. Which isn't very reassuring when you're on a 215kg slug of metal travelling at 186mph.

So is the family don over the hill, no longer able to keep the youngsters in check? No, not by a long shot. Just watching Niall leave black lines exiting corners is enough prove the point but, like an ageing mobster, the 'Busa is starting to soften around the edges. Still a quality act packing an awesome punch, but refined and classy rather than one of the rat pack.

Niall Mackenzie's Second Opinion

Until my first ride on a Hayabusa I could only see a big monstrous lump. I'm sure the bike's colours and graphics didn't help my pre-conceptions because I've always found the actual riding experience very satisfying. Great low and high-speed stability is this machine's biggest asset, but the huge torque, with a potential 200mph-plus speedo reading, comes a close second. Out of the four, and if you can cope with its ugly ducking looks, this would be the best bike here for long distance, especially if you want to carry a pillion. But if you're drawn to a racetrack occasionally then you'll find the Hayabusa bit of a handful.

What makes it so special?

Breathtaking if superfluous top gear acceleration from an indicated 160mph

Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa Specs

Price new: £8649
Capacity:1298cc
Dry Weight: 215kg
Wheelbase: 1485mm
Power: 161bhp
Top speed: 189mph
1/4 mile: 11.17s @ 138mph

Suzuki GSX-R1000

GSXR-1000

No longer leader of the litre-bike pack, but still no joker. Seriously

It's one of the all-time classic movie scenes. Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas is having a meal with friends and, in the blink of an eye, turns from sociable drinker to
raving psycho as Ray Liotta says he thinks he's funny. "Funny?" snaps Pesci, "What do you mean funny? Am I here to amuse you?"

This sums up the GSX-R1000. It has a sociable side, will happily potter around at legal speeds and even commute without batting an eyelid. But flick the switch, get cocky, and it will bite, and bite hard and fast.
Both Bertie and Niall ran a GSX-R1000 as longtermers last year and their cases demonstrate the two sides perfectly. Bertie commuted over 15,000 miles on his. Okay, it did a few track days too, but the majority of its time was spent battling traffic on the M1 . Niall, on the other hand, used his to instruct on at his Donington Park Track Attack days. Two completely different scenarios but the 1000 performed both tasks perfectly.

Compare it back-to-back with the latest 1000cc sports bikes and the GSX-R1000 loses out, but on its own it's still a stunning motorcycle. The 1000 is the very essence of GSX-R; the motor buzzes and vibrates as you accelerate, while the air-box's growl turns into a snarl the faster the engine spins. Riding it is everything biking should be.

Despite having six horsepower and several more pound-feet less than the 'Busa, the 1000 also has around 30kg less weight to shift, and this makes it seem much faster than the big 1300. Crack the throttle open in first and the front will rise as the engine surges forward, a trick that can be repeated at 50mph in second with a flick of clutch. Okay, the ZX-10R may put the GSX-R1000's engine in the shade, but the GSX-R's is still one hell of a motor, with a massive spread of seamless power and nigh-on faultless fuel injection.

Last year the GSX-R1000 received a big update which consisted of, among other things, a new chassis. Twelve months ago this was easily the best handling of the sports 1000s with a razor sharp edge but, especially compared to the new GSX-R750 and 600, it now feels as though this edge has been blunted.
Being physically bigger than the 600 and 750, the GSX-R1000 makes for a better distance bike, but on track both new machines feel that bit sharper, more responsive and more eager to play. Both the smaller bikes take the effort out of cornering, where the 1000 still requires some work. But this is splitting hairs as the 1000 still handles fantastically - just look at the BSB results to see what can be achieved with one - but it now feels like it needs a new breath of life in the chassis, which, we're told, is what we can expect next year.

Half of the 1000's problem is the amount of power it produces. On faster, flowing tracks like Donington this isn't a problem but get the 1000 on a smaller, tighter circuit and it can give the rider the feeling that the bike is taking him for a ride, not the other way around. And that can be intimidating.
And it's the same on the road. You simply can't thrash a 1000 on a public road without ending up banned or in a hedge. Or both.

With great power comes great responsibility. Trouble is, it's just too easy to turn to a life of crime on a GSX-R1000. But who wants to act responsibly? Come on the bad guys.

Niall Mackenzie's Second Opinion

I've ridden many road and track miles on GSX-R1000s, and, apart from aching knees, on the whole I've  enjoyed the experience. This bike loves to stretch its legs at a race track and can keep up with pretty much everything even when completely standard. The only complaint is that I can't stop the forks hopping under really heavy braking when I push hard.

I don't necessarily agree with manufacturers changing their models every two years as there's life in many of them for much longer than that, but nevertheless I can't wait to test the 2005 model.

What makes it so special?

