2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000 First Ride Review

The Long Road Back: Suzuki looks to climb back to the top of the literbike category with its updated 2012 model, but is it too little too late?

The twin-muffler exhaust adopted back in 2007 has finally been replaced by a singel-muffler exhaust. The unit is new from front to back, with a stainless steel header pipe and titanium muffler. The weight that was saved from the back of the bike has made the GSX-R feel much lighter in side-to-side-transitions.
The center of gravity has been pushed forward for 2012, and the changes to the front end have resulted in a one-percent increase in front-end weight bias. The change is distinguishable on the track, where the Suzuki steers into corners without much effort.
The gauge cluster is slightly revamped with a black speedometer face and programmable shift light that is rarely used.
The 999cc engine is updated with 11-percent-lighter pistons, a new exhaust cam, pentagonal crankcase vents and lighter valve tappets. The changes haven’t added horsepower, although they’ve made the torque curve more linear.
Softer suspension settings compensate for the reduced weight up front. The changes were strictly made externally (via the clickers), not internally (via damping rates).
Gold Brembo monobloc calipers, thinner Sunstar Engineering brake rotors and a reworked (shorter by 7mm) fork all contribute to a new, lighter front end. The Brembos are surprisingly high effort, but offer good power through the pull. Red pin striping on the wheels blends well with the red lettering on the calipers and is among the few styling updates for 2012.

Suzuki’s presence in the U.S. roadracing scene is nearly impossible to overplay. To accurately gauge the manufacturer’s influence on the sport, consider this: forty-five percent of the bikes entered in the 2011 AMA Superbike class were GSX-R1000s. There’s an equally strong following amongst street riders too, proving the GSX-R’s success isn’t limited to the confines of a racetrack. But with the previous generation GSX-R1000 beginning to show its age in literbike comparisons and on the showroom floor, Suzuki engineers knew it was time to finally update one of its most successful models; something they hadn’t done in roughly three years. Enter the 2012 GSX-R1000.

The question on everyone’s mind is of course, does the updated GSX-R come with traction control? The answer is no. ABS doesn’t come standard, nor is it an option. And the 2012 model’s styling is typical Suzuki, which leads most passers-by to believe the new bike is nothing more than a 2011 GSX-R wrapped in new graphics. A closer look at the bike proves otherwise.

It's in the details
The most obvious difference between the 2012 Suzuki and its predecessor is the single-muffler exhaust that replaces the dual-muffler design adopted back in 2007; it's been a long time coming, but we're glad to see the old, unwieldy exhaust go out the door. The reworked system is new from front to back, with a stainless steel header pipe matched to a shorter titanium muffler that exits the right side of the bike. Pipe length and thickness have been optimized, with the biggest benefit being increased midrange power, claims Suzuki. Weight-conscious engineers have also removed the large under-engine chamber that made the 2011 model's exhaust so heavy. All told, the 2012 GSX-R1000 is 4.4 pounds lighter than its predecessor, and much of that weight savings is owed to the new exhaust system.

Suzuki engineers were able to remove some weight from the front of the bike as well, primarily by incorporating a new front axle nut design and swapping out the 2011 model’s brake rotors for thinner (5.0 versus 5.5mm) Sunstar Engineering discs. New gold Brembo monobloc calipers bite on those 310mm heat-resistant stainless steel discs and feature 32-32mm pistons rather than a set of 32-30mm examples.

The GSX-R1000’s well-developed frame/swingarm combination has been retained for 2012 and geometry stays (mostly) the same. Suzuki has compensated for the weight loss up front, however, by shortening the overall length of the fork by 7mm and the stroke by 5mm. Rake has been slightly affected, and goes from 23.8 degrees to 23.5 degrees, although Suzuki makes no mention of the resulting change in its press material. The updated Showa Big Piston Fork has been set-up differently too, with softer settings dialed in externally (via the clickers). And if you still can’t tell the difference between the ’11 and ’12 model, here’s a hint: the updated fork tubes are now black instead of gold.

The significantly oversquare engine that Suzuki introduced back in ’09 has been reworked, although not drastically. The biggest news comes in the form of 11-percent-lighter pistons, which feature narrower pin bosses and newly shaped skirts. The piston’s valve recesses have been smoothed for better combustion efficiency, and compression consequently jumps slightly from 12.8:1 to 12.9:1. A new exhaust cam profile provides less valve overlap and is claimed to provide an increase in midrange performance and a smoother on/off throttle transition. The list of small adaptations continues; valve tappets are lighter by 2.5 grams to match the changes made to the exhaust cam profile. And the pentagonal crankcase ventilation holes that first appeared on the Suzuki middleweight machines have made their way into the 1000’s design.

A reprogrammed ECU better matches the performance of the reworked engine, claims Suzuki. Don’t jump to the conclusion that peak power’s benefited though; the 2012 model is not one horsepower stronger than the 2011 GSX-R1000. To the engineers’ credit however, the changes have increased fuel economy and smoothed the bike’s torque and power curves, especially through the midrange. And peak power is now made at 11,500 rpm rather than 12,000 rpm.

