Can the late-1980s/early-1990s Suzuki GSX-R1100 take on its modern-day successor, the Suzuki GSX-R1000? And is the current 1000 a worthy successor to the wild old 11?
Our undying love for Suzuki GSX-Rs has been well documented in the pages of Faster and Faster. In recent years, bikes like the S1000RR, RSV4 and the Panigale have pushed the superbike performance threshold to new heights and, some would say, have left the GSX-R1000 in the dust. But we still love the GSX-R, we still want one more than anything else. A brand-new GSX-R1000 fitted with a Yoshimura racing exhaust system and Kevin Schwantz’s 1989 Pepsi Suzuki RGV500-replica paintjob. Yes, that’s the dream.
Back in the mid-1980s, when the GSX-R was launched, we were still in school and limited to reading about the GSX-R in motorcycle magazines. Those photographs of GSX-Rs being wheelied, stoppied and cornered like crazy were, for us, endlessly fascinating. In the late-1980s and early-1990s, all we ever wanted was a GSX-R1100 (and, well, a Kawasaki ZXR750/ZX-7R, but that’s another story…).
“Nail the throttle and the Suzuki surges forward, although the tacho needle is barely off its 3,000rpm peg. The acceleration is awesome – like being charged in the back by a rugby scrum,” said bike journalist Roland Brown, in a story he wrote for the May 1986 issue of Bike magazine. And indeed, the 1986 GSX-R1100 must have been something truly special. The bike weighed in at 197 kilos and with its 1052cc inline-four pumping out 130 horsepower, the Gixxer 11 could hit a top speed of 250km/h. With its twin round headlamps, aluminium alloy chassis, anti-dive forks, floating front brake discs and endurance racer styling, the GSX-R1100 probably was for that era what a Max Biaggi-replica RSV4 would be for now.
Suzuki produced the GSX-R1100 from 1986 to 1992 and each year brought significant changes and modifications to the machine. All mods weren’t, apparently, equally effective though over the years the GSX-R1100 did get wider wheels and tyres, various chassis updates, USD front forks, bigger carburetors, better brakes and multiple styling updates. The last model, the 1992 GSX-R1100, had 149bhp from its 1127cc inline-four and weighed 210kg. It rode on 17-inch wheels with 120/70 (front) and 180/55 (rear) radial tyres and the front brake discs had 4-piston Nissin calipers – not a million miles away from where litre-class superbikes are, today.
There may be 10 years separating the last Suzuki GSX-R1100 and the first GSX-R1000, but the old 11 isn't giving up without a fight...!
Back in January 2004, SuperBike magazine compared the 1992 GSX-R1100 to the 2003 GSX-R1000, and came away with some interesting observations. “Somehow, the Suzuki GSX-R1100 doesn’t seem anything like its age. For a start, there’s the engine [which is] strong as hell and has bags of power. It had 140bhp in the 1980s, and what does the  GSX-R1000 make? A mere 10bhp more. It weighs a bloody tonne but strong, progressive drive from the bottom of the tacho, immediate throttle response through most of the rev-range and a full-on top-end is still the stuff of modern litre sports bikes,” said SuperBike.
“The brakes are amazing too. With standard calipers and discs [but with new steel hoses], you are able to use them with just one finger, racing around a place as fast as the Bruntingthorpe proving ground. Regardless of the bike’s 210kg and despite looking archaic, with solid, slotted discs rather than drilled one, the Nissin calipers clamp down hard, with progressive feel,” they added.
Of course, as you may well expect, the early-1990s GSX-R1100 wasn’t exactly a modern-day Honda Fireblade or Aprilia RSV4. “Sitting on the GSX-R1100 isn’t quite the stuff of modern bikes – this bike has the poise of a plough. Up to a point, the chassis does cope well, but you can’t help have a nagging voice in the back of your head saying ‘push this thing harder and it’s gonna hurt.’ Brake late into a corner and nothing except muscle can make the thing get over and around the corner. For regular, everyday riding, the GSX-R1100 must have been a hell of a beast to deal with back in the day,” said SuperBike.
The colours, the styling, the twin round headlamps, the aggressive stance... how can anyone who loves sportsbikes, not fall in love with the old GSX-R1100?
