Cult Leader

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A new bike, a new motor, Suzuki’s GSX-8S is here. Ben Wilkins drew the long straw to test it at the Oceania launch in Aussie.

It’s been a while between drinks for Suzuki. New models in general, and new engines specifically, have been few and far between in the last decade. Then along come two at the same time. The first we saw was the 800 V-Strom adventure machine, which we reviewed in the June Road issue <click here to read about it> and now the GSX-8S, a mid-weight sports naked. Both models feature an all-new motor and to say we’ve been excited to try it out is an understatement, so let’s get into it.

GEM OF A MOTOR
While Suzuki has been up-cycling its 650 V-twin engine for a while, and we’ve loved the models it powered (as did the cult like following it developed among crazy French and Spanish owners), it was getting long in the tooth and trickier to get past emissions regulations. You may have noticed that the V-twin route for middle-weight motorcycles is long gone. For a manufacturer it’s far cheaper to produce a parallel twin and it’s also much easier for the designers to package a motorcycle around one. V-twins are long, causing problems for placing an oil cooler and radiator without them getting in the way of the front wheel, and then you have to deal with an overly long wheelbase.

 

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Recreating the vibe of the old V-twins, the new 800 motor is a parallel twin with a 270-degree firing order, to give that off-beat vee sound and drive. While 90-degree vees are inherently antivibe, parallel twins aren’t, so Suzuki has come up with an innovative dual balancer system that also acts as a cross-balancer, where the rearward balancer is moved downward from the back of the engine to under the crank, reducing additional vibration with the benefit of making the engine shorter front to back and easier to package for a shorter wheelbase.

Anyone eyeing up the GSX-8S as a LAMS option will be disappointed. There won’t be one as it’s too big in capacity. There is an A2 license version for the European market. LAMS is an outdated scheme based on 650cc machines being prevalent in the market, which is not the case these days. Suzuki says the Aussie importers have been lobbying the government to adopt the Euro A1, A2 structure to encompass the modern 800cc twins. If it happens, we might get the same here in NZ. Time will tell.

 

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HAPPY HUNTING GROUND
Quiet. Grunty. Comfortable. Jerky. Those were the first thoughts which sprang to mind leaving Suzuki’s launch HQ. Heading up the coast through urban small town areas gave insight into how the bike will deal with its most probable environment. The seat is decently supportive, the bars high-ish and pegs low. At 182cm tall I had loads of room and found it very comfortable.

At the presentation, Suzuki staff had taken us through the electronics suite, including the different power modes - Suzuki calls them SDMS (Suzuki Drive Mode Select) - A, B and C. A is sporty and responsive, B slightly softer throttle response and C for slippery conditions. Around town in A mode, the throttle response was too instant for me. Not ‘bad’, but B or C modes were easier by a decent margin. The change between the modes softens the initial throttle opening response, effectively making it feel like there’s a bit more slack in the throttle cables, so the power doesn’t come in as quickly. I found myself riding in mode A on the open road, where the speeds are higher, then switching quickly to mode B on the way into town. This can be done on the fly - just close the throttle, press the mode button twice (once to access traction control and again for drive mode), press the toggle down and hit mode once again. Sounds tricky, but it became second nature very quickly. Happily, the settings you choose stay selected when the bike is switched off and back on again, so there’s no more of that faffing with the buttons every time you start the bike - more manufacturers should take note.

 

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The new motor pulls pretty well from as low in the revs as 2500rpm, with a slight lugging feel, but there’s plenty of drive. Keeping it at 3000rpm or above makes town life less lumpy. Get past the urban speed limits, once the revs get to 4000rpm it pulls well, with a slight lull at 4500 before really coming on song at 5000, where it punches really nicely. This midrange surge works perfectly for most roads and situations. As the engine doesn’t need revving, it doesn’t seem all that fast, but it is deceptively quick; short-shifting through the gears between 5000 and 7000rpm is the sweet spot. At 100km/h the engine is quietly cruising along at 4250rpm, just ready to come into the power. There’s no need to drop a gear to overtake, just wind the throttle open and the engine is ready to rock.

There’s not a lot of point revving the motor hard, it doesn’t surge again – the power is very linear all the way through to 9000rpm. The GSX sports a longer stroke than other engine’s in this class, one of the reasons why it such a great midrange, but no real kick at higher revs.

The low-end and mid-range make this an excellent town bike that’s truly zippy off the lights. Suzuki claims 4.2l/100km, my bike returned 4.7 with a mix of honing, motorway and town riding.

