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Man and Machine - Touring on a GSX-R1000

Published: 19 November 2015

Updated: 16 November 2015

Alastair McFarlane bought a GSX-R1000 on a whim, 10 years on he says it’s a keeper…

"Back in 2006 I had an idea that as everyone was buying sportsbikes it would be a good idea to trick one up and use it to lead touring holidays for my company, MCi Tours,” says Alastair McFarlane. “I thought there was an untapped market of enthusiasts who would be only too happy to join me on foreign trips if they saw me on a GSX-R-thou. I thought all we needed to do was put on a support vehicle to carry the luggage and we could all go and spank the Alps. 

“So I bought a GSX-R1000 K3 – but things did not go entirely to plan. Not enough sportsbike owners want to do serious mileage in a cramped riding position, although the keen ones who came along seriously enjoyed it! “But in that time I really learned to rate the GSX-R1000 as a tourer. I did 35,000 miles on that K3, then bought a K4. It’s virtually identical to the K3 – I’ve done 25,000 miles on that and I’ve still got it now. It’s fast, the brakes are great, it handles amazingly compared to any sports tourer, it’s light, easy to work on for service items and has generally been very reliable.

“Carrying luggage is always an issue, although it’s possible if you are disciplined. I use a Baglux tank cover and bag to carry a pair of jeans, two shirts, one pair of shoes, some socks and grundies. Everything else, such as tools, goes into the seat hump. I still use this arrangement to travel to the Assen MotoGP race each year. Others use Ventura racks and bags or small panniers on sportsbikes, but I am not a fan of fabric throwovers. They move around and if you are really unlucky get jammed between the tyre and hugger and spit you off. I’ve seen that twice in my 25 years of touring and it really isn’t pretty. Even if the panniers don’t move around they can leave you with toasted underwear.

“The only real problems I’ve had with the GSX-R have been electrical. In Baden Baden in Germany one time, I had just finished hosing off the K3 when it simply would not start and the rev counter needle just kept bouncing backwards and forwards with the ignition on. I took the seat off, pulled the leads out of the ECU and then dried it out with cotton buds, which solved the problem. On my K4 I had to replace the ECU, which cost £700, because the pins were blue and had rotted, again giving some pretty strange symptoms. If you study the manual you will see there are some clever bits of sensor equipment as standard on the bike, all of which rely upon the correct messages being interpreted by the ECU. “Essentially it’s a great bike and a very capable tourer (assuming you fit a Scottoiler and use sensible sports-touring tyres), especially if you are a two-thirds scale person like me. I cannot see myself ever selling the Suzuki. I’ve loved every moment on it. You know what? I think it might be a keeper…

”Alastair has spent over 20 years leading tours around the world. Find him at


Alastair's GSX-R1000 top maintenance tips

Front fairing support bolts
On K3/K4 models in particular the front fairing support bolts can work loose and detach, potentially falling into the steering system and causing big problems. Fitting longer bolts is a really simple fix.

Keep the standard exhaust
“People fit Power Commanders to smooth out the performance after fitting an aftermarket exhaust. You don’t need either,” says Alastair. “The standard exhaust is titanium and has an almighty screaming wail at high revs.”

Fiddly bits
“Fairing fitment is a bit of a nightmare, best thing is to buy the workshop manual and follow the instructions. Check out the instructions in the manual for the oil filter – this is not just a hand-tight jobbie – it’s a major screw-it-round exercise.” 

Replace the chain
“The chain on the K3/K4 is a bit cheap and nasty and wears out at 18,000-22,000 miles,” says Alastair. “I got caught out with my K3 but I think the first owner was just too happy popping the front wheel in the air and that’s why it didn’t last.”

25,000 mile mark
“The engine and gearbox are bulletproof up to a point,” says Alastair “That point is around 25,000 miles, when you need to replace the camchain and adjuster (if it rattles). I got my dealer to do the work and to check the top-end.” 

Be careful with the jetwash
“Beware using a jetwash,” warns Alastair. “The wheel bearings are subject to ingress of water under pressure and wobbly wheels are a bit of a nightmare. Plus the ECU directly under the seat does not have a rubber boot to protect it.”

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