If you approach anyone who has ever ridden a litre sportsbike, and garner their opinions, they will normally tell you that they are too fast for public roads, a ‘handful’, and will make short work of your driving licence.
Switch off the tape recorder however, and they will tell you (probably in a whisper) that they are the most incredible machines, and that they make you feel like a riding god.
I had the fortune of owning a 2005 model for 5 years, before it was stolen and prostituted into the Eastern European track day trade.
In our time together we did many things, and I never found the bike wanting in any area. It was the perfect bike for me, doing anything I asked of it. If I was up for it, my ‘little’ Suzuki was too.
My journey to the GSX-R was an interesting one. I’d had a nice usable, comfy CBR6, which did the business for nearly 50,000 miles.
Flush with cash, I went out and bought a brand new KTM990SM. Having ridden the much lauded 950SM, I was excited about the more traditional approach (better saddle, more normal bodywork and seat) of the 990SM, but in reality it turned out not to be my cup of tea.
KTM 990SM – Turned me into a Total Jerk
KTM’s slogan is “ready to race”, and their bikes certainly are that; they have the DNA of 2-stroke motocross bikes, it’s all or nothing on the throttle and all or nothing on the riding position.
Whereas the 950SM had buttery smooth carbs, the 990’s fuelling was alright on a spirited test ride or when “on it”, but a nightmare in the real world where we spend most of our time between closed and open throttle.
It was a hunting, stuttering, jerky affair which I just couldn’t get on with. I tended to ride it as designed; all or nothing. My KTM was ready to race, I just wanted to get around in relative comfort. Good if you have a car, not so good as your only means of transport.
Cornering on a tall bike is bad enough without adding in snatchy fuelling. To make matters worse, the riding position was seriously high and the wind protection virtually zero, making the machine tiresome over distance. I loved the instant grunt of the engine, but really should have got the carbed version. A good looking, well built bike ruined by a dodgy throttle.
I sold the KTM after only 8months, and bought a K5 GSX-R1000 with 6,000 miles on the clock, in absolute pristine condition. I think it cost me just over 5 grand. It came with the Yoshimura tri-oval exhaust with removable baffle. I preferred the original, so eventually got rid of the Yoshi and went back to the standard toblerone exhaust, which was plenty loud enough and looked the business. Those mid 2000 bikes were not stifled by the latest euro emissions regs. Here’s a photo of the bike when I bought it.
- Fabulous engine; loads of grunt in any gear
- Relatively comfy riding position for a 1000cc sportsbike, as is the Suzuki Way
- Easy to work on and maintain
- Timeless looking colour scheme
- Highly desirable to thieves
Is 160bhp Too Much?
When you first have a go on a 1000cc bike, it’s a revelation. You can imagine the sort of visceral explosion you are going to encounter, but nothing prepares you for the real deal. Accelerating hard on a modern litre bike is like being fired out of a cannon. In a good way.
Fortunately everything else is just so, making the experience work. The weight is manageable, the feedback from the front and rear is sublime so you know exactly what is going on, and the throttle and brakes are powerful and effective. You feel like a riding hero, with immense amounts of power available at the right hand of god the father almighty.
If you have modicum of self-control, you can ride one of these on the road and not get into trouble. If you find yourself thrashing everything you ride to the redline, you might want to look somewhere else.
The flexible engine in a 1000cc sportsbike means you can just stick it in 3rd and leave it there, using the endless torque from that wonderful power plant to drive from 10 to 100 mph, like a giant scooter.
Speaking of flexible, the GSX-R1000 engine is a real peach. It is smooth and free revving in a way that a litre engine just shouldn’t be able to be. I had read all the press material about cylinder porting to reduce pumping losses, but it really did work.
So No, 160bhp is not too much when delivered is such a controlled and effective way.
Suzuki Makes Road Bikes
The great thing about the GSX-R1000, even over the KTM990SM, was its usability. It could do track days (it did), it could (and did) tour Scandinavia for two weeks. It could (and did) commute 120 miles a day into central London for 6 months, it could potter about at legal speeds without feeling like it wasn’t doing its job (something the hooligan KTM never managed).
These GSX-R1000’s are nimble enough to get through town traffic, and sporty and powerful enough to make mile munching on motorways effortless. Tuck in, get comfy and wind on the throttle.A do-it-all bike? Certainly, Sir. The only thing I missed was ABS, which is now available on the new model.
I loved the way that Suzuki made the bike so easy to work on. I did all of the servicing myself and it was the easiest bike ever to keep in good nick. I even fitted a chain oiler which make that part of the long distance work easy peasy.
Over the two weeks I was riding in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the only thing I missed was a decent waterproof luggage system, and a bolt from the rear brake caliper.
The 2005 GSX-R1000 was a seminal bike from Suzuki. It was a runaway hit, and stomped all over the opposition in racing. It remained largely unchanged until 2009, and was the basis of design of the BMW S1000RR. That’s quite a compliment from BMW.
The Blue and White colour scheme is a classic which will last for years. I don’t think it has been bettered to date by Suzuki with either cleaner lines or cleaner colour schemes.
The other bike which comes close is the Purple 2008 Fireblade, and the Single colour Kawasaki’s which are much much much better than the gaudy Kwak schemes of yore. I think Kawasaki might have invented the motorcycle shell suit.
The 2005 GSX-R looked right, it felt right and it went right.
What’s that you say? Sports bikes are no good over long distance? Nonsense, I didn’t have a car, so I took my GSX-R1000 everywhere I went. So where did we go?
