Mon­ster trucks still a blast for dis­tance. Cor­ners (for the GSX) a lit­tle less good

Suzuki’s GSX1100EF and Yamaha’s FJ1100 once marked the mid-’80s bound­ary be­tween big, long be­he­moths and lighter, more nim­ble crea­tures – but to­day, they both make (very) sub­stan­tial sports tour­ers

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Inside -

“Tow­er­ing grunt the flick of a wrist away – a wel­come re­minder of how lazily tes­tic­u­lar big-bore en­gines used to be”

BIT HARSH of Jim, re­ally. “Whales...” he says. He’s the ed­i­tor and they’re big old bikes for sure, but we shouldn’t pre­judge the FJ11 and GSX11 just yet.we haven’t even rid­den them. “...the roads and scenery will be per­fect.” Ah –Wales! Good idea. Just over 100 miles of mo­tor­way to get there and a 200-mile loop around finest­welsh pointy bits sounds like a fine way to ex­plore the sports tour­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Suzuki’s GSX1100EF and Yamaha’s FJ1100.

And so it is my co-rider Jimmy and I come to be pro­pelled along the de­lights of the early-morn­ing M6, dodg­ing over­tak­ing ar­tics and un­der­tak­ing dawdling white vans. Both bikes purr at 5500rpm and around 90mph in top (fifth gear), with what feels like equiv­a­lent tow­er­ing grunt the flick of wrist away, and gen­er­at­ing boom­ing, traf­fic-bust­ing stomp from their big-bore, air-cooled in­line fours. It’s a wel­come re­minder of how lazily tes­tic­u­lar big-bore en­gines used to be be­fore the Big Four went down the short stroke/ peak power/sky-high rpm devel­op­ment route – there’s no hang­ing around wait­ing for a highly-strung mo­tor to scale a ver­ti­cal wall of revs; the GSX and FJ sim­ply stand and de­liver when you slap the throt­tles open.

I’m tonk­ing along, tak­ing the first stint on the FJ1100.AND what a clas­sic mo­tor – de­vel­oped from (but sharing noth­ing with) its pre­de­ces­sor, the un­der­rated two-valve shaftie XS1100, the FJ landed in 1984 along­side Kawasaki’s GPZ900R and to­gether the pair her­alded a trouser-stain­ing new era of sportsbikes. It was a crack­ing good time to be a mo­tor­cy­clist; one day the topy­amaha was an ill-han­dling, naked bus, next day it’s a sleek, sporty, half-faired su­per­bike re­ar­rang­ing the na­tion’s per­for­mance ter­rain. Un­like Kwak’s GPZ, the FJ re­mained staunchly air-cooled – but the rest of its spec was horse­power heaven: 16-valve, bucket and shim val­ve­train for re­duced mov­ing mass, holes bored be­tween cylinders to re­duce pump­ing losses (as ev­ery GSX-R has seemed to claim as Suzuki’s idea), and al­ter­na­tor be­hind the block to min­imise en­gine width – re­sult­ing in a claimed 125bhp (mea­sured at a more re­al­is­tic 116bhp) and a 150mph top speed.that was some 25bhp – or a third – more than the XS1100 de­liv­ered.

Mean­while the chas­sis was ad­vanced too – a steel box-tube perime­ter frame (with a ‘Lat­eral Frame Con­cept’ de­cal on the fair­ing) cra­dled the mo­tor, rather than hav­ing the over­grown bi­cy­cle frame most big bikes used to that point.the brac­ing around the FJ’S head­stock was com­plex and sub­stan­tial, and un­usual in that the frame spars tri­an­gu­lated in front of the steer­ing stem; the head­stock was ef­fec­tively sus­pended be­tween them in a lat­tice of tub­ing – like early Bi­mo­tas.

The FJ’S run­ning gear was top deck too: 41mm forks with preload and damp­ing screws liv­ing un­der caps on the forks, and three-way anti-dive on each leg – the beefi­est and most ad­justable forks in pro­duc­tion. Yamaha’s ris­ing rate Monoshock also came with sub­stan­tial preload and damp­ing ad­just­ment, brakes were big 280mm discs

on the clocks, but wears them well with main­tained, but un­re­stored, pride.the body­work still has a deep lus­tre, and the en­gine’s deep black fins are as men­ac­ing as ever.andy has added plenty of tour­ing, and few cos­metic, en­hance­ments: a satnav, USB socket, heated grips, en­gine bars, stepped com­fort seat, LED head­lights, Mo­tad N-eta sys­tem and a Givi­wingrack are prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.the pol­ished fork slid­ers are purely for looks, but not my cup of tea. “I love them!” says Jimmy, won­der­ing out loud if he can get hisvfr800 forks done.

