Finally returning to the sportbike segment, Suzuki enters the 2017 model year with a brand new GSX-R1000 superbike – and when we say “all new” we truly mean it. This is because the only thing that the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 carries over from its predecessor is the logo on the fuel tank.
With much to like about the previous generation machine, new doesn’t necessarily mean better. So, to see how the new Suzuki GSX-R1000 goes around a race track, we headed to America’s premier racing facility, the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
For our purposes, COTA is the perfect pressure test for a motorcycle like the Suzuki GSX-R1000. If you didn’t keep up with our live blogging from the event, we had a perfect day in Texas to see what the new GSX-R1000 has to offer.
Host to America’s sole MotoGP round, COTA has been built with long stretches that test straight-line speed; it has quick-transitioning esses that test handling, fast sweepers that test the motorcycle’s feedback to the rider; hard-braking zones that test the stability of the entire rolling chassis; and there is plenty of elevation and camber for the electronics to handle.
Put through the demanding gauntlet that COTA offers a motorcycle, the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 proved that the Japanese brand hasn’t forgotten how to make a potent superbike. But what about regaining its crown, as the King of Sportbikes? Continue reading to find out.
Engine – Highs, Lows, And Everything in Between
The 998cc “short stroke” inline-four engine on the 20177 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is the main talking point for this new superbike. It makes 199hp at the crank, but thanks to Suzuki’s cleverly designed, and MotoGP-derived, variable valve timing (VVT) setup, this Suzuki GSX-R1000 is no slouch off the corners.
Suzuki’s centrifugal VVT design allows for the Japanese brand to reach for stratospheric power figures at the top-end of the rev range, without sacrificing too much from lower engine speeds.
In practice and on the race track, you still want to keep the revs up on the GSX-R1000 engine, as you would on any short-stroke engine design, but the penalties that come from ignoring this credo aren’t nearly as noticeable on the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 as it would be on other models. In short, Suzuki’s VVT is the real deal.
This technology translates into the Suzuki superbike having a sizable amount of thrust out of the slower corners, of which COTA has plenty to offer.
The Japanese brands have all tried to chase outright power, while still maintaining drivability and low-speed torque, and so far Suzuki’s VVT setup is the best answer we have seen. Kudos to them.
However, this doesn’t mean that the engine on the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is perfect. The bike has noticeable vibrations back to the rider, especially as you climb into the peak of the rev range. Modulating all the power that the GSX-R1000 makes is also an issue.
There can also be a lurch in the power delivery from the Suzuki GSX-R1000, especially lower in the rev-range and when you are the lower gears.
This can be dealt with by changing from Suzuki’s very aggressive engine map “A” down to map “B” – though this simple change does not completely do away with the issue, leaving us with wanting different benchmarks in our options.
It should be noted that map “C” was too removed for track use for our tastes, and should be regarded as a good option for street riders, or when riding in the rain.
Suzuki’s SCAS (Suzuki Clutch Assist System) slipper clutch design also leaves a bit to be desired, as the friction zone during hard deceleration wasn’t too our liking, and engaged the rear-wheel far too early and aggressively.
This showed up primarily on Turn 12 at COTA, where one decelerates from 175mph down the back straight to roughly 30mph for the hairpin turn. Dropping a bunch of gears here and letting go of the clutch produced pretty sizable fishtailing moments, though they were free of rear-wheel hop.
With that in mind, we would still rate the gearbox as above-average in its design, being not quite as smooth as others on the market, but also not overly clunky in its operation. On a bright note though, swapping from standard to GP-shift patterns is a very quick and easy process.
Electronics – An Over-Simplified Complexity
As we can already see, one cannot talk about a superbike’s engine now without also talking about the machine’s electronics.
Suzuki has done a good job with the GSX-R1000 in realizing the features that consumers demand from this generation of superbike, and aptly chose to use an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to assist the various electronic rider aids that come on the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000.
Traction control, wheelie control, anti rear-wheel lift (on the ABS models) are all modulated by the IMU on the Suzuki GSX-R1000.
However, in terms of what settings a rider can actually adjust themselves, Suzuki has left only the engine throttle map and traction control settings available for adjustment, the latter changing the other riding aids as its setting are increased or decreased.
For riders who don’t like to tinker, this might be a welcomed shortcut to using the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000, and an obvious side-step to suffering from feature overload.
