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?
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.
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.