But boy, how the FJ11 rides.the mo­tor is the core of the per­for­mance, dol­ing out a smooth, sen­sual rush of torque from so close to tick­over you won­der if the en­gine’s ac­tu­ally a mas­sive elas­tic band.there are no steps in the de­liv­ery; the car­bu­ra­tion is per­fectly crisp, the im­mac­u­late con­nec­tion be­tween what your brain wants and the mo­tor sup­plies is en­tirely in­ti­mate. Drive is so lin­ear and ef­fort­less the FJ puts on speed with de­cep­tive ra­pid­ity – it never feels dra­matic, right up to the point you glance down at the speedo and clock triple fig­ures.this thing can truly shift.

And de­ploy­ing all that shove is easy too – the FJ is a 30-year-old bike that han­dles pretty close to its orig­i­nal de­sign brief. Steer­ing is light and neu­tral, weight is bal­anced front to rear and sus­pen­sion still has plenty of damp­ing; theyam rolls con­fi­dently through bends with none of the la­bo­ri­ous coun­ter­steer re­quired on many older, big bikes (I’m look­ing at you, Suzuki GSX1100EF). Brakes have plenty of stop­page time in them – but only once we’ve bed­ded-in what we as­sume to be new pads. Watch­ing Jimmy skate the FJ sideways into a round­about, leav­ing a smok­ing black line from theyam’s rear Bridge­stone BT45 is highly en­ter­tain­ing – for me.

“Every­thing about the bike is re­as­sur­ing, smooth and plush,” he says. “Throt­tle nice and light – so I thought the brakes would work.that woke me up!”

Over a Costa, we dis­cuss where the FJ1100 fits in the scheme of things. “What’s a good FJ cost?” asks Jimmy, in­ter­ested in buy­ing one. I’ve seen low mileage minters at nearly £5k ask­ing, and prop­erly grotty ex­am­ples on ebay for less than £1500. But there aren’t a huge num­ber of ri­vals for a large ca­pac­ity, car­bu­ret­ted, in­line four sports tourer.the CBR1000, early Black­bird, Kawasaki ZX-10B and ZZ-R11...

“Or maybe the GSX1100EF,” says Jimmy, mo­tion­ing to the Suzuki parked out­side.

The Suzuki is slightly odd for sev­eral rea­sons. First, this is a 1986 GSX1100 EFG – the last of the air-cooled GSX line – with 39,500 miles on its bores. So in both those senses, the Suzuki is a younger bike than the FJ11. But it’s a whole gen­er­a­tion be­hind the 1984Yamaha in de­sign and devel­op­ment.

The Suzuki is born from and last in a long line of con­fus­ing mod­els, kicked off by the GS1000 in 1977. Suzuki were the slow­est of the Ja­panese fac­to­ries to build a 1000cc en­gine, but the thou was based on a bored and stroked GS750 – a devel­op­ment process that would come to char­ac­terise later GSX-R mod­els.the base GS spawned many vari­ants – the E,S, L and G. By 1980 it grew in ca­pac­ity and valve area to be­come the 1074cc, 16v GSX1100 – again, in naked ET

“The GSX is enor­mous. If you threw it at the scenery, the scenery would lose”

and EX form, as the half-faired ES, the Katana-styled naked EZ, the Katana S mod­els, the naked ED... hard to fol­low.

By 1984 the writ­ing was on the wall for the big, air-cooled in­line four – with devel­op­ment of the first GSX-R1100 un­der­way for over two years, Suzuki just needed to squeeze a few more units from the GSX be­fore the R took over – so a 2mm over­bore took ca­pac­ity to 1135cc, and a new square sec­tion steel frame, monoshock rear end, 16-inch front and 17-inch rear wheel sizes and styling over­haul gave the GSX a few more years.as be­fore, there was a naked E, half-faired ES and this bike, the fully-faired EF.

The end-of-devel­op­ment-line sta­tus means the GSX1100 is, still, fun­da­men­tally, a gi­ant, mo­torised push­bike.the mas­sive mo­tor makes no ex­cuses for be­ing a wide, heavy lump, with al­ter­na­tor and ig­ni­tion on the crank ends. But with the top rails of the frame run­ning over the en­gine, bi­cy­cle style, rather than around it as the FJ1100’S does, the Suzuki’s big fuel tank lifts the bike’s cen­tre of grav­ity.added to its ocean liner wheel­base and raked out steer­ing – all to ac­com­mo­date that gi­gan­tic en­gine – and the Suzuki has an over-com­pro­mised ge­om­e­try and weight bal­ance. It makes the bike su­per-sen­si­tive to han­dling de­fi­cien­cies; tyre pres­sure and wear, sus­pen­sion set­tings and main­te­nance, and frame true­ness and wheel align­ment mat­ter a lot more than they would on a bike with a more for­giv­ing set-up.

This is im­por­tant be­cause the GSX1100EF is ab­so­lutely enor­mous. If you threw it at the scenery, the scenery would lose; the 1100

would put a size­able dent in any moun­tain. You wouldn’t want that to hap­pen.

