TEST of TIME

A lot can change in a year, as Suzuki’s GSX-R fam­ily goes to show. But is last year’s GSX-R1000 L6 still worth a space in your garage?

Fast Bikes - - FEATURE - WORDS: DAN­GER­OUS

Last year I was a very happy chappy on my GSX-R1000 L6, clock­ing over 6,000 miles and scrap­ing my knees more of­ten than a hap­haz­ard young­ster on an icy play­ground. For me, it was a ‘good’ bike. Not per­fect, but de­cent han­dling, plen­ti­fully po­tent and com­fort­able enough to con­sume long blasts to Europe with­out the on­set of piles. But it was also a bit old-hat, as high­lighted by the lack of enthusiasm on peo­ples’ faces when turn­ing up at bike meets.

Not even biker chicks were in­ter­ested, which was lucky for my mis­sus, as their fo­cus was fully fixed on those hi-tech hustlers with S1000RRs, R1Ms and pony­pack­ing 1299s. With more power, more giz­mos and more ap­peal, there was lit­tle my prim­i­tive Gixer could do to re­bal­ance the pro­ceed­ings, but that didn’t bother me too much. I’m an­ti­so­cial at the best of times, and my play­mate was all the com­pany I needed. To be hon­est, I thought it was all the bike I needed too, and poo-pooed the idea of an­other 17bhp, trac­tion con­trol and umpteen dif­fer­ent power modes.

What kind of crazy fool would want all that, I quizzi­cally rea­soned with my­self, right up un­til the point I ac­tu­ally cocked a leg over the lat­est in­car­na­tion and felt its stag­ger­ing po­ten­tial first hand. That was a life chang­ing mo­ment on its launch in Aus­tralia, akin to dis­cov­er­ing al­co­hol as a fun de­prived teenager. There was no go­ing back. And since then the joy’s been on­go­ing across a plethora of ad­ven­tures on road and track. Suzuki’s built some­thing ex­cep­tional, and as a con­se­quence it’s left me ques­tion­ing just how much bet­ter this new bike is over the one that came be­fore? A back-to-back shootout was called for.

Weigh­ing things up

Sil­ver­stone was the cho­sen prov­ing ground, while BSB’s Tay­lor Macken­zie was to be my spar­ring part­ner. The na­ture of the test was sim­ple; ride the nuts off both bikes and see which went round cor­ners best, which was fastest in a straight line and which you’d most want to take home to meet the par­ents. In­evitably, there was only ever go­ing to be one out­come to the pro­ceed­ings, but it was more a case of grasp­ing the ex­tent by which the new Gixer trounced its pre­de­ces­sor. On pa­per, there was a mas­sive dis­crep­ancy be­tween the two ma­chines’ out­puts with the lat­est and great­est claim­ing to be 17bhp more pow­er­ful than the L6, and as far as tech goes, the old model’s prim­i­tive ar­se­nal of ABS and three throt­tle maps made it look only slightly more ad­vanced than a Ne­an­derthal when com­pared to the L7’s im­pres­sive ar­ray of fea­tures.

Aes­thet­i­cally speak­ing, there wasn’t much in it be­tween the two ma­chines as I in­dulged in the prover­bial tyre kick­ing process and made com­par­isons be­tween the two steeds in pit­lane. Sure, the newer bike was smaller and sharper look­ing, but it was un­de­ni­ably

a GSX-R, sport­ing a range of in­her­ited styling cues that had been passed onto the bike from its pre­de­ces­sor in much the same way as the for­go­ing model had re­ceived the very same treat­ment from the Gixer that came be­fore it.

That was a point which riled cri­tiques when the L7 was first un­veiled, who’d ob­vi­ously hoped for an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent look­ing mo­tor­cy­cle to the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, in much the same way as Yamaha had achieved with the launch of the cur­rent R1 back in 2015. But why change what’s proven to work? Suzuki fans will of­ten talk of how comfy and prac­ti­cal GSX-Rs are to ride, es­pe­cially on the road, made all the bet­ter by their ‘sit-in’ stance and pro­tec­tively large fair­ings and screens – I know this first hand from my ex­ploits on the L6, which was par­tic­u­larly awe­some at nail­ing long stretches of high-speed travel in rel­a­tive com­fort.

