2003 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Motorcycle Road Test

With this new-generation GSX-R1000, Suzuki has totally rewritten the rules in the open-class sportbike motorcycle category. Cliche? Maybe. But all it takes is one ride to know that the latest Big GSX-R represents a Brave New World.

The scenario is intimidating, yet inescapable. Totally exhausted after a perfect day at Willow Springs International Raceway, imagine you've been drafted to model for these photographs. Resplendent in Illustrious Motorcyclist Livery, you finger the GSX-R1000's key. Is it really the most intoxicatingly quick over-the-counter sportbike yet? Don't be afraid, Billy. Light it up. Blip the throttle--and the quickest, nastiest bursts of revvage this side of a Formula 1 car say third-gear-highside in 16 different languages.

Then, possessed by whatever possesses him when the light gets good, lensman Kevin "Just One More Pass" Wing directs you to the top of Turn Four. All you have to do--after a day of laps in the more rational, clockwise direction--is hammer the big GSX-R backward through Turn Three. Put Mr. Knee Puck right there 89 or 90 times for the Canon EOS-1DS and nobody gets hurt. Never mind that Wing's improbable trajectory defies physical laws, and the fact that the rear tire, which has been dealing with 152 real-deal horses all day long, is as knackered as you are. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, nothing.

Suzuki's latest 988cc monster is the perfect fusion of Godzilla and Lassie: apocalyptic muscle that retrieves the morning paper without teeth marks. Rider accommodations are remarkably humane, even for riders on the long side of six feet tall. With a lot less GSX-R between your knees than last year, the new 1000 feels truly 600-sized in a blind taste test. Suzuki says the bike lost 4.4 pounds in the off-season, but the Motorcyclist scales say our test bike weighs seven pounds more: 444 pounds, soaking wet. For the record, that's three pounds heavier than a Yamaha YZF-R1, five pounds more than a Honda CBR954RR and a minor miracle to those of us still trying to forget the 571-pound GSX-R1100 of 1993. Such numbers are the only solace for other literbikes this year, all of which are standing pat, mechanically, for '03. The old GSX-R1000 walloped everything in its path in '01 and '02, and because the '03 bike beats the '02 bike nearly everywhere, the rest is simple deductive logic. Suzuki ended this year's literbike shootout before it ever began.

Beneath the thinner plastic bodywork and obligatory blue-and-white graphics (it's also available in silver), most everything between the Hayabusa-esque snout and LED taillight was systematically enhanced to accomplish exactly that. Once swallowed by inlets situated to exploit high pressure near the fairing centerline, defenseless air molecules enter slotted velocity stacks in the 10.2-liter airbox, shaped to squelch irregular intake pulses. Why? More complete co-mingling of fuel and air in the new double-barreled dual-stage throttle bodies, which means fewer peaks and valleys in the dyno curve. Aside from being simpler than last year's quartet, four holes in the business end of each injector produce more readily combustible shots of unleaded. Toward that same end, injectors angled at 60 degrees relative to their respective throttle bodies further improve full-throttle fuel mixing by bouncing those shots off the primary throttle butterfly.

Suzuki's SDTV (Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve) injection system is employed again here. While your right wrist controls each primary throttle butterfly, a servo-controlled secondary butterfly manages the speed of incoming air via instructions from the engine-control module. Mr. Module gets a new 32-bit processor, bumping Read Only Memory (ROM) from 96 to 256 Kb. It takes major computing power to crunch the numbers from the GSX-R's eight EFI maps; the '01 model made due with four. Because it's garbage-in/garbage-out in the digital data game, a more precise 22-pole signal generator--up from the old eight-pole unit--reads rpm data to the smarter computer. Meanwhile, downstream in the titanium exhaust system, the CPU cues a servo-controlled SET valve (that's Suzuki Exhaust Tuning, as introduced on the '01-spec bike) between the collector and a new larger exhaust can, matching back pressure to rpm, where the throttle is and what gear you're in. European models come with exhaust catalyzers up their bums.

The new software and hard parts are responsible for faster, more efficient entrance and exit of combustibles. They also account for most of the '03's extra muscle. Inside the 988cc four, existing GSX-R750-style architecture is status quo. A downdraft cylinder head angles intake ports at 46 degrees. Valve sizes are '01/'02-spec and arrayed at the same 25-degree included angle. An 80mm cylinder pitch--measured center to center between the 73mm x 59mm cylinders and their throttle bodies--keeps the cast-aluminum cylinder block narrow. Forged-aluminum pistons wearing miniskirts set compression at 12.0:1. The six-speed, semicassette gearbox still lives in the bottom crankcase with the same ratios as last year. OK, so where did the quicker-revving '03 engine's eight extra ponies come from? The aforementioned engine-control electronics, plus extensive intake and exhaust improvements, get most of the credit.

