Suzuki GSX-R1000 | First Ride

One step forward, two steps back

Now in its 12th year of production, Suzuki's GSX-R1000 is still the benchmark racing superbike. The top-dog Gixxer has won 37 national roadracing titles in the past decade, including seven consecutive AMA Superbike crowns from 2003-'09. More than half the AMA grid rides GSX-Rs, proving the model's racing potential. In the streetbike hierarchy, however, Suzuki has seen its dominance slowly erode against increasingly sophisticated—and brutally fast—competition from BMW, Kawasaki, Yamaha and others. Is this year's subtle revision enough to restore the GSX-R to the top of the superbike heap?

The engine and chassis are almost unchanged and, beyond Suzuki’s three-level S-DMS drive-mode selector, there’s no high-tech gee-wizardry. There’s still no ABS option and, more significantly, no traction control. The vast majority of riders never use traction control, Suzuki claims, so instead of developing expensive technology to benefit a few, engineers instead focused on more accessible power and improved handling to benefit everyone. Those of us who have come to view traction control as a legitimate performance enhancement might beg to differ, but that’s Suzuki’s story and they’re sticking with it.

The engine was optimized to increase midrange power and improve throttle response. New pistons are 11 percent lighter, with reshaped crowns that bump compression from 12.8 to 12.9:1. Redesigned valve tappets are 2.5 grams lighter, new cam profiles shorten valve overlap duration to boost midrange torque and reshaped, pentagonal cylinder vents reduce crankcase pressure. Suzuki says peak output is unchanged—expect around 160 bhp at the rear wheel—but the midrange boost erases the old flat-spot surrounding 7000 rpm, while the other changes quicken throttle response.

The chassis is an encore presentation as well, except for a brake upgrade from Tokico to Brembo calipers and lighter, thinner Sunstar discs made from a heat-resistant stainless steel that prevents warping. Going from two mufflers to one saves more than 4 lbs. and improves mass centralization for faster side-to-side transitions, completing the changes to this “new” model. It’s not much on paper, but last year’s GSX-R600 update showed that sometimes little changes can add up to big differences.

Homestead-Miami Speedway, a NASCAR superspeedway with an infield road course located in the swamplands south of The Magic City, hosted this test. Intermittent showers and a constantly drying track presented a good opportunity to assess the improved power delivery. Feedback from the saddle confirms there is no longer any midrange slump, just smooth, slightly urgent torque building well into five-digit revs. Power falls off past the peak, however, and the rev-limiter is a bit abrupt. Better to sneak an upshift before the long Turn 7 to avoid any unpredictable upper-rev behavior at full-lean. A smooth-shifting transmission facilitates quick, clutchless upshifts, and the slipper clutch works as well on the way down.

Tall, 42/17 gearing softens acceleration somewhat, but it’s still easy—and entertaining—to spin the rear tire exiting Homestead’s many second-gear corners. Flawless throttle response from the proven Suzuki Dual-Throttle Valve (SDTV), with twin, ultra-fine, 12-hole injectors and computer-controlled secondaries, makes this a drama-free proposition, aided by the new and supremely predictable Bridgestone R10 DOT-race tires fitted just for this test. Bridgestone’s Hypersport S20, the new replacement for the old BT-016, is the standard fitment.

Ergonomics are unchanged, and in an age of ever-shrinking sportbikes, the GSX-R feels roomy. If you’re over 6-feet tall, this is your literbike. We remain impressed with the Showa Big Piston Fork, which works even better now that softer fork springs have been specified to increase small-bump compliance. But even with the fork shortened 7mm to increase forward weight bias, the big Gixxer still feels somewhat sluggish to turn. It could benefit from having the front dropped even further, or perhaps more rear ride height. This might also improve stability—there was some excess squatting and weaving during hard acceleration over bumpy corner exits, even after adding a few clicks of compression and rebound damping. The new Brembo brakes are noticeably stronger than the old Tokicos, with abundant stopping power, but the pad compound lacks a sharp initial bite and the soft feel sometimes had us braking harder than we intended.

Lighter, smoother and faster, this latest evolution is the best GSX-R1000 yet. But in a superbike category that has seen several revolutions recently, evolution may not be enough. Suzuki wants us to think of this as the last hairy-chested, non-electronic superbike, but by modern standards, the Gixxer doesn’t feel especially hairy. Compared to the nosebleed-fast BMW S1000RR or knifefighter-agile Aprilia RSV4 and Ducati 1199 Panigale, the once-mighty GSX-R1000 feels almost tame. At $13,799, it does tie Honda’s (non-ABS) CBR1000RR as the least expensive literbike on the market. You could argue that leaves money for shorter gearing, toothier brake pads, suspension adjustments and maybe even aftermarket traction control to put it on par with the class leaders. The potential is certainly there—the GSX-R1000’s racing success shows that—but off the showroom floor, that potential isn’t quite realized.

tech SPEC

The fifth-generation GSX-R1000 gets Brembo brakes and minor engine and suspension updates.
Aprilia RSV4R, Ducati 1199 Panigale, Honda CBR1000RR, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, Yamaha YZF-R1.

Price $13,799
Engine type l-c inline-four
Valve train DOHC, 16v
Displacement 999cc
Bore x stroke 74.5 x 57.3mm
Compression 12.9:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 182 bhp @ 11,500 rpm
Claimed torque 86 lb.-ft. @ 10,000 rpm
Frame Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension 41mm Showa Big Piston inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Showa shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake Nissin one-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20F
Rear tire 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20R
Rake/trail 23.5º/3.9 in.
Seat height 31.9 in.
Wheelbase 55.3 in.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal.
Claimed curb weight 448 lbs.
Color White/Blue, Black/Silver
Available Now
Warranty 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact American Suzuki Motor Co. P.O. Box 1100 Brea, CA 92822 714.996.7040

VERDICT 4 out of 5 stars.

Still the best platform for racing, but it lags behind other superbikes in technology.

They say: "Faster evolution brings another quick step ahead."
We say: "Enough evolution—it's time for a revolution!"
Styling is the same except for new graphics, a change from gold to black fork legs and red wheel stripes. Ram-air tubes frame the vertical headlight.
An added S-DMS drive-mode selector switch is the only cockpit change. Now you can toggle between power modes with your index finger as well as your thumb.
The most visible alteration is the 4-into-1 exhaust with a titanium muffler that replaces the old dual-outlet system. Deleting the under-engine chamber cut 4.4 lbs.