It’d been a year since I’d last planted my der­riere on the pre­ceded model, but my donor for the day felt im­me­di­ately fa­mil­iar. I’d be rid­ing the old girl first in this tale of two halves, which was much to Tay­lor’s de­light as the bike was fit­ted with brand new Bridge­stone S20R rub­ber that of­fered about as much grip as a ba­nana skin cov­ered in oil – lucky me. Nes­tled in be­hind its size­able fuel tank and hu­mon­gous screen, the old-school half ana­logue/half dig­i­tal clocks were charm­ing on the eye, with the wide stance ’bars and low mounted pegs re­mind­ing me of the bike’s roomy cock­pit. It felt chunky, but only by a dress size at most, with the L6’s curves in all the right places. Be­ing so used to the new bike, it was weird to not have to check what trac­tion level was en­gaged, or whether the power was on full. It was like go­ing back to an Am­strad by com­par­i­son to the fancy Mac-spec Gixer of 2017. It was a sim­ple point and shoot jobby, which felt pretty damn lib­er­at­ing.

Out with the old

The old GSX-R’s smooth mo­tor had al­ways been one of its best at­tributes, with suf­fi­cient torque on tap to mon­ster mono-wheel­ing with­out much thought or ef­fort. So much so that it proved im­pos­si­ble to re­sist a cheeky wheelie up the exit ramp onto the cir­cuit, be­fore in­dulging in a much longer taster on the run down the Welling­ton Straight, be­fore pussy­foot­ing into Brook­lands.

Even on that ini­tial out lap, rid­ing at a pedes­trian pace, the old bike felt heav­ier than I re­mem­bered and proved lethar­gic at turn­ing, made worse by the squirm­ing cold tyres un­der­neath. They were sen­sa­tions that stayed with me for the en­tirety of that cir­cuit, long af­ter the rub­ber hoops had picked up in heat and my kneeslid­ers were be­ing forced un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously into the abra­sive tar­mac.

The ef­fort re­quired to pitch the Gixer into cor­ners was note­wor­thy, but once in a bend the bike felt pretty planted. I’d for­got­ten how much tweak­ing I’d done last year to my loan bike’s fully ad­justable Showa sus­pen­sion. The stock fit­ment po­goes are un­doubt­edly good, but über soft as stan­dard and de­mand more damp­ing sup­port to slow the speed with which the Big Pis­ton Forks front end col­lapses on the brakes and into cor­ners.

An­other al­ter­ation I’d found ben­e­fi­cial was to in­crease the rear preload by 4mm, which helped the bike to pitch into bends with much less of a fight. On the roads these flaws never showed their heads, but on track, as they were do­ing on this test, it was im­pos­si­ble to not feel im­peded by them.

For the first three laps Tay­lor had fol­lowed oblig­ingly, but his pa­tience even­tu­ally ran out, caus­ing him to pull the pin and van­ish into the dis­tance on the newer of the sib­lings. I was blown away at the rate he rock­eted off, more so be­cause the old Gixer didn’t feel slow. It’d been hold­ing its own against most other litre bikes I’d come across, but I had about as much chance of stick­ing with Tay­lor as I did of pulling Count­down’s Rachel Ri­ley down the lo­cal boozer; it wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen.

