For the second straight year, the Gixxer is still a phenomenal motorcycle, but an unchanged model in 2005 is a tough sell, especially considering all the improvements on the competitors.
If you were fortunate enough to read the prologue to this test, you'll know about the deal with the devil we had to make to get an ever-elusive GSX-R into our Alpinestar-cloaked hands. A special thanks goes out to Motorcycle Online for hooking us up with the test mule at the conclusion of their test.
In last year's shootout
, we expected the then-new Suzuki GSX-R600
to come out swinging. After all, it was the only one of the group to be in the first year of a major redesign and it boasted titanium valves, an inverted fork and radial mounting for its brake calipers and master cylinder.
As it turned out, the best the lil' Gix could do in our comparison was a third-place finish, behind the playful R6 and monsta-motored ZX. As it goes into 2005 unchanged, it's not surprising that its core values remain intact: quick yet stable handling; bags of midrange torque; a spine-tingling intake roar; and the sweetest gearbox in the gang.
The GSX-R seems to be slightly conflicted. It has the cushiest seat and the most protective fairing, yet it has the longest reach to the bars and the most rear-set pegs. Its stretch to the clip-ons might work well on the track (stay tuned), but they place too much pressure on a rider's wrists for street situations. And as nice as its seat is to get on after a long stint on the Honda, a few of our testers believed it to be too squishy for their particular bottoms. The seat is wider and more supportive at its rearward end, but with its forward-mounted bars it might take someone with arms like Michael Jordan to take advantage of it. For those who don't have NBA championship rings, the seat's pointy forward area has a way of cleaving a rider's hindmost crack that causes butt squirm over long distances.
"The riding position is fairly comfortable, although there is a long reach to the low-set bars," comments Brian Chamberlain, MCUSA's graphics dude and a former racer. "The bike feels a little bulky in comparison to the others, probably due to the wide tank and long reach to the bars."
The Gixxer's 101-horsepower engine also has opposing qualities. Its flywheel weight feels the lightest, making getaways from a stop a revvy routine, and yet it has a very torquey nature for a 600, besting even the big-bore ZX in torque production below 5000 rpm. Its dyno run showed torque humps at 7000 rpm and 9000 rpm that also exceeded the ZX (not to mention the CBR and R6). This superior low and mid-level power is offset by an early plateau of power after 11,000 rpm where the others continue to pull hard. Throttle pickup is quite smooth at lower revs, better than the R6 and CBR, but it can be a bit snatchy when re-applying throttle at higher rpm.
The GSX-R600 is the only machine in this group of middle-weights to go unchanged for 2005.
As the revs rise, the Gixxer responds with a raunchy howl that makes its intake tract as much of a boombox as it is an airbox. It's pure music to a gearhead, but its sheer volume can excite or annoy depending on your mood. The motor is remarkably smooth at some rpm but can be buzzy at others. A rider's hands will tingle after 45 minutes of straight-line droning, at which point the least amount of legroom in this group from its more rear-set pegs will have you ready for a break anyway.
When it's time to hit the curves, the Suzuki proves to have a stout platform that inspires confidence. Laid into a long, sweeping corner, the GSX-R is unperturbed by pavement irregularities. As it's the only one of the group to come equipped with a steering damper, the front end feels reassuringly calm and composed. While this is also a bonus on the track, it also makes it feel a bit clumsier than the others with its heavier steering responses, despite having the steepest rake angle. "The bike seemed planted on faster corners but required a bit of muscle on tighter sections," Becklin sums up.
While the others use a 41mm inverted fork, the Gixxer uses stouter 43mm tubes, likely contributing in some part to the highest measured weight in the group, which strangely was several pounds more than our test bike from last year.
The Suzuki's cockpit is much cleaner looking than pre-'04, with a tidy and easily readable instrument cluster that includes a handy clock but not a fuel gauge. We didn't like the shape of its turnsignal switch; its rounded edges make it difficult to activate with thick racing-type gloves. Its tall windscreen diverts the air above a rider's neck, which provides a measure of comfort on cold-weather rides.
"The GSX-R is a difficult nut to crack," notes Hutchison. "It seems to lack a bit of personality that the ZX, CBR and R6 have that make them endearing. But the Gixxer does nothing really wrong and can certainly hold its own as a commuter or a canyon strafer."
Performance-wise, the Gixxer stacks up quite well on the street. But in terms of appearance, MCUSA's style council judged the Suzuki last, with our five core testers ranking it last or second last. This isn't to say the GSX-R isn't attractive, but it particularly falls short of the sexy new ZX and the wedgy, edgy CBR. As always, your mileage may vary. Like most of you, our testers generally agree that an undertail exhaust system makes a sportbike look cooler, and the dull aluminum wrap on the Gixxer's side-mounted titanium-core muffler seems a bit shabby in this group of super models.
- Accessible street power
- Stable and sorted chassis
- S-T-worthy wind protection
- Feels bulky
- Featherweight hit up top
- Effective but a bit crude
"I now like the stacked headlight, but the GSX-R does look a bit dated compared to the ZX and CBR," says Hutch. "The Gixxer has always looked like it's ready for battle and it still retains that look people seem to really dig."
Unlike the ramp-style preload adjusters on the CBR and R6, the Suzuki and Kawasaki use the simpler locking-ring design that requires a hammer and punch to spin up more or less spring preload on the rear shock. This is a more precise method of adjustment, but the multi-position ramped design is much preferable for street riders because it requires just a simple turn from the supplied wrenches to soften it up for straight-line cruising or stiffening it for the twisties or for the addition of a passenger.