Phenomenally fast, better looking, easier to ride – but that’s simply not enough…
By Michael Neeves
Suzuki’s new GSX-R1000 K9 is a big improvement over the old K7/K8 model, but it’s not the giant leap forward we expected. It’s much more a case of evolution than revolution for the new Gixer, despite it having its most radical overhaul since it was introduced in 2001.
As well as looking similar to the old K7/K8, retaining the two-exhaust design, it’s pretty close in character too. It has the same ‘sit-in’ riding position and the same torrent of power when you twist the throttle. After a day riding it around the twisty Almeria circuit in southern Spain it’s clear it has new- found agility and friendliness the old bike lacked.
Compared to some of its competition, the GSX-R is not as razor-sharp in and out of the corners and it’s still missing that intoxicating mix of grunt and light weight that made the old K5/K6 the sensation it was at the time. With things like extra soundproofing and the ever-bigger catalysts Suzuki have to run nowadays to get through Euro 3 laws, it seems the glory days of the waif-like K5 are gone forever.
Another sign that it’s now 2009 and not 2005, is the price. The new bike is the most expensive GSX-R1000 ever, costing £9800 (Rs. 7 lakh approx) when it hits showrooms at the end of March. Gixxers have always been at the most affordable end of the 1000cc market, but it’s now nearly the dearest, just after the new R1.
Thankfully the new GSX-R1000 motor isn’t as angry as before, thanks to a mass overhaul (see following pages) to smooth out the rough edges. Although power and torque remain the same, a claimed 185bhp isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s still an obscene amount, but it’s easier to use than before.
Power is smoother all the way through the rev range and there’s grunt oozing from every engine bolt, despite having a shorter stroke engine than before. All this gives you the confidence to twist the throttle further. But don’t worry, the GSX-R1000 hasn’t gone all soft. The K9 still retains that spine-tingling, evil bark when you blip the throttle and it wants to wheelie at every opportunity coming out of corners. The K9 isn’t as flabby as the old K7, either. That went a bit ‘90s GSX-R1100’, compared to the lightweight K5 model that went before. With its 5kg reduction in overall weight combined with the smoother power delivery, the K9 is now much easier to muscle around a track.
Last year we did our 1000s group test here at Almeria. The K8 GSX-R1000 finished up
two seconds behind the slightly more powerful ZX-10R and the significantly less powerful FireBlade, the overall winner of our test. It was only a fraction behind the R1, though. The Suzuki’s bulk and lack of agility (you could even feel the weight getting it off the sidestand) compared to the competition was the main reason it lagged behind. This is a technically demanding track dominated by constant throttle, high radius corners and flip-flop chicanes, so you need a bike which is light on its feet. What I do remember is that it flew down the long sixth-gear back straight like a guided missile, as it would with a true 169bhp at the rear wheel.
I’m sure the K9 would make a dent in those two seconds if we were to run the test again. It still has the power and speed and it’s even easier to get that throttle open now, but it still lacks the agility of the Blade and ZX-10R. And of course now it has the grunty new R1 to think about, too.
Except for the straight, the whole of Almeria can be taken in second gear, so you have to ride the big Suzuki like some hyper-speed twist-and-go moped for most of the lap.
For corner after corner, you dive in towards the apex and the K9’s slipper clutch eliminates most of the engine braking, so you get a nice smooth, balanced corner entry as you dial in more and more lean.
Getting settled into a turn, which seems to last forever, at full lean and holding a steady throttle is easy, thanks to the fuel injection’s smooth and predictable response.
As the corner opens up, gently feed on the power, stand the bike up, feel for grip through the rear tyre and squirt it. With the taps open the K9 rockets to the next corner, front wheel skimming the tarmac and bum forced back into the seat hump, leaving you hanging on by your fingernails. This is every inch a mad, bad, howling GSX-R1000, make no mistake.
Despite its shorter stroke engine, it’s still packed with enough grunt to let you take corners a gear taller than you need, and it’ll still fly out the other side pretty sharpish.
The only thing that stops us from really uncorking the full fury of the K9 at Almeria is the standard road-going Bridgestone BT-016 rubber. The engine wants to play, but it’s a lot to ask of an all-purpose sports tyre to be ragged senseless all day, with only a break for lunch. They do a great job of hanging on, they warm up fast, grip well and are predictable, but you really have to be careful with your right wrist with all that oomph to play with.
On stickier Michelin Power One rubber I rode the K9 on the following day at Cartagena, it turns sharper and you can explore more of the chassis and engine. The two big things to happen to the chassis are the new longer swingarm and the Showa Big Piston forks (see following pages), which replace the old
Kayaba units. Let’s start with the Blade-esque short engine/long swingarm combo.