I was fly­ing solo, but that al­lowed me to chill out and dial into the bike. To reac­quaint my­self with its seam­less – and quick-shifter-less – gear­box, silky throt­tle and rau­cous in­duc­tion note. Get­ting cal­i­brated with the aid-less power de­liv­ery was an­other big chal­lenge. On all 2017 sports­bikes, and many oth­ers dat­ing back over the past five years or so, tech­nol­ogy’s taken a lot of the chal­lenge from fi­nite throt­tle con­trol. Bikes have never been so pow­er­ful, yet so man­age­able, with the L6 be­ing a dis­tinct ex­cep­tion. It wasn’t just a slower bike, it was a tougher bike to ex­tract the best from. If you’ve rid­den Sil­ver­stone you’ll know it’s one hell of a fast track, where it’s easy to get the rear tyre work­ing at its limit as you drive hard out of cor­ners like Wood­cote, Copse and Stowe. But whereas on the L7 with its nine-tiers of safety nets to keep your arse end from go­ing walkies, the retro L6 is all about man man­age­ment with fi­nesse be­ing an es­sen­tial com­po­nent if you want to keep your col­lar­bones look­ing straight and pretty. Thank­fully its chas­sis is of the in­for­ma­tive type, and while grip lev­els were sur­pris­ingly high on the dated S20Rs, find­ing their limit wasn’t overly dif­fi­cult on the gru­ellingly fast sec­tions where hard drive was es­sen­tial to reach de­cent speeds down the huge straights. I’ll ad­mit to be­ing a bit ap­pre­hen­sive of go­ing balls-out with the throt­tle un­til my head had chance to cal­i­brate the con­se­quences of do­ing so, but come mid-ses­sion there wasn’t much hold­ing back. I was hav­ing a right laugh and re­mind­ing my­self of why I’d put the L6 on such a pedestal the year be­fore. In essence, it was the bike’s in­abil­i­ties that made it so much fun. It did most things well, as this track as­sault was prov­ing, but it was only when you pushed it to the nth de­gree that it gave you a sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity that was hard to find on more se­date, con­trolled al­ter­na­tives. It seems de­luded to be plug­ging such a dan­ger­ous trait in such a pos­i­tive sense, but that’s a re­al­ity of the pack­age. It was an ex­cit­ing bike to ride, which made it stand out against its tech­no­log­i­cally cas­trated brethren.

What was less fun was the way the bike’s an­chors came in to play… or rather tried to. Spongy, un­pre­dictable and just about as ag­gres­sive as a se­dated nun who’d been on the bot­tle all day, the Gixer’s monobloc

EV­ERY­THING ABOUT THE PACK­AGE FELT MORE RACE FO­CUSED WITH ITS SHARPER AND MORE AG­GRES­SIVE NA­TURE

Brem­bos very much looked the part, but were in fact the L6’s big­gest let down. Not that the L7’s are much bet­ter, but I know from old that if you’re lap­ping at a half de­cent track pace on the old Suzuki, the brakes are prone to los­ing pres­sure as they cook them­selves to death. Hav­ing clocked 10 laps on the bike that was show­ing to be the case so it was for­tu­itous that my ses­sion had also run its course.

Since part­ing com­pany with my L6 last year I’ve rid­den dozens of other bikes and can only think of the R1’s brakes be­ing equally as piti­ful, al­beit for their lack of bite and wooden feel. But you’d ex­pect the L6’s to be a lit­tle be­hind the times when you con­sid­ered the model was last up­dated back in 2012, which was when the afore­men­tioned Brem­bos got bolted into place. A lot of tech’s ad­vanced hugely since then, with per­for­mance, han­dling and rider aids tak­ing huge steps. The L6 is a re­flec­tion of an era that’s now come and gone, but it was a bloody good era and that’s why the L6 is worth con­sid­er­ing if you’re in­ter­ested in a re­cent used sports­bike. Tech­ni­cally speak­ing, that should also put all those Gix­ers since L2 on your radar, be­cause they’re the same aside from the colours, so keep that in mind.

Cue the new

My trip down mem­ory lane with the L6 had proven an en­joy­able one, but I was gag­ging to hop on the L7 and sam­ple its de­lights. I al­ready knew it was a weapon, but hav­ing switched steeds Tay­lor and I got back out on track, it in­stantly hit home just how much of a weapon it was.

