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

All those numbers add up to a sharper-edged Bandit, though as far as we can tell, a no less comfortable one. Keeping the price low means you're not getting quite the bump-smotheringly sophisticated suspension of Honda's XX, for example, but for the money it's close enough. You feel sharper bumps more on the Bandit, but the seat's so nice they don't bother rider or bike enough to complain. The handlebar rides a bit lower than before while offering the same sit-up leverage, and the new no-bluster fairing directs air cleanly around most of your torso. Bugs on my face shield, none on my shoulders, see?

What you get instead of an XX's high-tech ride is the vaguely nostalgic feeling of riding a perfectly restored retro-bike-though no old GS ever worked as well as the Bandit. It's like the difference between a new Lexus and the older car of your dreams: The Lexus will get you there quicker, but maybe you enjoy spending more time in the old car. At least there's more to look at on the Bandit when you stop for a root beer, and for the money it's hard to see how Suzuki can give it such nice paint and fittings and make any money. (What do you mean their profit margins are huge?)

On fast, smooth pavement, watch out. The motor's happy to sit at 6000 rpm and 100 mph as long as the lay of the land allows, and those stiffer legs keep the bike on an even keel as you roll in and out of the power.

Firmer springs, 'natch, give back better road feel, and if the old Bandit felt a tad vague and wallowy at flanking speed, the new one feels much less so. Herding it along between the lines is now a far more precise exercise. In those rare occasions where you need the brakes on California 58, the Tokico six-piston jobbies are plenty strong, but it's the firmer suspension that really helps, as the bike shifts its weight forward much less unceremoniously when you chop the throttle.

Carving corners is therefore easier as well, with, again, the upright ergos and wide bar giving the distinct impression you could work your way out of whatever unexpected jam might pop up round the next blind bend. Steering is light and quick enough, and the bike feels perfectly solid heeled way over in 100-mph bends. Forgive us for being so juvenile, but it's fun to drag the occasional footpeg on the street. Reminds us of our youth, before everything had footpegs at armpit height. Gives you the impression you're working it. We didn't deck any hard parts.

You could downshift if you felt like it, but after the first hundred miles of curves it feels like a waste of energy, given that the bike seems to pull just about as hard at 5000 rpm in fifth gear as it does at 6000 in fourth. That sort of power encourages you to concentrate on the road and keep up cornering speed, and at that the Bandit is surprisingly adept. (So was the old one.)

When the road tightens, well, we're forever spoiled by bikes like the Honda CBR929 that weigh 100 pounds less than the Bandit and make a bunch more peak power, but the Suzuki will not be far behind. If you can only get the Bandit pointed in the right direction out of a tight corner, its off-the-bottom grunt will give anything on the street a run for its money.

Oh well, if you're old, er, experienced enough to be looking at a Bandit then you already know. It's not the meat but the motion that unwinds tangled back roads, and in general a good rider on a Bandit has even less holding him back than before when it comes to giving the crotch-rocket crowd its comeuppance.

But it's really a sport-tourer, isn't it, and in that role no R1 or GSX-R can hold even a cheap little birthday-cake candle to Bandito Grande. It truly is a flying couch, just less overstuffed than before. Some complained of excessive vibration in the previous model, and while you still feel a little buzz through the bars, you'd have to be truly thin-skinned to be annoyed at the new bike's vibes (all the new lightweight liter-bikes buzz worse). At a nice sedate 80 mph and 4800 rpm, our test unit is smooth as rayon, though its wide-set mirrors are slightly blurry. (Or maybe it's our vision?)

Now and then when cruising the superslab a sixth cog would be nice, but should one so desire, the solution to that's a simple sprocket swap away. The gas tank holds about a third of a gallon more than before, which gives right around 200 miles of range, and the seat and the rest of the bike are up for that if you are. In fact, on the Bandit that's nothing. Time to give the kids a lesson in longevity...

Speaking of gas, we've never truly trusted low-fuel lights. (How do you know the bulb isn't burned out?) The Bandit gives you a nice LCD gauge and a petcock. Also a clock. You'll need to carry some stuff on those overnight trips, and there are plenty of places to bungee it aboard. Mildred (OK, maybe Manfred) may want to come along. No problem, the seat's covered in some sort of new no-skid fabric (not so good for sliding around when riding solo), and there's a solid passenger grabrail as well.

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