Remember when Suzuki made bikes you lusted after? Bikes that not only looked great, but also performed brilliantly. Bikes that could hold their own or blow the competition out of the water? Pepperidge Farm remembers, and so do I.
I’m talking about bikes like the original Hayabusa, the original GSX-R1000, the 2005 GSX-R1000, the the GSX-R750 SRAD. Heck, even the Bandit range.
Now in 2019 when, let’s face it, the world has gone to shit, we’re left with a GSX-R1000 that’s nowhere near the competition, both on road and track, an adventure bike powered by an almost 20-year-old engine, and a host of bikes powered by a 15-year-old engine that have poor fuelling.
On top of the world
Let’s have a look at some of those bikes in more detail, starting with the Bandit range. Sure, none of the Bandits are exciting. Like, at all. But what they do have is a incredibly dedicated cult following. Both the 600 and 1250 models were axed in 2016, but you’ll still find clubs dedicated to them around the world. People love them. Most people, by comparison, don’t love the current GSX-S range, which is as close as you’ll get to a Bandit in 2019.
The GSX-R750 SRAD was released in 1996, and featured a frame based on that of the company’s RGV Grand Prix machine. As you might expect it was an incredibly focussed machine, and sportsbike nuts absolutely loved it.
In 1999, with the Millennium Bug about to bring an end to everything the Hayabusa burst onto the scene, and the world didn’t know what hit it. 175bhp, a top speed of 190mph and a horrible yet beautiful bronze colour scheme. Sublime. It knocked the only other hyper bike of the time – the Honda Super Blackbird – into the weeds. Kawasaki tried to beat it with the ZX-12R, but the Hayabusa was never beaten. The Hayabusa is the reason there exists a gentlemen’s agreement between all the major manufacturers to cap top speed at 186mph. Beat that.
Then we come to Suzuki’s last great motorcycle, the 2005 GSX-R1000. A bike so good BMW reportedly used it as the benchmark for the first S1000RR. And we all know how that went. Suzuki claimed a weight of 166kg, which for a litre bike is just absurd, and the other Japanese manufacturers couldn’t match it. The K5 also had an incredibly meaty mid range. While R1s and ZX-10Rs of the time were revving their balls off just to get anywhere, the Suzuki breezed past a gear higher. Where was the Fireblade? It was there, but in typical Honda fashion it also wasn’t.
There have been other great bikes from Suzuki. The SV650 somehow excites new and experienced riders alike. The TL1000S and TL1000R, while not amazing motorcycles, have a cult following.
Suzuki in 2019
A look at Suzuki’s range in 2019 makes for sad viewing. The Hayabusa, GSX-R600 and GSX-R750 were killed off a couple of years ago by emission regulations, leaving the current GSX-R1000 as the only representative for the sporty market. And let’s be honest, that bike, despite the promises made by Suzuki, hasn’t pulled up any trees. It’s not mentioned in the same breath as the S1000RR, Aprilia RSV4 or Honda Fireblade. It looks meh, and compared to most of the competition, it rides meh, too.
The GSX-S1000 and GSX-S1000F both use the engine from the 2005 GSX-R1000 mentioned above, except the throttle control is terrible at low speeds. There’s also the Katana, which is basically a GSX-S1000 after a trip to the vintage shop. The Katana also has the poor throttle response. Again, Suzuki’s naked and semi-naked roadsters just aren’t anywhere near the competition.
After a brief hiatus the SV650 is back in Suzuki’s line-up, and has been for a few years. The problem? The Yamaha MT-07 came first, looks better and offers a much more exciting ride.
Then there’s the V-Strom range, which comprises 1000cc and 650cc variants. It’s the same story with the V-Strom range, they’re just a bit meh. The bigger V-Strom is powered by an almost 20-year-old engine that’s had all the fun and character engineered out of it. Compared to the rest of the adventure market it’s incredibly basic. The 650 suffers the same fate, it’ just doesn’t do enough.
None of the bikes I’ve singled out above are bad motorcycles (apart from perhaps the GSX-S range due to the poor fuelling), they’re just not good enough. If you rode any of Suzuki’s range in isolation you probably wouldn’t be disappointed, but if you then jumped on a competitor, you’d immediately forget about the Suzuki.
Of course, I can’t definitively answer this question, otherwise I’d probably be making mad money as a consultant or something, but let’s have a stab at answering it.
Back in the ’90s and early ’00s Suzuki knew what they were about. They knew they wanted to make fast, exciting bikes, and they knew the people wanted that, too. But those people grew older and wanted something a little more comfortable and a little easier to ride. No problem, the Bandit’s had them covered, but bland naked bikes were never going to take off. Then a new market sector exploded onto the scene. The adventure bike was here.
BMW and KTM seemed to be the only manufacturers taking this segment seriously for a good few years, and all the Japanese manufacturers were reluctant to get involved. Sure, Suzuki kind of had adventure bikes in the form of the older V-Strom range, but they were viewed as tall commuter bikes. It took years for any Japanese manufacturer to come out with a serious adventure bike to challenge the Europeans. Suzuki still, in 2019, don’t have a proper off-road focussed adventure bike that could compete with KTM, BMW or Honda. All that could change with the new V-Strom, but I’m not hopeful.
With the sportsbike market all but dead, Suzuki have lost their identity, and don’t seem to know where to focus that energy. Instead we’re left with a huge range of mediocre bikes, none of which are anywhere near the competition.
None of this is Suzuki’s fault. In those neon-clad days of the ’90s nobody could have foreseen the downfall of the sportsbike, or the rise of the adventure bike. But it’s about time Suzuki found their identity again, whatever that looks like in 2019.
I’m going to chalk this period down as Suzuki’s wilderness years. Yamaha went through a similar period almost 10 years ago. In the midst of a worldwide recession they hiked up their prices, and didn’t really bring out any new, game-changing motorcycles. Instead we got a bloody expensive R6, an R1 that was all but defunct a year after its release, and two rubbish remakes of the Diversion.
But Yamaha came out of that funk in spectacular fashion. We’ve now got an incredible R1 that looks like a MotoGP bike, a brilliant mid-capacity adventure bike, and perhaps one of the best model ranges in all of motorcycling in the form of the MT family.
I hope we can see a similar resurgence from Suzuki in the next few years.