Big Bandit Pinsent puts his oar in
Most game-changing motorcycles are wonders of technology or performance – or both. Machines such as the first race-replica GSX-R or mould-breaking superbikes like the GPZ900R or first Fireblade. If not, they’re usually clever new concepts like the Ducati Monster or Honda Goldwing.
But Suzuki’s brilliant Bandit was none of these – it was quite the opposite. As a four-cylinder roadster the Bandit was utterly conventional. Thanks to having a familiar layout and proven components, it was versatile, practical and fun. But, best of all, with the 600 being £3999 new when supersports were nudging six grand, it was phenomenal value. So much so, that the Bandit 600 became the first big bike for a whole generation.
Olympic gold medal-winning rower Matthew Pinsent was one of them. “It was the Spring of 1997 and I’d only recently passed my test,” he told MCN. “I was on my Suzuki Bandit 600, riding back from London on a straight bit and thought: 'Well, this is as good a time as any, I might as well have a go at the ton!'” It was that kind of bike.
Plenty of others popped their biking cherry on the Bandit. Reader Richard Moore said: “My 650 K7 Bandit was my first big bike and I loved it. It was reliable, comfortable, easy to work on, cheap… and, when conditions allowed, quite rapid.”
Nick Hodgins is another Banditista: “My Mk2 600 Bandit introduced me to riding on the continent. I took it to the Black Forest in 2014 and spent the next few days having my mind blown. It handled everything from wet, twisty roads to long motorway stints.”
Phil Buckthorpe also cut his teeth on the Suzuki: “This bike is important to me. For a first big bike on an A2 licence the Bandit is so easy to learn and work on, and is one of the best restrictable bikes you can get!”
Not bad for a machine which, when launched, was considered something of a parts bin bitsa.
The first GSF600N Bandit landed in the UK in 1995 after a preceding, less well-known 400 version (plus a 250 in Japan). Like those it used proven ingredients in a common sense recipe: the solid, 78bhp brisk, oilcooled four from the GSX600F along with decent suspension, brakes and wheels all joined together by a tubular steel frame, handsome bodywork and conventional but pleasing enough clocks, switchgear and mirrors.
The result, while in no way earth shattering, was friendly, familiar, surprisingly good fun and so cheap one magazine’s cover shouted: Laughing all the way to the bank.
Yet Suzuki had a further ace card to play: a double, or should that be quadruple whammy. There wasn’t just one Bandit available, not even, with the addition of the half-faired S version, two. With the launch of two big 1200 brothers the following year there were FOUR Bandits to choose from, all at budget prices and now to suit all requirements, as 1200 owner Terry Richardson discovered:
“I’ve owned two Bandit 1200s and it is, for me, one of the best bikes on the market. It has the touring aspect, enough power to play with sportsbikes, there’s lots of personalising that can be done and it won’t break the bank.”
Cliff Holifield is another owner – or rather, he was. “I owned one until February when I was knocked off by an elderly gentleman who said he didn't see me. The following week I would have owned the bike for a nine full years, during which she was ridden in all weathers as my daily commute. The poor old girl was written off but what a nine years we had together!”
Many others have similarly fond memories. It should be no surprise, then, that not only was the Bandit, in all guises, a huge success it remained so popular that it lived on for almost 20 years, necessitating two significant updates, latterly to 650 and 1250cc.
And though, now, due partly to Euro4 regulations, both Bandits are finally no more. As a used buy, however, it remains hugely significant to a huge number of budding big bikers.
One of them is 25-year-old reader Dean Goundry. “I’ve just passed my test and own a 17-year-old 1200,” he told MCN. “My father got a Bandit when I was 13. I did thousands of miles on the back. He ended up selling it in 2013 and regretted it every day but found it last year and bought it back. That inspired me to do my test and buy my own.”
I found a straight bit of road and went for it’ MATTHEW PINSENT