SPORTS-TOURING - AT UNDER TEN GRAND!
Suzuki must really believe in the mid-size segment; they have a whole fleet of bikes in this range! There’s the LAMS-approved GS500, the sports-type SV650, the street-fighter style GSR600, the full-on-sportster GSX-R600, the big-trailie DR650, the dual-purpose DL650 V-Strom, and now the GSX650F.
The GSX650F is their “new kid on the block” in this mid-size category. It comes in as a fully-faired competitor to bikes like the Kawasaki ER-6f, and the semi-faired Yamaha FZ6S. And if you take the naked versions of those, as well as things like Honda’s CB600 Hornet, and the Triumph Street Triple, you’ll see there’s certainly plenty of choice in the mid–size category! But should we just look at them as “mid-size” bikes for “mid-size” duties?
When Motorcycle Trader’s Rob Smith tested the new Suzuki he said, “It’s a sports-tourer in the mould of Honda’s VFR800 and Triumph’s Sprint ST.” That’s a pretty big call! But he didn’t stop there. “What’s more, so long as horsepower isn’t your deciding factor, it’s probably better than either of them.” Now that’s a very big call! And then he went on to say that it was, “More comfortable than either of them.” Eh, what!? Now this is something I’ve got to go and check out!
I was especially interested by these comments because, at the time, I was looking to up-date my own mid-size bike to something a little bigger; and the Triumph Sprint ST was a bike that I’d long admired and had considered buying. I couldn’t afford new, but a 2nd-hand model was definitely on the agenda. (See my Blog, early 2008, for more on this). Since then I’ve been considering other options as well, but at just $9,990 (+ORC), could this new Suzuki really be a viable alternative to, say, a 2nd-hand Sprint? I just had to find out! So, a road-test for the web-site, and maybe even a new bike for me!
When I was looking through the specs, before riding it, I was surprised when I came to the weight; 216kg. For a mid-size bike that’s heavy! It’s as heavy, or even heavier, than most 1,000cc bikes! For example, it’s a couple of kg heavier than both the VFR and the Sprint; and Suzuki’s own Bandit, with almost twice the engine-capacity, is only 9kg more. Now, while that could potentially have an adverse effect on performance, I didn’t look at it as being a totally bad thing. Heavier bikes can often provide a more comfortable ride; so in that sense it could even be a good thing!
First thing to say is that this is a great looking bike! And it looks even better than it does in the photos! My only reservation is the vertically stacked headlights; I’m not sure about those, but it still doesn’t spoil the appearance, and the bike really does look a treat! And it does that from any angle; there aren’t any “bad-sides”.
Looking very closely at the bike though, you do get a slight impression that it’s been built to a price. For example, the engine side-covers look a bit plasticky. Yes, I know that most other bikes are plastic too; but there’s "plastic" and there’s "plastic", if you know what I mean! Other fittings give the same impression. It’s hard to define, and it might be just me, but even the switch-gear felt a bit, well, maybe not top-quality stuff. Despite this though, it all feels very solid and well-built. For example, I grabbed the fairing and tried to shake it, but it didn’t move. On the road it felt similarly solid and well put together.
Sitting on the bike reveals a very comfortable riding-position. It’s quite up-right, but with just the right amount of lean-forward to the bars. And speaking of the bars, they’re fairly high, of course (that’s what gives it the afore-mentioned up-right riding-position); although I’d prefer the ends to be angled down just a little more. It’s still good though; and something that could go a long way towards validating Rob Smith’s comments regarding the Sprint and VFR. Both of those – but especially the VFR – are more lean-forward in their riding-position; and for me, it’s this riding-position that has made me hesitate on buying a 2nd-hand Sprint. (Hmmm, score a point to the new Suzi!).  
The seat is comfortable, if not exactly plush. It’s low too, with a height of just 770mm. Despite this low seat-height, there’s still enough reach to the foot-pegs. The pegs are low enough so that even my lanky old legs didn’t feel cramped.
As a further recommendation, the salesman, who said he had a bad back and couldn’t ride bikes with more aggressive riding-positions, had ridden this bike home the previous night. So the bike wasn’t available until he came back in that morning. (Give the new GSX another tick!).
Instruments comprise the usual analogue tacho, red-lined at 12,500rpm, and digital speedo. (Sorry the photo isn’t very clear!). There’s a gear-indicator too, which is always handy. Included in the LCD panel is a small display that cycles between clock, odometer, and two trip-meters. It’d be good if you could have a couple of those available at the same time, but you can’t; you just get one. You’ve got to push a button to get each of the others.
Sitting on the bike it’s hard to believe that stated weight figure. It really doesn’t feel like a 216kg bike! Not at standstill when you rock it from side to side, and not when you’re riding it. I reckon there must’ve been a little Japanese bloke leaning against the scales when they weighed it!
The engine is a newly-designed 4-cylinder, of 656cc (how many manufacturers under-state the engine size?), with a compression-ratio of 11.5:1. Suzuki claim that it has been designed, “with an emphasis on low to mid-range power, that is well-suited to an entry-level rider.” Suzuki don’t supply out-put figures in their brochures, but sources quote the power as 64kw at 10,500rpm, and 62Nm of torque at a low 3,750rpm.
The gearbox is the usual 6-speeder; and the clutch is hydraulic, which makes for a very light and positive action. In fact, all the controls are light and easy to use.