New Bridgestone S20 tires are specifically designed for the GSX-R and utilize a drastically different tread pattern. The tires are said to be more advantageous because of their weight; the front tire alone is 200 grams lighter than the BT-016 tire it replaces.

Suzuki’s tweaked a few other bits, like the seat, which is wrapped in new high-grip material and the gauge cluster, which now features a programmable shift light and black speedometer face. Most of the features we’ve come to love about the Suzuki remain however, including the back-torque-limiting clutch and electronically controlled steering damper.

Less is More
To highlight the changes made for 2012, Suzuki invited members of the press to Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida, a recent addition to the 2012 AMA Pro Road Racing schedule. The track's layout is quite interesting, with a number of gut-wrenchingly fast corners that bring you into the infield section of the NASCAR oval where there's a mixture of tight corners that test the bike's steering qualities.

The feel from the GSX-R’s saddle is strikingly familiar, as it should be; the ergonomics have gone unchanged for 2012. At racetrack speeds, the Suzuki’s handling feels noticeably different though. The bike’s more agile — especially in side-to-side transitions — thanks to the more forward center of gravity permitted by the new exhaust. Yes, the new single-muffler exhaust actually makes a difference in performance on the track.

The one-percent increase in front-end weight bias has made the GSX-R an easier motorcycle to turn. And the bike hides its 448 pounds well. The suspension and weight distribution isn’t the sole reason for the bike’s quick steering at the track, however. Credit must also be given the taller 190/55-size Bridgestone R10 racing tires Suzuki spooned onto each of the bikes prior to the test. Presumably, the bike will handle slightly different when shod with the 190/50-size Bridgestone S20 tire that comes standard.

The reworked Showa fork initially feels a bit soft, and throughout the day required we make some adjustments to better suit the aggressive riding at the track. Feedback from the front is as we’ve come to expect from the Big Piston Fork though, and the rear shock was equally as compliant mid-corner.

Power delivery feels much more linear for 2012 thanks to the revisions made to the engine. The biggest difference is that there’s no dip in the torque curve, and consequently no sudden spike in acceleration as you roll the throttle on out of a tight corner. Putting the power to the ground is much easier then, and traction isn’t being tested on corner exit (Suzuki says it’s this new trait that has allowed the GSX-R to forgo traction control for the time being). That added midrange power allows you to use first gear less often too, meaning fewer knocks to the shift pedal each corner.

The B and C riding modes go untouched for 2012. What’s different about the modes is how you access them; in the past you’ve had to hold the button down for a second to swap modes, whereas in 2012 a simple tap on the S-DMS gets you into the next mode. Seems like a rather unimportant change, but we accidentally knocked the switch on more than one occasion, leaving us floundering around in the heavily restricted C mode for a few corners before we realized what we’d done. To its credit, the C mode has an extremely flat power curve that will be advantageous in the wet.

Where the 2012 model reacts drastically different than its predecessors is in hard braking zones, where the new Brembo brakes do their best to bleed off the speed the GSX-R is capable of building. Feel from the lever is admittedly pretty firm, and while there’s a lot of power through the pull, you’ll need to use a good deal of force to get all that power, meaning one-finger brake action is not really much of an option. Whether the difference in feel between the 1000’s brakes and the GSX-R600’s brakes is a result of the new rotors or other variances is difficult to discern, but to be honest, the 2011 GSX-R600/750 Brembo brakes feel slightly more user-friendly.

Aggressive downshifts in the same hard-braking zones are no match for the back-torque-limiting clutch. As we’ve reported in the past, the unit does a superb job at keeping wheel chatter to a complete minimum. The electronically controlled steering damper works moderately well too, although we frequently had problems with the Suzuki shaking its head when grabbing a gear under hard acceleration down Homestead Speedway’s fast back straight.

Worth the Wait?
There's a reason why Suzuki has had such success both on and off the racetrack over the years. The GSX-R package is stylish, agile, and powerful. The 2012 model is better than its predecessor too. But three years is a long time for a motorcycle to go without receiving any kind of updates. And after such a long wait, we definitely expected a few more advances than Brembo brakes, a few engine tweaks and an exhaust that should have come standard years ago. Perhaps the road back to the top of the literbike category will be a bit longer than Suzuki had expected. At least the company is trying.

Retail for the 2012 GSX-R is set at $13,799, which is just $200 more than the 2011 model. That's one thing we'll surely keep in mind as we line the bike up against the competition in this year's annual literbike comparison. SR

Specifications 2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000
MSRP: $13,799
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline four-cylinder, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement: 999cc
Bore x stroke: 74.5 × 57.3mm
Compression ratio: 12.9:1
Induction: SDTV, two injectors/cyl., 44mm throttle bodies
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20F F
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20R F
Rake/trail: 23.5 degrees/3.9 in. (98mm)
Wheelbase: 55.3 in. (1405mm)
Seat height: 31.9 in. (810mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal. (17.5L)
Claimed wet weight: 448 lb. (203kg)