Cape Town - Suzuki came late to the electronic superbike wars, years behind its German, Italian and Japanese rivals, and it has profited by that, learning from their efforts and distilling the best of today’s computerised wizardry into a remarkably user-friendly package.
Whereas you sometimes need a factory mechanic with a factory laptop to get the best out of BMW’s S1000 RR, while both Kawasaki’s ZX-10R and the Yamaha R1-M offer so bewildering a variety of parameters that you have to make notes on paper to keep track of the bike’s programming, and the Honda CBR1000RR’s full-colour flight-deck display is so complex that it has to have its own set-up programme, the Suzuki GSX-R1000 L7 has only two parameters - each of which can be adjusted ‘on the fly’ if necessary, without taking your hands off the grips and, once you know the bike really well, your eyes off the road.
It has three engine mappings, each of which delivers the same 148.6kW at 13 200 revs and 117.6Nm at 10 800rpm, but with varying degrees of throttle response. In ‘C’ or rain mode, it’s as linear as it possible to make a four-cylinder engine, with the smoothest torque curve I’ve yet seen on a motorcycle, while ‘A’ or track-day mode is more akin to a cobra striking, with two distinct steps in the power delivery.
There’s no adjustment for the cornering ABS, but the six-axis traction control is tuneable through nine settings, as well as ‘Off’ (only for the brave, and then only on track days). Engine mapping and traction control setting are both controlled by a simple up/down rocker and ‘Select’ button in the left-side switchgear, and the results show up in two boxes on the bottom left of the LCD instrument panel while the engine kill-switch rocker on the right is also the start button.
While I still have my reservations about bar-graph rev counters, this one is better than most, and everything else on the display is both legible and intuitive.
The all-new 999cc engine is Suzuki’s first litre-class Gixer without a balance shaft, and that shows up in a noticeable handlebar buzz that gets worse as the revs rise - and boy, do they rise, especially in A and B modes, shrieking up to 14 500rpm before the rev-limiter steps in, accompanied by a wail that’s as addictive as it is intimidating.
In 'B' mode, which I used for everything except the high-speed runs, there seems to be a direct connection between throttle position and road speed: dial in X percent more twist on the fly-by-wire throttle and you get X percent more speed – in any gear, without hesitation or wind-up. It’s almost clinically precise and predictable which, on a bike this powerful, is very reassuring.
The high-speed runs were less so. With engine mapping set to A and traction control off, I cracked it wide open down the infamous Six-Kay Straight, but before I hit top gear the airflow over the fashionably low screen was buffeting my head so badly I couldn’t see where I was going. I later even found a mark on the fuel tank where the chin-piece of my helmet had chafed against the paint during my four abortive attempts, the best of which was good for only 228km/h.
I have no doubt, however, that with a taller screen, the new GSX-R would be on a par with its rivals, nudging 300km/h even in full street trim with mirrors, stand and a big fat rider in place.
On our ride and handling section, by contrast, the Suzuki was magnificent, second in rideability only to Aprilia’s superlative RSV4. Its steering, on road tyres and the factory’s median suspension settings, is marginally slower than its classmates, precise to a fault (you do have to concentrate when you’re hustling this bike through the twisties) and the sophisticated suspension tells you about every matchstick in the road without transferring those inputs to the chassis.
It went through the R&H section at a near-record 144km/h average, where 120 is the pass mark for a sports bike, and while the bumpy test section was a (not unexpected) pain in the kidneys at a steady 80km/h the Suzuki never pattered or went off line even on the worst stretches.
Braking from the Brembo four-pot radials delivered a little less bite than I expected (and a lot less than the same brakes on the S1000 RR, for which I was profoundly grateful, ABS or no) but a gentle squeeze netted plenty of controllable, easily modulated retardation. The L7 is one of the few bikes I feel comfortable on, going into a corner with the brakes still on and letting them gradually off as the power goes on.
And thanks to the traction control, you can turn it on as hard as you like. For most of the test, I kept the electronic nanny on full duty at 9 (it wasn’t my bike) and gradually got used to giving it a handful out of corners, with never a wiggle or headshake to spoil the moment.
Suzuki’s Top Gun even makes a better than decent commuter; with the engine in ‘C’ mode and traction control in charge of the rear wheel, it filters through traffic like a shark through tuna.
Its superbly linear throttle response and predictable handling lets you slice through the gaps in the gridlock without sawing on the twistgrip or hauling at the bars. Likewise, the seating position is by no means as radical as it looks - a triumph of ergonomics over style – although the bum-pad does a fair imitation of a plastic plank.
Don’t kid yourself; no 150kW litre-class sports-bike is easy to ride. You have to concentrate on what you’re doing and you need to acknowledge from the word go that if you get silly with this thing it will bite you. But of all the current crop of computerised crotch rockets, the Suzuki is by far the easiest to understand.
And that’s a bigger deal than you think, whether you’re crawling home through five o’clock traffic or out there doing what Sunday mornings were made for. Just remember: if you’re going to do track days on your GSX-R1000 L7, fit a taller screen.