But, right from the off, it’s a very real pos­si­bil­ity be­cause there’s clearly some­thing amiss with the Su­zook. Lots of un­re­stored, slightly tired bikes wob­ble a bit at var­i­ous speeds – but it takes no time at all to dis­cover the GSX goes into a full-scale egg-beater, ’bars wag­gling from lock-to-lock, if we take one hand off the ’bars for a sec­ond.

It makes flip­ping up vi­sors, wav­ing at Jimmy and gen­er­ally rest­ing one arm on the tank a bit tricky. Plough­ing a fur­row through Bala in­wales, a mo­ment’s for­get­ful­ness as I sit up slow­ing into town gen­er­ates a steer­ing wob­ble nasty enough for a farmer in his Land Rover to flash his lights and lean on his horn. Not sure how he was help­ing there.

The GSX is less than keen on go­ing around cor­ners, too; it takes a big ef­fort to lean on the ’bars and make it steer. It feels just like un­der­in­flated tyres.we stop at a garage and check.the Suzuki’s Bridge­stone BT45S – same hoops that serve per­fectly well on the Yamaha – are in­deed a bit flat.

Ah.with a more sen­si­ble high 30s psi in them, the Suzuki’s steer­ing woes are di­min­ished, but the wob­ble is just as bad.and a se­ri­ous front end vi­bra­tion at around 80mph ham­mers through the forks too – enough to make me won­der if the caliper bolts won’t shake out.and there’s one more is­sue, be­fore we get to the good stuff – the GSX has a grow­ing mis­fire.at the start of the ride it was just off tick­over, clear­ing its throat at around 3000rpm. But now, half­way round Wales, the mis­fire has crept up to 5000rpm, and keep­ing the Suzuki run­ning at low speeds re­quires lots of re-start­ing the en­gine. Which kills the bat­tery. Blimey.

“It’s hi­lar­i­ous!” ex­claims Jimmy. Is he mad? “No, you’ve just got to man it around,” he says. “I mean, it would be nice if it was lighter and steered bet­ter, but you get the feel­ing it is what it is. Even if the chas­sis was tip top, I bet it wouldn’t feel much dif­fer­ent.” They’re all like that sir. On the plus side, when the Suzuki’s mo­tor is on the boil, it’s a lovely, grind­ing, barg­ing thing, growl­ing and grunting with sur­pris­ing vigour. No won­der they used them in so many drag bikes and high-pow­ered spe­cials with trick frames – and you could ditch the chas­sis, that way.the GSX isn’t as smooth as theyamaha – there’s a rough patch at cruis­ing revs – but it’s charis­matic and mem­o­rable.

And, weirdly, the Suzuki isn’t half bad look­ing ei­ther.at first Jimmy doesn’t get it – “That fair­ing looks like it’s an af­ter­mar­ket item, on skewwhiff,” – but park the GSX on a hill (if you can get the side­stand down – you have to tip the bike over its op­po­site bal­ance point to fold it out), then re­tire 20 paces and look again.the gleam­ing­vance & Hines head­ers, melt­ing gen­tly into the belly pan’s plas­tics, and big sin­gle head­lamp have an al­mostart Deco/blake’s 7 qual­ity. The ’80s sci-fi theme con­tin­ues with tail light and

clocks – the GSX even has a dig­i­tal gear in­di­ca­tor, which is the last thing it needs.

We stop for more fuel – the Suzuki is drink­ing more than theyam, tak­ing the 20 litre tank to re­serve af­ter 125 miles. It then swal­lows 15 litres, so there’s plenty spare – but the fuel con­sump­tion works out at 39mpg.the FJ is sip­ping un­leaded from its 24.5 litre tank (that’s mas­sive!) at 46mpg; good for well over 200 miles.

But the full range is no prob­lem on the GSX; it’s comfy, even if it can’t match the Yamaha’s level of nice.the Suzuki’s steep clip-ons take a mo­ment’s gig­gling to get over, but there’s a lot .

As we wrap up the day’s ride and head for a night’s stop over in Llannn­ear­dow­ell, Jimmy pi­lots the GSX along a typ­i­cal­welsh back road.the Suzuki leaps and wob­bles, and even needs a three point turn when we miss a side road. He’s clearly en­joy­ing him­self. Mean­while the FJ gets on with the job, calmly and ef­fi­ciently. No moun­tains were harmed in the mak­ing of this story.

Thanks to:andyames for the FJ1100 and Steve Smith for the GSX1100EF.TOP men.

“A steer­ing wob­ble nasty enough for a farmer to flash his lights and lean on his horn”

Turn you brute! GSX hair­pin fun

Big bikes were ac­tu­ally BIG when these ruled

GSX en­gine has the edge

Yes, it’s moun­tain ex­cite­ment for our two highly skilled testers

You’d bet­ter pick the right line on the GSX be­cause it hates change

Pleas­ant val­ley time­warp, and they both look great

Yamaha has class, Suzuki has style (and lots of it)

When anti-dive was all the rage

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