Author: Paul Devall
On the drive down to Crawley, where Suzuki GB is situated, to pick up the Bandit I really didn't know what to expect. I had just read a really praiseworthy test of the bike in 'RiDE' and wondered if I would get the same bike. In the end I got one of that bikes 'brothers'.
When Roger Simmons, the test fleet manager, and former mechanic to the stars of the Heron Suzuki racing teams of the past (remember Barry Sheene, Randy Mamola.....), brought N119 NCD round to the front, it looked very nice. It was the metallic red colour, they call it maroon, that I prefer to Teal Green and Black. After a few instructions about the small quirks on the bike I was then soon able to ride off. Only I'd forgotten my boots at home! I had all the riding gear I needed apart from boots. If you cast your minds back to early July, after a few weeks of summer weather, in southern England we were back to a lot of rain - a typical summer?
To avoid the traffic jams on the M23 that were trying to merge with the M25 westbound through the upgrade works, we set off across country towards Reigate and Dorking on the A25. I figured this would give me a chance to get used to the ergonomics without too much hassle.
All the controls fall readily to hand. To start the bike you have to pull in the clutch lever to disengage the interlock, it also helps to be in neutral or have the side stand up! Belt and braces I suppose. Once started the motor ticks over quietly, the exhaust note very muted. The clutch is hydraulic like all the GSXR's and their derivatives, and was very light and failed to give up despite some dumping on the high speed getaway tests!
The gearbox is all you expect from a Suzuki, very slick, but with a clonk engaging first. I have always been a fan of the Suzuki gearbox, with the positive stop at the top of the box. I also have a great love for the gear indicator fitted on older machines, unfortunately with a bike that will pull from sub 2000 revs in top; a gear indicator might help the novice know where they are in the box. The Bandit had a little over 3900 miles on the clock when I picked it up and it was so smoooooth! A big change from my own Water Buffalo!
No sooner had we got to the M25 further along from the road works, than it started to rain and I had to pull out of the contraflow to don waterproofs. Unfortunately my Nike trainers were waterproof for less than a yard and I was soon very miserable below the ankle! As a result I was unable to answer the question "What'll it do Mister?" this time. By the time I got the ninety miles home I was ready for the E.R!
It rained for most of day 2 as well, although I did get out testing the panniers didn't touch the exhaust. Part Two of the test would be the Bandit and I trying a spot of long distance touring in Scotland with Team-SOC (Suzuki Owners Club).
Part One continued on Saturday when equipped only with a magnetic tank bag for the 120 mile ride to Lydney in Gloucestershire to start the 1996 National Rally. The route was over 500 miles, in addition to the getting to and from the start and end points, and covered a good selection of road types. From Lydney we had a mixed bag of A and B roads up through the Forest of Dean and northwards through the Shropshire Hills and Welsh mountains. In daylight you need to make up as much ground as possible to get the distance behind you and I suppose we were cruising about the legal limit, or thereabouts. Actually we were averaging around 75mph for the daylight sections.
Due to the flexibility of the engine and transmission, I was able to restrict changing gears and use the power to enter and exit corners. I had one fright that I put down to a combination of a tightening (80 degree!) left-hander and a sneezing fit just as I went in - hay fever! I lost concentration, ever tried keeping your eyes open and sneeze? I couldn't! A quick look up the road assured me nothing was coming and I let the bike run a little wide, regained the initiative and shot off after Andy, my team mate on his 600F Katana. I had plenty of time to think about it later and I had the feeling that when I got the brakes on that something was amiss. We had a look over the bike and everything seemed okay.
On the A roads through north Wales and into Cheshire the bike ran faultlessly, mechanically, but I had a feeling that all was not well with the handling. After another similar moment, without sneezes, on the Cat & Fiddle section between Macclesfield and Buxton, I was more concerned that the bike was causing the problems. The Cat and Fiddle is a very biker-popular section of a mountain road with plenty of deceptive bends, off angle cambers and the bikers’ friend - the four feet high stone wall! At the Darley Moor Race Circuit pit-stop we checked the front tyre again, and it looked almost had it. The Michelin Macadam Radial has diagonally aligned side blocks and these were badly worn on the trailing edge of each. In the dark from then on we took it very steady until the finish at Cheltenham Race course, some 150 miles away. In the end we finished the course with 22 controls visited and 518 miles ridden.
The following morning I took it back to Crawley and Roger fitted a new set of tyres and the handling was transformed.
Let's assess the bike according to the following criteria: Looks, Comfort, Fuel Economy, Performance, Handling, and Practicability.
Looks: The 1200S comes with a small top half fairing, which despite looking pretty small is very effective. I like to be able to see the engine of a bike and am less than enthusiastic about the all enclosed race-reps. The GSXR derived engine is a pleasing dark grey and as engines go, it's quite a good looker, unlike the big bore offering from Honda, where the CBR derived engine is ugly with pipes all over the place! The rear end is very nicely shaped and not as radically wide as the RF's.
