Cape Town - Suzuki’s GS150R commuter single is old school in the very best sense of the word: straightforward, robust and eminently suited to its purpose, which is ferrying people around the city and its suburbs.
It has a compact air-cooled 149.5cc single with just one overhead camshaft, two valves and a 26mm carburettor, rated for an underwhelming 10.3kw at 8500 revs and 13.4Nm at 6000rpm. There’s no vulnerable aluminium radiator, no fuel-pump, no water-pump and no external hosing.
When a fuel-injection system gets clogged by dirty petrol, it’s a workshop job requiring some sophisticated equipment, but anybody with the appropriate screw-drivers and a couple of toothpicks, who has ever cleaned out a Primus stove, can service a slide carburettor at the kitchen table.
Like most air-cooled engines, it’s noticeably cold-blooded on start-up, and needs its mechanical choke to ensure a clean start, but that can be dispensed with in about 30 seconds, and the bike gently ridden away to warm up on the road.
Unsophisticated it might be, but once hot it runs willingly - and surprisingly smoothly - well beyond its power peak and almost up to the redline at 10 000rpm, feeding power via a light clutch with very little feel, a slick-shifting six-speed gearbox and a fully-enclosed final drive chain to the spindly 100/90-18 rear tyre.
Top gear, we’re told, is an overdrive, and certainly a swift downshift to fifth is called for in order to maintain forward momentum on all but the gentlest inclines. The gearbox is a honey, though, and within half an hour of getting the bike, seamless shifts in both directions were the order of the day.
The GS150R is fast enough up to 70km/h to stay ahead of all but the hottest hatches, and pulls strongly up to an indicated 90-100km/h, which also seems to be its natural cruising speed. It takes patience and a long straight to get much more than 110km/h on the sophisticated liquid crystal instrument panel - the bike’s most modern feature - and the most we saw, flat on the tank on a one-way run, was 127km/h at 9600rpm.
Which makes it all the more ironic that this was also the bike’s biggest failure, when our GPS revealed that its genuine top speed was 113km/h, for a totally unacceptable 12.4 percent speedometer error.
The neatly integrated analogue rev-counter is spot on, however, and the whole display is beautifully legible, even in direct sunlight. The switchgear is also a little old-school - straightforward and intuitive, including an on-off switch for the headlight - and all the better for it.
Fuel consumption over the test period worked out to 3.69 litres per 100km, including performance testing. At the current petrol price of R12.56 per litre at the coast, my 32km commute to work and back would cost me about R75 a week. A weekly Metrorail ticket for the same journey - which also involves about 10 minutes’ walking at either end - costs R84.
The chassis and running gear are of a piece with the drivetrain: steel frame, twin shocks, 240mm front disc brake by Indian Brembo subsidiary ByBre, 130mm rear drum brake and - thank you Suzuki! - both centre and side-stands.
Steering is dead accurate, thanks to skinny tyres and a well-braced steering head, although a little over-sensitive, while the brakes are as good as they need to be and no more, with plenty of feedback from the front disc at least.
The sitting position is bolt upright - on a bike this short-coupled it would need to be - but very comfortable, thanks to an ergonomically correct and deeply padded dual seat. The headlight pod is also very modern - mounted too low in the current idiom - yet boasts not only a decent headlight but also a pair of LED daytime running lights.
Suzuki says most GS150R sales are to businesses for use as delivery bikes, because it is robust and, at R26 819, competitively priced. But there’s another aspect to this old school design: ease of maintenance. While no father would let his child fiddle with the gizmotronics on a R40 000 fuel-injected pocket rocket, the GS150R is an appropriate classroom for teaching them the basics of motorcycle maintenance - oil changes, cleaning carburettors, adjusting cables and drive chains, even replacing brake pads.
Not only will you forge the bond of a shared interest with your teenager, he or she will learn basic techniques that will stand them in good stead no matter how sophisticated a machine they may move up to – and that makes the little Suzuki an ideal starter bike for young riders.