Sunday, March 13, 2011

2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 First Ride

Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.
If I were to ask you how many totally-new, completely-changed Suzuki GSX-R1000s have been released since the bike took the world by storm in 2001, what would you say? Three? Maybe four? This is what I would have guessed, as Suzuki’s flagship model has seen some drastic updates along the way and Suzuki’s PR team has done one heck of a job spinning those changes into the perception of an “all-new” bike. But, in fact, the correct answer is… zero. Yep, zero! Until now, that is…

For the first time in eight years the Suzuki GSX-R1000 is truly all-new. There have been changes along the way, some quite significant, but not until ’09 does the literbike see a full-machine update – including a new engine, which was one of the major areas where the previous generation GSX-Rs only saw tweaks along the way. In fact, the original GSX-R1000 engine was essentially a hopped-up, bored and stroked GSX-R750 powerplant.

Considering the magnitude of all these changes, we have been chomping at the bit to swing a leg over the Gixxer 1K since we first saw photos of it nearly eight months ago. To say this first taste has been long and eagerly awaited would be an understatement.

When ‘All-New’ Really Means ‘All-New’ (Tech Talk…)

2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000
2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000. Totally updated, but is it good enough to be the best in class?
Starting from the inside out, this Suzuki sportbike features the first totally new engine a GSX-R1000 has seen since its inception. A different lubrication system pumps oil through the center of the crankshaft now and directly to the connecting rod journals. Called a crankshaft-end lubrication system, it’s the first of its kind for any four-cylinder production Suzuki. Changing the bore and stroke to 74.5 mm x 57.3 mm as opposed to 73.4 mm x 59.0 mm makes for a more over-squared design. It’s worth nothing that some of the competition is even more over-square still.

Forged-aluminum-alloy pistons feature a new design to match the shorter stroke engine and due to the bigger bore are 1.1 mm larger in diameter. A different design also aids in bumping up the compression ratio from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1. Don’t think racing technology plays much of a role in sportbike deign? Think again… Prime example is the cylinder head. Suzuki enlarged the head construction, solely to provide more metal for their Superbike teams to work with when shaping the ports. Minor changes to the valve diameter (intake and exhaust up 1 mm) pushes in more air to be mixed with the fuel, while a redesigned camshaft allows for shorter valve stems and reduced weight. Valves remain titanium both intake and exhaust but now use two springs instead of one to keep up with the high demands of the engine.

Where the old crankcase was comprised of three pieces the new is now two – reducing weight – and has been totally reshaped, relocating its three shafts: crankshaft, countershaft and driveshaft. It is now a stacked design with the countershaft above the driveshaft, which as a result can be moved closer to the crankshaft – think of it if as a triangle shape. This has allowed Suzuki to shorten the engine some 60mm. As for the transmission housed inside, the primary and secondary reduction ratios are revised to better suit the added power.
2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000
Massive updates, including an all-new engine, highlight the 2009 GSX-R1000.

Clutch actuation has been changed from hydraulic to cable to reduce weight and aid in rider feedback, especially at slow speeds. It features the same capable slipper unit inside, though with a few minor tweaks to smooth out operation. Once again Superbike racing breeds street technology, thus the case of the tranny width is much smaller. Case in point: the updated trapezoidal set up radiator. The shape allows a reduction of 16.3mm in core-width and overall weight reduction while still providing better cooling. The oil cooler follows the same idea and shape as the new radiator, dissipating heat more effectively to keep up with the added hp.

Suzuki’s good ol’ SRAD (Suzuki Ram Air-Direct) is still in play, with the intake sizes increased and more centralized (in race trim optional 10mm shorter air-funnels are available). This feeds an airbox that has been lightened as well. A host of titanium was used to propel spent gasses via a new exhaust system. Called SAES (Suzuki Advanced Exhaust System), the system sheds 400 grams from the previous set up, with dual exit canisters. A servo-controlled butterfly is said to optimize back pressure for added power. Compared to last year’s massive dual-exit units it’s a real improvement.

Controlling all this power is the A-B-C modes of the Suzuki Drive Mode Selector system, now a toggle conveniently located by the rider’s left thumb. Once again A as the default and provides the most power. B softens power response up to 50% throttle opening and C chokes it down the entire way up the rev range. Love it or hate it, it looks like the S-DMS here to stay. An updated ECU sheds 30 grams and is said to be tuned for more “rider friendliness.”