A sports bike benchmark, it pushed boundaries and forced rivals to follow

2004 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Specs

Price new: £8549
Capacity: 988cc
Dry weight: 170kg
Wheelbase: 1410mm
Power: 153bhp
Top speed: 177mph
1/4 mile: 10.84s @ 139mph

Suzuki GSX-R750

GSX-R750

Still getting at it nineteen years down the line

Responsibility to a GSX-R750 rider is about remembering to fill up with petrol. The bike that started off the whole GSX-R range way back when in 1985 is still just as mad and just as bad today as it was then, and the latest generation is, frankly, bloody brilliant. It was and is everything a GSX-R should be; a brilliant track bike, back road scratcher, commuter and a bike that simply begs to be thrashed more than a Tory MP. This bad boy gangster refuses to grow old gracefully.

But what is it that makes the 750 so special? Like Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the 750 is virtually identical to its partner-in-crime 600cc brother. There are differences under the skin, but the casual onlooker will struggle to tell the two apart.

Pop the key in and the view from the bridge is identical to the 600's. Hit the starter and it's instant, snarling smiles. Looking for trouble? You've come to the right place. The 750 motor sounds raw, rough, ready for action. Blip the throttle and the needle leaps around the large analogue rev counter while the exhaust growls harshly and the air-box barks. It's pure, undiluted essence of GSX-R.

Get going and the 750 encourages misbehaviour. There's a wonderful, two-stroke-like kick in power around 7000rpm , at which point all hell breaks loose. Air-box and exhaust compete to see which can make the most noise, while the motor buzzes even more and the rev counter spins wildly round towards the needle stop. It's one of the most addictive things in biking, and forces a manic smile onto your face. The GSX-R smile.

"I bloody love this bike," said Daryll, "I've ridden all of the new bikes this year and I'd have the 750 over all of them hands down, it's just so much fun."

"It just gets better every time you ride it," reckoned Niall, "the handling, engine, brakes, everything about it is brilliant."

The new chassis, basically identical to the GSX-R600's, gives the 750 the sharp but neutral handling of a 600, while the motor gives it the near kick of a 1000, but without the looming intimidation.

Get on a tight twisty track and the 750's throttle can be cracked open with confidence where the 1000's needs feathering. While the 600 needs to be in the right gear for each corner, the 750 has enough mid-range to carry a gear higher if you feel like it - or simply get it wrong. Not that there is much excuse for getting it wrong. The gearbox is spot on, the radial brakes are about the best on any bike, and the chassis is stunning.

Compared to the 1000 the 750 has a sharpness to it. It's like fitting a new set of tyres to your bike, it instantly feels that little bit crisper. Part of this is almost certainly due to it carrying 7kg less weight, but in truth the chassis takes the credit. Suzuki has narrowed, shortened, lightened and honed the GSX-R750's frame to near perfection. And then added a motor that is plenty fast enough and gives the rider a thrill every ride.

So what's the catch? There must be a fly somewhere in the ointment. Unfortunately it's really hard to fault the GSX-R750, which is why it won our TWO Bike of the Year Award. The only thing to really complain about is the vibration from the motor - but even that is a familiar GSX-R family trait. Plus the fact it is in quite a high insurance category. Apart from that it's cheaper than a 1000, and only a few quid more than a 600.

Niall Mackenzie's Second Opinion

I only ever raced a GSX-R750 three times, twice with factory bikes at the Suzuka Eight Hour race in the early 90s, and then once again in British Superbikes a few years ago for Crescent Suzuki on an ex-Frankie Chili bike at Knockhill. The '04 750 feels just like that BSB bike from 2001; smooth, flexible power combined with a 600 size chassis, it appears to have it all. Spookily, while writing this I had a phone call from a certain Mr Whitham. He starts by saying, 'I've just ridden a new 750 Gixer and I need to have one. Can you talk to Crescent and sort me out a deal?' Enough said!

What makes it so special?

All things to all men, the 750 delivers a mighty buzz. This thing's got previous...

2004 Suzuki GSX-R750

Price new: £7649
Capacity: 749cc
Dry weight: 163kg
Wheelbase: 1390mm
Power: 129bhp
Top speed: 165mph
1/4 mile: 10.98s @ 135mph

Suzuki GSX-R600

GSX-R600

Psychotic twin or mild-mannered lookalike?

They both looked the same, they both loved their mum, but Ronnie was the more violent Kray twin, the repressed homosexual who would lash out without warning. Reggie was calmer, weaker if you like, but no less effective. But you couldn't have one without the other.

Ironically it's the smallest of the GSX-R dynasty to which the 750 owes its continued existence to. With competition in the supersport class both on road and track so close, and with sales governed by which is the fastest, lightest, trickest and best looking bike, each of the Japanese manufacturers has thrown a lot of cash at their respective 600s. Last year Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha all updated their 600s. This year it was Suzuki's turn. There is little doubt that scrapping the near-redundant 750 altogether was considered, but someone spotted that, with a bit of work, both the 600 and 750 could share many of their components. Which is exactly what happened. Then again, if it wasn't for the 750 the whole GSX-R thing would never have happened in the first place. Do you want chicken or egg with that?

