2011 Middleweight Sportbike Shootout - Track [Video]
Can the GSX-R750 hold off the 675R and 848 EVO at the track?
In this battle against European exotica, it’s easy to think the relatively bland Suzuki GSX-R750 would get lost among the crowd. But if there was one motorcycle that never suffered from an identity crisis, the venerable Gixxer 750 is it. The father of the modern-day sportbike, Suzuki virtually created the word upon the 750’s release in 1985. That heritage, and the lessons learned from all those years in racing, have culminated in the finely honed machine you see here.
We harped about the instant familiarity the GSX-R600 provides during our 600 shootout, allowing all of our testers to get up to speed quickly. With a larger-displacement engine wedged inside the same chassis, some of us wondered whether that balance we adored on the 600 would transfer over to the 750 on the racetrack.
The answer is a resounding yes. “Because I feel so immediately comfortable on the GSX-R750, my confidence is boosted and I’m ready to start riding aggressively right out of the gate,” writes Pete. Kevin, too, was delighted at how little time it took to feel comfortable at the Suzuki’s controls, noting how it only took him a few laps to scrape the footpegs at their lowest setting. Once we moved them back to their highest setting — which didn’t require readjusting the shifter or brake lever — ground clearance was never an issue. In contrast to the Triumph, you sit “in” the Suzuki, which has the least aggressive rider triangle of the bunch (relatively speaking, of course).
While it’s true that our GSX-R750 made the most power at the wheel between our trio (120.5 horsepower), we were surprised that the number was so low. In years past we’ve seen the middleweight Gixxer pump out five to seven more horses. Regardless, it’s still the horsepower king of the bunch, and from the saddle the Suzuki’s advantage over the others was obvious, especially down Auto Club’s front straight. Duke noticed 140 mph on the clock at the end of said straight, five miles per hour more than the next-fastest Ducati. Power comes on in a linear fashion, with a noticeable pull past 10,000 rpm that indicates the 750 is indeed stretching its legs. Throttle response is mostly smooth, though we noticed a slight abruptness when reapplying throttle, especially at slower speeds.
Another reason we’re big fans of the GSX-R750 is because whenever we come off it, we wish 600s could be this good. Whereas 1000cc sportbikes have gotten to the point that electronics are nearly required to tame the power, for mere mortals like you and me, the 750 has the right amount of grunt to satisfy our urges for speed without scaring the crap out of us. This balance proved useful at the track, prompting Kevin to write, “The Gixxer 750 proved to be very competent at this tight circuit, and I’ll bet quicker under me than if I had a Gixxer Thou.”
As far as handling goes, the Suzuki falls somewhere in between the Ducati and Triumph. Quickness and agility doesn’t quite compare to the 675R, while stability at full lean is lacking ever so slightly to the 848. That said, the Gixxer exhibits the same neutrality from its chassis that we enjoyed on the 600. Direction changes require a simple tug at the controls before the chassis seamlessly falls into place. While this characteristic suits a more flowing course, it was mostly a non-issue navigating through the tight switchbacks at Auto Club’s infield course.
Bumps are absorbed by the less prestigious though more-than-capable Big Piston Fork from Showa. The unit features full adjustability and is mated to a Showa shock with separate high- and low-speed compression damping. Initial setup on the Suzuki leaned toward the soft side, and it wasn’t until the pace picked up that some of our testers noticed the bike protesting. “As delivered the Suzuki’s suspension was better suited for the street than track,” Pete says in his notes. “Its softer settings eventually revealed themselves with an occasional squirm and wallow during corner exits or over rough patches of pavement in the track.”
Duke backed Pete’s feelings about the suspension, calling the street settings we initially set on the bike “a little too loose.” Personally, I didn’t mind the softer settings and actually enjoyed the bike moving around a little underneath me. However, the suspension’s full adjustments can provide more buttoned-down responses to suit most riders with a few simple turns.
By now you know that all three machines are equipped with Brembo monobloc brake calipers. The Suzuki, however, is the only one of the three not equipped with steel-braided brake lines, opting for rubber hoses instead. You would think this would be a major disadvantage on the track, but in reality we were surprised at how well they held up the entire day without any signs of spongeyness at the lever. In fact, I personally preferred the set of Brembos on the Suzuki as it allowed me to use more of the lever travel during braking, which suits my style.
It should be noted that the GSX-R is the only bike here that comes with a slipper clutch and it worked flawlessly throughout the day. Not that we taxed the clutch very much since the gearbox is one refined piece of kit. Shifts are crisp and precise even without a quickshifter like the Triumph. The gauges are easily read at a glance, with a big tachometer dominating the instrument pod. Also amongst the readouts is a gear-position indicator which was much larger than the one on the Triumph, another feature we liked about the Gixxer.
The Suzuki is also the only bike here with different power maps. While it automatically defaults to A mode on startup, giving it full power, B mode reduces power significantly throughout the rev range, giving it 675R-ish type feel from the saddle. A nice feature for the ham-fisted, it’s possible to give it a big twist of throttle in B mode while leaned over and not worry about spinning up the rear. A racer might appreciate this reduced power mode should they ever race in the rain.
So how good is the Suzuki? Trackday enthusiasts will no doubt appreciate the wide powerband of the Gixxer. Its familiar (and adjustable) ergonomics will also appeal to a wide range of riders. Get it on the track and it’ll steer with ease, stop on a dime and, depending on the circuit, even keep up with the literbikes. As far as laptimes go, you might have guessed by now that all three of our testers achieved their best lap time aboard the GSX-R750.
In the face of Triumph’s race-bred suspension and the Ducati’s uprated engine, it’s interesting that the Suzuki stands among this crowd unashamed at the fact that its distinctive feature is that there’s no singular piece that stands out. Taken as a whole, however, the Gixxer’s advantage becomes clear — all the pieces of the puzzle work together in such harmony that quick lap times are a natural byproduct.