SUZUKI GSX 1100 E (GS 1150)
Having put 1,800 miles on the Suzuki's 'E' version of the GSX1100, and after tipping just over 100 quids worth of fuel into it's uniquely-shaped tank and wearing down the rear tread to below the legal limit. I reckon I've got to know the bike reasonably well. Not very pre-possessing; after all, we've seen the air-cooled 1100 engine around for some time and the instruments, warning lights and frying pan size headlight are certainly beginning to look dated. It's a bike which turns heads and in some quarters has a reputation for turning corners, provided there aren't any bends in the road.
In the land of the golden gargle the full faired version of this machine, the EFE, has earned itself a bit of a naughty reputation for alleged 'violent steering instability problems', to such an extent that Western Australia's Consumer Affairs Department placed an embargo on the sale or resale of the bikes. We always knew they were a bunch of softies Down Under but - it turned out to be a badly-handled TV programme which sparked it all off and the GSX is back in circulation, not to say oscillation.
As with most big machines with 16in wheels, the steering can be quite light and a nudge on the bars or a ripple in the road can sometimes encourage it into a mini-tank slapper, but last year's road test bike always recovered it's composure almost as quick as it had lost it. Anyway, we like to think we've got an open mind here at PB so if any EFE owners have experienced problems, let us know.
When I first began testing the unfaired 'E' model, I began to wonder if there was a real problem in the design. With the machine slightly cranked over at 70mph-plus speeds, the bike would bob and weave like a boxer. It took quite a time to find out why. Ride the bike with an oversuit on, hang on to the bars like your life depends on it and it'll weave like there's no tomorrow. Relax your grip on the bars, let your butt slide back against the hump contoured into the comfortable bike seat and the bike's as stable as the proverbial rock. What's an oversuit got to do with it, you may ask? Wind grabs at an oversuit and makes you move everso slightly and the steering of the GSX with its sixteen inch wheel is so very light that the slightest pressure on the bars will cause a direction change.
It wasn't just yours truly who came up with this reason. PB's latest recruit, Ruben Paul, went for a blast on the GSX without being warned about any handling quirks and to my great surprise (he came back?--Ed) he confirmed my discovery. He found that when wearing leathers, the bike is really stable. A few days later at the MIRA speed test strip it showed no signs of faltering from a straight line when travelling at 140mph.
What is startling about the GSX 1100E then? For starters it smokes standing ¼-miles like there's prize money to be won. To crack 11 seconds at MIRA you've either got to cheat and start well behind the first timing beam - which I wasn't - or you've got to have one hell of a powerful engine in a bike which turns brute grunt into acceleration without spinning it's back wheel too easily. Traction is what you need, the combination of Suzuki's well proven Full Floater rear suspension, correct fore and aft weight dispersal when the bike was designed and a rear tyre which holds onto tarmac like a limpet, makes for low elapsed times.
A slick shifting gearbox is another essential. The GSX's is really slick; in fact on occasions it proved too slick. The required pedal pressure is so small (particularly when changing up from third to fourth) that if you apply the slightest touch to the pedal before you've shut the throttle you'll find a false neutral and see the rev counter needle rocketing towards the expensive engine repair zone. This aside, up and down shifts are a doddle and once you have got used to the featherlight feel of the box there should be no excuse for missing a gear. To avoid a nasty mechanical crash when engaging first gear, after starting the bike from cold, I found it best to start the bike with first gear already engaged, the clutch pulled in and front brake pulled on to stop the bike from moving slightly forward before the clutch plates freed. It's got to save rounding off the engagement cogs on first gear and give the selector mechanism an easier life.
Goes well in a straight line then but what about corners? One of the things that is hard to believe about the GSX1100E is that it's really an 1100. For sure the performance lets you know it's a superbike but the feel of the machine is deceptive. It's like riding a smaller bike. You know it's heavy but it feels quite light; the center of gravity is low and the contoured seat lets you sit into the machine, making you feel part of it. I thought the bike might be a bit of a handful on the Cadwell club circuit where we shot the action pics but it was no bother at all. The back wheel could be made to break away under power without any heart stopping moments and the bike could be flip-flopped through the exciting right-left downhill Gooseneck section with impunity.
