Recently, after a late night of staring into computer screens here at MO, we began to wonder which of the modern big-bore sport-tourers was best. Actually we didn't really care, we just wanted to get away from glaring CRTs and go ride some bikes. In any case, we scanned through our new model database and picked out the Bandit 1200 and
Suzuki Bandit 1200
Suzuki's Bandit 12 is a wolf in sheep's clothing. You could easily pass by its subtle shape in any showroom as it sat there lurking. But while a Bandit may look like a modern Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM), it's really a hooligan in disguise. In fact, with its relatively short (56.5 inch) wheelbase and high center of gravity, Suzuki's Bandit 1200 ranks with the mighty YZF1000 as wheelie bike of the year.
Suzuki's latest creation shares more than just its name with its smaller brother - specs are surprisingly similar. It tips the Toledos at just 26 pounds more than its 600cc sibling, and its wheelbase is a scant 0.2 inches longer. While thicker tubing is used in its frame to handle the extra ponies, appearance and size are similar. Other parts-bin items include cams from Suzuki's standard GS1100G and suspension and brake components from the RF900.
Top speeds were equal between our two contestants at 145 mph with saddlebags installed. (Hey, this is a power trip!) Both machines were stable at speed, with the Kawasaki feeling just a little more planted due to its longer wheelbase. Suzuki also takes the win in impromptu drag strip testing. But in situations more reflective of real-world riding the edge goes to Kawasaki's GPz.
Its enormous 5.8 gallon tank, coupled with 42.8 mpg, offers a generous range of 248 sport-touring miles. Our Bandit proved to be a little more thirsty at 38 mpg, providing a range of 190 miles from its 5 gallon tank.
Differences between these two bikes are apparent after even a short ride. Where the GPz coddles its rider in smoothness and well thought out amenities, the Bandit 1200 is more of a muscular brute. While Kawasaki designed a fairing that would keep a rider in comfort at speed, Suzuki installed a smaller unit merely to keep Bandit pilots from being blown off. Don't get us wrong - the Suzuki possesses all the elements of a practical bike, like a big seat and sensible riding position, but a Bandit lacks the sheer comfort of the GPz.
This is mostly due to the aforementioned small fairing, but also an upright riding position that forces its pilot to push a lot of air. Bar to peg relationship is just about perfect though, and replacing handlebars is easy, as opposed to the GPz's non-adjustable clip-ons. Some engine vibration does find its way to the rider on the highway, and although its never enough to be called annoying, after riding the silky GPz it is noticeable.
Working on our Bandit was easy thanks to the lack of a full fairing. With just a few bolts the tank, seat and side covers can be removed, creating easy access to the inner workings. Performing maintenance on the GPz takes a little longer, due to that model's full coverage fairing and multitude of fasteners.
Ergonomics can be adjusted to suit your preferences thanks to the Bandit's tubular handlebar.
What's frustrating about the Bandit is that it is basically an excellent motorcycle saddled with some simple, yet annoying flaws. Carburetion, at least on our 49-state model, was terrible. A flat spot at lower revs made leaving traffic lights a pain, and colder mornings only made things worse. Plan on spending some time playing with jetting, or investing in a jet kit.
Another bothersome trait of the big Bandit is its poorly sprung front. Even with the adjustable preload cranked to its max it pitches heavily during braking or aggressive cornering. A lack of adjustable rebound damping makes fast corner entrances difficult, as the front will pogo once the brakes are released. Stiffer springs would help somewhat, but rebound damping will remain a problem. Rear spring rates are quite good, and power-sliding the Bandit out of slower turns feels predictable.
The Suzuki's tapered seat caused us to constantly slide forward into the tank. A more conventional shape would be preferable.
Suzuki's Bandit 1200 has the basic ingredients of a fun and comfortable sport-touring bike -- sensible ergonomics and a great motor. Plus, at just $7,099 it's a relative bargain. However, its simple yet numerous flaws place it second in a head-to-head battle with Kawasaki's GPz.
Such a high level of sophistication comes as the result of careful refinement. Engineers at Kawasaki obviously had two goals in mind when designing their GPz -- make it smooth with wicked midrange power. Starting with their omnipotent ZX-11 mill, they set about achieving their power goals by using smaller intake ports and altering cam profiles as well as their timing.
