Motorbikes: Suzuki gsx-r1000

The new Gixxer is three bikes in one, finds Tim Luckhurst. And one of them is still a snarling beast

I have raved about previous versions of this legendary superbike. The reason is simple: since its birth in 2001 it has done more to define the class than any competitor. Every "Gixxer Thou" is bullet-fast with agility to match. But given that rivals share its 180mph top speed and stone-from-a-catapult acceleration, one attribute has kept it ahead of the pack.

Suzuki realised from the start that most owners would spend more time on public highways than racetracks. So they conceived GSXRs to resemble track beasts, but added the civilised demeanour to get there in comfort. Every member of the family has the manners to thrive on motorways and remain genteel in town.

Indeed, the thoroughly revised 2007 model almost deserves to be called sensible. Its screen is large enough to keep as many as one raindrop in two off the rider. Properly-sized rear-view mirrors acknowledge the painful reality that on the Queen's highway, unlike the pit straight at Silverstone, there are myopic commuters in Vauxhall saloons. The footrests are adjustable and the riding position admits the possibility that some owners may want to make long journeys.

The fuel tank is conceived with the same purpose in mind. On a machine with this heritage 3.9 gallons is a reasonable capacity. You will not ride from Dover to Leeds uninterrupted, but neither will you have to pull over at every service station in between. Twin exhausts have surrendered a little of the 2005 version's svelte silhouette – this is the first ever GSX-R to mount two silencers – but the engine note is thrilling.

One new feature advertises the increased emphasis on safety and practicality. Mounted on the right handlebar is a clever little button that switches the bike between three distinct power modes. Mode A delivers the unadulterated Gixxer Thou experience of road-blurring, parallel-dimension performance. Ridden hard with the button in "A" the big Suzuki sends trickles of sweat running through the most seasoned leathers. Mode B is a halfway house. Here throttle response becomes gentler, reducing the danger of the rear wheel breaking free. But in the thrilling territory between 9,000 and 13,500rpm, the beast within is unleashed. You can sweep sedately in mode B, but it does not stop you racing when the urge arises. You just have to treat the throttle a little more harshly to elicit maximum, adrenalin-pumping response.

Mode C is like fitting stabilisers. It slashes power from 182bhp to about 120bhp, converting the machine into a relaxed sports-tourer (or a mount for lily-livered pansies who should have bought scooters – it all depends on perspective). "C" is designed for people who lack the confidence to ride a GSX-R1000 properly. But that is a stroke of genius. The motorcycle market teems with riders who purchased to impress. Mode C stops their regrets turning into injuries.

Now, before you ferocious, late-braking, speed-addicted track-day heroes turn away in disgust, convinced that the legendary Gixxer has been neutered and trained to placate traffic wardens, let me reassure you with facts. The GSX-R 1000 K7 is 7bhp more powerful than its predecessor. Its engine has been refined to comply with Euro 3 regulations but there is no compromise in performance.

Track testing has provoked suggestions that, at the upper extremes of the rev band, the bike feels less bestial than its blood-and-thunder predecessor. But sophistication is not synonymous with lethargy. It remains awesomely, electrically fast; a lightning bolt when you want it to be. The limpet road-holding is intact and so is the Gixxer's adorable capacity to feel like an extension of its rider's body.

So, a racing thoroughbred that can be stabled in a suburban garage and used for the annual holiday excursion? The contradiction is obvious. If you want a less savage sportsbike why not buy a 600cc machine. If touring is your thing why lavish money on a motorcycle that will never be more than a compromise? I have hinted at the answer. If the fastest sportsbikes were only purchased by enthusiasts with the skills to ride them at the limit, there would be few of them on our roads. Raw power is not always right. Like their four-wheeled brethren in the sports-car market, these kings of the road are often bought to impress.

It is called freedom and I congratulate Suzuki for recognising reality. You can go at as fast on a Ducati 1098 (Independent Motoring, 5 June) or a Yamaha YZF-R1. And anyone considering a new Gixxer Thou should also ponder the competing attractions of a Honda Fireblade. Just note that the "ABC" button has made the big Suzuki easy to live with.

Specifications

Engine: 999cc liquid-cooled, four-cylinder, four-stroke
Maximum power: 182bhp @ 12,000rpm
Maximum torque: 86 lb/ft @ 10,000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, chain final drive
Brakes: Front dual 310mm discs, rear single 220mm disc
Seat height: 810mm
Dry weight: 172kg
Price: £8,949

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