Club roadracing in America was built on a foundation of 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750s. Suzuki would call it the first racer replica; that fully-fared, twin-headlight, air/oil-cooled four-cylinder, and it would be hard to argue with that statement. It was just so serious and uncompromised in its racing focus that it pretty much became the ignition point for the club-racing growth in America that followed its release.
This 2017 GSX-R1000 is similar in spirit. For while the GSX-R1000R with its fancier components and more standard features is a fine top-line competitor in the class, this base bike ridden here rolls into dealerships with an MSRP of $14,599, $400 cheaper than the ABS model and well under the R model’s $16,999.
What’s the bargain version get to help save a few bucks? A Showa Big Piston fork and more basic shock in place of the Balance Free Fork/shock while deleting the quickshifter and auto-blip downshift. The thinking here is to give racers, track-day riders, and even normal sportbike citizens of the street the option for a lowest cost 1000 with high performance as a ready-made platform waiting for your mods.
What’s left after the fancy-part deletions is what you need to have a good time on the street and race track. Engine spec is the same. Traction control is even still there for you.
We had a dream day at the track for our first experience on the bike, riding at Circuit of the Americas on Monday following MotoGP and MotoAmerica rounds. In case you missed it, Yoshimura Suzuki had a strong debut in Superbike racing, Toni Elias and his GSX-R taking the win in both races.
Riding with Kenny Roberts Jr. and Kevin Schwantz—both world champions on two-stroke 500cc Grand Prix Suzukis—was a major bonus. Even better, while I was chasing Schwantz around trying to keep him as large in the video-camera frame as possible, I blew Turn 19 and…Roberts zipped up the inside. I thanked him later for doing it on the camera side and making it such a killer shot. Annihilated by two world champions riding on an incredible MotoGP track! Oh, bucket list, you just got quite a bit shorter.
You might be saying to yourself, “Hey, Hoyer, why’d you blow that corner?” And I am here to tell you it was because I got such a killer drive off the big, double apex carousel around the tower. The great thing about a new bike (and tires) is that there is so much headroom in performance that blowing a corner has, generally, much lower consequence than in years past. Having grown up riding on tires that felt like petrified wood and with no rider aids, I declare we are in the Golden Age of the sport motorcycle. The Bridgestone R10 DOT race tires fitted for our day at COTA were grippy and consistent over about 50 laps and 170 miles and the whole day. Combine this great rubber with Suzuki traction control and you have a recipe for success and tire life.
I started the day in TC setting 5 (of 10, plus off), Suzuki’s most aggressive recommendation for street riding. As the pace went up and I began to have an idea where I was on this very long track, I played with settings 1-4 and settled on 3. It allowed great drive with ample safety net. Setting 1 allowed a lot of raw, naked aggression, which I found I was happy to appreciate from afar. Schwantz rode around with his stuff turned off. (Crooked) thumbs up, pal!
Braking from about 165 mph down to 45 on the back straight and doing similar (from a slightly lower speed) on the uphill entry into Turn 1 made me wish I’d done a lot more pushups the last few months. Or more track riding. Or both.
This is a really challenging course with heavy physical demands over its 3.4-mile lap. The Brembo front brakes with radial master cylinder and radial-mounted monoblock calipers gave strong but not overly aggressive initial bite and a firm lever for the first few laps of any session. Once they were quite heated from those stops, the lever would move closer to the bar and go slightly spongey, although feel and control remained good. There was also an occasional high-frequency vibration when the brakes were at their hottest.
These massive braking demands, coupled with so many manual downshifts underlined how amazing and useful the now-common auto-blip downshift is. Suzuki is working on it as an accessory for the bike (it’s standard on the R) but it will require a wiring harness, shift sensor, and ECU, price yet to be determined.
Okay, I essentially always got the bike stopped just fine for all these corners, even with a little sponge and no ABS. And then…first-gear hairpin corner exits on a liter-class superbike for the street are one of the great reasons we love TC. Whipping onto the front straight, the bike hucks up into a rad crossed-up wheelie that starts while you’re leaned way over. Everybody on the launch pretty much was performing these kinds of amazing feats not possible by mere mortals in previous, non-electronics days. Fast guys sure have been doing it all along, but even the not-so-fast can impress friends and family with an exhibition of style and speed once reserved for world champions and their ilk.
