2008-2009 Suzuki GSX-650F | Smart Money

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Suzuki

Though all resemblances to Suzuki’s infamous GSX-R lineup are purely intentional, other similarities between one of those and one of these are less than skin-deep. But for anyone in the market for an amiable, cost-conscious middleweight that does a little bit of everything, that’s a good thing. Beneath the GSX-650F’s racy façade beats a smooth, willing, 656cc fuel-injected four-cylinder heart that puts 75 horsepower and 43 lb.-ft. of torque to the pavement while covering 200 miles on one tank or a quarter-mile in just under 12 seconds.

Peeling back that plastic skin reveals a lot of working-class Bandit/Katana DNA and very little GSX-R anything. At 535 lbs. with its 5-gallon gas tank topped off, the GSX weighs 94 lbs. more than an ’08 GSX-R600. There’s more motorcycle here, which depending on your point of view, could be a good thing too. Though less technically impressive than their GSX-R counterparts, the GSX’s underpinnings are perfectly adequate for the kind of riding most people do every day.

The tachometer says you can spin the engine to 12,500 rpm, but when power and acceleration taper off above 9250, why bother? Tokico four-piston front brake calipers biting down on 310mm rotors generate ample stopping power. Steering is reassuringly linear for anyone intimidated by more responsive, less forgiving race-replicas. The even-tempered chassis and compliant suspension go easier on the psyche and spinal column, especially for running urban errands with all those lovely potholes, speed bumps, trucks and taxicabs to deal with. Power delivery is reassuringly linear, too. Acceleration is more than adequate. The gearbox is refreshingly cooperative. There’s a whole lot more room in the cockpit than on any GSX-R, the seat is far more comfortable solo or two-up, and there’s actual useable wind/weather protection without the discomfort and indignity of tucking in behind some Plexiglas potato chip. Best of all, it does all of this for two grand less than you’d pay for a GSX-R600.

Dropping that “R” suffix is mostly a matter of trading a racy reputation for practical, everyday performance that still looks pretty racy. Given the same basic maintenance as any other four-cylinder, 16-valve Japanese sportbike, the GSX is more trustworthy than most. The engine burns a bit of oil under an energetic right wrist. Excessive exhaust smoke is a red flag, as is any pronounced top-end clatter. Beyond that, Suzuki’s venerable middleweight four is a steadfast powerplant. So if you’re looking for a sporty silhouette without the pain and expense that can come with it, you’ve come to the right place.

Tractable power in a comfortable, forgiving chassis.
Chronic obesity, relatively humble power and performance.
Explicit evidence of abuse or neglect, oil or coolant leaks, smoky exhaust, rounded-off or missing fasteners.
Just enough GSX-R street cred without the bitter aftertaste.
2008 $4650
2009 $5250

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Honda CBR600RR
2008 | $6725
For those who’d rather bury GSX-R600s than impersonate one and don’t mind paying a few bucks more for the privilege, there’s Honda’s 107-bhp, 412-lb. light saber. Completely recast in ’07, the RR covers the quarter-mile in 10 seconds at 131 mph.

Kawasaki ZZR600
2008 | $4850
Keeping the bottom line real with a 92-horse dose of vintage ZX-6R technology and 36mm Mikuni carburetors where today’s kids expect the EFI throttle bodies to be. The ZZR is husky at 443 lbs., but it’s also quick, roomy, comfy—and cheap.

Yamaha YZF-R6S
2008 | $5750
Based on the shrieking ’03 YZF-R6 and aimed at frugal intermediates, the 104-bhp, 419-lb. S-model slips neatly between the CBR and ZZR. Sharp eyes will spot a 43mm conventional fork and axial-mounted front brake calipers grasping 298mm discs.

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