1997-2005 Suzuki 1200 Bandit | Smart Money

By Jerry Smith, Photography by Motorcyclist Archive

Despite its Japanese roots, the 1200 Bandit tackled the job of producing power in a very American way, by shoe-horning a huge engine into a middleweight-sized chassis. When it was introduced in 1997 the B12 hovered uncertainly over the line of demarcation between sportbikes and standards, but eventually came almost singlehandedly to create the upstart "hooligan" class-soon joined by Kawasaki's Lawson-esque ZRX1200R and Yamaha's R1-based FZ1. The Bandit's detuned and bored-out GSX-R1100-derived engine was cooled by both air and a large oil cooler, and had screw-and-locknut valve adjusters that even 10-thumbed owners could service. But best of all was the astonishing reserve of power that lurked within, needing only a few simple performance mods to unleash it. Even if the Bandit struggled to get far beyond 100 horsepower at the rear wheel, its torque curve was commendably tall and broad.

The big Bandit's chassis was stone simple, with a basic cartridge-type fork up front and an unremarkable single shock in the rear. The 2001 refresh gave the Bandit six-pot brakes, and they were good if not great. Handling was adequate to get you quickly through those pesky corners to where you could twist the throttle to the stop.

For most of its run, the 1200 Bandit was largely unchanged except for the bodywork and the number of headlights. Other than your preference for a given color and style of fairing, there isn't much of a reason to choose one year over another--with one exception, according to Bandit guru Dale Walker of Holeshot Engineering. He advises giving 2001 and 2002 models a pass because of a run of pistons with improper machining in the holes behind the oil-control rings that turned those models into smokers that burned oil quickly. The problem was supposedly fixed by 2002, but, he adds, some bikes sold as '02s were in fact '01s.

Walker says there are a few other red flags to watch for on used Bandits. Faulty fuel valves sometimes let gas leak into the cylinders, past the rings, and into the crankcase. If the engine oil smells like gas, this is likely the cause. Infrequent oil changes, or using cheap oil, gums up the cam-chain tensioner on some bikes, resulting in a noisy idle. During the test ride, check for hard shifting or popping out of gear, maladies usually indicative of abuse by the seller.

Walker says the B12 is a lot of bike for the money, and for just a little more money it can put out a surprising amount of stomp. His top three mods for a used one would be a slip-on, a timing-advance kit, and a jet kit. The chassis responds very well to revalving the fork and adding a fork brace, replacing the stock rear shock, and upgrading the brake pads and lines. He also suggests setting the valves at .006-inches intake and .008-in. exhaust for longer valvetrain life, and using the best oil you can afford.

Because so many Bandits were hot-rodded by their original owners, it's hard to find a good stock one with low miles, but it's worth a little extra if you do. If you find one with desirable modifications already on it, make sure they were done right by a competent mechanic.

Cheers
Low buy-in, easy to work on, very responsive to simple performance mods.

Jeers
Vibey engine, budget suspension. Can be upgraded only so far before hitting the wall.

Watch For
Engine rattle at idle, smoking and excess oil consumption (2001-02 models), signs of abuse.

Verdict
Old-school hot rod with big speed potential. Cheap thrills.

Value
1997 - $1755
1999 - $2050
2001 - $2320
2003 - $2885
2005 - $3350


Buying Smart
Performance modifications aren't always a plus on a used bike. Almost anyone can install a jet kit, but not everyone can fine-tune one, and often that's where the improvement comes from. Also, some go-fast parts make things worse instead of better-a cheaply manufactured or poorly installed part can reduce power instead of increasing it. Ask who did the work, and if possible contact the mechanic or shop about the bike's history. Better yet, keep looking for a stock bike you can modify yourself, the right way.

By Jerry Smith
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