MOTORCYCLE ROAD TEST: SUZUKI GSX 650F
Regular readers of these columns will hopefully have followed my recent efforts to get my full motorcycle licence.
Well, in case you missed it, I passed, and so the next job is to hop on as many motorcycles as I possibly can and then tell you just how much fun they are to ride. Yes, it’s a dirty job – but I’m afraid someone has to do it!
My aim is to give motorcycling the coverage it deserves and to pass on my experiences as a new rider, hopefully with the ultimate aim of encouraging more people to take to a new life on two wheels.
As a new rider myself, I will try not to baffle you with technical speak, mostly because I don’t understand a lot of it myself at the moment – although I am learning, I promise! What I will do, however, is tell you how it feels to ride any given machine, what’s good and what’s bad, and, importantly for a new rider, how easy it is to get to grips with.
So first up is the Suzuki GSX650F. I have to confess, the initials GSX initially struck fear into my heart, synonymous as they are with the marque’s racing pedigree, and I had made a little promise to myself not to go anywhere near sports bikes until I’ve got a lot more experience.
At first sight, and it is a beautiful machine to look at, this sports tourer really does look like a full-on sports bike, its fairing evocative of the GSX-R family. It’s only when you start to look a little more closely that you realise it actually isn’t.
It is seen in some quarters as a Bandit with a fairing – I couldn’t comment as I haven’t ridden one yet. But in terms of how it looks, the handlebars seem slightly lower than the Bandit, forcing a rider position that is slightly leaned forward and adding to that sporty feel.
They also have span-adjustable clutch and front brake, which, if you’re anything like me and have what people tell you are peculiarly small hands, are a godsend and reduce the chance of getting the aches if you’re forever slipping the clutch in heavy traffic.
Even the easy-to-read instrument panel has a touch of sportiness about it – a large analogue tachometer, with an LCD digital speedo alongside. As well as telling you how fast you’re going and what gear you’re in, the digital reader also tells you how much fuel you have and how many miles you can do in reserve before you really, really do need to fill up. There is also a clock and two trip counters.
A series of warning lights on the left hand side of the tacho will also tell you if there is a problem with oil, the fuel injection system and other need-to knows.
So what’s it like to ride? Starting it up, the first thing I noticed about it was the sound – the revs are quite high. Ride off and before you know it you can be up into sixth gear by the time you’ve hit 40mph.
The throttle is superbly responsive – twist towards you and you’re off with no delay and the power and torque it chucks out is impressive wherever you may be in the rev range. At one point, coming off a roundabout on a national speed limit road, I found myself with a very impatient, and not to mention dangerous, car driver virtually hanging off my exhaust.
I was in third gear and by no means did I open the throttle violently – it was controlled, but I felt the front end wanting to lift. Not quite a squeaky bum moment, perhaps more an indicator of my inexperience, and definitely a sharp lesson in the hidden power that lurks within.
But even cruising along the motorway at 70mph, the engine has plenty more to give and will do so without complaint. On those motorways and open roads, the fairing offers great protection from the elements. I covered close to 800 miles in the ten days I had the bike, many of which were cold, wet and windy.
And while getting wet is an inescapable fact of life on a bike, that fairing combined with some fairly decent gear ensured the suffering was kept to an absolute minimum. In fact, suffering is a bit strong – even in the howling wind and rain, I still enjoyed every moment I was on it.
On the twisty back roads, the GSX650F is an absolute joy, and it was a real pleasure to throw it (very gently, I might add!) around the bends.
Not that I would have done anyway, but not once did I feel as though I was pushing it beyond its limits or that it wasn’t able to cope with what it was being asked to do.
Town riding is also a real pleasure. It’s sleek and nimble and, despite my initial nerves, is able to filter and nip past the traffic in low gears and at high revs with no fuss at all.
What else has it got? Underseat storage is minimal, in fact just about enough for the owner’s manual, a small tool kit and possibly a small D-lock. If there’s anything else you want to carry, you’ll have to look into other luggage options.
Other (very minor) quibbles include the fact that the gearbox is rather clunky and noisy. But combine that with the digital gear indicator and at least you know you’ve changed gear! Also the seat can be quite uncomfortable on longer journeys. But then again, I was on and off quite a lot, which I’m sure didn’t help. Plus as time goes on I’m sure I’ll discover that the bike seat that isn’t uncomfortable after a while is a very rare thing indeed!
Overall, though, and in spite of its initially imposing looks (which are only added to by the massive can that looks as though it has no place on a 650cc!) this is a fantastic entry-level bike, far easier to ride than it looks, very fun and an absolute joy to ride – so much so that the grin still hasn’t left my face!
> Model: Suzuki GSX650F, from £6,285
> Engine size: 656cc
> Engine spec: Six-speed, four-stroke, liquid-cooled DOHC, four cylinders
> Power: 84bhp
> Fuel capacity: 19 litres
> Range: 150 miles
> Seat height: 770mm
> Colours: black; blue/white; blue/silver