Remember the '03 GSX-R1000? Barry Burke does. As Motorcyclist's Superbike racer emeritus and resident wrist, Burke experienced the beast's brilliance firsthand as he lay waste to the literbike field two years ago in our July 2003 issue. Essentially unchanged for '04, the Maximum GSX-R mashed all comers again that year. And although the third-generation version rolled out in '05 is a giant step forward, our '03 Motorcycle of the Year is something short of obsolete. It's more comfortable than its successor--especially if you're more than six feet tall--and still puts 152 cooperative horsepower to the asphalt, all in an enjoyably agile package. Thus, BB and several staffers--me included--maintain a certain fondness for the superseded Suzuki.
Burke actually went out and bought an '03 Gixxer, and he's spent the last two years making it his own. "I can't afford two bikes, so I wanted something I could ride on the street and take to track days," Burke says. "This one is even more comfortable than the stocker because the bars I built are mounted a little higher. And these Attack Performance rearsets aren't any higher than the stock pegs, but they give you much better feel, especially at the track, without creating any issues with cornering clearance."
The '03 GSX-R is so potent Burke left the standard 150-horsepower fun factory's internals alone, just adding a few bits to let it breathe: a Yoshimura TRS titanium exhaust system ($1612) plus the obligatory Power Commander, along with a BMC racing air filter ($75) from Yoshimura (www.yoshimura-rd.com). "Street riding is all about useable horsepower, and the GSX-R has more than enough already," he says. More, as it turns out, than the fragile stock clutch can deal with, so BB swapped it for a more durable Barnett unit, which improves feel as well.
Next stop, sprocket department: Stock final-drive gearing (17/42) that will crack 100 mph in first gear effectively turns the bike into a two-speed on the street, so Barry dropped in a more realistic 16-tooth countershaft sprocket and 43-tooth rear-wheel sprocket (www.afamusa.com). "It's so much nicer to ride on the street this way because you have a range of gearing matched to what the engine wants.
I've run this gearing on the track from Fontana to Buttonwillow with no problems." Given enough skills and straight pavement, you can spin it up to taste that ICBM thrust to the right of 9000 rpm. On the street you can shift at 8000 and the big four acts like a nuclear-powered twin. Either way, it's your call.
Impressive as it was at first, the suspension on Burke's GSX-R wilted dramatically after a few track days. "I wanted to maximize stability and chassis feedback," he says. So BB rang up Mike Watt at hlins (www.ohlins.com) and started spending some real money. The big-ticket item here is a real-deal 43mm hlins FG 270 Superbike fork ($9606), carried in an Attack Performance (www.attackperformance.com) adjustable triple-clamp ($1300).
As delivered, the GSX-R's tail sat a little low. That means relatively sluggish response and a tendency to push the front end carrying big cornering speed. An hlins SU302 shock ($1212 complete with remote spring preload adjuster) takes care of that, working through a more linear race-kit linkage from Yoshimura Japan (www.yoshimura-jp.com). The longer hlins shock adds much-needed ride height--it's adjustable so you can add more--and more precise wheel control. The bike is much happier this way, especially at the track. Dunlop Sportmax GP rubber helps there as well.
The GSX-R likes the combination of extra ride height and grip from Dunlop's 190/60 rear. Finishing off the Superbike-spec front end is a pair of Brembo two-pad monobloc GP calipers, grabbing oversize 320mm cast-iron Brake Tech AXIS floating rotors (www.ferodobraketech.com) and a forged Brembo master cylinder ($265).
The brakes are stout. "At the end of the back straight at California Speedway in Fontana you're carrying big speed on this thing. I can brake hard enough to lift the rear wheel off the ground with one finger," Barry says, "then flick it into that right-hander at the end of it with zero drama."
That, sports fans, is confidence--the linchpin to brandishing 150-something horsepower with a smile on your face and no titanium additions to your skeletal system. Expert-level track manners can get rude on the street, but not here. Burke's GSX-R is as cooperative as the stocker and just as reliable. Although noticeably bigger than an '05, BB's bike is 8 pounds lighter at 435 pounds (wet).
There's more room between the seat and bars, making it easier to tuck in behind the bigger windscreen. And more comfortable accommodations make using all that power that much easier. The Dunlops take a little extra time to heat up, but after that, grip is amazing. Use all that midrange to squirt out of one corner, put a quick one-finger squeeze on the brakes and arc neatly into the next one. Bumpy? Smooth? The GSX-R really doesn't care. Those hlins suspenders digest most any surface without disturbing the chassis.
Why would anyone spend the price of a brand-new GSX-R1000 on a fork and triple-clamp? This front end is staggeringly rigid. Steering is quick but calm, and you know just how the front tire and the track are getting along. Feedback, compliance and stability are exemplary; no giving up one to get the other. By and large, it's a much more connected, confidence-inspiring ride than the stock bike. After a little setup, suspension is preemptive: bumps disappear before upsetting the chassis, and you know exactly what both tires are doing whether braking hard into a corner, accelerating out or somewhere in between. Don't ask us to put a price on that.
Despite all its impressive kit, Burke's '03 GSX-R can't flick through a tight chicane as readily as an '05, and the engine doesn't generate as much top-end thrust. You didn't expect the guy to trump Suzuki's R&D department with an American Express card and some catalogs now, did you? But his bike is more comfortable, just as easy to ride and stinky fast. The moral of the story? A few strategic bits--even if they're not refugees from the Superbike paddock--can keep a familiar friend right in the hunt and out of the want ads. MC