2011 Suzuki GSX-R 750: too good for squids

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No matter how many vest-wearing squids ride (and crash) GSX-Rs, there will always be something special about them. The GSX-R 750 didn’t create the fully-faired sportsbike genre, but in 1985, it was the first one to have all the pieces: fully adjustable forks and shock, aluminum frame, 390lbs and 106hp. Twenty seven years later, the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R 750 is still the fastest sportsbike you can ride on the street.

Photos: Grant Ray

Whoa there, you say? What about Öhlins suspended European bikes that haul ass and ooze sex? It’s fun riding Daytona 675 Rs and RSV4s, and I can push them pretty hard. But on the street, it’s impossible to use more than about 80% of their capability. They work great on bump-free tracks with high-speed corners, but not so well on 30 mph street corners. They’re simply too stiff and the ergonomics aren’t great for street riding. On a bike like the GSX-R, I can comfortably go 95% as fast as the bike can go, anywhere I’m riding. Is that safe and responsible? That’s for you to decide, but the GSX-R is faster on the street.

Compared to other middle-weights
In 2009 I was in the market for a new supersport. I’d been commuting on a piece of crap Ninja 250 (bent frame and front wheel, no fairing, cracked and rashed tail) and when the motor went, I decided that maybe it was time for a new bike. I read all the reviews, compared specs and looked up who was winning races on what. I wanted the fastest bike for the least amount of money and for that reason, I was dead-set on an R6. Then I spent a few minutes sitting on one at a dealership. Reality set in, and I knew that 500 freeway miles per week on a seat designed for the track would be…unpleasant, to say the least.

The Ducati 848 and Triumph 675 were next on the list. They’re faster than the R6, but even less comfortable. The Kawasaki ZX6R and Honda CBR600RR aren’t all that bad, but I don’t consider them good looking enough to own. That left the GSX-R. And, in 2009, the blue 600 was a good looking bike (and honestly the only visually acceptable configuration). It also had a comfortable seat, short tank, high bars and adjustable rearsets. If you ask most motorcycle journalists, they’ll tell you it’s comparatively down on power and overweight, but that’s only in stock form. I’d rather have a high-quality comfortable motorcycle that makes 2 less hp and weighs 10 pounds more. It’s not like it’s hard to lose 20 pounds and gain a few hp either. Changing the heavy stock pipe and catalytic converter for a light-weight header and slip-on from an ’07 model is actually the only change necessary. I also disabled the SET valve (for a bump in midrange and better throttle response), added a reusable BMC air filter.

The 600 vs. the 750
The GSX-R 600 and the GSR-X 750 are nearly identical motorbikes. The 750 has different cams, crank, pistons, throttle bodies and engine mapping. It also has different color options. When you’re moving, the 750 is faster but not a lot and not in the ways you would expect. The 600 is a high RPM race motor; it doesn’t do much under 10,000 RPM, you have to monitor gears closely and there’s not a lot of options if you want the 600 to go fast. The 750 is much more relaxed. It wasn’t designed for racing so, instead, Suzuki built an engine that works well on the road. There’s good power everywhere and there’s a very smooth, linear powerband. It has no problem pulling well at 6,000rpm, or if you go full-throttle at 12,000rpm there’s still power there too. You can ride it like a 600 or you can run a gear higher and relax a little.

New in 2011
Almost everything that convinced me to buy a 2009 GSX-R is still true of the 2011 GSX-R. The latest version has an even shorter tank, making it more comfortable than ever before. If you’re short and trying to decide on a sportsbike, look no further. Ashlee, at 5′ 6″, can put both feet flat on the ground. What used to be a pretty good chassis with passable suspension is now a really good chassis with amazing forks and brakes. Showa BPF forks deliver amazing front end feel and don’t bottom out under braking like the old forks did. They’re so much better that they deserve credit for at least part of the improved braking feel. The rest of that credit goes to the Brembo Monobloc calipers. Don’t listen to forum trolls saying “Yeah, but they’re not the REALLY good Brembos.” Even connected to the same Nissin master cylinder by the same mushy rubber lines, the difference is night and day. I’d even say it’s better than my ’09 with stainless lines and EBC HH sintered pads. So imagine how good this setup would be with the same upgrades.

Suzuki changed more than just the forks and brakes though. The new frame and swingarm save 4.8lbs. The motor gets new cams, pistons and a reshaped crankcase. And the new bodywork and light are good for an 8.7lbs drop in weight. The frame was changed so that the swingarm could be mounted further forward, but it’s not a new design, just an update. In moving the motor and swingarm closer to the steering head, 15mm of wheelbase was lost. New wheels look like the old ones, but they’re lighter and spin on lighter axles. The old 600 weighed something like 436lbs with a full tank of gas and the new one is 412. The 750 is a pound or two heavier.

