Soft Saddlebags Required
Remember the good old days when you and a buddy would throw a set of soft saddlebags on your bikes and spend a day carving twisties before pitching a tent and bench racing in front of a fire?
Life seemed a little simpler then. Not just from the freedom of youth, but also with the practicality offered by mid-eighties sport bikes. Machines like Suzuki's GS1150ES and Kawasaki's GPz1100 were cutting edge sport bikes that remained plush enough for several hundred miles to pass in comfort.
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.