Tour de France – 2000 miles from Le Havre to the Pyrenees and back (via Millau)
Track days at Brands Hatch and Cadwell Park – Stretch those Long Legs
What were the high points of the bike? Well, I liked many things but here’s a few:
The riding position is spot on. Having owned an upright bike (KTM) and two Sports Tourers (CBR6 and VFR800), I think a sportsbike has many advantages, especially at speed.
An upright bike, and those without any kind of wind protection, are a pain. You feel like your head is being pulled off and the circulation in your arms is cut off by the force of the wind pushing your jacket back.
Sports Touring bikes are better for high speeds, as they have a forward cant to the riding position. But even those are not perfect.
I found myself with back problems on my VFR, as I wanted to get down out of the wind blast, and found myself slouching to get under the screen. On a proper sportsbike, there is no slouching allowed. You are leaning forwards, and the weight is perfectly distributed between your hands, you groin and supported by your lower back and legs. It is a work out, but it keeps you in shape, and I had no aches and pains from 120 miles of daily commuting of the GSX-R into London.
The engine is a stonker. I know the KTM power plant was good; effortless torque from low down, but it was beaten hands down by the Suzuki’s masterful engine. This thing can pootle around town and the throttle is light and controllable with no snatchiness. When it comes to bike design, how can so many manufacturers get the link between your right hand and the engine wrong?
Overtaking is a breeze. Just give the throttle a slight twist and off you go. It was also remarkably frugal, typically returning 50mpg in the real world combined cycle (commuting into Central London). When new there was a little issue of a slipping clutch which was fixed by a replacement clutch plate from Suzuki (free of charge), but other than that, it was a bombproof engine. I checked valve clearances at 38,000 miles for the first time, and they were all in spec.
The suspension on the GSX-R is road-oriented. Plush and comfy, but controllable enough for the high speeds anticipated. If you have one of these I recommend you service the forks and the rear shock, I went to MCTechnics in Suffolk, where Darren who previously owned and raced a K5 GSX-R1000, worked his magic on the suspension. It came back plusher and yet more controlled (strange but there you go). Good for solo or pillion, and good for trackways and touring. Perfect.
The brakes were pretty good, I would have liked ABS for those winter rides into town, but I never locked up the front, and I only dropped the bike twice when it fell off its stand. I used EBC sintered pads and HEL braided hoses at the front which sharpened things up nicely.
I ran a number of different tyres. I think it came on some Michelin Pilot Powers, which were OK, but I swapped them for Pirelli Diablo which were a bit past it to be honest. Next I tried Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa which were great tyres, and then Dunlop Roadsmart which were my favourite and which gave great grip throughout the winter months. If I had the bike now, I’d be trying my favourite tyre of the moment; Pirelli Angel GT. I reckon they have plenty of grip for road conditions and are awesome in the wet and the cold and last ages. I wouldn’t hesitate to try the Dunlop Roadsmart 2’s either.
There are times when you are riding a bike, one that you are comfortable with, that you realise the pedigree that you are sitting on. I had two such experiences on the GSX-R.
The first was when I was riding through the underpass at Hanger Lane on the A40, and frustrated with a driver who was driving like a moron, I gave the bike a handful of throttle. Having been used to riding around sheepishly (you always recalibrate your throttle inputs for cold weather), I suddenly found myself hitting a damp patch in the tunnel, and spinning up the rear tyre at 30mph. I’ve had bikes with slipping clutches before, but this brought home the power, and control of the machine. I didn’t panic just let the bike ride it out, and it did.
The second was when I was exiting the IMAX roundabout at Southwark heading onto Southwark Bridge. It was a sunny day and the roads were warm, but my tyres clearly weren’t yet. I launched myself into the right hander and the whole scene when into slow motion as the front end tucked. I stopped piling on the accelerator, and stood the bike up fractionally and the bike sorted itself out. It was alarming, but I felt in safe hands. These are racer conditions, and not those I normally expect to encounter on public roads, but what the hey.
The battery is lamentably small, and if you don’t ride daily or use a trickle charger you’re going to go through a few batteries. It makes matters worse if you have an alarm fitted, which you probably will as were talking about a 1000cc sport bike here. Get a trickle charger, and if you’re in London in a parking bay (one of those with a lock on the back, naturally), then get one of those Oxford solar panels and tape it to the cover, or remove the battery in winter and keep it charged indoors.
I think I bought 3 batteries in total, and two chargers, one solar and one mains. At £70 a pop, they’re not cheap.
I will not buy aftermarket screens which are not dark or tinted. I managed to melt the clocks in the cockpit of my GSX-R as the sun’s rays were focussed through the screen and melted the plastic.
The biggest annoyance was the theft of the bike. If you have a bike, and it is desirable to you, then it will be desirable to a thief. Get yourself a Abus City lock as a minimum and stick it under your seat, and ALWAYS USE IT.
Always remember to put your steering lock on, too. I thought it would never happen to me, until it did, and I was gutted. In the future I will be fitting a tracker to any high performance bike I own. Road Angel Biketrac is a good system.
Sure I could have replaced the bike with another, but it wouldn’t ever be the same; I had fitted better horns (car horn), I had my suspensions refreshed, and I had looms for my heated jacket and my trickle charger fitted. I even had a chain oiler fitted. Could I do all of that again? Probably, but it wouldn’t be the same.
A future classic? As Rossi would say: “For Sure”