The GSX-R1000, the Ferrari… and the jet fighter

Published: 18 March 2001

BIKES, jet fighters and Ferraris. They’re all pretty fast, they’re all very expensive and they all require some kind of financial backing and a passion for sniffing fuel fumes to get involved with in the first place, whether that’s a hire purchase contract, the RAF or a Lottery win.

For more than a decade, Suzuki has given us the maddest bikes we can handle, going back to the RG500 and, of course, the GSX-R1100. Now it has gone one up and given us the GSX-R1000 – a bike so fast you should visit a psychiatrist before you get near it. A bike which, like never before, lets you begin to experience what a real World Superbike racer is like to sling around.

We know how it compares to the R1 and the rest of the superbike litre bunch. Yeah, it’s fast, OK. But what else does it compare to? If that blood-red Ferrari is on the same back road as you, could you give the driver a good run for his much more expensive ego?

And what about those jets you see taking off or pushed out for a display at Brands World Superbikes. They’re brash, loud and annoy the neighbours just like a bike. But how fast are they really? Could a GSX-R1000 possibly match up?

If that little poser isn’t enough to get you thinking, we gave the GSX-R1000, all 153bhp at the rear wheel and 183mph of it, to a GSX-R600-owning road rider, as well as an MCN man, a bike cop, a bloke who’s won British Superbike races and a man more suited to delivering packages in the smoke, just to get more of an insight into Suzuki’s 1000cc monster. But we’ll come to that later.

In the cold, hard light of day, what’s the Suzuki good for, mister? OK, it’s not often you’ll get the chance to sit on a runway and race a Harrier GR-7, but if you could you’d be surprised how well the bike matches up against it.

The Harrier was first built in the 1960s and is, of course, famous for its ability to take off vertically. But as bikes can’t do that, we’ll have to look at its 0-60 time instead. The Harrier can hit 60mph in 2.5 seconds. If the health and safety people would allow them to go head to head on a runway, the bike would be just a fraction ahead of the plane, getting to 60mph in 2.4 seconds, with the 375bhp Ferrari F355 GTS lagging behind in 4.5 seconds. Hardly shoddy, but just not up there, I’m afraid.

Park all three alongside each other and the jet will smoke and burn its way over a quarter-mile from a standing start in eight seconds. The GSX-R1000 isn’t so far behind – if you can stop it wheelieing – and will come in through the end of the quarter just a whisker later, with a 10.1 second time at 147mph. But by then the jet’s on its way to 180mph and it has the advantage of being able to take off at the end of the runway. The Ferrari?

Well, for all its massive 265-section rear tyres and 375bhp of pure Italian high-revving power, it won’t wheelspin thanks to a sophisticated differential, but it can only clock the quarter in 14 seconds, some 20mph down on the bike.

On land the Harrier can hit 183mph, just 1mph faster than the bike, but it rarely goes that fast on the ground as its tiny tyres risk exploding if it does.

With a long enough runway the F355 will also hit 183mph, just beating the bike. But it will take at least two miles to get there whereas the bike will be there after about a

mile-and-a-half.

So now you’ve got their mettle when it comes to balls-out performance. But the reality of owning one is another matter. To have a fairly classy Ferrari like the F355 GTS sitting in your garage, even one a few years old, you’ll need the best part of £50,000 and have to budget £320 for each pair of rear tyres and a small fortune to feed the

hard-drinking V8’s 14mpg fuel habit.

With the Suzuki, however, you’re on to much more of a winner financially. You can get one for around £10,000, a rear tyre will set you back around £150, and even if you ride such a crazy bike fairly hard you can get a reasonable 36mpg out of it.

Now for the jump jet.

Whoo-hoo-hoo! Unless you’re Bill Gates or a small Middle Eastern country, forget it. It costs a cool £25 million to buy in the first place and you need the facilities of the RAF and a team of technicians every time it flies just if you fancy taking it out for a spin.