The magazine then moved on to the 2003 GSX-R1000 (remember, this is from a story they did in January 2004), having ridden it back to back with the 1992 GSX-R1100. “The GSX-R1000 is the man amongst boys of its era, just as the GSX-R1100 was. Both are right revered for engine performance that makes riding fast – really fucking fast – so very, very easy. What sets the 1000 apart from the 1100 is that it has a chassis to match the engine,” said SuperBike.
“It’s stating the bleeding obvious but suspension and frame development had to evolve with engine performance. The most recent aluminium twin-spar frame from the Suzuki factory is a distant relation to the old double-cradle design, with all its foibles and problems. Criticizing the old bike was easy, just call it a straight-line merchant, but the 1000 takes an awful lot more to find fault with,” the magazine said.
“There’s no messing around with it, no laziness and certainly no room for complacency, because at almost any throttle position you can either wheelie, or spin the rear tyre up, or both. At times that much power can be a bit too much, but in any direct comparison between the GSX-R1100 and the GSX-R1000, the latter just romps away,” concluded SuperBike.
SuperBike’s conclusion was, of course, only to be expected. It’s easy for enthusiasts like us to look back upon machines like the GSX-R1100, with fond memories helping gloss over any real-world inadequacies that our favourite bikes might have had. But, really, there’s no arguing with the relentless forward march of technology and the consequent benefits it brings to motorcycling.
Older GSX-Rs are all very well, but what about the current GSX-R1000? Can it still hold its own in the Panigale / S1000RR / RSV4 Factory era?
Continuing with the story, it’s also interesting to see what Roland Brown, who rode the 2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000 around the Isle of Man earlier this year, for Bike magazine, has to say about the bike. As someone who’s been riding GSX-Rs for more than 25 years, his opinion should certainly count for something? “I was fully prepared to be disappointed by the GSX-R. This year’s updated model looks almost identical to last year’s, just getting new graphics and a four-into-one instead of a twin-silencer exhaust system,” says Brown. “But the Suzuki felt brilliant from the moment I set off. In this company [Brown also had a Panigale, Fireblade and R1 to play with on that day], the GSX-R is undoubtedly crude – no electronic aids, nothing especially new or clever about it. It’s just a powerful, torquey, light, sweet-handling sportsbike that accelerates like crazy when you open the throttle, goes exactly where you point it and has raw, aggressive character that makes it every bit a GSX-R,” he adds.
“Perhaps it’s true that by the standards of these bikes [Panigale, Fireblade, R1], the Suzuki motor is a bit lacking low down and needs 8,000rpm on the clock to give its best. But I just didn’t find the lack of low-rev performance an issue on the road. On the contrary, there was always heaps of grunt available, helped by the typically sweet shifting gearbox [and] the twisty Manx roads just contributed to the raspy aggressive character that made the GSX-R1000 such fun,” said Brown.
“By modern standards, the GSX-R1000 is a dinosaur – it’s the only open-class superbike that doesn’t offer either ABS or traction control. Would it be improved if Suzuki took the trouble to add those features, plus the quick-shifter they could have given it years ago? Of course it would. A long overdue restyle would add some missing wow factor too, if Suzuki can’t justify a full overhaul. But even without those features, there’s no denying the GSX-R’s old school charm and appeal. The Suzuki might lack refinement, but its heart and soul are present and correct,” concludes Brown.
All we can say is, we love the GSX-R now as much as we did back then, in the late-1980s, when our bedroom walls were covered with posters of this bike. The way our lives have panned out, we haven’t, unfortunately, been able to buy a GSX-R yet, and brief rides on GSX-Rs borrowed (after much begging…!) from friends has only left us wanting more. We’re beginning to get old(er) and gray and they say bikes like the GSX-R1000 will, at some point in the near future, be legislated out of existence. Superbikes with internal combustion engines will be replaced with scooters, electric motors and lithium-ion batteries, they say. Perhaps. All we want is to be able to buy a GSX-R1000 before that happens, get that Yoshimura exhaust for the bike and have the bike painted in Kevin Schwantz’s 1989 GP bike colours. Hope we can make it happen sometime soon.
Story sources: SuperBike magazine and Bike magazine