On the road the bike rides just as well. Bumpy corners don't upset it too much and the advantage of a big inch engine becomes plain when overtaking or pulling out of a sweeping curve. With a smaller more peaky engine you'd need to work the gear pedal for instant response. The GSX1100 engine pulls like The Flying Scotsman, so you don't need to worry too much about what gear you're in. It'll pull well from as low as 3500rpm but the real fun starts at about seven grand. In road speed terms, it'll pull so hard from about 10mph that the muscles in the back of your neck either make you crouch on the fuel tank, or slow down. The sheer tractability of the engine is a delight. It really is all things to all people. It'll slug along in 5th (top gear) at 25mph and let you crack the throttle against its stop without coughing, juddering or any sort of complaint. It'll pull gently at first 'til you reach about 55mph, and then with ever increasing rapidity, it'll go on pulling to the upright maximum speed of over 130mph. Snick down a couple of gears, check the gear position indicator (which I for one like) to see what gear you have engaged, crack the throttle against the stop and feel the mind boggling acceleration which the engine delivers. It's so powerful that any change in road surface, for example when crossing a white line, can have the back tyre spinning, so you need your wits about you.
Fortunately Suzuki haven't compromised in the brakes department. Three eleven inch discs, two on the front wheel and one on the back, are gripped by opposed piston calipers. I'd prefer slightly more free travel on the front brake lever than you get. For sure the brakes are good, so good that you can make the front tyre squeal without too much lever pressure. But I don't like having to release too much of my throttle hand from the grip to get the brake lever to a comfortable part of my fingers and I found I had to on this bike. That's not a fault, just a personal preference because the brakes are so bloody good.
With all the power, speed and excellent brakes available, what about suspension? It might be good for straight line work when much of the bike's weight is transferred to the back wheel giving leech-like grip and arrow-straight flight but what about fast road work, how does the suspension package work then? The answer is very well. There's no disconcerting dive of the front brakes when you slap the front brakes on and similarly the back end doesn't wag about when you're stopping in a hurry.
The front suspension is well matched to the Full Floater rear which does an excellent job of keeping the back wheel under control. The gradually increasing spring resistance which rising rate suspension affords is well executed by this type of Full Floater arrangement. It squeezes the spring unit equally from both ends, rather like a pair of pliers. Many other rising-rate systems don't have this refinement. They offer gradually increasing resistance but only to one end of their spring unit, the other end being fixed to the frame.
Full Floater derives it's name from this difference, the spring unit floating between the squeezing force. A clever worked out suspension system which sets a high standard for others to reach. A combination of excellent grip afforded by the Metezeler tyres fitted to this test machine and the good suspension package make for a bike that can be hussled through tight twisted turns like a middle-weight. It's so much fun that you'll find yourself looking for twisty roads to ride on. On long rides you'll miss the protection of a screen though and so you'll use this bike for motorway work as little as possible.
At night, that monster headlight chucks out a fair amount of light, enough to let you ride safely at speed. The instrument lighting is good too but, oh, those nasty warning lights which look like Christmas Tree decorations. They're dated man, and how. Dated too are the long stem mirrors, but you can't knock the excellent rear view they provide. They also stay clear, almost unaffected by vibration. The engine's rubber mounted you see. Neat trick that, but it still chose to shake three of its ten mill diameter bolts loose from the lower engine mounts during the test.
You get a standard Japanese tool kit which is carried in a neat little tray which slots under the non detachable pillion part of the split seat. There's a standard Suzuki locking chain too, which also fits into the tray. The split seat is a good idea and as soon as you realise you must slide back onto the hump to take the load off your arms, you're in for a very comfortable ride. If you must ride like a racer you'll have to pay at the rate of one gallon of petrol every thirty miles. You won't be stung for lots of oil though. The oil cooler keeps the lube at a sensible temperature and stops it from being burnt off. In fact during the test the bike did very well for oil despite some fairly aggressive use. You'll get nearly a thousand miles to half a litre of oil which isn't going to hurt your pocket. A rear tyre every couple of thousand miles is about par if you thrash the bike. Drive it more sensibly and you may get twice that distance. It's already been revealed that Suzuki are set to upstage their air-cooled range of 1100's with the super powerful 'oilcooled' R range.
Old hat this air-cooled bike? No way, it's got a lot going for it. The new design may be the all-singing, all-dancing answer to just about everything, but save a dance for this one first.
Words by Colin Taylor