Comfort: A larger than standard rider like me (220lbs!) had no problems with wind against the body, or wind noise around the helmet, the small looking fairing had done its job. I found the seat's limitations after 300 miles of the rally! Although I 'm sure a lighter rider would be able to travel a bit further! All the controls fall to hand okay and the foot pegs are about right for a six foot tall rider. Seat height is also okay, I can get both feet flat on the floor, and very good for maneuvering around the car parks on the 22 controls we were faced with. Although shorter riders may feel a little jittery.
Fuel Economy: Here's a funny thing. On the mixed riding we had that included a slightly more than legal run along the M54/M5/M42 freeways for three of the controls in the Midlands, plus the faster A and B roads the figures returned varied from a worst of 35.2 mpg and a high of 40.84 mpg (all US gallons!). I consider this excellent for an 1127cc engine with a large load to carry along. In comparison, Andy was only putting in a half gallon more at the same gas stops, at the most, sometimes less! I found that the bike would go into the red on the gauge at around 135 miles and then require reserve from about 150. If we stopped for gas immediately it generally only took three and a half gallons!
Handling: Before the front tyre went off, handling was very good, the brakes are a little strong at the front for the soft springing, and this makes for an interesting learning curve. I found that I could hustle around corners as well as the others on a multitude of machinery, and even found that the Fireblades weren't getting too far ahead with their jockey-like riders aboard! Things were very different with the tyre beginning to go off. On the brakes into a corner caused the whole lot to stand up and attempt to go straight on. The incident on the Cat & Fiddle had me wondering if I was to be the next statistic for Cheshire County Police to use for 'rider education'! The bike is as at home on the fast A and B roads as it is on the freeway.
Performance: Any big-bore GSXR derived engine must have plenty of oomph! And the 1200S is no exception. Pulling from low revs in top has the needle spinning from 25 to over the 100 mph mark in no time at all. Opening the throttle to overtake is the same, no messing with a down change, just give it a handful of throttle and hold on tight. "Light the blue touch paper and stand well back", seems to ring through the ears as it takes off! I've never ridden the 1100 Katana that also used a GSXR derived engine, but the I can assume that the Bandit is faster, it's lighter and the engine is so free running that it must have the performance edge.
Practicability: The 1200S is what bikes used to be about before the Japanese convinced us that we need a bike for sport, another one for touring, and yet another for commuting. The Bandit is a jack of all trades. It was good for the 700 mile day on the National Rally whether or not it was poodling around in the dead of night or thrashing along a freeway to make up some time and get a few controls under the belt, or for having a good time around the mountains. And it has two seats should you wish to take a pillion, and space for your luggage. Yes, you can carry luggage on a GSXR, but not so easily and I can guarantee that the GSXR seat will kill your under parts (guys at least) before the Bandit will!
Generally? The bike had been out to a few other magazines before I got it. They had managed 3900 miles in five months. I put over 1200 on it in the week I had it and when Part Two, the Tour of Scotland, is over it will be in excess of 2500. I think I can speak for the bike with a bit more authority from the perspective of an owner/rider rather than a journalist looking to score a few points with his buddies and keep the advertising rolling in.
The build quality of the 1200S surprised me. I expected that it would be built down to a price. It doesn't have the de-rigueur massive alloy frame like the GSXR750WT or the opposition. It does have a rather attractive painted tubular frame. The forks may be a bit cheaper and lack much adjustability and the rear shock might not be up to race standards, but it all works very well together. All in all you get an awful lot of bike for your post-tax dollars!
A few niggles I had were:
- Modern looking though it is the switchgear was a bit naff. The hi/lo headlamp switch is diabolical and difficult to use with thicker gloves. Overnight in the mountains being able to change the beam is important if you are to see the next bend or sheep!
- The lack of a clock. The Bandit sits very nicely in the sports/tourer bracket, and there's plenty of room in the bottom of the tachometer for a clock!
- Non cancelling indicators! In this day and age we all get used to indicators that switch off for us! Those on the Bandit don't. I don't know how many miles I rode with one or the other flashing away!
What else? I genuinely can't think of anything else to complain about! The good points of a £6500 bike with hardly any faults simply sell the Bandit 1200. The price alone is the biggest selling point. Not only is it a superb motorcycle, but it undercuts the retro Zephyrs and the other big bangers quite considerably.
But if you want one, you'll have to hunt for one. I learned that the big dealers have already sold all their 1996 allocations and have stopped taking orders. Let's hope that Suzuki bring in a few more in the next riding season to build on the Bandit's success, without bringing too many in spoil the exclusivity.
Would I buy one? If I had had the money and they'd have accepted my (low) offer, I'd have got this one!
My rating? 10/10 a class above the rest!
Update 13/8/2012 - there are no photographs as the Japanese hadn't invented the consumer digital camera in 1996 so please stop adding comments asking where they are. I delete them anyway.