Ev­ery­thing about the pack­age felt more race fo­cused with its sharper and more ag­gres­sive na­ture prov­ing it to be the per­fect part­ner for Sil­ver­stone’s blis­ter­ingly fast cir­cuit. I was in awe at how ef­fort­lessly the L7 made ground on the L6 out of cor­ners as its revvier mo­tor stretched its legs and stuck two fin­gers up to its torquier pre­de­ces­sor in the process. The drive­abil­ity was on an­other level and the hi-tech rid­ing meant get­ting out of cor­ners was ef­fort­less. The L7’s trac­tion con­trol sys­tem, es­pe­cially when weaned off to lower three se­lec­tions, is ex­cep­tional; a race de­rived sys­tem that was honed from the brand’s GP bike’s pack­age. It al­lows you to slide the rear out of place, while sup­port­ing you so smoothly that it’s hard to tell it’s even en­gaged. Hav­ing been so cau­tious with feed­ing the throt­tle in on the L6, I was now telling my throt­tle hand to work with­out re­straint and throw cau­tion to the wind.

The newer bike begged to be thrown deep into bends, feel­ing planted and re­as­sur­ing re­gard­less of the abuse you sent its way. The agility of the new model was ex­cep­tional and it made light work of chang­ing to a tighter line mid-cor­ner when try­ing to nav­i­gate the abun­dance of traf­fic that in­evitably came our way, and sel­dom stuck to the log­i­cal line. Un­like the older bike, the newer model’s trick Showa Bal­ance Free Forks and Cush­ion rear shock setup felt firm and ripe for the kind of stick a race­track throws a bike’s way. There was no need to touch a thing, as the Gixer just obliged with gun-dog like obe­di­ence. No task was too much, not even the high speed flick be­tween Abbey and Farm Curve, where one’s brains and co­jones are chal­lenged mano-a-mano style through the 120mph di­rec­tion change. On the old bike the front end had felt washy on the bump that kicks off the fast pitch into Abbey, but that same im­per­fec­tion did lit­tle to al­ter the feel or tra­jec­tory of the L7 as it an­ni­hi­lated the en­try with sheer con­fi­dence.

The bike felt smaller and eas­ier to hus­tle around, which helped to make the ex­pe­ri­ence even more en­joy­able. Over­all, as ex­pected, it was a much bet­ter bike than the L6. The older model now felt less bril­liant than how I re­mem­bered it to be. Suzuki were mocked for be­ing so late to the party with a new litre bike, but that wait was un­doubt­edly worth hold­ing on for. No bike is per­fect, but the L7 is dif­fi­cult to knock, as­sum­ing you over­look the same brak­ing foibles as high­lighted on the L6. It’s ex­cep­tional from the way it han­dles to the way it mon­sters straights, the way its tech works and the way its telling chas­sis brims you with con­fi­dence. It’s a great ma­chine to ride on roads and track, and its right up there in my mix of bikes I’d pick for my dream garage, un­like the L6.

Old but gold

The track rid­ing might have shown the L6 to be a bit of a duf­fer when com­pared to the new Suzuki, but that didn’t mean it was a bike to be avoided. While writ­ing this fea­ture I spoke to many own­ers of L2s-L6s, who all had sim­i­lar lev­els of high praise to throw at their steeds.

These guys were happy with their choice of bike. Most of them had tweaked theirs here and there, but not one of them men­tioned a hint of re­gret­ting their pur­chases. It was nice to note, as was the pric­ing of the no-longer-pro­duced model as I found ex­am­ples on­line of L2s for as lit­tle as £6,000 from deal­ers, with prac­ti­cally new L6s go­ing for around £8,500. It’s still a lot of cash in both in­stances, but it’s a lot more achiev­able than the full whack of buy­ing any brand new litre sports­bike. Of course, it all comes down to whether tech and out­right per­for­mance fig­ures are your thing, but if you can com­pro­mise on the brag­ging rights, I know first-hand the plea­sures of liv­ing with a last gen­er­a­tion Gixer, and would highly rec­om­mend it... just not as much as I would own­ing the lat­est gen­er­a­tion. That’s where it’s at, should you pos­sess a suf­fi­ciently large pig­gy­bank. We can all dream.

I M A G E S: PI C M A N

Bruce needed the new bike’s ad­van­tages to keep up.

Tay­lor loves a big bird.

Com­mit­ment! Old school cool.

Where’s Pac-Man? Gold vs Old

The L7 loves a bit of lean.

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