Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Suzuki GSX600

The CBR600 receives more adulation from the seasoned old hacks masquerading as motorcycling journos than any other contender in the 600cc bracket. True also that the GSX600F was on the receiving end of many a vitriolic attack from the press when it first arrived on these shores in 1988, but I needed a 600cc motorcycle and I don't believe everything I read in the press.

So,after a series of objective test rides I concluded that the FZR was uncomfortable and twitchy even if it did look the part. The GPX was fun to ride but was so badly made it looked like the half finished product of a reluctant YTS victim on a Friday afternoon. Okay, so the CBR is a good, nay even fine specimen of two wheeled technology but it’s a Honda - 'nuff said (did I say objective tests... ).

Excluding the now long in the tooth GPz600 and XJ600, that left the GSX600F, a characterless little motorcycle that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Habitat Teapot - to paraphrase one of the aforementioned journos. Now, you have to be a bit unusual to buy a bike just because the others in its class aren't quite the ticket, so after locating a used example (marked up at £3195) at my local dealer's showroom — G reg, 3000 miles on the clock, no trace of tinworm attack or obvious abuse (apparently used by a retired Cistercian monk who used it once a week to go to Sunday mass) - it seemed a fairly obvious step to test ride it.

I tested it out and bought it on the spot. Why? Because it does almost everything I want it to. Having said that, the next thing is to qualify the statement. I actually wanted a bike to use every day, firstly as functional transport - secondly as a tourer; and having done that it had to come up with the goods in moments of road bravado. The GSX has so far catered for all these things without missing a beat - well alright, it did blow three tail light bulbs before I located a dodgy earth at the bulb holder. A minor irritation. save that at the time it was a real pisser...

It starts on the button, with the aid of the handlebar choke when cold, reaching operating temperature quickly. Although I would like to have seen an oil temperature gauge incorporated - the enormous fuel gauge could have been reduced to half its size. Sitting on the bike you notice just how comfortable is the wide curvaceous seat. The pillion perch is a separate item and lofts the incumbent way above the pilot's head. If you’re a passenger who likes to know what it is you're about to hit, this comes as a real bonus, as does the sturdy looking grabrail, big enough to take both gloved hands.

As a result of the high step between rider and pillion seat, you've got a ready made bumstop for those flat out runs down the motorway; with an indicated top speed of 145mph it comes in handy. Should you be thinking of foreign travel or long distance rides, I covered 400 miles on one particular day on a recent European tour, with luggage strapped to the flat topped pillion seat and did not suffer the aches, pains and square arse syndrome offered by other bikes after only a trip to the local off-licence.

The 4.4 gallon tank offers a range in excess of 200 miles, even with the worst return figure of 46mpg. The best consumption was 60mpg, whilst there’s nearly a gallon of fuel in reserve, although the reserve switch is a bastard to turn if you've got your winter gloves on - Suzuki obviously didn’t take into account a typical British winter when designing this little faux pas into the bike, although credit must go to the chap who designed the fairing. When it rains it actually keeps your legs relatively dry, as well as significantly reducing the strain of prolonged high speed riding.

The obvious disadvantage of the all-over tupperware is having to take it off if you intend to carry out any maintenance. A pain in the proverbial if you want to change the plugs or generally fart around with the engine. Admittedly, there's not much to do as fer as routine maintenance goes - the valves need checking every 4000 miles, oil and spin-on filter every 3000 miles, plugs at 8000 miles. the camchain tensioner is automatic, ignition is microprocessor controlled. _ 

After one fairing off job, I was pleasantly surprleed to find that all seven components slotted back into place without the need for any gentle persuasion, something that was sadly all too familiar on my previous bike (a FZ750) whose panels fitted like a rubber glove on a chicken’s lips. The size and position of the oil filler hole requires sleight of hand, great ingenuity and endless patience to actually put oil in the motor. Similarly, the cheap and nasty chain adjusters cause much frustration but, luckily, the chain hardly ever needs attention.

This is more than compensated by the ferocity of the brakes. Twin piston calipers at the pointy end and a single at the rear, biting into drilled discs offer all the sharpness and feel of a more track orientated machine The rear pads were down to the metal after just 10000 miles, although the fronts would go for about 12000 miles - strange as the front was much more used than the rear. The front brake lever is blessed with a span adjuster for riders with fingers of unusual length.

For those who like interfering with ancillaries, the suspension package consists of three position damping adjustment at the front using individual knobs sited on tap of each fork leg. The single rear shock offers seven position pre-load and four damping variants. The pre-load is altered using a good old C spanner which requires much grovelling on the floor. The damping goes from soft to fucking hard and is adjusted by rotating a knurled dial at the tap of the unit - which is only accessible by removing the left-hand side cover. I've found the front on position 2, the rear pre-load on 5 and damping on 3 to be the best compromise.

The original rear Japlop was fine until the tread pattern disappeared after 5000 miles and the subsequent Metz ME55 became slick after a similar distance. An Avon AM23 is currently shrouding the three spoke alloy at the arse end. The front Japlop survived an astonishing 9500 miles before assuming the identity of the elephant man’s head with lots of strange troughs and peaks plus a nasty selection of grooves. This mutant state conspired to render the handling a bit unusual. It will be interesting to see if the replacement ME33 does the same.

The mirrors might score an award from the Disneyland School of Design resembling as they do a remarkable likeness to Mickey Mouse’s ear, but for practicality they suck. Great if you want to study your arms and part of the gutter. The bungee hooks are thoughtfully mounted the wrong way round on the frame rail and two helmet locks are provided, so you can leave your prized Arai or Shoei and return a couple of hours later only to find some tramp has, in a dissipated alcoholic haze, mistaken it for a urinal and pissed in it.

Enough of this crap, what's it like to ride? Well, it handles as well as anything I've ridden before, except the precocious NS400R. At berserk speeds on bumpy roads it can get a little out of shape, but not seriously enough to scare. Where it really scores, though, is medium to fast paces, where everything stays in line, even if you're off line. The ease with which directional changes can be made is reassuring, dropping from vertical to peg scraping angles and back requires minimal effort - a result of the short wheelbase amongst other things. However, this also compromises straight line stability at high speed on less than perfect roads. Nothing too drastic, just a gentle reminder that you shouldn't take the piss.

It’s a bike that requires a lot of throttle abuse and cog swapping to make it go, like all 600s. but the more you put in, the more you get out. The clutch cable needed a good oiling when I picked the bike up. It now operates smoothly, enabling slick changes up and down the six speed gearbox, which has ratios perfectly matched to the power.

The 12000rpm redline is attainable in all gears including top, with three power bands at 5000, 7000 and 9000 revs on the way. Not the intoxicating, neck snapping kick up the arse delivered by the RG500, but noticeable all the same. At 5000rpm an annoying patch of vibration manifests itself through the pegs and bars - since this equates to 60mph in top it is uncomfortable to be legal. Slightly rolling on or off the throttle makes it disappear. Two up riding does take its toll and turns a rev happy mill into a wheezing asthmatic lump, again symptomatic of the 600 class. I'm never keen on going apeshit with a pillion, so who cares? The DOHC four is rattly at tickover, perhaps down to its air and oil cooled nature, so anyone who suffers from paranoia would do well to note that it is supposed to. How you tell when the camchain is shagged I do not know.

The bad news is that if the bike falls over and shatters the plastic the result is great expense (£850 in my case). Imagine the damage if it had been moving. Apart from its lack of crash resistance, a few silly design errors and no discernible character, the Suzuki is worth buying. A smooth looking, cheap, reliable and comfortable sports touring machine. Just make sure you insure it fully comp.

Tom Alford

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