One bike that has slipped under the radar slightly however is the all-new 2009 GSX-R1000. Suzuki was a little late in releasing the new GSX-R for racing in America and getting it homologated and as a result the Yoshimura boys didn\\\'t even start racing the new model until the Barber, Alabama round in May which Mat Mladin promptly went out and won convincingly.
While it may not have been stealing all of the media attention, I was excited to throw a leg over the new GSX-R that was quietly wrapping up the American Superbike class here in America in its rookie year. After all, this was the first truly all-new GSXR in eight years. Was this just more of Mladin working his magic or was the new GSX-R such a special motorcycle that it could win the championship in what is supposed to be its development year? The first order of business would be to head to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California to find out just how good the new GSX-R performs on the track.
I picked the GSX-R up from the Suzuki headquarters in Brea and pretty much drove it straight to the track after mounting up some Dunlop slicks, the same spec tire used in American Superbike. At first glance the new Suzuki does not look visually all that different from its predecessor but once unloading the bike and taking a seat the changes soon started to become apparent. The bike had a much slimmer feel at the seat/tank area and just a tinier overall feel. Seat height was quite low and the clip-ons are also narrow helping to keep your elbows tight and tidy while at speed.
Taking a quick glance down revealed a new and very attractive gauge cluster that helps to freshen the appearance. The GSX-R features a few goodies to go with all of the usual instrument panel functions. There is a lap timer, analog tach and digital LCD speedometer, a more visible A-B-C display for the S-DMS (Suzuki-Drive Mode Selector), shift light system and gear indicator. The new panel gives the rider massive amounts of information while still being easy to view and a breeze to manage.
The selectable mapping system’s switch has been relocated, from the right clip-on switch to a new location on the left switch gear, to make it much easier to operate while riding. No longer is the rider forced to reposition his/her throttle hand to switch the mode.
Once accustomed to the controls it was time to fire off some laps in anger at Auto Club Speedway. Auto Club Speedway is an infield circuit that incorporates part of the Nascar oval and is mostly a point and shoot track. There are plenty of hard braking areas and flat corners that force you to stand the bike up quick and drive out of the corner. There is also a quick transition area when coming down off the banking that rewards a bike that can flick quickly while staying stable. Overall it is a good facility to gauge a sportbike\\\'s performance and one that I have put hundreds of laps down while on various different bikes.
Suzuki is only claiming a 3 horsepower increase from the 2008 model so I wasn\\\'t looking for the GSX-R to have more power; I was more interested in the Suzuki\\\'s demeanor while putting the power down to the track. The big change on the GSX-R power plant is the increase in bore by 1.1 mm to 74.5 and the stroke decreased 1.7mm to 57.3mm. This produces a shorter stroke motor which can spin up at the higher rev range and make more power up top, all the way to the rev limit of 13,750. The trade off is a slighter softer pull from the bottom (which is not necessarily a bad thing) making it much easier to manage off the corner. The valves now have a larger diameter thanks to the bigger bore of the motor and compression ratio has been increased from 12.5 to 12.8:1. Shorter (44mm) SDTV dual butterfly throttle bodies are used with dual 12-hole injectors and a new lighter airbox. The new engine has a host of other refinements creating a motor that is both lighter and more compact.
The new engine design proved to be quite potent on the track. The power hit off the corner was slightly softer, magnified by the tall street gearing, but once it’s revving, the motor shows some serious acceleration. I found myself getting on the throttle very early in the corner thanks to the predictable delivery and was able to maximize my drive to pick the revs up early in order take advantage of the great surge at 10,000 rpm where you could really feel the GSX-R pull. Fontana\\\'s long straight was an excellent place to take advantage of this new motor and I was amazed at how a motorcycle creating this much power seemed so easy to ride. There was none of the intimidation factor you sometimes get with a big bike when you pour on the coals; it\\\'s 100% useable power. The motor pulls all the way to redline, and while there is a solid kick at around the 10,000 rpm mark, there were no peaks or valleys in the rev range, smooth as butter and in typical GSX-R fashion the fuel injection functioned smoothly and without glitches.
The transmission also performed flawlessly and had good engagement and useful gear ratios. Riding primarily racebikes on the track equipped with quick shifters I am usually able to exploit any weaknesses in a tranny in the first few laps on the track; I tend to get a tad lazy with the clutch and forget you need to shut the throttle when banging gears down the straights. No problems here though as I was always able to hack my way into the next gear.
Another thing I have become fairly accustomed to is top quality racing suspension. Riding a stock streetbike on the track can often lead to some significant, shall we say "issues". I am happy to report, that unlike most of my past girlfriends, the GSX-R did not have any issues. In fact the new Suzuki\\\'s suspension felt amazingly composed and stable at race speeds. Much of this composure is due to the GSX-R\\\'s new Showa Big Piston Fork (BPF). Fork tubes are 43mm and feature a 39.6mm large diameter piston sliding inside the fork and eliminating the traditional internal cartridge tube. The advantage is a more accurate damping with less oil pressure and the forks have also been reduced in weight by 700 grams compared to the 2008 model KYB forks.
