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.)

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.

So maybe we magazine people are responsible for the race-replica explosion that began with the original GSX-R750, but I don't think so. All we are, really, are a bunch of motorcycle nuts, and those bikes were the ones that got us-along with everybody else with a pulse-really enthused lo those many years ago. They still do. (And if we wield that much influence, how do you explain Harley-Davidson's market share?)

Nope, R1s and GSX-Rs and 996 Ducatis continue to sell because, apart from their performance, they gain their buyers entry into that colorful fantasy world populated by daring young men with interesting facial hair and sweet umbrella girls-the international moto jet-set. Hey, if I'm riding this thing, I must be daring and ruggedly good-looking too, right? A nonconformist, laughing at danger and convention. Hah!

Right, Marvin. And after, say, oh, 16 years of that, you'll be ready to appreciate this new Bandit 1200S. If motorcycles can be wise, this one is. It should cost more than $7399.

Suzuki Bandit 1200S

MSRP $7399
Warranty 12 months,unlimited miles
Colors silver, maroon

Engine
Type air/oil-cooled inline four
Valve arrangement dohc, 16v
Bore x stroke 79.0 x 59.0mm
Displacement 1157cc
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Carburetion four 36mm Mikuni constant-velocity
Transmission 5-speed
Final drive #530 chain
Chassis
Frame double-cradle steel tube
Weight 543 lb. (wet) 511 lb. (fuel tank empty)
Fuel capacity 5.3 gal. (20L)
Suspension, front 43mm forkadjustable forspring preload
Suspension, rear single shock adjustablefor spring preload andrebound damping
Brake, front dual six-piston calipers,310mm discs
Brake, rear two-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Tire, front 120/70ZR17Michelin Macadam 90X
Tire, rear 180/55ZR17 Michelin Macadam 90X

Details, Details
Thumbing one's petcock is a reassuring thing
Having a centerstand is sweet
Passengers welcome (hold on tight)
Nice, light clutch pull
Stepped preload adjuster out back

Performance
Corrected 1/4-mile* 11.15 sec. @ 121.79 mph
0-60 mph 2.97 sec.
0-100 mph 7.46 sec.
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph 4.02 sec.
Power to weight ratio** 7.0 lb/hp
Fuel mileage (low/high/average) 34/44/40
Cruising range (exc. reserve) 172 miles

Test Notes
Speedo error:
60 mph, actual 56

El Bandito Grande has near-perfect power delivery, serving up 70-ish foot-pounds of highly usable torque over a 4000-rpm band smack in the middle of the rev range. Very nice.

Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)

Wet weight plus 170 lb. rider divided by measured horsepower

Cheers & Jeers
Suzuki Bandit 1200S
Engine 9 Charismatic whistly four with major grunt
Drivetrain 8 Gearbox is just the slightest bit reluctant
Handling 7 Better than the kids suspect
Braking 7 New and improved
Ride 9 All day and then some
Ergonomics 10 A page from the old GS playbook
Features 8 Clock, centerstand, no cup holders
Refinement 8 Highly refined unrefined thing
Value 10 Can't think of anything better for the price
Fun Factor 8 Highly stimulating to do more with less

Verdict: This one reminds us why the Universal Japanese Motorcycle became so popular in the first place. It does nothing exceptionally well, except do everything well.

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