Carbs decreased in size by 4mm to a quartet of 36mm side-draft Keihin CVKs and the ram-air system has been ditched. These changes have resulted in an engine that Kawasaki claims outpowers their ZX-11 up to 4,400rpm.
While plenty of attention was given to increasing midrange power, engineers also worked at keeping things quiet and dampening vibration. Key to this is the bike's gear-driven counterbalancer. Also, both the countershaft sprocket cover and clutch cover have increased in thickness and now use more sound-absorbing material. Primary clutch and balancer drive gears have had their teeth cut more precisely to reduce gear noise. Engine mounting is handled by one front rubber mount and two rigid rear mounts.
One look at Kawasaki's GPz1100 will tell you its purpose - to cover winding country roads at high speed in total control and comfort. At this rather broad task it's just about perfect. Power builds steadily from the very basement of its powerband right past the 11,000rpm redline without a single glitch or stumble. Peak power is 109 horses at 9500 rpm, although more significant for street riders is its pancake-flat torque spread. Peak torque is found at 6750 where the GPz puts out 67.6 ft-lbs, but output never drops below 60 ft-lbs from 3800 to 9600 rpm. While this means that a GPz rider can enjoy good acceleration at any rpm, the feeling of speed is reduced because the power never really hits hard in one spot.
Highway cruising is relaxed due to the tall sixth gear that lets the big Kawi spin at a leisurely 3,700 rpm at 60mph, and just 5,000 at 80. Often a GPz rider would be cruising well above the posted limit, simply because the lack of vibration made speeds feel lower. You really can't ask for a better engine from a sport-tourer, and it made us wonder why Kawasaki's more touring-oriented Concours is saddled with such a buzzy powerplant.
Wind protection from the wide fairing is excellent at all speeds with no annoying turbulence. Clever plastic panels near the fairing's trailing edge keep engine heat from baking the rider on warmer days. Also, the GPz's wide, comfortable seat was unanimously voted the favorite by testers and passengers alike. Other nice amenities include a centerstand, clock, underseat storage, passenger grab rail and dual helmet locks.
PAGE 2 On the sport side of the sport-touring equation, Kawasaki's GPz1100 is a pleasant surprise. When its rather substantial heft (534 lbs dry) was unloaded from our van, we were skeptical about its cornering potential. But a full day spent on twisting canyon roads and fast sweeping corners made us believers. Kawasaki hadn't made claims about any special attention paid to centralizing mass or a low center of gravity, but it clearly garnered consideration in the design, as turn-in is predictable and reasonably light, albeit slow.
Braking power of the GPz is significantly better than the Suzuki, allowing for more confidence when charging into corners. A wheelbase that stretches a full 2.9 inches longer than the Bandit also makes for better control in faster sweepers. However, the trade-off comes in tighter bends where the shorter Suzuki can press home its quicker turn-in speed and maneuverability advantage. Another trade-off comes in the footpeg placement. While low pegs are great for long days in the saddle, those on the GPz are so low that grinding them is a little too easy. Scraping the Bandit isn't difficult either, although it does give you more lean angle than the GPz. Your type of riding will determine where you place the emphasis - steeper lean angles or all-day comfort.
Kawasaki's impressive GPz1100 was an unappreciated bike, and won't be continued for 1997. However, there are still a good number of them sitting on showrooms and in Kawasaki warehouses. Prices have been discounted $500 from the sticker price of $7,999 for a new `95 or $8,499 for a '96 model.
Don't let the fact that this model was unpopular in sales distract you from appreciating it for what it really is -- a solid, well thought-out and capable bike. While a GPz may be less exciting to ride than a full-on sportbike, it will carry two people at high speeds for hours on end in total comfort. As the most competent mount for this task, Kawasaki's GPz1100 wins our Power Tourers shootout.
Specifications & Dyno Charts
Model: 1997 GSF1200SV Bandit
Engine: DOHC, 16-valve, air/oil cooled inline-four
Bore and Stroke: 79.0 x 59.0mm
Carburetion: (4) BST36 Mikuni
Wheelbase: 56.5 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5 gal.
Claimed Dry Weight: 471 lbs (214kg)
Model: 1996 ZX1100E2 GPz1100
Price: $7,499 for 1995 model, $7,999 for 1996
Engine: DOHC, 16-valve, liquid-cooled inline-four
Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 58.0mm
Carburetion: (4) 36mm Keihin
Wheelbase: 59.6 in.