But there's more. Look beneath those pistons and you'll find four 35mm holes: one between each adjacent cylinder. Crankcase pressure from descending pistons moves next door under a rising slug more quickly now, thereby cutting evil pumping losses and letting the engine spin easier. Cam timing is '01/'02-spec, but lighter, thin-wall camshafts spin up more easily. Anything that lets the engine spin easier is free horsepower. That's why, for instance, the secondary balance shaft lives upstairs, close to the crankshaft, avoiding the ensuing drag--say "windage" to impress your friends--otherwise caused by stirring up 3.8 quarts of oil.

Chassis enhancements are equally subtle. Extruded main spars in the new aluminum skeleton let the chassis boys manipulate wall thickness and rigidity much more easily than with the previous stamped-aluminum spars. Wheelbase stands at 55.5 inches, but steering geometry gets a taste steeper; 23.5 degrees of rake and 91mm of trail vs. 24.0 degrees and 96mm in '02. Slinky new bodywork makes the '03 bike an inch longer and nearly a half-inch taller. More aggressive spring and damping rates as well as friction-reducing tricks in new 43mm Kayaba fork and matching rear shock tame the old GSX-R's skittish rough-road behavior. More on that later. Take another look. Lose that "1000" tag on the tailsection and it could pass for a GSX-R600 from 30 feet away...at least until the engine fires.

Even from dead cold--maybe 40 degrees on a truly sub-Arctic southern California morning--the compact new starter takes only a second or two to light this 152-horsepower fire. The deliciously lumpy, raspy idle--imagine 15,000 fuming hornets in a titanium oil drum--settles down as soon as a coolant-temp sensor tells a stepper-motor on the throttle body to inform the secondary throttle valve it's OK. The cockpit is much tidier and more modern than last year. A big, white-faced tach flanks a small LCD speedo. Immediately underneath, the new shift light--adjustable in 500-rpm increments from 5000 to 12,000 rpm--is a nice touch. It's just too low to see easily and largely unnecessary anyway. Trust us. You'll know when it's time for another gear--or clean underwear.

After getting acquainted for a few blocks, you'll find the maximum GSX-R to be the most comfortable of the current liter-class super-sports. Pegs are predictably high, but tolerably so even for our resident 35-inch inseam. Wide, humanely placed bars throw much less weight onto arms and wrists than a Honda CBR954RR or Yamaha YZF-R1. Less forward slope in the wide, well-shaped seat helps on that count. Although it still manages to swallow 4.8 gallons of unleaded, the resculpted fuel tank makes a narrower, smoother segue to the seat than before. Comfortably compact rider accommodations and light, accurate low-speed steering intensify the illusion: This thing can't be a literbike. Then you cop a handful of throttle.

It doesn't matter if you traded in your Kawasaki ZX-12R for that first-generation GSX-R1000. Unless you're Aaron Yates, pay attention. What happens next can make you swallow your tongue and/or discharge a discharge a variety of precious bodily fluids. Moving too quickly to be monitoring anything mechanical, the tach needle swings stage right like something from a video game. Current "quick-revving" cliches can't keep up. By 7000 rpm, please be pointed in the desired direction, because by 7200 revs you're there. Heretofore, this sort of rip only came with an assortment of pathological character traits: maybe a nasty flat spot, or a highside-triggering hit buried somewhere in the rev range like an antipersonnel mine. Not here. Provided there's a working brain connected to your right wrist, command and control electronics release all that horsepower in a perfectly linear stream. This is as good as it gets, boys and girls. There's enough accessible midrange grunt to make us wonder what we liked about twins in the first place. Despite sounding like a slightly domesticated F-1 refugee, the GSX-R never feels like it's working hard. Things begin to get serious to the right of 5000 rpm, but the 1000 does its business so smoothly that most of those little two-second horror movies that are usually part of going fast just never happen.

Hoist your next chilled barley/malt beverage to Suzuki's chassis team for that. Racier steering geometry makes a rough, tricky downhill bend such as Willow's Turn Five mostly anxietyfree. The standard Bridgestone radials are fine on the street but sign off early at the track, making something stickier--such as the excellent Pirelli Diablo Corsas we mounted--a smart move. Beyond that, the big GSX-R is accurate, neutral and always seems a little better than whoever is on it. Push on the bar. Shift some extra weight to the outside peg. Your orders are faithfully executed. No more, no less. This one ignores the same 140-something-mph bumps in Turn Eight that made the old GSX-R1000 nervous. The highest praise for the transmission comes from the fact that it's not mentioned in anybody's notes. You never think about the six-speed. It just works.

Part of the calmer cornering demeanor comes from firmer suspension at both ends. Fork springs are 10 percent stiffer, but damping rates are up 20-70 percent, followed by a 15 percent stiffer shock spring and 30-60 percent more damping. Funny thing is, it's every bit as compliant as the old bike. The key to this contradiction is the slippery Diamond-Like Carbon coating on the fork tubes, plus new low-friction shock internals. The net result sticks to its assigned cornering trajectory like Disneyland's monorail--but way faster. Resident wrist Barry Burke's only complaint was a slightly vague feel while cornering above 120 mph (something true DOT race tires would likely cure). Beyond that, the GSX-R left him with precious little to complain about. Quad-pad Tokico radial calipers and 300mm rotors deliver more braking power and lever feedback than the old six-pot versions paired with 320mm rotors. Burke's only gripe there was a slightly mushier feel than he'd like. Cornering clearance isn't a problem: We scarcely nicked a footpeg, even at the track.

