Spending a few days in the ACT area - and wandering through a couple of local bike shops hoping to snag a ride on something - resulted in the offer of a long test-ride on the latest Suzuki Bandit 1200S. The sort of ride where the dealer throws you the keys and says, “There’s plenty of petrol, go wherever you like!”
I was pleased to get a chance to ride the Suzuki Bandit because it’s a style of bike I like – a sports-tourer that doesn’t go so far in one direction that it comprises the other.
It’s also a bike where function hasn’t been comprised by style; and one of the few bikes I’ve sat on that where I’ve felt really comfortable. (There have been others, but not a lot).
The Bandit has been a bit of a “sleeper” in the market-place. (You don’t often see road-tests in magazines, or hear people talking about them etc). Perhaps that’s because it has been – and, to a fair extent, still is - a bit bland. The colour was basic black, and there was nothing too captivating about it’s appearance. Mechanically it’s nothing special either; the basic engine-transmission package having gone virtually unchanged for quite a few years. The engine is an 1157cc 4-cylinder, running carburetors (not fuel-injection). The brochure doesn’t give power output, but the previous model was quoted at 78kw, with 96Nm of torque. Compression-ratio is a comparatively mild 9.5:1. The gearbox is 5-speed.
For 2006 though, it was like Suzuki suddenly remembered it had the Bandit in it’s line-up and decided to spruce it up a bit. The body-work got a slight up-date, and the colour became candy-apple red (there aren’t any colour options). And I think it looks good! There are other subtle differences. Weight was trimmed by 5kg, and the wheelbase was lengthened by 50mm.
The only down-side to the new look is the seat, which has a more angular shape than the earlier model, and I found to be not quite as comfortable. It still is comfortable, but just not quite as plush as the earlier model’s.
Sitting on the bike, the fairing seems to be a long way forward and so the mirrors seem to be a bit far away. You soon get used to it though. Another thing that has changed is the instrument panel. The analogue tacho is retained, but the speedo is digital; and there are digital displays for fuel-level, odometer and time. This was the first bike I’d ridden with a digital speedo. I didn’t think I’d like digital speedos, but this was okay. The display was big and easy to read, even with the sun on it.
Okay, that’s the “sitting-on-it” type thing, now what’s it like to ride?
I suppose I could have gone riding around Canberra and suburbs (not!), or I could have soon got onto an expressway or major highway. But I chose to travel along a 2-lane major country road. I didn’t really know the road, but I did know that it had a few twisty bits up and down a range of hills, as well as some open-country running; and all on a road surface that wouldn’t be expressway-smooth. So I thought that would be a good, “real-world” test for the bike. 
First impression as I left the dealer and threaded my way through the suburban traffic was of how easy it was to ride! Weight is 215kg, which is about what you’d expect for this sort of bike, and I found it very easy to manage. Power delivery was smooth and very manageable, and the gearbox and clutch worked smoothly and easily. Nothing intimidating at all; just very easy to ride!
The dealer was on the edge of Queanbeyan so it didn’t take long to clear the traffic and then I was out on the open road and immediately into a flowing twisty section up over a range of hills. And the easy-to-ride nature continued. The road was moderately steep and winding, and I was taking it pretty easy, but for most of it I found I was in top gear, the big torquey engine pulling effortlessly. It’s that sort of engine; you just put it in top gear and leave it there. But even in the lower gears the power is very manageable. You never feel like it would be hard to handle, even if you were a bit ham-fisted with it.
Handling is good too. It’s extremely stable, but still allows you to easily change your line through corners if you need to. The stability continues at higher speeds too, with never a hint of wobble or shake, even if the road surface is less than billiard-table smooth. It’s the sort of bike that quickly inspires confidence.
The ride felt just a touch firm for my liking. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but just a bit firmer than I would have preferred. Both ends are adjustable (front for pre-load and rear for pre-load and rebound), and if I owned it I would soften the suspension up a little just to make the ride a bit more plush. It’s just a matter of personal preference in the balance between ride and handling. (And while it mightn’t be a sports-bike, there is easily enough handling in reserve to tweak it a little in favour of a softer ride, if that's what you're after).
I was in more open country now; the road gently undulating, with flat sections, short straights and flowing corners. The road surface was pretty good, although a bit patchy in places. The small fairing does a good job of keeping the wind off, and with the effortless power and stable handling you can easily find yourself going faster than you think. The speed-limit was probably 100, but it was all too easy to find the big digital speedo reading between 110 and 120. Of course it cruises effortlessly at this sort of speed, and it took concentration to keep the speed under 110.
Acceleration is good; it isn’t sports-bike brutal, but it's certainly quick! Twist the throttle a bit, even on a short straight, and the big Suzi easily swings up to 140 and beyond. On one, only slightly longer straight, I opened it up and saw just over 160; still accelerating strongly and still perfectly stable.