But for those who want to use the very latest in technology available on two wheels, you will be left stuck wondering why Suzuki has limited what we can do with its IMU-powered technology.
The silver lining in all this though is that the engineers and test riders at Suzuki’s factory have done a good job in their basic electronics setup, which should fit the needs of most riders, especially on the street.
Hardcore track enthusiasts however will be wanting more from this overly simplified electronics package, and thus might need to start looking at another brands who offer true access to what an IMU can offer a rider.
Chassis – Hello Old Friend
At 443 lbs wet, the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is not the lightest machine in the superbike category, but it carries its weight very well. Going through COTA’s esses, the GSX-R1000 turns quickly and with ease – it is no supersport machine, but you are not wrestling with the bike either.
Plopped over on its side though, railing through some of the long sweeping turns that COTA offers – I’m looking at you T16, T17, & T18 – and the new Suzuki GSX-R1000 really shines.
Neutral in feedback, stable, and planted – the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 only gets out of shape when you ask it too, with the IMU providing a functioning safety net to explore the rear wheel’s coefficient of friction.
This builds on Suzuki’s history of well-handling machines, and it keeps that lineage with the rider triangle on the 2017 model, which will be familiar to previous GSX-R1000 owners.
The chassis and ergonomics are confidence inspiring for a rider, and I found myself dragging knees through my very first turns on the bike – when I was mentally supposed to be “taking it easy” to learn the machine and refresh my mind on this mammoth circuit. This bike is turnkey fast.
Suspension / Brakes – Good News / Bad News
A large factor in making the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 such a potent superbike is the suspension from Showa, with “Big Piston” forks and a standard rear shock handling the handful of new bumps at COTA with aplomb, while still translating the subtleties found from where the asphalt meets the rubber.
Despite being the lower-spec suspension offering for the Suzuki GSX-R1000 line (the GSX-R1000R gets BFF forks and a BFRC-Lite shock), these Showa pieces held up quite well, and provided excellent feed back while turning.
The same cannot be said for the braking components on the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000, however.
Easily the weakest point on this new superbike, Suzuki’s braking choices on the GSX-R1000 continue to disappoint, with our machine suffering sizable brake fade after getting on the binders in COTA’s three tough braking zones.
Bleeding the front brakes helped alleviate some of the problem, but even after doing so, and with the lever at its maximum distance away from the handlebar, the bike’s brakes would continue to fade until almost reaching the throttle grip again.
The calipers on the GSX-R1000 might say “Brembo” on them, and Suzuki’s marketing materials might boast of using the braking company’s new “T-Bar” rotor design (it is actually a hybrid system of t-bars and floating pins), but it is all flash and no substance from our perspective.
Rubber lines and cheap braking components rule the day on the GSX-R1000, and serious track riders should mentally budget for a proper braking system setup – full stop.
TL;DR – Too Long; Didn’t Read It
The 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is a huge leap forward for Suzuki, of course you would expect as much from a superbike that has seen an eight-year hiatus in its development cycle.
The new Suzuki GSX-R1000 comes with all the right specs though: near-200hp power, strong mid-range torque, MotoGP-derived variable valves, and IMU-powered electronics. The Japanese brand did its homework, and made sure to tick all the right boxes before releasing its next-generation GSX-R.
That might be the problem with the new GSX-R1000 though – it does just enough to be able to hit all the bullet-point features that consumers expect, without really excelling above and beyond any of them.
Ultimately, what the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 lacks is the refinement that comes from experience, experimentation, and iterative change. This leaves Suzuki with a superbike that is good out of the box, but one that just doesn’t quite reach beyond the high-water mark set in front of it.
Is this GSX-R the new “King of Sportbikes”? That’s hard to say, when bikes like the Yamaha YZF-R1 are on the market, and show that extra bit of refinement and detail. I’ll reserve judgment until I have both on the same track, on the same day.
But here is the important part that I can say for certain right now: the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is incredibly competitive on price, in a time when superbike prices continue to escalate with each model year.
Set at $14,599 MSRP (for the non-ABS model), the base model version of the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is very affordable. And when you couple a price tag like that to a strong motorbike like the new GSX-R1000, you have recipe that will see models flying off dealer showroom floors.
The bang-for-the-buck proposition from the 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is strong enough that it should make every serious motorcyclist pause and take note. Hopefully, it makes other motorcycle manufacturers take note as well. This is a serious shot across their bow.
Photos: Brian J. Nelson – All Rights Reserved