That’s apart from its horrendous fuel consumption – it swallows 30 gallons of pricey aviation fuel for every 10 miles travelled.

And if that’s not scary enough, don’t forget that you can’t just hop in it. To ride the bike or drive the car, you need to pass your bike test or driving test, a feat which many of us have forgotten about and which anyone can do in a few weeks on an intensive course. But to fly the jet, apart from joining the RAF you’ll need to work for four-and-a-half years to be a combat-ready fighter pilot. And if you think it’s bad enough telling your wife you’re going on a track day, imagine telling her you’re flying to the Gulf with a couple of mates.

We’d all love to fly our own fighter plane and the prancing horse on the front of the Ferrari has even more pose than the bike, with the added benefit that you don’t get wet. But, all in all, the bike wins. Write to the usual address if you don’t agree.

So now you’ve heard how the GSX-R1000 can despatch a state-of-the-art fighter and a supercar costing 10 times as much, what do five different riders make of it?

Picture this familiar scenario. You’re riding your favourite road at well over the speed limit when a bike appears in your mirror. The unmistakable black and white chequered band on the rider’s helmet gives you the same old sinking feeling, as do the giveaway fluorescent yellow jacket embossed with " Police " and the trademark black leather trousers and boots. It’s a traffic cop and he’s right on your tail.

But if that’s scary enough, how about this? He’s not on a Honda Pan European or a low-tech BMW – he’s riding a GSX-R1000.

It’s not a nightmare (though yours may well be like this). This copper is real, but thankfully he’s not out on the roads terrorising unsuspecting riders. Instead, he’s doing a circuit of Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire, because he’s one of the five people we’ve invited to test-ride the GSX-R1000 and tell everyone what it’s really like.

Of course, the new Suzuki is the one bike everyone wants to ride and the one bike this year that everyone has an opinion about: " It can’t be better than my R1… It’s far too fast for the road… It looks exactly like the GSX-R600. "

Whether you love or hate the concept of creating ever more powerful bikes for public roads, you can’t help but admire the engineering brilliance of the Suzuki. The figures could be straight from a race bike. It weighs in at just 170kg (374lb) – a full 24kg (53lb) less than a Ducati 996 – and produces 160bhp – 10bhp more than Yamaha’s R1 – with 81ftlb of torque.

And many would argue that’s where this bike belongs – on a race track. But rather than listen to some stuffy old sage down the Hare & Hounds prattling on about dangerous motorbikes scaring his foot-and-mouth-infested livestock, we asked different people from all walks of biking to give us their more informed opinions on the machine that features in every pub conversation.

You’ve already heard about the traffic policeman in our group, 43-year-old Chris Pulfrey. The rest of the merry band comprises London despatch rider

Ian Miller, 29, GSX-R600 owner and general Suzuki nut Neil " Tomo " Tomlinson, 27, all-round racer and current V&M team rider in the British Supersport 600 series

Matt Llewellyn, 32, and MCN’s features editor Marc Potter, 25.

The not-so-famous five turn up at Bruntingthorpe to have their first ride on the GSX-R. Only Potter has ridden it before. He’s always been a jammy git.

Sunshine greets us as we pull into the circuit, even though the track itself is still wet from overnight rain. And despite some new corners, there’s still an abundance of drain covers, overbanding and bumps – so, just like real-world roads, then. This is the ideal place to test the Suzuki, with no oncoming traffic or speed limits apart from the one in your brain that tells you to slow down.

We’ve brought a GSX-R600 along, too, for riders to get used to the circuit, and as it sits next to its big brother, warming up in the sunshine, the gathered throng comments on how similar the bikes look. Only keen eyes would notice that the 1000 has

six-pot Tokico calipers and upside-down forks instead of the 600’s four-pot items and traditional forks. The logo on the tailpiece is about the only other obvious difference aside from the paintjob. We’ve got a black and red bike, but you can choose from black and silver or Suzuki’s traditional blue and white colourscheme.