Asked for by Suzuki’s racers around the world the new longer ‘banana’ style swingarm improves rear tyre grip and predictability. Given the power on tap and the relative low grip of the road tyres in track conditions, you’ve got to say the idea has worked, because it’s only when the rear tyre gets very worn that it starts to slide. When it does it’s with warning and gradual.
I say slide, move a bit is probably more accurate, compared to what Sylvan Guintoli was doing when he was out on track with us. Suzuki’s new BSB signing and ex-MotoGP god was laying the most obscene, thick black lines around the track, and in places you’d never think you’d be on the throttle, let alone at full powersliding fury! He’s going to be a star this year.
Just like the FireBlade, which runs a similar long swingarm, you have to watch it when pulling a wheelie, something that’s de rigueur for GSX-R1000 owners. The front wheel comes up gradually as normal, then when it’s at about chest height it suddenly goes ‘whoosh’, and tries to loop. If you’re ready for it fine, if you’re not you might wake up with a crowd around you.
So, job done there with the swingarm, then but the new forks take more getting used to. They offer a lot of resistance when you ease off or brake, and they only really seem to work at their best when you’re really pushing hard.
For the first few riding sessions at Almeria I didn’t like them, they felt too stiff and made the bike feel heavy and slow steering. They also made my wrists sore by the end of the day. But after a while you realise that the harder you push the better they feel and the more you can judge what the front tyre is doing.
First impressions of the K9’s handling weren’t good when I first climbed on, it felt clumsy, slow-steering and slightly unstable on the rear going into corners. A lot of this was down to set-up.
Once I’d got up to speed and used to pushing the front end harder to make the forks work and give me feel, it was better. I also added some more preload (on John Reynold’s advice) to the rear shock to speed up the steering. By the end of the day I finally started to have some serious fun. On sticky tyres the K9 is even better.
Brakes are an improvement but they still have the same GSX-R trait of feeling a bit mushy at the lever and liable to fade on hard use.
There’s no denying the K9 is a superb motorcycle. Suzuki have been fanatical about weight saving and balance and all these tweaks to make it lighter and grippier will no doubt pay dividends for the race teams who use the road bike as the basis of their Superbike or Superstock racers. Die hard GSX-R fans will still go all gooey over its evil exhaust note, searing top-end rush and slider-shredding cornering ability.
But there’s something missing and I can’t put my finger on it. I wasn’t left giggling, or open-mouthed after each riding session, like I should have been. It’s exciting, there’s no doubt about that, it’s still a wild 180mph superbike, after all.
But maybe with all the changes I was expecting a lightweight, snarling GSX-R1000 K5 MkII? Maybe it feels and looks too much like the old K7/K8 despite all its changes? Maybe it’s still too bulky? Maybe it’s just that Honda and Yamaha have moved the game on so much with the Fireblade and R1.
This is the best-ever time to buy a superbike. They might be edging towards £10k (Rs. 7-lakh approx), but they’re at such a high level, have so much power and are so packed full of technology it’s insane. The trick nowadays isn’t to find more power, it’s to harness the incredible bhp on offer.
The Suzuki ticks all these boxes, it’s better than the old K7/K8. But for me, it’s not different enough to really get me salivating.
Ex-BSB champ and Suzuki test rider
“It’s a totally different chassis on the K9 from the K7. We’ve got a setting now where the bike works really well on the race track, and with a couple of turns of preload off the rear shock and a bit off the front end you’ve got a bike that’s wonderful for the road as well.
“Suzuki have taken all the feedback from the riders in WSB and all the people who’ve been riding the K7 and K8 and worked out what’s needed is more grip on the back end. The way the geometry of the chassis is now, it’s really focused towards racing bikes more than anything else.”
Crescent Suzuki BSB Team racer
“It was an interesting experience riding the K9 today because I’ve never tried a road bike before. I was really surprised. I always thought road bikes on the track would be heavy and soft, but the K9 is good fun and fast.
“We tried the K9 in Calafat a few weeks ago, but it didn’t have all the evolution parts on at that point.
“Now we will ride the K9 full-spec superbike in a test this week, so we can find out exactly what it’s like.
“ I’m looking forward to BSB, because we’ve done this test in Calafat and its gone really well and the team are really nice guys to be around and really good fun.”
Suzuki GB Sales and Marketing Director
“With the K9, we’re trying to maintain Suzuki’s position of producing the top-selling bike over 125cc.
“The racing side of Suzuki has brought the bike to a pinnacle with the front fork design and mass that’s been taken out of the bike.
“We’re critically interested in how this year turns out with all the new stuff that’s going on in WSB and BSB, and all the Japanese manufacturers face an interesting challenge this year. I think we’ve timed it right with what we’ve got.”
