Devastated by the financial crisis of 2008, Suzuki has been forced to sit by and watch as its rivals dominate the superbike class. But now the plucky Japanese company is ready to step back on the dance floor and boogie with a brand new GSX-R1000, built from the ground up to put the Big Gixxer back in contention at the pointy end of the sportsbike market. Featuring a mechanical variable valve timing system, Suzuki is aiming to engineer the L7 GSX-R so well it doesn’t need top-shelf electronics like an Inertial Measurement Unit to compete.
Last time Suzuki did a ground-up redesign of its flagship GSX-R1000 back in 2005, it broke the superbike class right open. There was no question, the K5 Gixxer Thou’ was the baddest big-bore bitumen scalpel money could buy. I remember flipping through the magazine reviews slack-jawed in wonder. My favourite image of the bike looked a lot like this one:
The copy said something like “we’ve just laid out the bits we changed,” thus throwing down the challenge to see if you could think of a single bit that was missing from the picture. It was all very droll, but it got the message across: this was revolution, not evolution.
The K5 Gixxer, from which the current model was developed, still stands proud as a truly awesome bike, but times have moved on as they must, and Suzuki’s current GSX-R really can’t swing with today’s exotic heavyweights. All the European brands have something on the showroom floor that punches harder, and with more finesse. Yamaha added fuel to the fire at last year’s EICMA show with its first 200-horsepower R1, dripping with MotoGP bits and pieces. A new GSX-R is long overdue.
And here it is – a concept version, anyway. The GSX-R1000 L7 will be a 2017 model with (we assume) a mid-2016 release date. And like the K5, it’s been redesigned from scratch.
Suzuki says the L7 will be the lightest, the most powerful, the most compact, the hardest accelerating and the cleanest-running Gixxer ever to roll. The company makes no bones about its ambition: it wants to take back its “proper title of the King of Sportsbikes.”
To do so, it’s going to need to get up and over the 200-horsepower mark, but Suzuki is making sure the new Gixxer hits hard down low as well. The L7 will be the first bike in the superbike class to feature variable valve timing. The VVT system will use steel balls in grooves in the intake cam sprockets that are moved outward by centrifugal force as the revs come up to retard the intake cam timing at high rpm. Thus, cam timing is optimized differently for low and high rpm, giving strong low-end torque but adding to the top-end rush. Peak rpm, and thus top-end power is also higher thanks to a low-mass finger follower valve train.
Electronics-wise, the Gixxer will get three drive modes that change throttle response and fuel mapping. There’s a 10-stage traction control system, an up/down quickshifter and full-throttle launch control for traffic light supremacy – and race starts, yeah, race starts.
The lack of an Inertial Measurement Unit comes as a bit of a surprise. Without one, the GSX-R won’t be able to run lean angle-sensitive ABS or drive a clever semi-active suspension option like the BMW S1000RR’s down the track. Suzuki believes it’ll get the fundamentals so right that the bike won’t need one, and that’s got to be good news for the retail price.
Suspension-wise it’ll wear the latest good bits from Showa, namely Balance Free Front (BFF) forks with external damping circuits and a Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC) shock, and street riders will appreciate Suzuki’s first LED headlight. We’ll hear more about the bike’s final spec as it enters production.
I sure don’t envy the product team on a job like this. Today’s top-end superbikes are so damn fast, and so damn full of expensive bits and pieces that you’ve got to spend a ton of money to be in the hunt. Suzuki believes it can engineer its way back to the top rather than getting there with expensive electronics, producing a bike “that doesn’t require a degree in engineering to understand, and doesn’t need constant adjustment by a squad of computer technicians to work.”
It’s a bold statement in this electronic age, but one that’s bound to resonate with a lot of riders. Let’s see how it fares when the chips are down, and let’s see how much longer Honda holds out with its ageing Fireblade design!