Needless to say, everyone’s desperate to grab the bike for their first go after listening to all the hype since its official launch in December last year. It’s one thing reading a test, but it’s another thing to find out for yourself what a bike is really like – and these boys are keen.

First to pull the keys out of the bag is Tomo. He started riding in 1996 on a Honda CBR400 before trading up to a GSX-R600 and he’s now a die-hard Suzuki fan. He says: " I’ve ridden the 750 and it just did everything easier than the 600 because you didn’t have to hunt for the power. So God knows what this thing’s going to be like. "

Tomo has ridden an R1 and a Hayabusa at Bruntingthorpe so he’s no stranger to speed, but he did admit that the R1 " scared the sh*t out of him " so he’s ready to treat the Suzuki with some respect.

He climbs on and notes that the 1000 feels exactly like the 750 to sit on – it’s just that you’re sitting on top of a lot more power. He hooks first and tries to dial the power in gently, but still the front wheel lifts a fraction before he selects second and heads off down the straight.

It’s obvious to us watching and listening that the new bike has a much deeper and throatier exhaust note than the GSX-R750 and it sounds even more seductive for it. After a few laps, Tomo pulls in and it’s obvious we don’t even have to ask him for his opinion. He’s giggling under his helmet and shaking his head. Between doing that, he manages to blurt out " That’s f*****g mad " before getting off the bike, blagging a fag and coming to his senses. He said: " It’s just awesome. Sod my 600. There are no holes in the power at all and I thought it would be a lot more flighty, but it’s really stable. "

Dragging hard on his fag as if it will bring him back down to earth, he grudgingly hands the keys over to Llewellyn, former British Superbike race winner and third in last year’s Superstock championship on an R1. This year he’s riding an R6 in the British Supersport championship. But he only passed his road test two years ago and the only bike he owned as a kid was an FS1E Fizzy! So you could say it’s a bit of a step up in power today, then.

Llewellyn knows the bike is going to be good. He says that if V&M hadn’t stepped in to offer him a ride this year, he was considering getting a GSX-R1000 for the Superstock series.

Like most racers, he has to remind himself it’s a one-down, five-up gearshift pattern instead of the one-up, five-down traditional race set-up. But surely any bog-standard road bike would feel slow in comparison to the trick machinery Llewellyn’s used to riding? As he launched the Gixxer with a wheelie, we knew it wouldn’t be long until we found out.

Llewellyn had the bike on full song down Brunters’ mega straight and each shift sounded rev-perfect and sweet as the proverbial nut. As he comes back into view for the new chicane, he’s on the back wheel, switched-on headlights pointing skywards, before he plants the front down and flicks right, left and right again on to the main straight. Neat, tidy, fast and effortless. Don’t you just hate professional racers?

After the highly-tuned bikes he has ridden, you wouldn’t expect him to get too excited about a road bike. You’d be wrong. He’s raving before he’s even undone his chinstrap. " Very quick, sir. The engine just pulls so strongly all the way from nothing to the red line. " Which is 12,500rpm, in case you were wondering. He adds: " This bike is as good as a British Superbike was five or six years ago. " Praise indeed for a humble road bike.

He adds: " The brakes are awesome, too, but I was getting a bit skittery on the overbanding at the end of the straight. "

Next up is another man who makes his living riding bikes, albeit in a slightly less glamorous fashion. Miller is a despatch rider whose daily steed is a rather old Kawasaki GT550 complete with huge screen and a pannier/top box combo which looks like it could hold a fridge-freezer, all of which appear as if they’ve been made in the back of a shed with whatever materials happened to be to hand.

Miller has despatched for seven years and has ridden several bikes, including a GSX-R750, a Honda VFR750 and a Honda Pan European. He’s also raced in a few club meetings on a Honda CBR600. Before getting on to the Suzuki, he simply says: " I expect to be shocked by this. " Who wouldn’t, having just got off a GT550? From 56bhp to 160bhp in one fell swoop. Ride her, cowboy.