The GSX-R's manners are every bit as good on public roads. Aside from a small off-idle stumble, the engine is a perfect gentleman around town. Clutch pull is light, engagement is plenty smooth and there's no slack in the driveline. Freeway expansion joints are dealt with as readily as racetrack ripples. When you factor in decent wind protection and ergonomics benevolent enough to allow an hour or (maybe) two of uninterrupted saddle time, a nice set of soft saddlebags sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea. Control your unlawful urges and the GSX-R will put 160 miles between fuel stops. If you can sell the idea to your significant other, $10,499 is a spectacularly responsible way to cut personal transportation costs. Just make sure they never see this magazine because here's the bottom line: We've established the fact that this is far and away the best open-class super-sport of '03--or any other year for that matter. And it may be more than that. Extensive comparison testing in the Editorial Long-Term Memory during extended lunches has concluded the new GSX-R1000 may be the best production sportbike ever built--regardless of displacement, number of cylinders, sticker price or country of origin. Because there's too much fun to be had proving that point with real motorcycles on real roads and racetracks, empirically defined judgements will have to wait until a later issue. Call it job security.

Meanwhile? Mortgage the dog. Liquidate your Hot Wheels collection. Get a paper route. If this is the endgame, most means are officially justified. Do what you must.

Suzuki GSX-R1000
MSRP $10,499
Warranty 12 months, unlimited miles
Colors blue/white, silver
Type inline-four
Valve arrangement dohc, 16v
Bore x stroke 73.0mm x 59.0mm
Displacement 988cc
Compression ratio 12.0:1
Carburetion Keihn electronic fuel injection with 42mm throttle bodies
Transmission 6-speed
Final drive #525 chain
Frame aluminum-alloy twin spar
Weight 444 lb. (wet) 415 lb. (fuel tank empty)
Fuel capacity 4.8 gal.
Suspension, front 43mm inverted cartridge fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Suspension, rear single shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Brake, front dual four-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Brake, rear single dual-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Tire, front 120/70ZR17 Bridgestone BT011
Tire, rear 190/50ZR17 Bridgestone BT012
Corrected 1/4-mile* 10.08 sec. @ 142.11 mph
0-60 mph* 2.56 sec.
0-100 mph* 5.63 sec.
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph* 2.63 sec.
Correction factors (time/speed)* 0.946/1.027
Power to weight ratio** 4.04 lb/hp
Fuel mileage (low/high/average) 32/42/37
Cruising range (exc. reserve) 142 miles
details, details... •World's most agile literbike •Serviceable rear-view mirrors! •Ravenous appetite for rear tires and fuel •Great headlight for the ride home •Big riders may want stiffer springs •Looks even better in silver
Quick, what's missing in this picture? If you said "the 2002 GSX-R1000's rear-brake torque link," bask in the inherent satisfaction of your own brilliance.
2003: Under its ominous coat of black paint, the main frame spars on the 2003 bike are extruded from aluminum.
1986 GSX-R1100G
wet wieght: 497 lb.
1/4-mile: 10.65 sec. @ 130 mph
Top speed: 160 mph
we said: "The quickest, baddest production big-bore sportbike you can buy."
1989 GSX-R1100K
wet wieght: 535 lb.
1/4-mile: 10.76 sec. @ 129.2 mph
Top speed: 165 mph
we said: "Grind-it-yourself cornering clearance and a pogo stick where the shock should be...."
1993 GSX-R1100WP
wet weight: 571 lb.
1/4-mile: 10.61 sec. @ 128.9 mph
we said : "...any advances in the engine bay are all but eclipsed by a shocking 74-pound weight gain."
2001 GSX-R1000
wet wieght: 437 lb.
1/4-mile: 10.10 sec. @ 141.7 mph
top speed: 177 mph
we said: "...how can it be anything other than the new King of Open-Classers? Answer: It can't."
The engine spins up so quickly you never feel it, but torque production drops 8 ft.-lb. between 5000 and 5500 rpm. It's still cranking out 65-plus ft.-lb. and pulling hard, so no worries. It's most likely planned: give up a little power here and gain a lot everywhere else. Performance Corrected 1/4-mile* 10.08 sec. @ 142.11 mph 0-60 mph* 2.56 sec. 0-100 mph* 5.63 sec. Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph* 2.63 sec. Correction factors (time/speed)* 0.946/1.027 Power to weight ratio** 4.04 lb/hp Fuel mileage (low/high/average) 32/42/37 Cruising range (exc. reserve) 142 miles