Still with me here? Time for the chassis… The twin-spar frame has been resized and made smaller, giving the GSX-R a 10mm shorter wheelbase. Although due to the far more compact engine, the swingarm is now all-new and 33mm longer to aid in corner-exit traction. Despite its added length, by using thinner wall-thickness aluminum in key areas Suzuki was able to shed some 500 grams from its weight. Wheels are also lighter (180 grams front and 230 grams rear dispatched), while out back it now runs a 190/50 series tire as opposed to the 190/55 on the previous model.

Suzuki GSX-R1000 First Ride
Willow Springs played host to the '09 Suzuki GSX-R intro.
Stopping the ‘Zuki are new monobloc front calipers. Made from cast-aluminum-alloy they increase rigidity by nearly 25% while shaving off yet more weight. Combined with lighter 310mm front disks the entire brake system dropped some 560 grams. New “lower-expansion” brake lines aim to increase feel and feedback. It’s the same story out back, with a redesigned caliper reducing unsprung heft a further 290 grams. You may think all these small weight savings as trivial, but added together they equate to a noticeably lighter machine.

But the big story comes as a result of totally new suspension front and rear. For the first time on a production 1000, Showa’s BPF (Big Piston Fork) makes an appearance. Once again pulling technology directly from racing, where this differs from a cartridge-type fork is by using a much larger diameter main piston (39.6mm vs. 20mm in last year’s unit). The increased piston surface area greatly reduces initial dive under braking or hard load and facilitates smoother, more controlled action, especially in the initial part of the stroke. The 43mm inner fork tubes have a carbonized titanium coating aimed at reducing stiction as well. Rebound and compression valving adjustment screws sit in small recesses atop each fork cap, while spring preload adjustment is handled at the bottom of the fork leg assembly. The BPF system is also a much simpler design and in turn some 720 grams lighter than the previous version.

(This is a prime example of the major flaws in DMG’s new American Superbike rules. It’s all the testing and trick parts which trickle down to us the consumer a few years later. Say goodbye to further development in the States with the Superbike class being limited to basically Superstock rules. Shame on you DMG! Hopefully the Alstare Suzuki boys in World Superbike will continue to push the envelope and that technology will trickle down to potential buyers.)

Out back an updated shock features high- and low-speed compression damping as well as rebound and spring preload. It’s smaller in size and some 300 grams lighter. New linkage makes for a more progressive leverage ratio to accommodate a wide variety of riding. This allows it to feel softer initially while progressively getting stiffer. Not the most ideal on the racetrack, but great on the road.

Styling judgment is always in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll let you gather your own opinions. Technically, though, they reduced the number of visible screws while also increasing aerodynamics and going for a much more angular appearance. The stacked headlight design remains, though tweaked to fit the sharper lines of the machine, but the rear taillights are all-new and feature an LED combination lamp set-up with built-in turn signals. Up front new mirrors once again house blinkers inside of them for a sleeker look.
Suzuki GSX-R1000 First Ride
More composed at lean? Check.

An updated instrument cluster provides what is almost an overload of information, including a three-stage shift-light, lap timer, gear position indicator, A-B-C mode display, plus digital speedo and analog tach, along with several other standard functions. Suzuki left no stone unturned in this regard. Other changes include the movement of the A-B-C mode selector to the underside of the left clip-on, while in its old place on the right side is a toggle that allows the rider to scroll through a host of options – trip meter, lap timer, etc. – without having to reach up to the dash while riding. As I said before, it really is all-new. Available in three color options – Blue/White, Black/Silver, Black/Maroon – retail price for the GSX-R will be $12,899. This puts it slightly higher than the other liter-class machines, but by only a few hundred bucks.

When ‘Riding’ Really Means ‘Riding’

Seems kind of late in the year for a First Ride, right? This initial test was delayed, as I’m sure many of you already know, due to a host of unreleased reasons. Credible sources say some issues arose in the bike’s final production testing and caused a slow release of the GSX-R - though Suzuki is notorious for being last to market with their new machines, so it may just be due to their existing production cycle. Mat Mladin and the Yoshimura crew have had to ride their ’08 bikes in the first three rounds of the American Superbike series as a result; not like it’s stopped him from winning. Don’t fret through, as the first batch is hitting dealers now and Mladin and crew look set to dominate even more with the new machine.