He takes it steady on the bumpy and still damp circuit to begin with, but soon finds the temptation too much and we start to hear the big four-cylinder engine howling in the distance and revving high on the down-changes. After he has pulled in, we’re greeted with silence as he just sits on the bike and stares at the cockpit. He’s quite literally speechless and it’s a few moments before he manages to get out: " That was different. "

When he does find his tongue, his voice is rather more animated. " You just can’t get away with anything on that thing. The slightest movement of the throttle unleashes tons of power. I kept having to change up a gear everywhere just to calm things down a bit. "

Not the ideal despatcher’s bike, then? " No, it would be far too radical to control in traffic all day. " Oh, well, back to the GT550 again.

Next on duty is the cop. Pulfrey has been riding bikes for the police since 1979. That’s before Kenny Roberts’ dad won his first world 500cc title! The Yorkshireman loves his bikes and also owns a BMW R1100S, a Honda Dominator (an in-the-garage-in-pieces-sort-it-out-next-weekend type of bike) and a Honda CG125. What a lucky man.

He has also ridden an RC45 and held a Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 flat-out on the Isle of Man – scene of a rather embarrassing accident on his old Suzuki Katana 1100.

He says: " I was riding the TT course when I came round a corner and there was a traffic officer standing in the middle of the road with his hand up, signalling me to stop. I grabbed the front brake, the bike tucked under and I ended up in a ditch. It was the policeman’s first day and he apologised for standing where he was, but my bike was headed straight for the skip. " Oops.

Asked what he was expecting of the GSX-R before he sets off, Pulfrey replies: " Cramp. I’m 6ft 3in and spend my life sitting bolt upright on a BMW K1100LT. "

Pulfrey pulls away steadily and it’s immediately apparent that the police advanced riding technique is still coursing through his veins. He’s riding swiftly (you’d be amazed what some coppers can do on old BMW sheds), but squaring off the corners and allowing loads of run-off room. But when he comes in, all traces of traffic cop are gone and the biker takes over. " I scared meeself sh*tless. Every time I looked at the speedo I was doing about 60mph more than I did when I lapped on my Beemer. If I owned this bike I’d be out of a job because I’d get nicked straight away! "

Now he understands how we feel.

As we break for a coffee and the nicotine addicts get their fixes, conversation turns to the ethics of the GSX-R1000. Llewellyn says: " It’s just so competent that it’s totally deceptive. You don’t realise the speed you’re doing. I forgot I was on a road bike ’cos it felt so much like a racer. "

Pulfrey adds: " It’s just too fast for the road. I mean, if you’ve got it you’re going to use it, aren’t you? Well, most people are. " He also points out most road riders don’t have the necessary skill levels to ride these kind of bikes and says he’s taken out lots of superbike owners on advanced lessons who come back petrified at the power of their new machines.

Tomo loves the 1000, but says he couldn’t justify paying the extra couple of grand for power he’d never get to use on the road. He says: " In most road situations, my 600 has enough power. It’s only on the track I could use more. "

It’s a conversation every rider has had and there’s no set answer. How much power is too much power? Well, today we don’t have to worry about it because we’re at an official testing ground and the only copper around is on our side. Time to move off the short circuit and run the Gixxer down Brunters’ famous two-mile straight. Power? Let’s be having you.

As we reach the top of the straight, MCN’s Potter joins us. He’s ridden the Suzuki back-to-back with Honda’s Blade, Yamaha’s R1 and Kawasaki’s ZX-9R in the States and declared it a clear winner. And he’s no less enthused today. In fact, it’s a struggle to get the keys off him.

