OLD v NEW ON THE ROAD
Is there a single thing that the old GSX-R can do better than the new one? Well yes, actually. The old bike is the one people admire. They want to stop and talk about it, perhaps because it is so honest in the way it looks. Even non-bikers sense that it comes from a simpler time.
Clambering on board is the first reality check. The 1985 GSX-R has an old café racer riding position, where you slot into the low V between seat and tank, back bent and arms outstretched without much control. Even around town your elbows touch your knees, and the mirrors are hopeless unless your chin’s on the tank. But the soft springs soak up potholes and drain covers, and the engine is astonishingly smooth and flexible. Apart from the muted top end, it could be modern.
Fast forward 10 or 20 miles on a good road and you’ll have discovered two personalities. One involves shortshifting through the slick gearbox at 5000-7000rpm, and wafting past cars while the birds sing and the sun shines. The other involves thrashing it a bit, and discovering what the 1980s were really like.
At much above 100 on a bumpy road everything starts to feel a bit vague. Go faster still and a gentle side-to-side swaying sets in, not just in fast corners, but sometimes in a straight line. The front end stays stable enough – but when it catches a cat’s eye you can feel it could kick.
Braking hard produces the same disconcerting movement, this time from the front, as the forks ‘walk’ towards the corner. There’s lots of lever travel and, beyond a certain pressure, nothing you do can make the bike stop any quicker. Possibly that will improve as the pads bed in. Possibly it’s just caliper flex. Certainly the whole bike has that plank-ina-swimming-pool feel, where you can’t change direction too quickly. And it doesn’t bank smoothly; after the initial lean it flops quite suddenly. Not ideal on cool roads dusted with the last of the winter salt and mud.
And yet... so what? Riding the F is a rich, delicious experience, conducted at sane speeds. I spent a long time afterwards just gazing at the bike as it clicked and cooled. Is it just the power of nostalgia? Or the organic thrill of a pre-digital machine?
Whatever the old GSX-R’S allure is, the new bike’s total performance package smashes it squarely in the face. Riding position: perfect. Engine: blistering. Suspension: set up for control. Brakes: huge power and feel. Agility: you bet.
You start off noticing the stiff springs, and worrying it’ll be a bonejarring nightmare after the old bike. But you never think about it again because you’re going about 20mph faster everywhere. And instead of being pinned behind a huge tank you’re sat on top, flicking the bike through turns with your hips, shoulders and core. The new GSX-R is designed to let you use your body efficiently.
And where the old bike sways and flexes, this one just digs in and grips. It still doesn’t run out of composure when you rag it to 13,000rpm at big lean in fourth, which is about as silly as it gets on the road. There’s less grunt than a 1000, but with a top speed beyond 170 the L6 is hardly a weakling. It can overtake anything, wheelie off the throttle, or even just exploit 10 yards of clear road. On the old bike you need to apply in writing for that kind of caper.
And it goes without saying the L6 is superb on a racetrack, handy on a tour and completely thrilling on a twisty road. You could ride it to the Alps in total confidence.
The only gripe is the clutch and brake levers set slightly too high – something Suzuki have done for decades – and the looks. Those fake carbon fibre panels don’t fool anyone. They just spoil the rest of the bike – including, bafflingly, the Suzuki logo.
Is there a whiff of endangered species about the GSX-R750? It hasn’t changed significantly for years yet it is efficient, reliable, superbly developed, and a brilliant all-round motorbike. Its only crime is a lack of zeitgeist. It would be a shame if that finally finished it off. No-one else makes anything quite like it.