Under the skin of the GSX-R1000
More compact and lighter than before, this is Suzuki’s first major-league engine redesign in the GSX-R1000’s history. The K9 has a shorter engine, by 59mm front-to-back, which lets the bike run a 33mm longer swingarm to help rear tyre grip. The overall length of the GSX-R1000 is still 2045mm.
The new motor has a bigger bore and a shorter stroke to give more power at high rpm, but it still has the longest stroke of all the Japanese 1000s. A long stroke equals grunt. This more ‘over-square’ engine layout will give race teams more scope for tuning and raising revs safely. The redline is set at 13,750rpm.
There’s more power up top, but Suzuki claims more low and midrange torque, too, thanks to new camshafts, a reshaped combustion chamber and a hike in compression ratio from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1.
A new two-piece crankcase design and a lightweight crank accounts for most of the engine’s 670g weight loss. The crank has a more efficient lubrication system. Titanium inlet valves are up from 30mm to 31mm and exhaust valves up from 24 to 25mm. Double valve springs replace single ones for better control at high revs. By stacking the primary and secondary gears and moving the clutch and crankshaft forward Suzuki has been able to make the engine shorter. The rear sprocket is down one tooth from 43 to 42.
The throttle bodies are now 10mm shorter, with 12-hole fuel injectors providing a finer spray for improved combustion. Inlet trumpets are now different heights to improve midrange and high rpm efficiency.
There’s still a slipper clutch, but it’s now cable instead of hydraulically operated.
The swoopy exhausts have titanium headers and servo-controlled butterfly valves to maximize power through the rev range. The system is 400g lighter than before.
The new K9 weighs 5kg less than the old bike. The twin-spar aluminium frame is now shorter (from 645.8mm to 615mm) and comes in five welded-together sections. There’s also a cool ‘banana’ swingarm in cast aluminium, which lets the exhausts tuck in closer to the bike and is 500g lighter than before. The wheelbase is 1405mm – 10mm shorter than the K7/K8. Footrests are three-way adjustable, as is the gearlever. The new, removable cast aluminium subframe is lighter, too.
Showa replaces Kayaba for the new K9. New 43mm Showa Big Piston Forks (BPF) are now fitted to the GSX-R1000 for the first time. They have just one 39.6mm internal piston per fork leg controlling rebound and compression damping instead of two. They run a lower pressure than conventional forks, so there’s less change of oil cavitation. Springs are at the bottom of the forks and are submerged in oil. This simpler set-up is 720g lighter than conventional forks. Both compression and rebound damping screw adjusters are on the top of each fork leg and preload is at the bottom.
The new Kayaba rear shock (500g lighter) is fully adjustable, including high and low speed compression damping, and works through a new suspension linkage (200g lighter). The speed-sensitive steering damper is 45g lighter.
4. Brakes and wheels
New forged aluminium Tokico one-piece radial calipers are more rigid and 250g each lighter than the old two-speed items. These are bolted to new-style carriers. Different sized pistons are used on the leading and trailing ends of the calipers for even pad wear. The radial-pump master cylinder diameter is down from 19 to 17mm for better feel through the lever. Cast aluminium wheels are 420g lighter.
The new fairing has a narrower lower section for better aerodynamics and a wider top to improve wind protection. SRAD (Suzuki Ram-Air Direct) intakes, which cut into the new headlight, have new internal louvres and are moved closer to the centre of the bike to take advantage of the higher air pressure there. A new slimline tail section has clear lens indicators and comes with a clip-in single seat unit. The new fuel tank retains its capacity of 17.5 litres.
New clocks feature a gear position and power mode indicator, a bar graph showing how bright the clocks are and a lap timer, triggered by a button on the right bar.
On the road
Michael Neeves rode the K9 from the launch in Almeria to Cartagena, the venue for our upcoming 1000s group test. The route took in twisty mountain roads and motorway.
“If you’re coming from a K7/K8 GSX-R1000, the riding position will be immediately familiar. The seat is comfortable, you sit low and the bars are relatively high, so it’s OK to do distance on.
“There’s still good grunt at low revs, though you can’t be completely lazy. Purr along in high gear at normal speeds and you need to stir the gearbox to overtake cars.
“The Big Piston Forks still feel stiff through the twisties, but on normal roads they suck up the bumps beautifully giving very good ride quality.
“The K9 is more fun on the road than on track. You can clutch up big power wheelies at a ton. There’s an excess of power to play with, making the K9 the dog’s on the road!”
Evolution of the gsx-r1000
K1/K2: 988cc (73 x 59mm)•168kg (dry)
K3/K4: 988cc (73 x 59mm)•168kg (dry)
K5/K6: 998.6cc (73.4 x 59mm)•166kg (dry)
K7/8: 999cc (73.4 x 59mm)•172kg (dry)
K9: 999cc (74.5 x 57.3mm)•203kg (wet)