Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fast Past II: Suzuki GSX-R1100 and Bimota SB6

Late-1990s Suzuki GSX-R1100. The ultimate big-bore sportsbike from Japan?

Though the Kawasaki ZZR1100 was the undisputed top speed king through most of the 1990s, the Suzuki GSX-R1100 (which was launched in 1986, before even the ZX-10 came out…) was never too far behind. And for many, the Big Gixxer’s bad-boy image and raw, visceral performance put it ahead of the smoother, rather more civilized ZZR1100.

Though it was initially powered by an air-and-oil cooled inline-four, by 1993, the GSX-R1100 had a liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve 1074cc inline-four, which made a claimed 155 horsepower at the crank. (Most experts say actual power output was in the region of 125 - 130bhp.) The bike weighed 224kg dry, cost less than US$10,000 and was the big ticket for riders who wanted brute power and lots of speed.

You know you wouldn't want to spill the Gixxer 1100's pint...

In fact, while most riders and magazine journalists praised the 1100’s power, they were less than happy with its braking and handling abilities. GSX-R1100s were essentially big and heavy, which put a lot of stress on the bikes’ chassis (which was prone to flex) and suspension.

Suzuki stopped making the GSX-R1100 after 1998, though its smaller brother, the GSX-R750 continues to this day. The 1100 was replaced by an all-new GSX-R1000 in 2001, and as you would expect, the new bike was lighter, more powerful, faster and better handling than any GSX-R1100 ever made. That said, the 1100 still has a dedicated fan following and for many years, the big Suzuki was a popular choice for streetfighter conversions.

GSX-R1100 not exotic enough? Get the Bimota SB6 then!

But the GSX-R1100 story has another chapter – one that was written in Italy. In the mid-1990s, Suzuki used to supply Bimota with the GSX-R1100 engine, around which Bimota built the now legendary SB6. About three times as expensive as the GSX-R1100, the US$35,000 SB6 was fitted with a slightly modified version of the GSX-R1100 engine, with Bimota using their own cams, exhaust system and some other components. The result was a claimed 156 horsepower – about 20 more than the GSX-R1100.
Of course, Bimotas always had top-spec chassis and suspension parts and the SB6 was no different – light and stiff aluminium alloy chassis (which used Bimota’s ‘Straight Connection Technology’), 46mm cartridge Paioli forks, fully adjustable Ohlins shock, Brembo brakes, 17-inch magnesium wheels and various carbonfibre bits.

The Bimota SB6 was the last word in 1990s' Italian superbike exotica...

There was no pillion seat, which was just as well given that the bike was fitted with twin underseat exhausts – you wouldn’t want your passenger to end up with a burnt bum! At 190kg dry, the SB6 weighed about 35 kilos less than the GSX-R1100 and its handling was in a different league altogether. Top speed, at around 280km/h, was also slightly higher than the heavier GSX-R1100’s top whack, and according to a bike magazine test report, the SB6 would do the quarter-mile in 10.6 seconds.
Bimota made a total of 1744 units of the SB6 (also taking into account 600 units of the 1997 model SB6 R), and this was one of the best selling Bimotas ever. Today, Bimota seem to be in the doldrums. The Tesi 3D is quirky and eccentric at best, while the DB5, DB6 and SB8K simply aren't exciting enough. The Ducati / Suzuki engines they use are outclassed by the latest, greatest superbikes from Japan and even in terms of chassis, suspension and styling, Bimotas simply aren't what they used to be.
Perhaps what Bimota should do is take the latest Suzuki GSX-R1000 engine, hire the guy who designed the Ducati 1098 and build an all-new superbike for 2009? Maybe it'll happen sooner than you think... ;-)

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