Seat height: 31.1 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal.
Claimed Dry Weight: 533.6 lbs.
1. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief
I hop on Suzuki's Bandit about a month ago for my first ride: 'This is going to be cool,' I think to myself, 'a GSXR1100 motor punched out an extra 100cc and wedged into a UJM chassis.' Pull the choke, thumb the starter, and let it warm up a while. After a couple minutes, I'm off to Chuck Graves' shop, site of the official MO dyno. Whack! I get on the gas hard. The bike bogs -- anything below 4000 RPM and it's a sputtering dog. The front end dives, then the motor clears out and hits hard. As the front forks rebound up from the bog and the power comes on, it bounces up into a nice wheelie. Kinda cool. 'If only they'd fix the carburation, this'd be a really nice bike.'
Next, it's time to merge onto the freeway through a tight set of double "S" curves with a stoplight at each end -- if you get a killer launch off the first light, you can just catch the second light as it goes yellow. So I tach the Bandit up above it's jetting problems and get a decent launch, turning hard to the left all the while... trail the throttle a bit, flick hard right for the second turn and as the bike turns in and settles down, the flaccid suspension -- the front spring rate is way too soft and neither end has much damping at all -- dumps hard parts of the motorcycle onto the ground. In a stream of sparks, I roll the throttle on to lift the front of the bike off the ground. No such luck, as the bike bogs, lowering itself even more. Hmmm. 'Well,' I reason, 'if they fix the suspension and the motor, this would be a really nice bike.'
Now I'm stood up and gassing hard for the final light before the freeway. Grab the brakes to trail into the tight left-hander, and I'm yanking a fistful of sponge. Now I'm starting to get over my initial lust for the Bandit's design concept: 'I guess new brake lines and higher friction pads aren't that hard to install. With that, some motor work and new suspension, this'd be a really nice bike.'
Lastly, it's a 30-mile commute to Graves Motorsports. By the time I get there, my backside is aching and I'm getting a headache -- the bike has a tall windshield, so I didn't wear my standard earplugs, erronously thinking that the screen would keep a lot of wind and noise off my upper body. 'An aftermarket seat is only 300 bucks, no big deal, and someone will make a better windscreen. With that and some...' Wait a minute. That's way too many "if's." This bike has seriously expensive problems, and doesn't seem to excel in any area.
Contrast that with my first impression of the GPz1100 -- back in 1995, we picked a brand new one up, strapped a mountain of gear on it, and rode to Sturgis, South Dakota and back without a problem -- the only complaints we got from that ride came from the tester who wasn't riding the Kawasaki. Sure, it's a bit heavy, but in a Wyoming crosswind that's strong enough to let us almost drag knee while going straight, the extra heft makes for a much more stable ride. Completely comfortable with great brakes, good susupension and 10 more horsepwer to boot, what's not to like about the GPz1100? The price, I guess, so go buy a leftover one from 1995, it's the same bike.
2. Gord Mounce, Associate Editor
Did you ever break up with a girl that you couldn't find anything wrong with, but you just didn't have fun when you were with her? That's the problem I have with the GPz. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this bike, except that it lacks character. It is smooth, comfortable and refined, but I just don't enjoy myself when I ride it.
Not even the president of the Suzuki Bandit 1200 fan club could argue that it is a better bike. And we're already dreading the hate mail from gregarious Gary (email@example.com) who has posted to our Value 600, 900 Supersport, Adventure Bike, Frugal Flyer and Musclebike BBS's to tell the world how great a Bandit 1200 is. But the fact is that it trails the GPz in braking, comfort, finish, stability, smoothness and range. Its front fork is terrible and the carburation is a mess. It is, however, a blast to ride. With it's shorter wheelbase and less weight, the Bandit is more responsive, albeit less stable, than the Kawi. I spent a day in the twisties scraping its pegs, and powersliding and wheelying on corner exits. I haven't had that much fun in a long time! A GPz is more planted in this environment, but it turns too slowly for my liking. Sure, the GPz would have been more comfortable during the highway ride home, but it definitely trails in the fun factor. And for me, that's what this whole motorcycling thing is all about.
