According to company spokesmen, even the makers of Suzuki's new GSX-R1000 considered the question. During the exploratory phase of the new model's development, the engineers wondered whether they should search for a bigger high-rev horsepower hit (the usual sportbike route), or provide a more linear power delivery for real-world motorcycling.
With so much riding on this model for the company's AMA and World Superbike championship involvement, the quest for yet more power was pretty much unavoidable. But the engineers also gave a nod to street-riding reality by including a three-stage performance-mode selector to vary the character of this potent bike's power delivery. A switch at the right hand toggles through A, B and C programs on a dash display, offering unadulterated performance at A (the default position at every start-up), a softened throttle response through the midrange at B, and a softened throttle response throughout the machine's operating range in the C-position.
I rode the bike in the B-position around the California Speedway's AMA track layout, an infield course that avoids much of the NASCAR high-speed oval, and still got the rear wheel to spin at the exit of the track's tight left-hand hairpin. Trust me; power junkies will not be disappointed. The GSX-R1000 has four-percent more power than before, now producing 182-horsepower at a heady 12,000 rpm. (The previous model's peak output was achieved at 11,000-rpm.)
It's an immutable law of engineering that you need higher revs for more power. To get the higher operating speeds, Suzuki's engineers enlarged the titanium valves and altered the camshaft timing, then they massaged the inlet tract for higher volumes, and modified the fuel-injection throttle bodies. To deal with the greater gas flow at the exhaust end of the engine, the engineers were obliged by increasingly restrictive noise and emissions regulations to fit an unusual dual-exhaust system with an under-engine catalyst.
To further reduce pumping losses encountered when pistons reciprocate at very high velocities, Suzuki increased the size of the crankcase vents between cylinders from 38 to 49 millimeters. The result is an engine that screams like a 600 at the top end of its tachometer, yet the supply of thrust from this amazing engine is anything but flaccid in the midrange. It pulls hard from somewhere around 6,000 rpm, and the rate of acceleration increases with mind-numbing intensity up to its 13,750 rpm redline.
In fact, the bike's acceleration at the top end of the rev range is vivid enough to cause its rider some concern about surface irregularities triggering a big wheelie or a ‘bar-shaking lightness in the steering at full power. But Suzuki pretty much solved that problem with an electronically controlled steering damper whose damping force is adjusted automatically by the engine-control module.
Even while accelerating hard through the bumpy chicane that follows California Speedway's right-hand hairpin, the big Gixxer felt reassuringly stable. Some of the stability might be down to the slightly lengthened wheelbase and revised geometry of the all-new chassis, but much of it is doubtless due to the smart steering damper. This damping-on-demand facility makes the bike's steering action pretty much transparent. It is light when you're making a U-turn at low speed and taut when the front wheel lofts at 12,000 rpm in a low gear. And at every point in between, the damper varies its effect in relation to the machine's on-road conduct. As a result, the GSX-R enjoys excellent high-speed stability, yet is easy to ride at the moderate speeds suited to normal urban commuting. And thanks to roomy accommodations and adjustable foot pegs, even tall riders can enjoy comfortable long-distance trips.
It's important to note that sheer performance is not quite enough--alone--to provide the overall appeal necessary to a satisfactory owner experience. Other aspects of the machine's personality have to meet the increasingly sophisticated expectations of the modern rider. In this regard the big Suzuki strikes a remarkable compromise. The machine has a new hydraulic clutch that is both easy to use and clear in its sense of control, and it teams perfectly with a slick-shifting six-speed gearbox. Powerful, readable one-finger braking is handled by two big disc rotors up front acted upon by radial-mount calipers, and the rotors now mount to the hub at 10 points instead of eight for better hear transference.
The list of technical improvements is long and detailed, but the overall result is a machine better able--through its various adjusttable suspension and control functions--to meet the broad range of needs of its owners. Despite its increased operating speeds, the big engine provides enough flexibility to handle weekday commuting and errand running. Yet it will come alive in a way that commands real respect when on a track. This bike, after all, is the basis of Suzuki's six-year dominance of the AMA Superbike championship, and you can feel it in the new GSX-R's genes.
Our track day was in keeping with Suzuki's current catch phrase for the GSX-R family of sportbikes: Own the Track. At California Speedway it was easy to believe we owned the track. The Suzuki's organic sense of control, stable yet responsive handling and indescribable acceleration made us all feel like heroes. And that, after all, is what people pay their hard-earned dollars for.
In this case, that pile of bills adds up to $11,399. In the interests of moderation, I might advise buyers to look at Suzuki's wonderful GSX-R750 first, at a mere $10,199. But something tells me most of them want the big one. Yes, it's still more bike than most people need, but--with the new performance mode control--you can at least now turn the power down. Whether that will ever happen is another question.