I’d read the road tests, looked the machine over and pondered the cost of buying a new one. The temptation was high, all that perfect shining metal not yet ruined by any young hoodlums, save for myself. But the figures just didn’t add up and the depreciation was as inspiring as a weekend in Bognor. The secondhand market beckoned, the poor write-ups making them slow sellers. Ideal for someone who was wandering around with two grand in fifties in his leather boots.
After a few false calls – god, these optimists with 50 thou on the clock and a frame as bent as a paperclip – the magic one owner, low mileage 1992 model, turned up for a mere £2375. A scream around suburbia revealed that all was well and that there was an excess of curtain twitchers. My ‘Hells Angels’ outfit probably had them grabbing the sedatives. Only problem was that I couldn’t find anything wrong and had no bargaining point to get the cost down. I admitted I only had two grand in cash and the old duffer practically tore my boots off. Good job his wife didn’t walk in on us.
I can understand why he was glad to be shot of the bike. To someone of his great age the location of 53 horses at 11000 revs and hardly any power below 8000rpm must have been a real pain. He may not even have experienced the mad rush of power, for the engine spun smoothly without any hiccups from 1500 revs up – if you never wanted to break the speed limits the GSF could be used in this gentle way with about 65mpg. A useful aid for riding to work every day in an economical mode and handy when the road surface turned greasy or icy.
The watercooled four cylinder engine turned really hot at the high end of the rev range, taking advantage of its low mass (365lbs dry) to push the bike along at indecent rates of acceleration; more arm wrenching than a GPZ500 coming on cam, for instance. It was the kind of power flow that was addictive and I had great fun winding up the engine, dropping the clutch to tear up the road on the back wheel. Lovely!
Having started out in hooligan vogue, I found the exhaust very stilted, attacked the end cap with my electric drill. Great noise, more low down power and the same kick at high revs. Fuel improved in full throttle mode from 45mpg to just under 50mpg. Modern bikes are dangerously quiet, giving car drivers no warning of your existence. Low revs in sixth or fifth gear gave a very muted howl which was useful for loitering in towns with a large police presence. The noise laws suck.
For bopping around town I couldn’t find too many nasties. The front forks shook a bit over pot-holes and the back end tried to throw me out of the saddle. The suspension was a bit harsh, probably okay when brand new but the kind of equipment that goes off quickly. The combined use of wraparound tubes and engine mass as frame was most certainly stiff enough. Whatever wobbles turned up over our harsh city streets soon died down.
Out of town the Bandit was most at home on smooth roads with 80 to 100mph on the clock. Sweeping A-roads and motorways were ideal. It’d hustle with the best of them down country roads just so long as they were smooth. Bumps made the Suzuki feel very insecure, the front wheel wandering and shaking whilst the back end bounced around. The line was more or less held and if fear set in the throttle could be slammed shut without the back end going berserk.
Touching the front disc brake lever in bends was not so much fun, the single disc causing the forks to twist and the bike tried to stand upright. The involuntary straightening of the corner had me screaming in terror the first time it happened, the GSF coming near to embedding itself into the front of an approaching auto. An almighty twitch allowed us to hop around the corner on a new line.
Other than when well banked over in corners, the front brake was just powerful enough to cope with the acceleration and speed – the Japanese market model has twin discs, which is what a hard ridden GSF really needs. The rear disc was no better nor no worse than a good drum but had the potential for trouble during the winter with seizing calipers.
On the first long ride disaster almost struck. Two of the exhaust headers came loose, causing massive backfires on the overrun. The four into one exhaust was losing its black finish, blistered by rust. The clamp bolts were only slightly loose but this was sufficient to cause massive air leaks. Every time I tightened the chain, I went over the bolts, invariably finding a couple that were loose. Left to its own devices the lean running caused by the exhaust leak might’ve burnt holes in my pistons or burnt out some of the 16 valves. Worth checking out if you buy a GSF.
That long run revealed that the seat turned hard after 120 miles, which had me squirming around like I had ants in my pants until it was time to find some fuel. The GSF’s very compact and may not suit those much over 5’10” but is easy enough to check out. The bend of the bars made it quite painful to get my head down amongst the clocks, a necessity once above the ton but it was possible to get a hand down around the fork yokes! It was always amusing to slowly grind past some plonker in a Sierra who looked over aghast at my contorted and laid out body. Fun for short bursts of flat out speeding.
My use of maximum revs had an effect on the consumables. Tyres about 6000 miles a throw, I preferred Avons but often got a better deal on Pirellis. The white finish on the alloy wheels was soon ruined by the use of tyre levers. It’s a pity the Japs are frightened to let the real alloy shine. Perhaps because the power was so smooth the OE chain lasted over 13000 miles, but replacements are notoriously less well made. Front disc pads were reduced to screaming metal in 5000 miles, although the rear pads did almost twice that. I could probably double all these figures if I rode sedately.
I let a dealer do a full service every 6000 miles but did an oil/ filter change in between. The bike always ran a lot better after the service, although the fall off was very gradual and not discernible except by comparison with a serviced bike. One thing I hated was the front mudguard, wholly inadequate for English winters, the whole front of the motor being covered in muck within a few minutes. I tried a mudflap but it fell off within a week! No wonder the exhaust and a few brackets were such a mess.
The rest of the finish was good, paint still shone, the engine finish remained intact and all was well with the bike. Suzuki’s four stroke engineering is pretty reliable even with a red line at 14000rpm! The latest model has modified cams and carbs, giving a bit more midrange power and in Japan they have one with variable valve timing that gives a much better spread of torque. That’s all okay, but I rather like the buzz from screaming around with an insane grin – who wants to be a boring old fart?
In my search for a good GSF I saw a couple of real rats at silly money. It pays to say no thanks because there are a few out there that have been sold on their naked, sensible looks rather than wild engines, which confusion means an easy life.