The Drawbacks
There are five things not to like about the 2011 GSX-R 600/750. Unfortunately, the shock and steering damper are the same as they’ve been since 2006. The shock gets the job done, but it’s nothing to write home about. Have it revalved or replace it with an Ohlins TT-X36. The steering damper is terrible. I’m not sure what’s inside, but it doesn’t feel like valves and oil. Ironically, the new lighter-weight headlight is dimmer. The projector low beam and dual high-beams I love so much on my ’09 are vastly superior in every way except for weight.

Last is S-DMS. This is the switch no one will ever use. It used to be on the right bar, above the start button, but it’s been moved to the left where the amazingly useful high-beam flash button used to be. When A or Standard mode is selected, it does nothing. When B-mode is selected, it cuts power quite a bit. If you were an inexperienced rider, it might save you from a high-side. But, if you’re an inexperienced rider, what are you doing on a GSX-R 750? Are you fucking crazy?! This is a bike for people who have a line item for knee pucks in their monthly budget.

Suzuki listened to customer feedback and did away with C-mode, which cut power so much it was almost funny. Instead of spending more R&D money on a system no one will use that doesn’t make the bike faster, they should’ve gone all the way and removed the system entirely. Or spent that R&D money on traction control, which would make this bike better. Either way, I’m bummed to see the high-beam flash button lose its spot.

The Ride
We took three bikes to Little Tujunga Canyon road: the CB1000R, Street Triple R and the GSX-R750. I was riding the 750 and I took it easy on the way up to keep Wes and Grant in sight. Once they figured out the road and I got a chance to get out on my own and push, I found out that there are real differences to the 2011 GSX-R. Hard on the brakes, drop three gears, dump the clutch and turn in hard. The rear wheel breaks free and slowly goes sideways. The GSX-R 600/750 has the best slipper clutch ever installed on any bike from the factory and backing it in is effortless. As I increase lean angle and ease off the brakes, the back end comes back. My right puck touches down and 15 feet later, I’m at the apex. Roll the throttle open, get off the bike as far as possible and hold on as the front end gets light. Knowing the limitations of the factory BT-016 tires (they overheat and get greasy), I limited my fun to just a few miles. But what a few miles.

No single element by itself would make this bike fast, but, just like in 1986, it has the entire package: brakes, forks, chassis and a motor that makes a lot of accessible power (in the case of the 750), along with tricks like a perfectly dialed slipper-clutch. Get over the stigma of stuntahs and squids and the fact that most iterations of the GSX-R are a bit ugly and you’re left with the most impressively performing bike that’s comfortable enough for daily street use.

  • Roman

    Y’all are just fucking with us on all these bikes right? Aprilia RSV4, Z1000, Speed Triple, Daytona 675, MV Augusta F3, now this. I’m not saying there’s any hype taking place, but I can just picture the conversation about what bike you’re gonna have the proles drooling over this week. Take a brake for a few weeks, people might start resenting you come winter….

  • ike6116

    How do you know what kind of bike Sean Smith rides?

    Don’t worry, he’ll tell ya.

    • Kevin

      Reminds me what a guy in college told me when I asked if he was from Texas:

      “Son, never ask a man if he’s from Texas. If he is, he’ll tell ya, and if he isn’t–it doesn’t matter anyway.”

  • Coreyvwc

    Even though I agree with most of the points you make in this article I find it amusing that suzuki still continues to to taut the gsxr as “race ready” and “engineered for the track”. When clearly, it’s the furthest thing from it in the RR category.

    That, and it shall forever be known as “the squid bike”. Sorry, stupid americans ruined it for everyone Sean…

    • http://www.tony-starr.com tony starr

      i guess suzuki will need to change their advertising now they’ve pulled out of motogp.

  • Raubert Van Harris

    “Hard on the brakes, drop three gears, dump the clutch and turn in hard. The rear wheel breaks free and slowly goes sideways.” Is this a joke or did you seriously have this thing in 5th gear on little tujunga?

    • Sean Smith

      I passed Wes in third, built up some speed and clicked up a few gears. If I’d been accelerating the whole time, I’d have been somewhere in fourth. I’m, uh, not at liberty to say just how fast I was really going ;)

  • paors

    not long ago you said Daytona 675R was smoother than GSXR750 =)

    • Sean Smith

      Ha, I said it was smoother than my personal ’09 600. My bike had the old shitty forks, and when ridden aggressively, it was a problem I had to ride around or else bottom out.

      • paors

        you mean new BPF forks are that smoother than ohlins?)

        • Sean Smith

          Ha, suspension is much more complicated than that. For the street, on bumpy canyon roads, the BPF forks on the GSX-R let you go faster. Not necessarily because they’re better (or “smoother”), but because Suzuki spec’d softer springs and valving.

          On the track, the Öhlins forks on the triumph would work better.

  • Thom

    SQUIDs ???

    On a Rice Rocket like the GSX-R 750 ???

    Never happens .

