10 months ago
Suzuki's GSX-650F looks more like one of the company's cutting-edge sportbikes than a practical, well-rounded middleweight. But underneath the full fairing and faux-Yoshimura racing colours beats the heart of a refined, forgiving motorcycle that's a perfect stepping stone from entry level to hard core sportiness.
Sort of a "GSXR-light."
Look at the spec sheets and 650F would appear to be nothing more than a 650 Bandit with a full fairing and a few minor tweaks. And I'd be okay with that because the recently discontinued little Bandit constantly lurked near the top of my personal "Top 10" list. But this motorcycle is more than a Bandit with jazzy pajamas.
The $8,599 GSX-650F definitely has its own identity that starts with a slightly sportier riding position than the Petite Bandite. The 656 cc, four-cylinder mill has revised ignition and EFI mapping that boosts power up top while still retaining the killer midrange that's become a Bandit trademark.
My time with the 650F coincided with some wonderful late-April weather so one afternoon, I rode to Peterborough for a coffee. On winter-ravaged two lane roads, the suspension soaked up most bumps and heaves fairly well, although with the 41 mm conventional forks, only adjustable for preload, a compromise between comfort and performance must be struck. The rear shock is adjustable for preload and rebound damping and is likewise, adequate for most situations.
Once on Hwy. 115, cruising at 100 km/h in sixth equates to about 5200 rpm, which sounds busy but with a 12,500 rpm redline, it's not even halfway. With the air temps in the teens, I appreciated the improved wind protection of the full fairing. The screen and fairing allowed some wind through to my chest area, taking some weight off my wrists, but there wasn't much in the way of helmet buffeting.
The six-speed transmission shifted lightly and flawlessly with a short, crisp throw and it was almost a shame that the motor is so tractable – you tend to leave it in sixth (even idling down to 2000 rpm) and pull away without downshifting. The midrange is very strong and passing on two-lane roads in top gear rarely requires a downshift.
On frustrating Lansdowne Avenue, in Peterborough, each traffic light changes to red just as you get to it and the heavy hydraulic clutch and free-spinning motor meant that it was difficult to go slowly and smoothly in stop-and-go traffic.
The next day, it was off to Haliburton for lunch. On my first trip up the 507 this year, everything about the GSX-650F was confidence inspiring and the motorcycle felt very solid, almost as if it were carved from a solid block.
A slight push on the inside bar initiated the turns and once into the corners, it felt planted and very secure. The road surface was surprisingly clean and, even though I encountered some evidence of leftover winter sand, the 650F never twitched or wiggled.
The brakes are a strong point: four-piston calipers squeeze a pair of 310 mm front discs and, not only is outright braking power phenomenal, feel and feedback is excellent, even when trail-braking into a decreasing radius corner. The standard Bridgestone BT020 buns were wonderful under all conditions.
The 650F shares a strong family resemblance from the front, looking very much like the recent GSX-R1000, right down to the vertically stacked headlight and ram air housing. Yes, it has the familiar GSX-R-themed paint job but thankfully, Suzuki left the boy repli-racer graphics in the parts bins. The F is adorned with subtle red and white accents on a blue background. Attractive, simple and tasteful.
The seat was okay up to about 200 km at a stretch. There seems to be a downslope towards the front that didn't quite conform to my (ahem) anatomy but other than that, the riding position is quite comfortable – not as good as the Bandit, but few motorcycles are.
The instrument panel is very GSX-R-like with a large digital speedometer, an analogue tach and a digital display for fuel gauge, tripmeter, odometer or clock (Why can't the clock be there all the time? Why must we choose?), and the surprisingly handy gear position indicator.
There's a large, white programmable shifter light next to the tach but I can't imagine why you'd need it – this bike makes more than enough mid-range to leave any and all four-wheeled bottom feeders far behind without ever exceeding 7000 rpm.
If you do care to live in the upper ranges of the rev limit, the thing goes like stink – it's not GSX-R power but unless you're a club racer, in the real world, you really don't need any more than the 650F provides.
With several tanks averaging 4.87 to 4.95 L/100 km, the 19-litre tank should give an adequate cruising range of 350 klicks or so before you start looking to refuel.
The GSX-650F would be a perfect motorcycle for a new rider graduating to the sportbike world or a mature rider seeking a degree of sportiness without resorting to the hyper, ergonomically-challenged GSX-R series.Steve Bond reviews motorcycles for Wheels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org