 

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TECH
Most noticeable is the 5-inch TFT LCD display, which is one of the best laid out displays I’ve seen on a bike. The unit is your interface to the traction control and rider modes, and automatically switches between day and night modes. A nice touch is it can be set to stay on either one, whatever your preference. Suzuki says it has used a technique called optical bonding to make the display, which ensures its easy to read in bright conditions - I never had a problem even in direct sunlight. There are daytime running lights along the side of the ‘beak’ that look pretty cool too. As well as the engine modes, the GSX-8S comes with three levels of traction control (it can also be turned off completely), as well as a bi-directional (up/down) quick-shifter fitted as standard. A quick-shifter at this price point is a real plus, and it works very well; short-shifting through the gears at 6500rpm or so without the clutch is a treat.

ALL-NEW CHASSIS
If you took a look at the spec’ sheet and were a little underwhelmed, I’d totally understand. Nonadjustable front suspension, rear only adjustable for preload; there’s not much to drool over. But it turns out the GSX has an awesome front end, with powerful Tokico radial brakes which don’t overwhelm the forks. Truly good considering it’s non-adjustable.

Things at the rear are ok, but not as worthy as at the front. It’s on the softer side, which is fine, but there’s some harshness there, most noticeable over sharp-edged bumps. On some of the bigger bumps I found myself flinching in anticipation. Nothing you can do about it, but an aftermarket shock could work wonders. It’s not ‘needed’, but it got me wondering. Holding front and rear together is a taut, responsive, but incredibly forgiving chassis and suspension package which comes together to make the GSX an exciting but stable bike. Queensland’s backroads are a match for our own smaller roads in terms of poor surface and terrible holes and bumps. Great for us to see how the new bike will behave on our own crap roads. Most bikes feel great on smooth tar seal, but it’s how they deal with a bump or two that really matters.

Even with mid-corner corner bumps that momentarily lift the wheels off the ground, the bike soaks it up and tracks true. Impressive for a non-adjustable budget sports naked. The stock Dunlop SportSmart 2 tyres help - they grip very well on the road and take a lot of abuse before they start to complain, especially when they’re warm.

 

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ON TRACK
This isn’t a bike that’s been designed for the track in any way, shape or form, but Suzuki wanted us to try the bike without having to worry about the overzealous, heavy-handed Aussie cops and their exorbitant fines. Happy days. The track, Lakeside International, is tight, sweeping, full of assorted cambers and very bumpy in places. It’s fast, with a higher average speed than Phillip Island’s MotoGP track. The staff were at pains to tell us how dangerous the track is. In fact, there’s a corner nicknamed ‘Hungry’... because it eats riders. There’s a camber change half way through the corner that unloads the suspension, leaving the tyres with nothing to grip to. With ‘Hungry’ in mind, I pointed the GSX-8S onto the start-finish straight.

After a few laps to learn the circuit, I could get a feel for the bike rather than trying to remember where the track went. That 5000-7000rpm punch works really well out of flowing corners - those revs are exactly where the bike seems to be in the rev range.

It doesn’t take long before the comfortably low pegs are skimming the track through most of the corners. This is a bumpy track, which compresses the rear suspension hard and at times digs the pegs into the track. Testament to the chassis, it just takes it in its stride and settles down again.

I didn’t even think about traction control until someone else asked what mode I’d been using. Set to the least intrusive level (#1) it drives well out of corners, with little discernible intervention - just great drive. Turning the TC off released a little more performance, showing it had been

working without me noticing. The tyres work well too, barely rippling up - inspiring for a roadspecific tyre. The bike is more than fast enough, hitting 199km/h through the left hand turn one before braking for the tight, bumpy off-camber turn two. The GSX is a very competent bike on track despite not having any track pretensions. With a set of sticky tyres and some rear-set footpegs for extra ground clearance it’d be a complete hoot. An aftermarket pipe would make this thing sing, and maybe release a little at the top end too. It’s a definite sleeper.

 

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THE LOW DOWN
The GSX-8S is a great bike. It also has lots of potential. Suzuki owners have long had the reputation for tinkering with their bikes, more often than not fitting an aftermarket silencer, tail tidy etc. In the true Suzuki mould, the GSX- 8S is ripe for individualising - just like the SV650 was for a couple of decades. With some carefully chosen parts, it’ll go from great to bloody brilliant; a bike that can grow with you. The GSX-8S does everything right. It looks sharp, goes well and handles beautifully - all at the right price point... and is set to become a cult machine in its own right.

Article kindly provided by kiwirider.co.nz

 

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