So the bike feels easy to ride before you start off; and the feeling continues once you get it moving. It’s all just so easy and smooth! But getting it moving out on the road soon revealed more of what it was like; and I knew within the first couple of kilometres that I wouldn’t be buying it for my own bike. Sorry, Rob, but the quality of the ride, and the general feeling of the bike, is a long way off a Sprint ST or VFR! But this was only the start of the test-ride; there was plenty more to find out about the bike yet!
Suzuki have done a great job with their new engine. It’s smooth, and pulls away easily from low revs; top gear from 2,000rpm wasn’t a problem. It feels powerful too. There’s adequate power at low revs, but get it spinning quicker, say up around 8,000rpm, and it really flies! 
Not far from where I live, along a narrow back-road leading to some farms, is a short straight, just 500m long, with a right-angle bend at each end. Ever since I had my first decent road-bike (the first XJ600) I’ve occasionally gone for a blast along there at 110kph. To be able to turn onto that road at almost walking-pace, accelerate up to 110kph and cruise at that for a while, then calmly slow down to walking-pace at the other end, I reckon is pretty impressive. It’s not just the speed, it’s the ease of doing it. Notice I said “cruise for a while”, and “calmly slow down”. It’s not a “see how fast I can go before jamming on the brakes at the end” thing; it’s turn in very slowly, accelerate hard, cruise for a little while, and then gently slow down, leaving heaps in reserve before the end. I’ve taken a few test-bikes along there; including the Yamaha FZ6S, the Yamaha TDM900 and the Hyosung GT650S. The FZ6 seemed disinterested (I was obviously in the wrong gear and not aggressive enough), and I think I only saw 100kph and then didn’t really try. The Hyosung managed to touch 110kph, even though the bike I rode was strangled by LAMS configuration (I did turn in a bit quicker though). The TDM flew to 140kph and held that briefly before I buttoned off. I took the GSX along there, and after turning in slowly it got to 130kph in probably less than half distance. Impressive!
The gearing helps with performance too I suppose. Like other modern mid-size fours, the bike is relatively low-geared; top gear runs at just under 20kph per 1,000rpm. But, while a 6-speed close-ratio box and low gearing might give it good acceleration, it doesn’t give it good touring ability. Even in city traffic you can easily find yourself in top gear; and out on the highway things get fairly busy. At 100kph it’s starting to nudge over 5,000rpm. By 115kph it’s pulling 6,000rpm. Now, the engine is still smooth at those revs, and you do get used to it, but for me, a proper tourer needs to be a bit more relaxed. I mean, it’s not like it couldn’t easily pull higher gearing!
The gearing is something that could easily be “fixed” by a change of sprocket I suppose, but less easily fixed is the ride. The ride is very firm. Even around town – yep, within those first couple of kilometres – I knew there was no way it was going to match those bikes that Rob Smith compared it to. Out on the open road, any reasonable sized bump is felt as a solid thump through the seat and bars. Cruising on the highway a couple of larger bumps even bounced me off the seat! The suspension is fairly basic, with non-adjustable forks up front; although the rear unit is adjustable for both pre-load and re-bound, so a bit of fiddling at the rear could certainly make a difference. Although, as it was, it felt fairly evenly-matched front and back, so I don’t think you could go too far.
There’s another section of road fairly close to where I live that I’ve used for test purposes a few times. It’s a good test of ride-quality and suspension-compliance. The road is very bumpy, with lots of patched-potholes in the bitumen surface. And it was this section of road that really showed the Suzuki’s limitations compared to bikes like the Triumph Sprint and Honda VFR. For example, I’ve ridden a Sprint over that section and it rode very smoothly. You could still feel the bumps, but the suspension showed great compliance and absorbed them very well. On the Suzuki, the bumps came thumping through quite harshly; and I even stood up, trail-bike style, over a couple of the worst bits.
But get it away from bumpy roads – and, perhaps, big distance open highways – and the bike redeems itself with very good handling. It’s that easy-to-ride nature again. At everything from feet-up U-turns to open-road sweepers, it’s always easy and accurate.
Brakes are good too. There's the usual twin-discs up front and single-disc at the rear, and they work well.
That full fairing not only looks good, it works pretty well too, doing a good job of diverting the wind at touring speeds. At 120kph there was a bit of wind, but not much.
So, over-all, it’s a good bike! It looks great, has a comfortable riding-position, goes well, handles great, it’s easy to ride, and has all the cost advantages of a mid-size bike. But is it a sports-tourer to rival the likes of the VFR800 and Sprint ST? Well, no, it’s not! Not when you get it away from smooth-surface roads anyway; and not if you want that powerful long-legged cruising ability that defines a good, larger-size, tourer. But, of course, at just two-thirds the price you wouldn’t expect it to be! But it’s still a great bike for what it is, and especially for what it costs! At the price it’s got to be one of the best-value mid-sizers around! And that alone should ensure Suzuki moves a lot of them out of the showroom and into the hands of happy customers who have every reason to be pleased with their purchase.

Ridden 2008.

UP-DATE 2010
Paint is the only real change since 2008; the current model appearing in black and white livery. To me, I think this one looked better. Other than that, what you get is what I tested here.

UP-DATE 2011
Again, paint is the only real difference; the current one being predominantly white. Oh, and one other worthwhile difference, the bike is now available in a LAMS version. That's a different colour too.
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