Issue 16 May-Jun 2008
Back Issues

Suzuki's GSX 650F

A bike for all reasons

Does Suzuki's sensible GSX 650F herald a move toward sanity - Ian Kerr discusses...

Despite what the latest middleweight from Suzuki may appear, it is very clear that Suzuki have some very sharp brains running the company, people who can see outside the box and are not afraid to take the odd chance.

Why do I say this? Well in a lot of ways you could look at the new GSX650F and simply say 'it is a Bandit with a fairing' (which is something they themselves are trying very hard not to say or even hint at) and just dismiss it!

In simple terms though, it is a true statement, but the reality is that it is much more than that. It is a very clever attempt to increase sales and give, certainly some older riders, exactly what they want without appearing in any way patronising. A bike that has style and pose value with an all-round practicality, at an affordable price, or as Suzuki put it 'an all day sports bike'!

I will stick my neck out and suggest that even the most cynical rider who has ridden most things over a period of say the last fifteen years will not be able to get off this new offering without heaping praise on it.

Take the launch for instance, it is rare for journalists to be so enthusiastic about a bike after a day's riding, even if it is the South of France, but they were with this. Even the Suzuki staff are privately admitting that this could be their biggest seller for 2008, despite having some other pretty impressive bikes on offer!

Let's take the ergonomics first. The bike has a relatively low seat height at just 770mm (30 inches) which will help a lot of people with short legs.

The riding position is relatively upright and comfortable, with good handlebar to seat to pegs relationships and the one-piece seat is well padded and comfortable. The pillion also gets a similarly good deal.

You get the style and colour scheme of the phenomenal GSX-R range, so you have pose value without the discomfort and lack of practicality. Despite its small dimensions it physically looks more 750 than 650, so it has quite a presence even when stationary but with much lower running costs thanks to the simplicity of some items.

A quick look at what lies beneath the plastic is in order so that you can fully understand what has taken place. This will help you, so you don't keep using the 'B' word in your local Suzuki dealership and upsetting them, like we did deliberately on the launch at every opportunity.

However, when you start working through the specs, there is very little that has been changed so it is hard not to compare. But, you could argue that it all works so well, why bother to change a winning formula, just tweak it here and there. The frame remains a double cradle tubular steel affair with a conventional swing-arm at the rear and 41mm conventional telescopic forks at the front. These have pre-load adjustment, while at the rear the single KYB shock gets the addition of rebound damping to go with pre-load.

The wheelbase is a sensible 1470 mm and there is just 26 degrees of rake to help give the bike a very neutral, stable feeling at all times. Bridgestone tyres in the shape of a 120/70 section front and 160/60 section rear are mounted on 17-inch cast alloy wheels and give credibility as well as handling.

Braking comes from a pair of four-piston Tokico callipers gripping 310mm discs at the front backed up by a Nissin calliper working with a single 240 mm disc at the rear. A perfectly capable and adequate set-up, by anybody's standard.

Sitting in the middle is the now well established liquid cooled, four-cylinder, across the frame, four-stroke motor. Three ring slipper pistons, SCEM coated cylinders, direct ignition spark plugs, hydraulic cam chain adjusters, stacked gearboxes, the list goes on.

It almost goes without saying that Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valves (SDTV) digital fuel injection is used for better power delivery and making sure it easily passes Euro 3 emission tests. Shame it still has to have a massive silencer to go with though!

All of this is then enveloped in a fairing that very definitely has its DNA in their sport bike range. Stacked headlights, fake air inlets and a set of instrumentation that is very definitely sport bike orientated even down to the gear indicator and the programmable shift light in the console.

A conventional rev counter with a 12,500 redline sits next to digital speedo to help passing the cameras a more accurate and safer experience.

Alright, the only real differences then seem to be re-valved suspension and an ECU and fuel injectors with different part numbers apart from the fairing. But, and it is a big but, they are two very different bikes to ride because the F is a bike that encourages you to go out and ride it, rather than being a practical form of transport, like its sibling.

You sit in the GSX650F, it feels comfortable, the motor is smooth and willing and the bike feels right from the moment you turn on the ignition. The bike is well balanced at walking speeds, there is plenty of lock, unlike a sports bike, or for that matter some larger touring bikes.

Suburbia, or in the case of Beziers in France, the village outskirts, are OK, you just know that any traffic or turning around for photo shoots is going to be easy thanks to the well balanced neutral feel. This translates into an overall feeling of well-being for the open road and encourages you to tip it into your first real bend without a moment's thought.

In fact when we did get into the mountains with some brilliantly smooth black-top, spectators may have thought they were watching a practice session for a WSB round. Certainly nobody was griping about budget suspension systems or lack of feedback as so often happens on launches that are not for the very latest sports machine.

Ground clearance was not a problem either, even with the massive can on the offside and there was little unused rubber visible on any machine at the end of the day. (Interestingly the only listed accessory to date is a centre-stand, which may of course seriously compromise said clearance.)

So from a handling perspective, it is excellent and you can actually feel that you are pushing the bike towards its limits, rather than just beginning to scratch the surface. Obviously somebody on a pure sports bike like a 600 Gixxer that is nearly 50kg lighter than the 217kg GSX 650F, is going to leave you sniffing their exhaust fumes.

The ten minutes they gain over a day though will be wasted in the bath soaking away their aches and pains, because unlike the sports machine, this is a comfortable bike to ride all day, exactly as Suzuki claim. Obviously the rate of progress will be slower as the F is not as quick, but if you are prepared to work the bike, then you can still have an awful lot of fun. Power delivery is very linear throughout the range and it is very hard to detect any power-band as such. Between 7,000 rpm and 10,0000rpm seems to be the area to keep the needle for maximum progress without actually ringing its neck.

A 125 mph top speed may be seen as slow, but given increasingly draconian enforcement levels it is more than adequate. Let's face it 100 mph touring on the continent is the average for long days, (what! ed) which this bike can easily achieve with plenty in reserve.

The fairing works well keeping the worst of the icy blast at bay, although on a personal level I would want a taller screen, but that is just me and my height.

Back to the engine, it all works well and delivers whatever sort of ride you want to have at any one time. As usual the Suzuki gearbox is still the best on the market bar none and definitely something other manufacturers should carefully examine/copy!

When you just want to get from A to B the bike offers a relaxed, easy going ride that will allow you to keep up with traffic without constant use of the gearbox, apart from the off overtake. Clearly a bit of mid-range retuning has taken place, even if it is not highlighted in the spec sheets.

So are there any faults, anything to put you off buying it? Well the straight answer is definitely NO in capital letters, not when the price is just £4,999, something of a bargain!

You could say it has no character or soul, or that it is not the work of art that some bikes are. However, for most of us a bike has to be fun as well as providing us with transport at an affordable price. You can get enthused about this machine and I can easily see a few people taking the basic package and tweaking it to their own tastes as and when money allows.

Despite my all too brief association, I tend to agree with Suzuki management and can easily see this bike being the sales surprise of 2008, with maybe sports bike sales dropping off in favour of this rather than Bandit sales. Oh dear I promised I would leave that word out of the copy and have failed miserably, but it is a compliment, honest.

Ian Kerr

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