Power from the 999.8cc, 180-degree-crank inline-four is strong from 6,000 rpm and the torque curve and drive are muscular and smooth. With the clever mechanical variable intake cam timing at work, I expected more pull on the top end. The engine felt as though it continued to make power as it neared redline, but in flat-line way after about 12,000 rpm and until its glorious 14,500-rpm redline. The engine feels precise, controlled, and fast but doesn’t deliver that oh-my-god-animal-scream on top like your S1000RRs and RSV4s. The dyno will tell us what’s going on. And when our Man in a Van with a Plan Hayden Gillim gets his MotoAmerica Superstock GSX-R1000 remapped by Flash Tune and we get our Yoshimura race pipe, we’ll let you know the results vs. a stock baseline.
Ride mode A was my favored ride-by-wire throttle response for both street and track. All three deliver peak power but vary the rapidity of throttle response. At the track, there was a little twitchiness off-throttle to on. I had to work hard at COTA in the first-gear corners to lay on initial throttle smoothly and sometimes, particularly when tired, I just couldn’t do it perfectly and upset the bike. Most of the time, response was as expected with no surprises. B mode made it easier to hit smooth application but with wasn’t quite as thrilling as getting it right in A mode. At least we have choice here!
Steering is light and trail-braking performance was excellent. The GSX-R1000 has lower-effort steering than our current reigning 1000cc sportbike, the Yamaha YZF-R1. While the Yamaha takes more effort to turn, it also exhibits an unflappably stability. The GSX-R1000 feels a little edgier, the handlebars wagging on corner exits if you don’t place the front wheel down straight on one of those great corner exits, even with the stock steering damper. One Suzuki employee had a headshake incident that knocked the pads back with an unfortunate result in Turn 1 when he went for the lever and found no brake pressure. I did not experience such severity and after my instance of shake, I minded my alignment and enjoyed the steering response with no further issues. Of all the qualities that stood out about the bike, steering was tops. It is a beautiful motorcycle to corner on.
The next day we rode on the street (on the factory-fitted RS10 road sport tires), cruising a 120-mile loop out of Austin with a little taste of Hill Country. Which, on our route, was pretty much all 300-mph sweepers. Fine riding, beautiful scenery and very much a sample of daily ride use. How is the bike? Docile and snuggly as a gorilla in a lamb suit. It was completely civilized and offered a more streetable riding position than most of its competitors. I didn’t notice the seat once, and, as a 6-foot-2 gorilla in a cow suit, I found reach to the bars and footpeg height just fine for street riding. I would have been happy to ride a lot farther, but we stopped at Salt Lick Barbecue because a man’s got to eat some of the best smoked meats on earth when he gets the chance. Luckily, I’d left out my back protector, so there was plenty of room for brisket, ribs, beans, slaw and pickles. So in addition to doing more pushups, I’ll also be doing some situps.
Stock suspension settings were supple enough on the street. Comfortable? Yes, but with great control. The not-too-aggressive initial bite made the brakes your friend for the fast, flowing roads, because sometimes, on a literbike, it is necessary to slow the beast a bit, even for 300-mph sweepers. Though we have yet to do any back-to-back testing, my bet is the GSX-R will be one of the better streetbikes of our liter-class crop in 2017.
There’s a lot of performance per dollar here. This bike is, in fact, the lowest priced 1000cc sportbike you can buy new in 2017 and it’s now also the newest complete redesign. It’s remarkable for both the level of performance it offers and how perfectly GSX-R it feels. Suzuki’s long history building racebikes for the street shows, and staffers here all know exactly how a GSX-R is supposed to feel and how generally forgiving they are in terms of working well with a wide range of setup. They really feel like a racing tool.
The GSX-R has always been the bike that brought high-performance to the masses and this new base-model 1000 carries that forward. Suzuki’s soul is GSX-R, and it must have pained the company to wait so long to redo its flagship sportbike. The time spent working on this bike has been worth it. There will be a real fight for Best Superbike of 2017.