Considering they share so many components it isn't too surprising that the 750 and 600 feel very similar to ride. Their chassis are virtually identical and, as only 2kg separates them on the scales, the handling is very similar. And that really shows just how good the 750, is as the GSX-R600 is up there with the sublime CBR600RR as the best handling 600.

Like the 750, the 600 turns quickly and has the same balanced and neutral feeling in corners with loads of feedback from the front end. Compared to the rest of the 600s the Suzuki is slightly larger with a roomier riding position, but rather than hinder the bike it actually helps the rider move around more easily, which is both a help in corners and makes the bike reasonably comfortable for day-to-day riding and even commuting.

But what's most impressive about the 600 is its motor. Rather than cheat and add a few extra cc, Suzuki has decided to use a bit of cunning by lightening the internal components to help the engine rev faster.

Compared to all the other bikes here the 600 is the screamer of the bunch. Given its capacity this is only to be expected, but even so the GSX-R still has a decent amount of mid-range before, in true GSX-R fashion,
hitting its sweet spot at around 8000rpm and going banzai. Only a few years ago 600s were all about top end go with next to bugger all in the mid-range, but the GSX-R has proved that a true 600 supersport bike can come with added kick in the midrange.

"The new generation of 600s really are impressively powerful," reckoned Daryll. "This latest GSX-R feels as strong as an old GSX-R750 SRAD."

While the engine is flexible, strong and useful , the 600 will appeal to a certain type of rider; one that likes to make engines scream, change gear at every corner and work the bike hard. Get the 600 buzzing and it's rewarding because you feel like you're getting somewhere near its potential - a feeling you never get on the 1000. But for just £800 more you could get the 750 with an extra 23bhp and a much fatter midrange.

But it's not that simple. The 750 costs more to insure and run. And that makes the 600 seem appealing once again. It's got the looks, the kudos and that GSX-R family muscle to back it up. Don't be fooled, the
GSX-R600 is no entry-level pretender, it's one smooth criminal.

Niall Mackenzie's Second Opinion

Whether you want a bike that encourages flicking and thrashing or one that feels rooted firmly to the Tarmac but still packing the punch of a Boeing 747, Suzuki seems to have all the bases covered.
The GSX-R600 may not be a cute as its Honda class rival, but makes up for this with the best mid-range engine response in the supersport class. As top end rev limits have risen ever higher of late midrange power seems to be flattening out, but only the GSX-R600 - and the 636cc ZX-6R - have retained a useful and usable mid-range kick.

What makes it so special?

Giant killer and track day thriller. Top performance in a middleweight package

2004 Suzuki GSX-R600

Price new: £6849
Capacity: 599cc
Dry weight: 161kg
Wheelbase: 1390mm
Power: 101bhp
Top speed: 160mph
1/4 mile: 11.5s @ 128mph

Conclusion

And the legacy continues...

So the family has gathered, fought it out , and now disperses once again. Without a doubt the Godfather is the Hayabusa, but it does look like its days are numbered. Although it can get out and play with the younger kids it's only a matter of time before it can no longer keep up. As a mega fast tourer the 'Busa isn't bad, especially if you're of a larger frame, but the only time you would chose one over the others is if you want to tour at high speed with a pillion. Even for commuting and one-up touring - and definitely scratching - the GSX-R1000 is a better all-round machine.

Which is perhaps a strange comment but, as Bertie will vouch for, the 1000 is surprisingly practical. With 150 horses on tap and weighing considerably less it's almost as fast as the Hayabusa but handes better and has a more character. It vibrates a bit, sounds rougher and has a few kicks in the powerband. But do you need 150bhp?

The GSX-R750's 123bhp is just about the perfect amount of power. Enough to still be a bloody fast bike but not intimidating to use, the combination of an excellent chassis and near faultless motor for 99% of uses all combine in a machine that gives the rider a real thrill. It's a smile generator and is simply fantastic fun to ride.

And where does this leave the 600? The baby GSX-R is an excellent machine, and it's only when you compare it alongside the 750 that its shortcomings become apparent. On track there are few more satisfying things than caning the hell out of a 600, and the GSX-R responds well to abuse. On the road the work Suzuki has done in the motor makes it feel gutsy, but the lack of capacity means that changing gears is a must. It's cheaper to insure than the 750, but in truth, given the choice we would all go for the bigger capacity bike every time. It does everything the 600 does, but with an extra stomp in the midrange.

Four bikes, four letters and a mighty legacy between them. The GSX-R family really has shaped the biking world, from the fastest production motorcycle to the first real race rep, to the bike that kick-started the 1000cc sportsbike class back into life again. Each bore the letters G,S,X and R. A heritage to be proud of? Sure thing. Here's to the next twenty years of GSX-R... bring 'em on.