2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000
The Suzuki GSX-R1000 is available in three new colors for 2009.
But the real question is, how does it perform in stock trim? Willow Springs played host to the Suzuki intro, allowing us plenty of room (or so we thought – see sidebar) to extend the GSX-R’s legs and see what the Giggy 1 is all about.
Besides the obvious styling changes and physically smaller size (we’ll touch more on that later), the first thing one notices upon unleashing the blue and white beast is … well, how much of a beast it really is. The sheer ferocity of which it melts the pavement under the rear tire is mind-numbing. Distance is dissipated at the speed of light, the rider doing everything possible to keep the front end on the ground in the first three gears while attempting to twist the throttle as far as one’s bravado will allow. Once clicked into fourth, this task becomes easier, at least on most current 1000cc machines it does... As for the Suzuki, it gives the term fourth-gear-wheelie a whole new meaning.

Where the beauty truly lies, though, is how easily applicable the horsepower is. Spot-on fuel injection and seamless delivery give an instant and direct connection with the rear tire. Twist the right grip and it feels as if you are physically spinning the rear tire with your own hand. This proved vital considering the power of the GSX-R far exceeds the grip levels of the street-bred rear tire when pushed hard at the racetrack. Yet, this instantaneous connection makes sliding predictable and easy to control, even if it is quite frequent.
2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000
The OE production Bridgestone tires are designed just for the GSX-R1000 and are surprisingly good on the racetrack.

Backtracking a few steps, when we first tossed a leg over the Suzuki it was impossible not to notice how much smaller and lighter it felt between our legs. While the overall width may be the same, the tank and frame have been slimmed down, making for a much improved rider interface. The old bike was no doubt a bit of a porker and the new one has addressed some of these issues, mainly downsizing those massive twin exhausts. That alone gives the perception of a much smaller machine.

Once underway, the updated ergonomics with adjustable footpeg positions makes for what I would call a “nice place to be.” You may sit slightly more on top of this bike compared to the last, but as opposed to the competition you still sit much more “in” the machine. This gives a feeling of security and confidence as you feel locked in and ready to handle the loads of power.

Handling, and more specifically initial turn-in, was always one of the areas where the old boy suffered slightly compared to some of the extremely agile competition. The reduced weight (claimed 6 pounds) and updated riding position help to close the gap, though it’s still a bit heavy to initiate lean. The trade-off is superior stability, and combined with the sublime BPF front end, it makes for a one of the most planted literclass machines yours truly has ever had the pleasure of throwing a knee on the ground in anger with.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about that BPF front end. Never have we sampled an OE front fork as competent or as responsive to change. Well, besides the Kawasaki ZX-6R fork, though it’s the same Showa BPF design. Two clicks of compression or rebound equals seven or eight clicks on a conventional unit, making for a much wider range of adjustment. This truly is the first fork a production machine has come stock with that would need nothing done to it to go racing. Make sure the sag is set and the spring-rate is correct and you’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll. Same can be said with the three-way adjustable rear shock, barring you are a professional- or expert-level rider. For the average club racer, the GSX-Rs suspension is more than up to the task of just about anything one can throw its way. Impressive? Undoubtedly.

2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000
Could the Suzuki GSX-R1000 be the new Liter-Class horsepower King? We're not betting against it!
Keeping things inline during corner entry is essentially the same slipper clutch as before, and just as before it works very well. Better, in fact, as the cable actuation system gives the rider a far sharper connection to the machine than the previous hydraulic unit. There’s still some back-torque when downshifting from high rpm, though we like this as it helps slow the bike down and settle the chassis. However, it isn’t like the monobloc brakes need much help as they provide loads of power and a decent amount of feel. Only complaint we had was the traditional Suzuki lever-growth syndrome. Be sure to adjust the lever slightly further in than where you would like as once up to speed and heat is in the system the level pushes out roughly one position.

The electronic steering damper carries over from last year and self-adjusts based on speed to allow lighter slow-speed steering and more control as the pace quickens. Also, a plus is the GSX-R’s wind protection. It has always been one of the easiest to get tucked in and behind the bubble. The new design is no different.

As for styling, I will say it’s the best looking GSX-R1000 to date, but compared to the competition, no Suzuki would win a beauty pageant – in my opinion. But we all know it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and no doubt the 2009 GSX-R1000 is the best performing GSX-R ever made. Suzuki’s flagship model has undoubtedly raised the bar for the rest of the Suzuki GSX-R range to follow. But the real question is, how does it stack up against its fellow superbikes?

Stay tuned for our Superbike Smackdown. We’ll find out how the Suzuki GSX-R1000 fares against the 1K class of ‘09 to see if it is the new benchmark or merely a mark on the bench!

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