Rizla GSX-R1000: Visordown test

Ex-PB Editor Mark Forsyth rides the Rizla BSB bike


I could bluff you all here, like the best journalists tend to do from time to time. But I'm not going to. OK? This, after all, is the self-judging, constantly measured, inimitable medium of the instantly appraisable web. Where the editors with their instantaneous feedback are you.

For the record, I am not within four tenths of the outright superbike lap record of Oulton Park, I'm not finding chassis shortcomings, suspension limitations, geometry issues or weight distribution fundamentals. I am not winning BSB races, therefore I should shut the fuck up.

But in my defence, m'lud...

I've done a bit, admittedly a long time ago. I've got a long forgotten, obscure National title to my name (1807) and have won a handful of 'international races' (1808) and many, many club races and club titles (1802). I am, however, very race rusty having spent the past four years testing stuff with four wheels.

Thing is, I got the call up to ride a Rizla GSX-R1000 Superbike last week and, today, I gone done it - a genuine, massive budget, expense not spared, full-chat superbike. On my own. With no one else on the track. A land of milk of honey stuffed full of virgins and stuff?

Or possibly even better...

The first few laps are behind that quintisenntial pacesetter of race track mastery - the 1.6 diesel Citroen Xsara Picasso - auto. With 'handling like a bathtub full of water' according to the Oulton-expert driver.

Impressions at a heady 62mph average? Like you care?

Pussycat.

Ride it to the shops, corners as if on rails, all controls falling easily to hand, etc. The full-house, superbike spec engine and engine mapping lets the big Gixxer grunt from tickover in sixth like a supercharged S+S engined Harley - admittedly a slightly alarming 3,000rpm tickover - allowing the snapper balanced precariously in the open tailgate of the Picasso to take short-lens shots of the powder blue BSB bike. If nothing else this photo shoot teaches me one thing - the GSX-R has the tractability of a tractor. No glitches, no coughs and farts - immaculate fuelling.

But it seems the resident circuit Gestapo is not impressed by our two-foot-off-the-back-bumper photography techniques. His health and safety radar is alerted by the howl of Picasso' Michelins as the understeering people carrier plots the perfect line through Old Hall bend, from kerb, to kerb to kerb - with a bit of grass and rumble strip thrown in for good measure. With a face presumable beetroot-purple with rage, Adolf, the vertically challenged busy-body leaps into his 1.2 Clio and sets off in pursuit, orange lights a-flashing.

We, presumably, are just entering Shell Oils corner at this stage, a heavily banked (much steeper than it looks on the telly) hairpin bend. I lazily leave the GSX-R in fourth gear but the Picasso's speed through here is enough for me to effortlessly plant a knee on the deck all the way through the turn to the point where we reach the corner exit. Presumably, by this point, the pursuing Clio is just topping the Avenue on the 'fast' run up to Cascades.

One lap later, we're 'apprehended' at the end of the back straight and given a stern telling off for 'going too fast'. Hmmmm. 'It's a fucking diesel Picasso' is a statement that seems to fall on deaf ears. We are instructed not to exceed 50mph. That's half revs in first gear on the Rizla bike when first gear alone allows you to demolish 100mph in under five seconds Like, err, yeah.

50mph through a chicane tighter than a CBT test course is impressive, let me make that clear, but for the rest of the track it's an issue.

But while watching the poor photographer being hurled from side to side through a chicane is funny (he doesn't know what corner's coming next because he doesn't know the track at all) it's clearly not working. I flag the car down at Druids and shout above the racket of fluttering throttle valves, rattling dry clutch and a 3,000rpm tickover, 'I'll see you at Shell Oils, we'll do some pics there.'

It may have been the way I crested Deer's Leap, just hooking fifth, in a tuck with the GSX-R wobbling happily beneath me that caused a marshal to radio ahead to the Clio that there was trouble brewing, I don't know. But, effectively I had at least a lap and a half a lap of clear track with hot slicks, warm brakes and enough (by now) familiarity to open the taps a bit.

Turn one, Lodge Corner, arrives on me faster than it's ever arrived before. I'm hopelessly off line and ill-prepared for the corner itself but with a bit of brake (just one fat-finger needed) and a backshift down two I make the apex and apply the gas as we aim (roughly) towards the apex of the Avenue in readiness for the downhill approach to the never-ending Cascades left hander.

