Motoring: Much, much more than the sum of its parts

Roland Brown rides Suzuki's top-selling GSF600 Bandit
Common sense suggests that Britain's best-selling motorbike should be something medium-sized, practical and inexpensive - a two-wheeled Ford Escort. That description certainly fits Suzuki's GSF600 Bandit. But the story is not as simple as that.

The Bandit has become a hit by combining old- and new-style appeal. In particular, its four-cylinder engine and simple but effective chassis combine to provide performance and entertainment out of all proportion to its price.

To keep the Bandit's cost down, Suzuki borrowed most of its components from existing models (this logical approach is less common in the bike world than you might expect). The 599cc, 16-valve engine is from the GSX600F, a good bike that was too ugly to sell well. Tuned for extra mid-range performance, with new carburettors, camshafts and exhaust, the oil-cooled motor is claimed to be capable of 79bhp at 10,500rpm.

The Bandit's frame is purpose built from conventional steel tubes, but most the chassis parts are borrowed. The complete front end, consisting of forks, wheel, twin disc brakes and even the mudguard, comes from the more expensive RF600 sportster, while the rear shock absorber and wheel come from the GSF400 Bandit. Details such as instruments, switchgear and mirrors are from a variety of other Suzukis. Despite this, the Bandit looks right - simple, cleanly styled, and handsome in an understated way.

Japanese 600cc fours tend to be highly-strung devices, and the Bandit is no exception. Its red line is set at a heady 12,000rpm, and the Suzuki's power delivery encourages the rider to make the most of it, revving the bike through the slick-shifting six-speed gearbox towards its top speed of 120mph. But top-end excitement does not come at the expense of usability. A broad spread of power ensures that decent acceleration is available from almost any speed. Fuel consumption is nothing to write home about, dropping below 40mpg under brisk riding, but it's hard to grudge the hard- working Suzuki thirst. Especially when you've been having such a good time in the bends. The Bandit's chassis may be ordinary, but its suspension outclasses that of budget rivals such as Yamaha's 600 Diversion and Kawasaki's 550 Zephyr. In combination with the Suzuki's compact size and light weight, that makes for a bike that is nimble and manageable around town, yet one which delivers superb handling when the pace hots up on a twisty road.

So does this two-wheeled paragon have no failings at all? Apart from the lack of a centre stand or pillion grab rail, it is hard to think of any, especially as the Bandit is available either in simple "naked" GSF600 form (pounds 4,449) or, as the GSF600S, fitted with a wind-cheating fairing (pounds 350 more). Combined sales of these two versions propelled the Bandit to the top of last year's sales charts - despite Honda's protest that they are two separate bikes and that the Honda CBR900RR, a 165mph rocket ship, was the true number one. Who cares? With or without a fairing, number one or number two, the Suzuki GSF600 Bandit is a brilliant motorbike.