Suzuki Bandit 1200S - Road Test

Suzuki Reupholsters The World's Fastest, Best-Handling Sofa And Keeps It Cheap. Hey, Where's The Remote?

Photography by Kevin Wing

Narcissus T. Boomer writes in from his early retirement community just outside Sun City to: a) excoriate us media types for encouraging the development of lightweight rocketships like the CBR929RR and YZF-R1, and b) bemoan the demise of rolling couches like the old Suzuki GS1000S. In customary, have-it-all style, Boomer wants 130 or so horses in a 440-pound package with cutting-edge suspension and handling-and he wants it to be comfortable too, for him and the (second) wife. Naturally it's entirely our fault..."the media," that such a bike doesn't already exist.

There's no reasoning with Boomer, really, no matter how often we point out that bikes like what he wants have always been around in the slightly heavier form of the Honda CBR1100XX, et al. (An R1, you see, sort of needs more rider weight over its front wheel to keep it from flipping over backward every few miles; physics dictate its ergonomics.)

And though he says he's willing to pay a premium for his dream bike, what Boomer really means is he's willing to haggle until his dealer's ears bleed: $11K for Honda's XX puts too big a ding in the portfolio and might require that the gardener take a cut in pay.

Well, Boomer's real dream bike has been around in the form of the Bandit 1200 since 1997, and with this 2001 remake it's even closer. Let us just say this about the old Bandit: Three former motojournalists and one current automotive journalist we personally know own one, and owing to the rigors of the "profession" none of them own much else.

Ah yes, I thought as the Bandit's speedo slid past 140 on a long, desolate stretch of California 58 while I assumed the classic slipped-disc slouch behind the new half-fairing with my flaccid 40-year-old butt smooshed deep into its comfy seat, this is the one Mr. Boomer needs. Just like Suzuki's market research says, the typical Bandit 1200 buyer is between 35 and 44 years old, and 63 percent have 16 or more years riding experience. Lies, damn lies and statistics-what it all means is that when you grow up and get over it and realize you're not likely to be the next Nick Hayden or Ben Bostrom and that you are, in fact, older than their combined ages (and your life savings will never equal their year-end bonuses), well...you've got Bandit 1200 stamped across your wrinkly forehead.

On the other hand, old age and treachery will eclipse youth and talent (or however that saying goes) at least several times out of 10. And as our Bandit test bike carved through bands of colorful leathery youths on R1s and like implements on swervy Highway 58 on the way back from the U.S. round of the World Superbike Championship, that old saying made perfect sense. Does the new, better-suspended Bandit possess 80 percent of a 929RR Honda's handling? Seventy percent? I'd say 77.3 percent, but on the road-with its blind corners and hills and random cowchips-it barely matters a whit, since you can only use 72.47 percent of the CBR's performance anyway.

Sixty-four-point-five percent of riders with more than 16 years of experience (again according to my 40.5-year-old butt) should be able to access about 89.62 percent of the Bandit's goodies-its chassis, anyway, and 99.9 percent of riders will love its retuned motor, not that there was anything wrong with the last one.

It verges on racism, really. Jap bike, rice rocket, no character, no soul. People who spout that stuff, as they load their bevel-drive Ducatis on the trailer for the tow home, haven't ridden a 1200 Suzuki lately, if ever. Because if they had they'd know that Suzuki's old oil-cooled beast has more soul in one cooling fin than Ray Charles' upper denture-a distinct clicky, raspy-smooth whir no other four makes. And when it comes time to compare the big Suzuki's performance with your more "soulful" European brands, well, wait a minute, there are none to compare. In short, the thing makes hogsheads of power, it feels good doing it, it doesn't break and maintenance is really optional.

In fact the only thing we could find to complain about with the previous Bandit engine was that it was a bit stumbly down low and in the midrange, with a small dip in its torque curve following the 4000 rpm torque peak. The new bike does away with that. Suzuki stuck on a throttle-position sensor, gave the bike new ignition maps (different ones for cylinders one and four, two and three), outfitted it with new 36mm Mikuni BSR carbs with bat-wing-shaped slides, and slightly reduced exhaust valve duration and lift for less overlap.

The old four's still rasty, but those updates go a long way toward civilizing it: think Ray Charles with the Orange County Symphony. If it revs a bit less eagerly approaching redline, on this bike the fattened midrange more than makes up for it. This one whistles along just fine without the tach needle ever needing to extend itself past 6000 rpm. The torque peak is more a plateau-extending all the way from 4000 to 8000-with a nice, 100-horse hump at the top.

Not that you needed to go to the gearbox much on the old bike, but now you can throw it in fifth and leave it there most of the day if you so choose, using the throttle to smoothly modulate speed between 20- and 150-some mph as you overtake the occasional hunchbacked form of some frantically shifting youth on a GSX-R750. When you do need the clutch, it's even easier to operate, thanks to the miracle of the greater hydraulic leverage provided by a larger-diameter slave cylinder-in spite of new and considerably stiffer clutch springs.

That trusty old motor sits in the same type double-cradle round-tube steel frame as before. Although the tank rails have a different bend than before, Suzuki doesn't make any sort of "increased stiffness" claims. What is stiffer, though, is the bike's suspension. In fact, there are two new Bandits: the Bandit 1200S tested here gets the half-fairing and slightly softer springs than the naked Bandit 1200, which will be imported to the United States later in the year (Suzuki's rationale being that the $400-cheaper nonfaired bike is the one Gary Rothwell wannabes will buy, and the faired "S" is for us more mature, full-figured types).

Both new bikes, though, are stiffer than the old one. Both use progressive fork springs. The soft portion of the S's springs are 7 percent stiffer than before, with the sterner part of the spring 16 percent stiffer. Out back, the S's shock uses a spring that's a whopping 68 percent stiffer, working through a revised linkage. (The naked 1200 will use similar fork springs, but its rear spring will be 76 percent stiffer than the old Bandit's.)

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