Fuck this is fast. Too fast. Fourth lasts 1.8 seconds (we studied the data traces) a brief assault of fifth gear and I wimp out, rolling it a bit before I line up Cascades by going back a gear and contorting my head to look as far ahead as possible. Braking deeper than I'd ideally like (gritting teeth) I start to pile on the coals, ever so gently, ever so progressively. The bike seems to take on a different attitude under load. The vibration is quite harsh and you're telepathically aware of all those meshing gears and flailing chains. But the forward surge, even at lowly revs, is immense. Grotesque even. The rear tyre is squirming (ever so faintly) in protest and the outside kerb beckons.

I arrive over the crest into Island bend in fifth and I'm travelling way, way, way faster than I'd like. Instinctively I bang it down and (un-instinctively) I click the stubby lever up a notch as Cal Crutchlow uses a proper racer pattern (up for down) not a road rider's. Grit buttocks. Clench teeth.. Hold your breath. Sweet. The rock hard chassis and suspension and rude grip from the hot Dunlop slicks gets me through it. I get my knee down and I'm not even hanging off. Again, I feel like a passenger. An incompetent passenger at that.

BWAAARRRP. Quick squirt of gas and torque and we're back into Shell Oils. I stop and wait for the camera crew with half an eye on the temp gauge (no fan) working out in my head just where they are on the track. I wait. I wait and I wait. At 101 degrees I decide to do another lap to let the old girl cool down.

The rest of the one clear lap I get is something of a blur and, if I'm honest, I only remember fleeting bits of the event. How easily the bike flicks through Foulston's chicane and what a bastard it is to accelerate out up the bumpy uphill exit without looping it over backwards. Shortshift city.

And then, after getting my head down on the back straight, what a horrible abomination the new Knicker Brook-replacement chicane is. The original Knicker Brook (1842), a fourth gear right hander with the camber from hell is sorely missed.

But it's not until you're in the upper gears that a bike like this really starts to make sense. The drag up Clay Hill, especially where you go light under the bridge whilst desperately trying to keep the bike on the track and out of the trees on the right, really lets you appreciate just how fast it is. That's fast with two capital Fs - with fucks before them.

Druids is a blurr of forward vision, missed apexes and a wrestling match on the exit over the wheelie humps at the beginning of the run to Lodge. On the approach to Lodge the phrase 'ee God then brake' rings true. Stoppers? Radial Brembos biting 320mm floating discs define the word.

As I'm just beginning to recalibrate my rusty brain with a second flying lap I'm wondering big time where the Picasso is. Chris, the Picasso pilot, is a bit of a tasty wheel jockey and there's no way I'd lap him so easily. Something's clearly wrong...

Exiting the tricky downhill, then uphill Cascades I'm slowly starting to get into the groove and this time we're tramping (but only in my relative terms). Keeping the throttle as close to pinned as I dare I prod the gearlever downwards, throttle open, to hit fifth and arrive over the next crest to find a Clio 1.2 with a back full of brake lights. Our safety man has clearly forgotten what is and isn't safe. Thankfully I miss him but I'm sent back to the pits after a sound telling off. And in the pits (in front of all the top teams), it's time for another telling off.

I don't know whether it's the close proximity of Arai to unprotected bald head and near nose-to-nose 'discussion' or what but Adolf succumbs to our persuasive suggestions and lets us out again for some cornering photography using the loop at Shell corner. Under supervision.

We bump start the bike down pitlane with a push from chief mechanic Simon Green. 'Remember to really flick the clutch out' he says 'econd gear is good'. The 'flick' technique is to fox the slipper clutch. It takes me two attempts to flick it hard enough and apply the right amount of throttle before the beast chimes into life.

For me, with barely twenty minutes on the bike, it's a fantastic opportunity. We work the corner hard enough to bubble the edges of the tyres and get some great pictures for the tabloid newspaper I'm doing the story for in the first place. Preaching to the unconverted an' all that.

You think your suspension is a little on the firm side? Ride this mo' fo' and you may see the light. It's stiffer than Churchill's upper lip. Every surface imperfection is communicated to your central processor, every microscopic movement of the tyre. Sensational. Not cheap either. The Ohlins boingy bits front and rear will rush you at least ten K. And that's not as in Gerrit.

But she's a big old girl. You really notice it when you start tramping on a bit. The fuel tank is massive, the bars wide and splayed. You may be hunched over it all in the best traditions of mass-centralisation but the Gixxer thou makes a 999 Ducati look like a 125 by comparison.

In my brief and somewhat pathetic race career I always figured that the fastest bike through corners was a small, narrow, light one. At 162kilos the Rizla GSX-R is bang on the money weight wise but with two mini-me riders in Chris Walker and Cal Crutchlow I can't help but think they're making life difficult for themselves with having such physically big bikes. Guess that's the beauty of superbike regs.

Expect next year's K8 to be the size of a 600...