One circuit through Fontana\\\'s right hand corner leading onto the back straight section had me convinced that this new design was going to take me to my happy place. I have always struggled in this tricky section in the past on stock suspension. While being a slow corner it is crucially important to master for a good lap at Fontana because it leads to a very fast straight. The common problem I find here on stock forks is a "too soft" feeling that won\\\'t let the bike settle. Because of this unsettled feeling you are in the corner too long, forced to wait that extra time to get back on the gas. The GSX-R forks had none of this soft, unsettled feeling however. I was able to put the bike in the corner aggressively and the front end would track and never waver. The front-end was very sturdy without feeling harsh in any of Fontana\\\'s corners and if you would have told me these were fully built Showa race forks I just may have believed you. The Showa BPF was giving me the confidence and feedback to push hard on Fontana\\\'s many long, flat corners and stability up front under hard braking was superb.
Adding to the overall stiff, planted feeling of the GSX-R was a new Showa rear shock with adjustment for high and low-speed compression. There was no pumping at the back while on the gas and the shock was doing a good job putting traction to the rear Dunlop slick. At 160 pounds I am a pretty average to light size so the spring rates worked excellent for me.
The new GSX-R felt very flickable, especially in the fast section coming off the banking and would change direction with ease and stability. The Suzuki has dropped some weight for this year, 10 pounds to be exact and some of that comes in the crucial area of the alloy wheels. This no doubt helped ease the transitions as the front wheel is now 180 grams lighter and the rear 230 grams less.
The GSX-R uses an electronically controlled steering damper to monitor motorcycle speed and adjust damping to keep everything under control when the transitions got a little bumpy. I was still able to get a pretty good wag at the bars through Fontana\\\'s fast back section but never anything that was out of control so the unit was doing its job.
The Suzuki now features a shorter overall wheelbase coupled with a longer swingarm. This is done in an attempt to improve agility while at the same time increase traction. While the new geometry seemed to transition better than the previous model in the fast flicking section and have good agility, I was having some trouble finishing off the corner as the GSX-R wanted to run slightly wide on exit.
The 2009 GSX-R puts the rider slightly more on top of the bike than the previous model and when hard on the brakes it seemed that my weight was much more front biased. I found myself trying to get my weight back and off the tank while braking to get more weight on the rear to get the back tire to grab a little more and keep it from getting too squirrely. There also seemed to be less engine braking on the new GSX-R and not as much back torque from the slipper clutch. I am a rider who likes a lot of engine braking so it took me some getting used to as I seemed to be freewheeling slightly into the corners.
The slipper-clutch has been refined and joined by a new one piece clutch/starter cover. The clutch has also now been changed from hydraulic to cable-actuated. Feel from the clutch was excellent and was ultra-smooth.
The new radial-mount Tokico monoblock calipers up front are in charge of getting the GSX-R stopped in a hurry. While they do an impressive job they do not quite possess the power to be a class standout. Feel at the lever is good and was never spongy. I did some long stints in hot weather and never experienced any fade. The Suzuki uses Nissin calipers in the rear and they have been reduced in size by 8mm and are now lighter. Suzuki claims no loss in performance and for the small amount I use the rear brake they felt just fine.
The GSX-R is a potent weapon on the racetrack even in stock form. My lap times at Fontana on the new GSX-R were within a few seconds of my times from the AMA Superbike race earlier this year and faster than any times I have ever done at this track on a street motorcycle; all of this done with stock gearing and riding through typical trackday traffic. There is no one area of the GSX-R that jumps out as the reason why the bike gets around the track so fast. It\\\'s more of a combination of doing everything well while having no major weaknesses and as a racer that is all you can ask for.
With all the talk of the Suzuki\\\'s new top-end motor some people may have been a bit worried the GSX-R would be about as entertaining as a cricket match while ridden on the street. Street riders need not worry, within my first few miles on the street I was convinced this motor packed more than enough torque and punch in the lower revs to make street riding equally as exciting on the street as it had been on the track.
The ergonomics of the GSX-R felt good on the street with no awkward bends at the hands and knees. There was no road buzz putting the hands to sleep and the low seat height makes it easy to maneuver in the parking lot and around town. The mirrors were also quite useful which is a good thing seeing as I got a nice view of some flashing lights behind me while on my Sunday ride. Turns out the young police officer just wanted to get a little better look at the bike and make sure it wasn\\\'t stolen since it was being ridden without license plates. The officer was an avid sportbike rider and a big AMA Superbike fan so he gave me his business card and said he\\\'d like to come to a race sometime. If only all traffic stops could be that enjoyable!
So while the new GSX-R may not have been released with the hype of some of it\\\'s competitors there is no doubt some fanfare is definitely in order. The new Suzuki performs as well on the street as it does on the track and that is saying something considering how many racing championships the GSX-R has notched on its belt.
Although the Suzuki is new from the ground up there is no mistaking that this is a GSX-R. Looks and feel are very similar to the previous model but with some nice enhancements to make it feel fresh, exciting and, well, tinier. This is one of the most refined motorcycles I have had the chance to ride and there is not too much I would ask to change. It\\\'s comfy enough for the street, makes useable power, and it\\\'s an absolute missile on the track. Throw on some race gearing and this bike will put a privateer on the AMA Superbike grid.
While there is stiff competition in the liter-bike class with each of the Suzuki\\\'s rivals possessing very strong points, the GSX-R does an impressive job at putting it altogether into one magnificent, well-rounded package.