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MThe ultimate GSX-R

Published: 15 September 2015

It sold in its thousands, was raced to success and was even copied by its rivals. Now a decade on, MCN discovers the secrets behind the K5’s enduring success

With a new GSX-R1000 rumoured to be just around the corner, what better excuse to look back on what ‘Gixer’ fans all over the world believe to be the best GSX-R1000 ever: the 2005 K5 model?

Celebrating its 10th birthday, we meet up with five K5 owners at its spiritual UK home: Crescent Suzuki.

ack in the mid-noughties the battle of the Japanese superbikes was at its fiercest. Each year the big four would trade superbike blows and we’d end up with ever lighter, more powerful and sweeter-handling 1000s. It was great news for sportsbike fans.

But the most excitement and anticipation was always reserved for the Suzuki GSX-R1000, so the arrival of a new one in 2005 was a big deal. The K5 was the third-generation ‘Gixer Thou’ and marked the 20th anniversary of the GSX-R. 

The previous K1 (’01) and K3 (’03) models zapped their rivals, so the K5 had a lot to live up to, especially now that it faced its toughest ever competition: the angry first-generation ZX-10R (if you don’t count the old 80s one), the first underseat twin-pipe R1, and the RCV-replica Blade.

On paper the K5 looked good. It produced a claimed 176bhp and weighed just 166kg dry – still the lightest GSX-R1000 ever made. Best of all it cost just £8799, undercutting the £9000 Kawasaki and £9399 Yamaha, and equalling the Honda.

After what seemed like an eternity waiting, we finally got our hands on the K5 at its world launch in Australia. It blew us away with its ability to go very fast, very easily, and it carried on impressing in the MCN group tests the following year. 

It comfortably beat its rivals on the dyno, around the track and on the road, thanks to its torrent of torque, horsepower and easy handling.

 “Regardless of whether you’re riding on the road or track, going fast or slow, the new GSX-R1000 is a big step ahead of the competition,” we said in MCN’s 2005 superbike shootout. “It manages to combine the best bits of all the other bikes, and then some. It doesn’t just win this test, it absolutely walks it.”

Just like Suzuki’s own brilliant 750, the GSX-R1000 K5 had an enviable mix of light weight and just the right amount of power. It was balanced, direct, sharp and so easy to ride you didn’t need the electronic rider aids superbikes have now. It overflowed with so much thrust you didn’t need to change gear and if you did you were rewarded with one of the smoothest gearboxes and lightest clutches out there.

When the K5 finally hit showrooms it sold in droves and cultivated a loyal legion of fans, as Crescent Suzuki boss Paul Denning explains: “From a sales point of view the K5 built on the success of the K1 and K3 models, but it was the biggest change to date. It looked and felt very different. It built sales for us and Suzuki as a halo bike for other models. Since then the changes have been incremental. Paint a K5 in the latest MotoGP colours and you’d be hard pushed to tell it’s not the new one.”

On track the K5 was also the club racer’s and superstock racer’s dream and on the world stage it went on to win the WSB championship in its first year, in the hands of Troy Corser. 

Here in the UK, the Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000 was all set to continue its BSB domination, but it was not to be, as Denning reveals: “We were very competitive with the ’03 and ’04 bike and we won the title in ’04 with John Reynolds. During that year either John or Honda’s Ryuichi Kiyonari were on the podium every race, except the last one at Brands where John had already won the title. 

“But 2005 with the K5 was a disaster. John broke his leg in pre-season testing at Valencia, then broke his neck at the last round at Brands Hatch, which finished his career. 

“It was also my first year running the Suzuki MotoGP factory squad, so the BSB team was in transition. We had new staff and the team wasn’t as focused, which was my fault. It was also the first time we’d ever let a rider go mid-season, when Scott Smart didn’t gel with the bike. 

“The K5 was a mega bike and Corser won the WSB title on it, but for us it was a nightmare year.”

Back on the road, the K5 became the K6 in 2006 with just colour changes, but the 2007 K7 GSX-R1000 lost its sparkle. It made more power, but the big Gixer was heavier and revvier. It also had the brilliant new 16-valve R1 to contend with. The 2009 K9 was a slight refinement, but it was battered by the crossplane crank R1, RSV4 and the stubby-nosed ’08 Blade.

In 2012 the latest evolution of the GSX-R1000 arrived, but up against the high-tech S1000RR, ZX-10R and Panigale it never stood a chance. During our 2015 group test earlier in the year, on track the big Suzuki felt like a 600 next to its high-tech rivals. But it’s still a great road bike with lots of grunt, and a comfy cockpit. 

So is the K5 really the best GSX-R1000 there’s ever been? Absolutely.

Any bike that feels this good 10 years later, in the superbike landscape we have now, must be very special. Riding a K5 is still an occasion today. Without its Euro 3 sound-deadening the motor is raw and growls like no muted, modern superbike can. It’s so light it feels hollow, the steering is crisp and there’s instant grunt. 

But with a few well-chosen mods you can make a K5 feel even better than a modern superbike, as proved here by Chris Taliadoros’ immaculate example. 

Chris’s Suzuki feels like a well-sorted modern superstock 1000 racer. With its race shock, fork internals and sticky Pirelli Diablo Super Corsa SP tyres it’s more composed and lighter-steering than an out-of-a-crate modern superbike. Best of all are the brakes – a standard K5’s weak point. With its Brembo master cylinder and Fireblade monobloc Tokicos, it has excellent feel at the lever and race bike-levels of stopping power. The initial pick-up from a closed throttle is like silk, thanks to a well-set-up Power Commander and the obligatory Yoshi pipe, so there’s none of the snatch you get from many modern ride-by-wire bikes, including Suzuki’s new K5-engined GSX-S1000. 

Each of our assembled K5 owners are still thinking of small ways to modify their bikes, whether it’s lighter wheels, or upgraded suspension and brakes. But none of them are pining for the latest and greatest, or dreaming of a 200bhp superbike with MotoGP electronics.

And that just goes to show how right Suzuki got it with the magical K5.

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