So I'd buy the Bandit for its fun-factor and potential, but out of the crate the GPz is clearly a better bike. Sorry, Gary.
3. Billy Bartels, Associate Editor
I like the Bandit, I really do. All its quirks may not say much for Suzuki's build quality, but they are easily fixed. Around town, its the tops. The Bandit's torquey engine will wheelie with the greatest of ease, and quite convincingly pulls away from homicidal car drivers.
Then you decide to throw some luggage on the beast, take your favorite passenger and head for Nirvana. Sorry, but with a passenger the Bandit is hopeless. Between the lame suspension, peaky power, and general twitchiness of the machine, your passenger may break your ribs trying to hold on. Likewise, the too-soft seat will have your flanks screaming for a gas stop (don't worry about that, its touring range is pretty lame too). The bonus is that the fairing is so aerodynamic that it doesn't seem to stop any of the wind from hitting you.
Enter the GPz. It's big. It's heavy. Frankly its boring. So boringly competent that you can cruise (even in the twisties) for hours and not have to think about anything but the ride. Watch the scenery, be one with the canyons, the desert, whatever. Did you have a passenger? Oh yes, there she is, comfortably quiet. No vibration, perfect suspension, unexciting torque, if only Kawi's Concours cold be this good a tourer...
4. Tom Fortune, Managing Editor
Differing with the others as I usually do, I found the GPz to be too uncomfortable and basically just boring. Long range comfort is okay if speeds are kept above 60 mph. Below that the riding position places too much weight on the wrists. And being a taller rider, the GPz's bar-seat-peg ergos had me too folded up. Sure, it has a solid, stable feel and handling, but its power delivery was uninspiring, and the bike is just too damn heavy. If I wanted to tour on a motorcycle I didn't have to think about, I'd get a Gold Wing.
The Bandit adds fun to sport touring. Its twitchy nature only manifests itself in the tightest of corners or at very high speeds, and the Bandit's rowdy motor and instant power delivery make it the choice in urban use. Although Suzuki seems to have forgotten rebound damping in the forks, overall suspension rates are supple and well suited for relaxed highway cruising. I really liked the riding position, much more roomy and comfy than the GPz, and I could easily overlook the Bandit's flaws when I compare price tags. With the money I'd save over the GPz, many of the Suzuki's shortcomings could be fixed. Power tour, anyone?
5. Chuck Graves, Racer - Team Graves Motorcycle Online
The GPz was a good bike in the respect of a sport touring bike, but it's around-town manners weren't the best; it's too heavy and steers slowly. It didn't accent the motorcycle. But it's open-highway and cruising manners were really good -- it is smooth, with a comfortable seating position. The bike did tend to vibrate a bit at high RPM, over 8000, which is reaching it's outer limits where most people won't ride, so I guess it's not that big of a deal.
The downfalls of the Bandit are quickly noticable when sport touring: At higher speeds, it's slightly twitchy, and didn't have the comfort of a good front fairing -- if it's a little chilly out, with the wind right on you things get chilly really fast. In general the relationship between the seat, handlebars and footpegs didn't suit a sport touring stance. Around town, it is a better bike to ride, with a snappier feel to it because it's lighter and shorter, but that's not the point of this test. Out on the open road, I'd rather have the GPz any day.
6. Henry DeGouw, Manager - Morosso Motorsport Park Henry Degouw road raced from 1964 to 1986 on motorcycles ranging from British machinery to Yamaha's frightening TZ750. His current streetbike is a 1997 Yamaha YZF1000.
Chuck Graves and I left the MO offices with me on the Kawasaki and Chuck aboard the Suzuki. We headed up the Pacific Coast Highway and snaked up through the canyon roads above Malibu to the Rock Store Cafe. My first impression of the GPz was of comfort, smoothness and agility. As we got into the canyon roads, I found the bike to be very stable and planted as it rounded the corners. Acceleration was not anything to write home about, but was smooth and steady. After we stopped at the cafe for a break, I swapped rides with Chuck. My first impression of the Bandit was that it was totally different! This bike felt much lighter and would tend to wheelie much easier than the GPz. Throttle response however was not near as smooth. While going down canyon roads I did not feel near as secure while pitching the Bandit over in corners as I did the GPz. My analysis is that if you want to do wheelies then get the Bandit but if you want a great all-around bike the GPz wins hands down over the Suzuki.