When you want acceleration there’s no need to change down, just roll-on in top. The tacho is red-lined at 11,000 rpm, and the engine will rev out – on one occasion I took it to about 10,000 rpm – but there seems little point. It might be fractionally faster at higher revs, but it goes so well from low revs that there just doesn’t seem any need for it. And letting the bike’s strong mid-range do all the work makes for a more relaxing ride anyway.
This bike is a joy to ride! Out in the country on this sort of road the Bandit was in it’s element. And you can just relax and enjoy, and let it eat up the miles! I was certainly enjoying the ride, and would have been happy to have just kept on going; but I started thinking they might actually want it back again. Pity!
Eventually I did turn around to head back, stopping as I did to take some photos. Now here’s a quirky little trick; you have to hold the clutch in to start it - yes even when it’s in neutral. That seems a bit silly; but having turned the engine off to take the pics, I’m glad they told me about it!
I didn’t really try the brakes, but they easily provided all the stopping power I wanted, so I’m sure they’d be fine in more demanding use. The only thing I did notice was a slight hissing sound from the front brakes as I came back down the hilly section. They worked fine, so I don’t know what that was.
When I got back to the city, I tried a couple of other tests to see how it behaved in different situations; trying to find the “chink-in-the-armour”, something that it wasn’t good at. But there was nothing! I didn’t encounter heavy traffic, but I simulated a heavy-traffic situation by trickling the bike along at walking-pace. Perfectly stable and easy, with extremely tractable power. Top gear pulled cleanly and effortlessly from 2,000rpm, and it pulled just as cleanly from 1,000rpm in the lower gears. Even U-turns were no problem. It just retained it’s easy-to-ride nature no matter what you did with it!
It’s a bike that you easily become very confident with in virtually any situation. Highlighting this was when I got back to the showroom, I rode behind some bikes parked out front and then diagonally across a sloping driveway back up into the shop – something I wouldn’t have done with a bike that I felt was hard to manage at slow speeds.
As I left the shop I started thinking about the name. I reckon “Bandit” is a complete misnomer. “Bandit” implies someone (or something) that is an outlaw, mean and nasty. But this bike isn’t like that at all! It’s a very friendly thing! And the “S”, what does that stand for? The brochure uses words like “sleek” (well, yes, it is kind of sleek), “stylish” (well, I like it), “solid” (yep), “stability” (certainly!), and “sporty” (well, it's quick, but it's not a GSX-R!), but I reckon I know what it should stand for, “sensible”! Yes, I know, calling a bike “sensible” is like giving it the kiss-of-death in the market-place, but that’s what this bike is!
This bike looks good, it’s comfortable, and it does everything well. It’s easy to ride everywhere; and at everything from walking pace to "ton-up" touring. The engine is a bit old-fashioned, with it’s carbs and lowish compression, but that probably contributes to it’s easy nature. Likewise the gearbox; 5 speeds is a bit “yesterday” in terms of gearbox specification, but it simply doesn’t need any more. 1st is low enough for crawling in traffic, and top is high enough for effortless cruising (at 110kph it’s doing just 4,000rpm). And best of all, it’s remarkably good value! Recommended retail is $11,990 plus on-road-costs. But I was told $12,000 on-road, provided I didn’t have a trade-in. (And $12,800 if I was trading-in). That makes it a great-value motorcycle!
“Bandit”? I reckon the only thing this bike will steal is your attention – if you let it! And it deserves your attention! There may be more exciting sports-tourers around (like the Yamaha FZ1 for a semi-naked, or things like the Triumph Sprint ST or Ducati ST3 for fully-faired types), but they are much more expensive. And while they’re bikes that appeal to me a lot, I would be quite happy to own this Suzuki. Now, I know this is probably even worse than calling it “sensible”, but I reckon it’s a great bike for old blokes!

Ridden 2006

P.S.  For 2007 the Bandit has been up-dated. It looks the same, and feels the same to sit on, but there are slight changes to the frame and suspension. The frame is stronger, and the suspension has stiffer springs. But the biggest change comes in the engine / gearbox. The engine goes out to 1255cc and is now liquid-cooled, fuel-injected and runs a higher compression ratio. Although Suzuki don't give power output figures, one test I read quoted power of the new model at 73kw, and said that was actually the same as the 2006 model. Torque they quoted as being up from 91Nm to 108Nm. And the gearbox is now a 6-speeder. And perhaps best of all, price is unchanged at $11,990. The only down-side is that it's 10kg heavier.
So, with up-dated mechanicals bringing it more in line with it's rivals, and that bargain-price unchanged, it looks an even more serious contender for my sports-tourer title! I'd need to ride one, but at over $5,000 less than the Honda VFR800, that would be enough to bring it into at least 2nd place I reckon!
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Click here to for my test of the 2008 model