    Yeah right ;-)

  • JVictor75

    I like the bike visually, but is it just me or does it seem like Suzuki took a set of blue fairings from one bike, a set of white fairings from another, and played mix and match? Like they used to do way back in the day with Highway Patrol cars in Texas?

    Is there another GSXR running around with white front and tank with blue mids and tail section?

    I mean, yeah, it’s nice, but kinda… bland. Especially for Suzuki.

    • aristurtle

      On the contrary, that last pic in the article was the first time I ever looked at a Gixxer and thought “You know, that doesn’t look that bad, really…”

      • Danielsohn

        Hey me too!

      • JVictor75

        Oh, I don’t think it looks bad per se, matter of fact that blue is actually kinda pretty. It’s just that I find it somewhat strange (and a little boring) that Suzuki chose to have all the colors change with the fairing edges.

        Maybe it just doesn’t look stylistically “busy” enough for me. *shrug*

        My .02, for what it’s worth (which is .02 more than absolutely nothing :D.)

  • Edward

    “But, if you’re an inexperienced rider, what are you doing on a GSX-R 750? Are you fucking crazy?! This is a bike for people who have a line item for knee pucks in their monthly budget.”

    I think this qualifies as the type of normative statement that has the charm of being completely uncompromised by reality.

    • Mike

      Well, clearly they’d just go straight for the GSXR1k. Because Literbike.

      • Danielsohn

        And then they go straight ON the GSXR1k, real fast. From stoplight. To stoplight. No need for knee pucks.

        • Sean Smith

          Nah, they go real slow stoplight to stoplight. Turns out it takes skill to launch a bike ;)

  • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

    I’m beginning to believe this really is the most confortable sportbike.
    A 6’4″ friend of mine had a 750 (’08 i believe) now shopping for a secondhand 848 evo after the gixer was stollen while undergoing maintenance (dude walked in, grabed the keys and just took off) who describe it as really usable in the streets (and he lives in paris too so heavy trafic’s a given).
    I had no idea it was also confortable for shorter people.
    They’re obviously doing something right.

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

      I was actually shocked the first time I sat on a GSX-R600 as to how comfortable it felt. It was obviously more racy than the 70s UJM I was riding at the time, but it felt so natural it made me re-evaluate sport bikes as streetable machines.

      This 750 would have way too much power for me, sad to say.

  • http://www.mcfw.com/ quint7

    Not good enough for MotoGP though it looks like.

    I just read on Cycle News that Zuk has pulled out of MotoGP. Bummer.

  • gsx750f

    Apparently they’re also pulling all factory support from WSBK:
    http://cyclenews.coverleaf.com/cyclenews/20111115#pg71

    Sad and stupid. I guess they don’t like their image as a race bike manufacturer, and see their future in scooters, cruisers and small cars.

    • aristurtle

      I think it’s less about “image” and more about the fact that factory support for MotoGP and WSBK is really expensive and sales have not been great lately. It’s hard to justify the expense, especially in MotoGP where Suzuki won, what, one race in the past nine years? Can’t really blame them for cutting their losses eventually.

      • gsx750f

        True, but why don’t they pull out of MotoGP with their half-assed effort and spend less than 2 million of their 5+ million GP budget on their WSBK team and kick ass?
        Instead they let Haslam go who is fighting for the championship, and lose Francis Batta and his Alstare team the next year, who they reward for all their hard work with disrespect and indecisiveness.
        In WSBK, they could be serious championship contenders, with all the positive marketing effects. And that for a fraction of the MotoGP budget.
        But apparently they just don’t care.

    • Gene

      Suzuki’s suffering rectocranial inversion in a big way. Look at their website… go to http://www.suzukicycles.com/Product%20Lines/Cycles/Categories/Sportbike.aspx and it mentions their “popular SV650″ which is a model they haven’t made for 2 years. I don’t think their employees give a crap anymore, and no one’s turned out the lights yet.

  • 1198freak

    I had an 2008 that got stolen. It was a great bike and did everything so well that it was actually a little bland. I was thinking about getting the 2011 version, but then I saw the new Ducati 1199. Just pure sex…

  • FZR 1000 Got Smashed By A Car Alex

    The 750 sounds perfect. I really don’t know why the other big 4 don’t make 750cc bikes anymore.

    • Scott-jay

      Perfection update from Craigslist Black Friday ad:
      “Brand New 2011 Gsxr750 Never had a drop of gas in them…. MSRP $11999 You can buy today for only $9799…. Financing Available With LOW payments… rates as low as 4.99% Must have a 600 beacon to apply 706- …”

  • Archer

    So many contradictions Sean :)

    Not a racebike… need a puck budget…600RR is too ugly to own… GSX-R’s are ugly…

    Make up your mind, boy! ;)

    On a serious note the ‘Zuk 750 acquit themselves quite well out here at Miller. An all-round excellent bike… for a ‘Zuk.

    Damn shame, what’s happening in Hamamatsu. That place needs a management shakeup, badly.