I’ve been looking for a bike to do a few more country weekends with my wife. I currently own a CBR600F (2004) and I’ve owned a Hornet (2008), a CBF600 (2002), an ER6f (2007), a CBR600F (2007) and a Bandit 600 (1998). My wife has suffered through all of these to some extent or another.
I love my CBR and I loved my previous one too. Solo, I can ride that thing all day and all night. But two up, it can be less comfortable, especially on longer rides. When the pillion gets lazy, that’s a lot of weight pushing down on your wrists. So I’ve been shopping for something else for the summer.
My ideal would be to be able to keep the CBR and get something else. And I can afford that from a purchase perspective, but the cheapest insurance I can get on the CBR600F is GBP650 per year and that’s just third party, fire and theft. So I need an all rounder. Enter the GSX650F as recommended in a post here by Iang.
The vehicle I tested was a 2009 bike with 15,000 miles on the clock. It’s a completely different ride to my CBR in every kind of riding I tested, but that’s only a bad thing if what you want from life is a CBR600F.
My test was a 30 mile trip that included motorway (highway), 2-lane city traffic, 1-lane city traffic and some twisty bits.
The ride position is very upright, and despite Suzuki’s statements about this being an every day sports ride, I felt like I was on a Bandit as I pulled away from the fuel station. Or tried to. You see, the GSX-F needs you to pull the clutch in before you can start it. This was news to me. Embarrassing news.
Just down the road, the first corner I took scared the crap out of me. I braked straight, came off the brakes and about 3 seconds later started the turn. The bike tried to tip right over and turn 90 degrees before I’d really started to push on the bar. I haven’t felt a rush like that since my first twisty on the Hornet!
Over the next few miles things settled down. The upright position is ideal in town and in traffic. You get a nice long view across everything, and the elevated position inspires confidence. There’s no real pressure on your thighs or lower back from holding yourself upright, and there’s no neck strain from being bent over and looking up. It’s perfect for this, but then so is a Bandit. Until the first overtake.
The engine is a slightly tweaked Bandit 650 lump, and I had expectations based on my old Bandit. You know, the 12 year old one I mentioned earlier? Apparently they’ve changed some things in that time!
At 6000rpm when starting an overtake, the bike just goes. It feels almost like my CBR at that point, and the acceleration delivers the same result - the car goes behind you. It really doesn’t feel like you’re on something with 13hp less than what you rode to the shop on.
On the motorway, things got more interesting. One of the main reasons that I love my CBR is the fairing. A long motorway ride with no protection can get tedious. Even short stretches at more than 70mph were uncomfortable on the Hornet and the Bandit, and only slightly tolerable on the ER6. For a middle-weight machine, the GSX-F ate the 8 miles of highway in silly time and without giving me too much to think about.
At higher speeds, it may be necessary to tuck down behind the screen a little as it doesn’t fully protect you sitting up (and for the record, I’m a runt at 5’9"). That felt very odd to me with the higher steering bars. It would definitely benefit from a raised screen or a double-bubble type solution if you’re going to be relying on it for a lot of motorway work, but overall it performs better than I expected it to. The bike sits down well and doesn’t feel like it’s floating about. Lane changes are smooth and precise and the mirrors provide a good all around view. truck. Truck. TRUCK!!! Offramp.
But then we got to the twisty bits and I started to miss my CBR. A lot!
Riding the GSX-F between 6k and 8k RPM is very easy - it revs to there with no real effort and stays there. But take it up to over 9k, back off and then stomp down a gear and you expectations will be at odds with reality… The engine braking that lets you stay away from the brakes on the CBR just doesn’t seem to be there, and so it was time to reach for the brake level. Except those disappointed too.
Fortunately I was spending the time getting the feel for the bike so I was doing a sensible speed, and the lack of engine braking wasn’t a real surprise. But the squishy response from the brakes certainly was! They’d been fine in town, but I’d not been above 40mph at that point and was often below it. They weren’t used on the motorway. But without the engine braking, I needed them here and they just weren’t delivering. It took me a good 2-3 seconds longer than expected to get down to the entry speed I wanted for the corner.
Besides the brakes, the ride was awesome. Once I got used to it trying to tip us in to every corner like a crazed sniffer dog following a scent, I even started to enjoy that aspect of it, and the upright position let me see for miles and miles - over the hedges, past the tractor, down that hill, past the barn and ZOOM!
The engine is far more lively than my Bandit of old or the more modern CBF. It’s very much in-line with the Hornet’s enthusiasm and stupid grin inducing torque, and when you twist the throttle to go over there, you GO. OVER. THERE!
For what it is, it’s a fun bike. It’s comfortable, it’s quick enough to be fun in town and the wide bars make it easy to lob about in traffic. The ride is different than a sports bike, but it’s a good ride and a lot of fun can be had with your head held high. I think it would make an amazing middle-weight tourer that a person living in London could afford to insure, but at the same time be great fun for scratching about on the weekends AND for commuting to work.
It’s not a track bike, and you’ll have to work very hard to keep up with your sportsbike mates on the twists. But how much can you really ask for out of one bike?
For what it is, at the price they’re asking and for the insurance premiums, I reckon this would make a real fun bike for a lot of people currently snoozing around on a less enthused machine.