Remember when the Japanese ruled the superbike roost? They battled ferociously with each other to make the fastest, sexiest and best handling 1000s, year after glorious year – it was great news for us, the Great British sportsbike-buying public.
The 1000s golden days peaked in the first half of the noughties and it was all about the fight between Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki - each company gave us the latest, cutting-edge, MotoGP-inspired machines to lust over.
But one thing was certain, each time a new GSX-R1000 was born, you just knew it was going to be special.
2001-2002 Suzuki GSX-R1000 K1/K2
What is was like then
Following such greats as the ‘85 GSX-R750, ’92 Honda Fireblade and ’98 Yamaha R1, the GSX-R1000 K1 was a superbike game-changer.
With a claimed 160bhp from its super-free-revving engine (its pistons were actually lighter than the GSX-R750’s) it was a heck more powerful than any superbike of the day. It kicked-out a then unbelievable 140bhp on our dyno.
As if all that power wasn’t tempting enough, it weighed just 170kg (dry) and had all the latest toys, like fully-adjustable titanium-nitride coated upside forks, six-pot calipers, fuel injection, dual-butterfly throttle bodies and a titanium exhaust.
It was all wrapped in a chunky, lightweight, box-section aluminium beam frame, like a 500cc GP bike.
What it’s like now
A bad one will have a patchy service history and those with squared-off or mismatched tyres show they’ve been run on a shoestring. A cruddy, badly-adjusted chain will tell you all you need to know about a lazy previous owner, so walk away.
The Gixer was also a magnet for riders with impaired taste, fitting naff blue bolts, screens and other performance ‘upgrades’ Suzuki obviously never thought of when they spent their millions of Yen developing it.
A good one will seem wide and unwieldy at first, but that feeling soon disappears and you’ll go gooey over its angry exhaust note, the light steering and stomach-churning acceleration.
The motor has incredible flexibility and if you’re feeling lazy, you just stick it in top and leave it there all day.
It’ll corner well enough to keep up with your S1000RR mates, but it has a comfy seat and a wind-cheating screen - although the pegs are set quite high. There’s space under the seat for ‘stuff’ and bungee points, too.
So has the GSX-R1000 become a sports tourer in the past 12 years? Not on your Nelly - it’s still the hooligan’s choice and we love it.
2003-2004 Suzuki GSX-R1000 K3/K4
What it was like then
Suzuki didn’t need to update the GSX-R1000 so quickly, but they did anyway and their new K3 once more blew the opposition into the weeds.
With lighter cams, new throttle bodies, multi-hole shower injectors and inter-cylinder ventilation holes, the K3 (and the identical ’04 K4) broke the magic 150bhp mark on the dyno – 10bhp up on the previous model. It had another 3ftlb of torque, too.
Physically slimmer than the old model, weighing 2kg less and with smaller front brake discs to improve turning, the K3/K4 was more nimble, brakes were stronger and less prone to fade, too.
This was thanks to the latest braking fashion item: radial-mount calipers, now four-piston Tokicos instead of six.
It was even sweeter through the corners with its uprated, fully-adjustable suspension and forks with its new black ‘diamond-like carbon’ fork slider coating.
What it’s like now
A bad one will ride like a dog. The brakes will judder from warped discs and the head bearings will be shot from the result of a thousand clumsy wheelies.
An ex-race bike could jump out of gear between first and second and be vague between third and fourth. A dragging or juddering clutch is a sign of excess wear and hard use, too.
You can usually spot an ex-race bike. It’ll have clean bodywork on a shabby chassis and will still have the race parts fitted that can’t be easily removed, like twin-hose braided brake lines and revalved forks.
Tyres can make or break a GSX-R1000. Ex-race tyres simply don’t warm-up on the road enough to work properly and are a one-way ticket to a highside the first bend you reach after stopping for a coffee.
Mismatched tyres will make the Suzuki feel like it’s got a hinge in the middle and cheap old-generation sports touring tyres make the steering leaden and lack anything you’d really call grip.
A good one will shine on proper rubber. The latest-generation sports tyres will let the K3 keep up with the best of them and let you exploit all that beautiful grunt, power and searing speed. It’s not just a superbike to be enjoyed on track, or for a few sunny Sunday morning hours, it’s a machine you can really use.
Fuel economy isn’t bad and like the K1 it’s comfy, has decent underseat storage and sat right ‘in’ the bike, you’re sheltered from the windblast. Clocks are clear and easy to read, but there’s no fuel gauge, just a reserve warning light.
2005-2006 Suzuki GSX-R1000 K5/K6
What is was like then
You really, really want one of these. It’s the best GSX-R1000 ever built and best of all, you can get a good one for less than five grand.
The K5 was Suzuki’s answer to the class of 2004, when superbikes took a giant leap forward. That year saw the first underseat-exhaust R1, the MotoGP replica Blade and the original (and many say still the best) ZX-10R. They were first 1000s to challenge the Suzuki and they knocked the GSX-R1000 K4 off its throne. But the K5 went and massacred them all.
Suzuki left no stone unturned to make a class-busting superbike and they succeeded.
After it wowed us at its world launch at a searing Eastern Creek, it went on to pulverise magazine group tests around the world, dominate racing and win the WSB championship in the hands of Troy Corser.
It was the S1000RR of its day and some say BMW used a K5 chassis for its development engine at the beginning.
The K5’s motor was 1cc bigger, had lighter internals and a new cylinder head. It made a whopping 160bhp on our dyno - 10bhp more than the old K3 and the R1, Blade and ZX-10R. This was a road bike with more power than the best of the old 750cc WSB racers, with the kind of grunt they could only dream of.
The chassis was slimmer, shorter and pared to the bone. It weighed just 166kg, which made it the lightest of any mainstream 1000 and no superbike has been as light since.
It’s this heavenly match of low weight and punchy engine that make the K5 a phenomenon that will never be repeated.
Bikes are simply too heavy nowadays with all their Euro 3-frinedly sound-deadening, heavy exhausts.
Suzuki has never been able to repeat the purity of the K5. Every incarnation of the GSX-R1000 since has been heavier and their shorter-stroke engines peakier, in the pursuit of more power.
What it’s like now
A bad one will feel sloppy through neglect and look tatty. Suzuki finishes aren’t the best and it’s easy for the K5 to go downhill if not well looked-after.
Look out for ex-track and race bikes – they’ll have clean bodywork, unblemished standard exhausts, but tatty frames and engine cases. Lots of the racy bits would’ve been removed to be sold separately, too.
The bike in the pictures has revalved forks, but a standard shock, which could make it handle like a chopper. Check exhaust valve cables are connected – they’re often removed when race exhausts are fitted.
A good one will be bark angrily when you blip the throttle and it’ll sound like it’s been gargling razor blades through its exhaust. It’ll feel as light rocking it between your legs as it will flicking through a 100mph S bend and it’ll pull effortless cross-up Schwantz wheelies out of second gear corners.
Fit the K5 with the latest sports rubber and it’ll still rock around a track. I lived with a K5 for two years and in that time I did four Nurburgring trips, countless trackdays and two European holidays.
I also did a full season’s racing changing it back from road to race each weekend and it never missed a beat.