The one to beat
The GSX-R1000K4 is the first of the 2004 superbikes to arrive in the UK and it’s ready to defend its mantle of ‘best 1000cc sports bike’ against scorching new tackle from Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki.
There are no mechanical changes to the GSX-R this year, just new colours and a list of bolt-on accessories (see below), but then it didn’t need updating – it’s simply amazing already.
The GSX-R1000 has comprehensively beaten every challenger it has faced. In the last year alone it destroyed not just the R1 and FireBlade but also the best
V-twins money can buy – such as the £20,000 Ducati 999R. In one MCN test, it even decimated a 600bhp, twin-engined Golf car in a drag race over the quarter mile – on one wheel!
With all the hype surrounding the newcomers from Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha it is easy to forget just how effective the Suzuki is. But thumb the starter and blip the light action throttle and your memory is not so much jogged as bludgeoned. A cold-blooded, metallic rasp howls through the titanium exhaust to announce serious intent.
Engine response is immediate. It feels fantastically free-revving; the rev counter needle spins around the dial so quickly that you can’t resist giving it another blip just to make sure you saw right the first time.
The GSX-R1000 is currently the lightest superbike – and weighing a Kylie-skinny 168kg dry will remain so against its new 2004 competition. Mix in an engine that unleashes 146 angry horses through the rear tyre and you have one very potent machine. Acceleration is ferocious and unrelenting all the way to the red line.
Crack the throttle open hard in the first two gears and the GSX-R slams you to the back of the seat while doing its best to loop the loop. Keep it open through third and even the smallest of bumps is enough to have the front climbing once more. The exhilarating acceleration only really starts to level off when you hit 150mph – just 12 seconds after you set off. Thankfully, from here to 180mph acceleration stops being brutal... and starts being merely fierce.
Despite all that mind-altering speed, the motor is actually very user-friendly. Power delivery is smooth and the throttle response is perfect. For normal everyday riding it is possible to forget the lower gears, snick into sixth, and let the Suzuki’s big mid-range power (available from as little as 4000rpm) and light weight provide you with all the forward urge you need.
On paper, the GSX-R should remain the most tractable of all superbikes next year. The new Blade, R1 and ZX-10 all have 988cc engines, the same as the GSX-R – but different bore and strokes. The Suzuki has the longest stroke of them all (as well as being the lightest) that should, theoretically, give it slightly more midrange punch.
With its beefy tank and wide fairing, the GSX-R feels a lot bigger than its weight suggests – even when on the move. But once you become familiar with it, it starts to feel nimble, solid and confidence-inspiring.
It has a very strong chassis (the stock item is retained unmodified on the Crescent Suzuki British Superbike racers) and good quality suspension, which responds well to damping and pre-load adjustments so you can set it up for your own riding style. This affords the confidence to push hard into turns.
But there are limitations. While the standard tyres offer decent grip in both wet and dry, they lack the extra bite that is necessary to fully exploit the GSX-R’s handling potential, especially coming out of a turn. For spirited riding and track days, stickier rubber is still required.
The GSX-R is a very good handling machine – but until now it has never had to try that hard. With so much power on tap you have always been able to amble through the corners and then blast out in a frenzy of tyre shredding aggression – and still keep up with your mates. But next year it looks like it is going to have to dig deeper.
The R1 will have more track-focused handling with the power to match and the Honda will probably be the last word in user-friendliness and stability. That just leaves the ZX-10R as an unknown quantity. But if it handles anywhere near as sweetly as the
ZX-6R, and if its 180-plus bhp engine is as electrifying as promised, it too will be right up with the GSX-R.
The only disappointing aspect of the Suzuki is its brakes. Despite using the latest radially-mounted four-piston Tokico calipers the action lacks feel and they need a big squeeze. After 10 hard laps or so on track they fade too. All of this can be fixed (see page 15) but the Blade has excellent brakes, the R1’s stoppers get better every year and the ZX-10R should benefit from radial calipers and wavy discs, so the GSX-R had better watch out.
It’s easy to guess how the GSX-R will fare against its new rivals but we will only really know when we test them back to back in our much-anticipated group test. But right here right now, the Suzuki GSX-R1000 is still the daddy – nothing even comes close.