He says: " I reckon it’s the fastest bike I’ve ever ridden around here and I must have ridden about 300 bikes around Brunters

over the last five years, including British Superbikes. I’m probably going to get a GSX-R1000 this year, but I’m a bit scared at the prospect. " And if you knew Potter, you’d know he takes a bit of scaring.

He adds " You’ve really got to be careful dialling the power in. With some bikes you can just slam it on, but not with this one. There’s not many bikes you have to fight around here, but I was fighting the Suzuki just because it has so much power. It doesn’t turn as quick as an R1 or a Blade, but it’s still very nimble. And the brakes are just awesome. It just feels sooooo fast. "

Not as fast as it’s gonna be on the test straight, matey.

It’s Tomo’s turn again and he’s gagging for it. For a man who claims he can’t wheelie, he does a pretty good impression of two of them as he roars off in first, fighting the rising front end only to go through it all over again as he snicks second. You can almost smell the boy’s fear.

Bruntingthorpe is used to hosting ridiculous top-speed attempts, but there can’t have been many bikes that have disappeared over the horizon as quickly as this. The GSX-R1000 is seriously fast, if you haven’t gathered that already.

Tomo reckons he saw 186mph on the speedo.

On some bikes, that could be 20mph out compared to an accurate radar gun reading, but we know from experience the GSX-R’s clocks are only 4-5mph out, so Tomo was doing more than 180mph on a stock, showroom bike. Incredible. " It’s easily the best bike I’ve ever ridden, " is the man’s parting shot.

Pulfrey has to get back on duty in Sheffield and misses the run, but not before he saw 160mph on the clock when he was using less than half the straight earlier in the day. Presumably he’ll be riding back to Sheffield more sedately. Well, on a BMW K1100LT he doesn’t have much choice, does he?

Llewellyn also has business to attend to, but not before he straps on a camera for the relaunched motorcyclenews.com and takes web surfers down Brunters’ main straight with 185mph showing and a wheelie exiting a 100mph corner on the way back round to boot. What a bloody show-off.

He says: " Even a British Superbike wouldn’t be doing that at the fastest straight on the calendar at Snetterton. They’d be doing about 175mph. The side wind made things a bit tough, though – I had to lean the bike right into it to keep it going straight. "

Miller the courier is up next and as he blasts off down the strip Llewellyn quips: " That’d get your bloody pizza there on time. " Miller, too, manages to see 185mph and waxes lyrical when he gets off. " That’s by far the quickest I’ve ever been on a bike. It’s even wanting to wheelie off the throttle in third, but it still feels so stable – there’s nothing lively or scary about it at all. "

His ride back to London is going to feel a bit tame. Wonder if he can persuade his courier company to buy a fleet of GSX-R1000s? Next day delivery, boss – anywhere in the world.

Potter has been down this strip more times than most people, but apparently the boy still loves it. He jumps on last – so he gets more runs. Experience is showing here. Again he squeezes it to 186mph. Like Pulfrey, Potter is over 6ft tall and both feel the pegs are high, but the bike certainly doesn’t feel any more cramped than other sports bikes. And it just goes to show that you don’t need the ugly aerodynamic bodywork of a Hayabusa to go this quick – the GSX-R is a fine-looking machine.

There’s one thing everyone agrees about, which is that Suzuki’s newcomer is the best production superbike on the planet. But that leads to another question. What has Yamaha got in the R&D department to beat it? And what about Honda and Kawasaki? Where will it all end?

People have been saying that since bikes could crack 50mph and they’ll go on saying it until a governing body steps in to stop the show with top speed restrictions. But the GSX-R has shown that – unlike the Hayabusa and Kawasaki’s ZX-12R – top speed isn’t everything. Sure, the 1000 can boast phenomenal figures, but no more than either of the two bikes just mentioned.

What Suzuki’s engineers have concentrated on more than top speed is shocking acceleration, brilliant brakes and great handling, with good looks thrown in at no extra cost. And many people won’t be bothered if there is a top speed limit

as long as they still get to ride bikes like this.