Suzuki’s big bore, mile munching Bandit sets a new benchmark for value and comfort in the Indian superbike market reckons Bunny Punia
Photography Sanjay Raikar
It was way back during the 1998 (or was it 2000?) Auto Expo in New Delhi when my brother got a brochure of the Suzuki Bandit from Maruti’s hall. The next few days were spent trying to gather as much information as possible on the bike from my utterly slow and unreliable dial-up internet connection. Years passed by and as my secret love for this bike grew, the machine itself got positive upgrades. Carburetion was replaced with fuel injection, the engine got another 98cc and another cog was added to the gearbox. However, what remained the same (well almost) was the Bandit’s sticker price making it one of the best deals on two wheels in the big bike market. Why Suzuki decided to skip this model for India often surprised me to no end. However, some say, the wait is always worth it. Was it?
Motorcycle earplugs are made and recommended for a reason. Cruising towards Belgaum a day after the photo-shoot at an indicated 120km/h on the digital speedometer, the Bandit’s 1255cc motor lazed at just 4000rpm. However even with a relatively high visor, the wind buffeting and the inadequacy of my helmet to stop air from getting in meant all I could hear was the wind roar hitting my face and the occasional horn that I had to use. I had covered the last 90km from Kolhapur in under an hour including slowing down for two toll booths without having to push either the bike or myself. In all, these 330km from Pune were banished with utter ease in four hours including grabbing a quick bite enroute. The last time I covered such a long distance on a big bike was yet another Suzuki – the mighty Hayabusa. The difference here was that neither did I have aching forearms nor a broken back. If time permitted, my destination for the night would have been Bangalore, another 500 odd kilometres away.
The history of the Bandit goes back to the ‘90s. When launched, it came with a detuned 1100cc engine from the Suzuki GSX-R1100 in a simple tubular-steel frame, bargain-bin suspension and brakes. It still proved to be a hit and a hooligan. Most people who bought one, often rode on one wheel – blame the torque for that. However over the years, the Bandit, if I may say, matured. Today, it sells in both the naked and the faired (the ‘S’) version and is regarded as a purchase as good as stealing.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Bandit will fare at the bottom of the current breed of superbikes in India when it comes to looks. However, the half-fairing exposes the huge lump of metal nestling below the fuel tank and this, along with the chunky and fat exhaust are what lend the Bandit its character. Further, the four huge exhaust pipes exiting from the cylinder heads look mean. Up front, the half-fairing is neatly mounted, fully-lined and is no wider than the tank. It does its job of keeping the elements off an average built rider’s torso with no fuss or flapping. The rear of the Bandit again does with subtle styling, though I personally loved the short ending mudguard, exposing the wide 180mm section tyre. India gets two colour options – black and grey. The twin-pod speedometer console is chrome-bezeled in the 1970’s style and as expected, the design is nothing to rave about. That said, it is simple and quite legible. The left has an analogue tachometer with the right one housing a small digital display for speed, fuel, distance and time.
Undoubtedly, in the case of the Bandit, the real beauty lies below the skin and it is the refinement that runs through and through the motorcycle. Apart from the engine’s known ageless reliability, what really impressed me was the absence of vibrations and harshness across the rev range. Be it commuting in city traffic or scaring the living daylights out of fast moving cars on the highway, the liquid-cooled four cylinder engine feels remarkably smooth. Suzuki claims the reason for this is due to various features like a central cam chain, staggered transmission shafts, tighter spacing between the pairs of cylinders and a secondary balancer shaft.
With motorcycles close to 200 horsepower already on sale in India, the Bandit’s 96bhp motor seems pale in comparison. However, as the age- old saying goes, there is no replacement for displacement and of course for torque. The engine churns out an impressive 107Nm of torque and the beauty lies in the way it is developed – at just 3700rpm. Compare this to say 100Nm of the Honda CB1000R at 8000rpm and you realize just how punchy this motor is. The roll-on figures in the fourth, fifth and sixth cogs speak the same story, bettering even the 186PS GSX-R1000’s timings for the 40-60km/h and 60-80km/h sprint. Beat that! The strong low and midrange also mean that puttering in slow moving traffic is easy for this 250 kilo machine. Once past crawling speeds, the Bandit manages to hide its porky weight rather well and with the humongous amount of torque on avail right from idling, it’s rather easy to zip past traffic by making full use of small openings between vehicles.
Infact, the Bandit pulls cleanly without any hiccups from the chain or the engine from as low as 1000rpm in the sixth cog, at which point the speedometer reads just around 30km/h! This is one of very few motorcycles that can boast of going from 30km/h, all the way upto an indicated 250km/h in its topmost gear. The fantastic throttle response is also due to the optimized dual throttle valve fuel injection system which features 36mm throttle bodies. Give the bike some stick and it will fly past the 60km/h mark from naught in a shade over 2 seconds. The 0-100km/h sprint is achieved in just 4.35 seconds, remarkable for a bike with less than a hundred ponnies and quarter of a ton to lug around.
The strong midrange also comes in handy while touring – another forte of the Bandit. At 120km/h, the engine is spinning at just 4000 revs with oodles of punch in reserve for keeping up or making other fast moving sedans eat dust. You hardly ever need to downshift and the tall sixth gear makes the bike guzzle less gas at highway speeds. The 19-litre tank is good for over 250km with ease.
If you are the kind of biker who doesn’t like the knees-in-the-mouth riding posture, the Bandit is the bike to have for sure. I don’t remember the
last time I felt so comfortable on a large capacity motorcycle (Harley-Davidson bikes are a different breed) over a long distance. At the same time, if your height is less than 5’6”, stop reading further as the saddle literally gives you the feeling of riding on top of the world. The seat is adjustable by 20mm but even then, some of my colleagues who stand at 5’10” had a tough time keeping both their feet firmly on the ground. There is enough room for two large sized adults and the huge grabrail is a handy addition.
The upright seating position combined with a supple suspension makes the Bandit quite comfortable over undulations. True, this is a no-frills basic superbike with basic suspension and braking components, but for daily usage, the bike shines and how! Small speedbreakers and potholes, even at speeds, are dismissed off with ease. In fact, so confident was the bike off the road that I couldn’t stop myself from indulging in a few riding-on-the-pegs antics. The only hindrance was its weight, giving my thighs and forearms a good workout. The Bandit was never meant to be a track bike, and it isn’t. That said, you can easily throw it into flowing corners with the grip from the tyres never giving you a reason to feel insecure and back off.
With our unfair government policies trying to protect the non-existent locally manufactured big bike market with ridiculously high import duties, imported superbikes are never going to be pocket friendly in our country. However, with the Bandit, Suzuki has managed to set a benchmark for performance per rupee – Rs 8.5 lakh (ex-showroom) for a 1255cc CBU import is a fantastic sticker price. It even undercuts the only other in-line four cylinder street superbike on offer in India, the Honda CB1000R by a good fifty grand. The Bandit is a very practical no-nonsense superbike, capable of playing multiple roles. It’s one of those rare motorcycles that has the ability to do everything well, or at least well enough to satisfy you and justify its price tag. I’ve lost count of the amount of times over
the past week that I’ve looked at the Bandit and felt underwhelmed, only to take it for a spin and remember what a really great all-rounder it is. Don’t buy this bike if you expecting to set lap records, scrape knees or smoke your buddy’s Hayabusa at the traffic lights. Buy this bike if you want a really truly, good and honest, all-round capable machine that will provide you with all the motorcycling fun you can handle.