Suzuki 2004 GSX-R 750-Put Lightning in a Beer Can, Add a Hornet, and Shake

2004 Suzuki 2004 GSX-R 750I’ve just hit 10,000 RPM and the GSX-R 750 has gone all Mr. Hyde on me.  It’s gone from a pleasant pull to this blaring, manic, mad, howling kind of savage.  Now this can also be said of the recent crop of 600s, but the 750 is better.  Like a 600 you really get a lot of pull around 9,500 RPM, and all that psycho-buzzing kinetic fury that those revs accost your common sense with – but on the GSX-R 750 you’re leaving the 600’s like they were in last week.  And better yet you’ve enjoyed proper pull all the way there.

So why am I making the comparison between the GSX-R 750 and the recent crop of 600cc buzzers?  Well for one the weight difference between the GSX-R 600 and the GSX-R 750 is only two kilograms (four pounds).  What this means is that for about $1000.00 difference in the cost of the two siblings you get a lot more bike.  You could spend a ton of time and thousands of dollars race-tuning the 600… and still not get a bike as good as the GSX-R 750.  So if you’re a road rider and not concerned about racing in any particular class, or an occasional track-day superstar, the 750 just makes damn good sense.  Or as much sense as a 123hp at the rear wheel, 163 kg/359 lbs (claimed dry) brute can make.

Since we’re talking about “sense”, let’s talk about “around town” riding… Who cares?  It’s irrelevant.  Well, actually we do because the world is not a track, and because this bike is very usable – downright friendly.  The fact that it pulls smoothly from 3000 RPM leaves you feeling comfortable simply rodding about in traffic.  Need to accelerate out of danger?  The GSX-R 750 has more than enough pull – indeed you could easily leave it in second and skip the shifting entirely, a hard trick to pull off on a midrange-deficient 600.  Throughout it all the throttle response is nice, linear and smooth, pulling cleanly away from a stop – but only developing real joy beyond 5000RPM.  Absent was the dreaded EPA eco-terrorist lean surge featured on most modern fuel-injected bikes.  Suzuki got the fuel injection mapping very, very right on this bike.  It’s almost civilized.

Adding to this vague and uneasy sense of civility and utility is an under-hump storage compartment that allows you to stash a small notebook, a couple of micro-fibre cleaning cloths, a can of Plexus, a cell-phone, a PDA, and a hat or spare set of gloves.  Downright useful, especially given the recent trend of under-seat exhausts consuming valuable storage space.  All this is, of course, completely irrelevant because this bike is track-bred; using it to scoot around town is like using an elephant gun as a fly swatter – sure, it will work but it’s meant for far bigger things… like roads.   Preferably the most gnarled up and twisted roads you can find, because as soon as you’re there all that refinement and civility I just mentioned is overpowered, bludgeoned senseless by the outright hooligan factor of this bike.

Take lightning, put it in a beer can, now add a hornet, and shake the crap out of it.  Open the can and out pops the GSX-R 750; it’s angry, buzzing, mad, and capable of veering at a moment’s notice.  The weight and the power combined, this bike just eats up the passing lane.  Pull out to go around a car, whack the throttle in second, lift the front, up-shift and do it all over again in third.  All the while it’s hard to get over how controlled and stable it feels, yet there’s a raw, alive edge and attitude that defies you to keep from grinning like the village simpleton or criminal mastermind.

And the car you we’re pulling around?  Who cares, it’s inconsequential now and well in the rear-views, at a moment’s notice you’ve hit 200kph and are zoning in quickly on truly stupid speeds – it’s a maniac, fabulously savage acceleration and yet entirely manageable.  The revs are screaming to a red line of 14000 RPM, then another 500 to bump the limiter, and you’ve come over all juvenile with the thrill of it all. It’s not just a whack of the loud handle – it’s an experience; with an induction soundtrack that is not just a gasp, but a loud, howling, shrieking, inhalation.  This bike doesn’t just take in air; it chomps massive ferocious bites out the atmosphere and leaves it gaping.  And the engine, it just screams!

Think about it, 14,500 RPM from a 750, it’s a furious number of rotations! And to any mortal’s senses the GSX-R 750’s plant spins up to that mark as fast as any 600.  With those kinds of RPMs you may as well just remap the tachometer to another more granular measure, something the human mind can grasp more intuitively. Suzuki has done this by going all sci-fi with titanium valves, lighter rate valve springs, thinner walled camshafts, and friction-reducing chrome-nitride coated rings.  The power plant is pure titanium-valved fury.  And the way it holds near peak power from 9500RPM thru to 12,500 – it just leaves you wide-eyed and laughing in your helmet.  Then you do the math and realize that at 40 mpg (average on a good rip) this bike is actually hugging the trees as it goes by – marvelous.

But, before you know it, there are the corners, and it occurs to you that you may want to slow off just a tad.  Pull on the lever and the Nissin’s radial-pump master cylinder feeds DOT4 to the Tokico radial-mounted four-piston calipers gripping the 300mm twin discs up front.  All of which lets you scrub off speed with exceptional confidence, despite the rotors being down 20mm in diameter over last year’s bikes.  I’d love to say they do a lovely job of dragging the savage Suzuki down from top speed… but to be honest I never had the guts make the speedo go all the way to the stratosphere to begin with.  But for our test on real world roadways and speeds that clung tenaciously to this side of sanity, the binders were more than fine, they were grabby, fade-free and they issued good feel.

Heading into the corners there’s no need to scrub off all the speed – that would defeat this bike’s purpose.  But downshifting is worth it.  The slick gearbox lets you move through the ratios with only the lightest of touches, leaving you wondering when shifting became an ephemeral experience.  Mind the cable actuated clutch though, ham-handed misuse will see the rear Bridgestone BT-014 complain a little and threaten to break loose if you’re not smooth going down through the ratios.  Still, the tires give great feedback.

Everything about the GSX-R 750 is light, slick and ready to execute the turns.  A bit of counter-steer and weight-shift, maybe a bit of hang-off, and the Gixxer 750 tips into the corners with light neutrality that’s the result of a well-sorted chassis and suspension.  The Showa 43mm fully adjustable front forks and monoshock rear handle the duties in exemplary fashion.  It didn’t seem as unflappable as Honda’s uber-planted CBR 600 RR, and doesn’t approach the nailed to the ground Ducati 998… but then the Ducati will set you back a pretty penny more.  Still the GSX-R likes to lean, but takes a hint more effort than the 600s – you’d be daft however to consider it even vaguely sluggish.  It doesn’t quite change directions like a frightened minnow, but it’s nimble… maneuver up your own tailpipe at speed kind of nimble.  It’s like riding lightning through the corners, then, before you set up for the next set twists, you grab a quick glance in the mirrors.

What’s that behind you?  Honestly, you have no idea, except that it has headlights.  The mirrors only let you see half of where you’ve been, and what you see is a 6-martini blur due to the vibration and buzz.  You’re hard-pressed to determine if that’s a minivan, SUV, Ferrari or a police cruiser behind you, which is very important on a bike like this.  Actually the buzz doesn’t end at the fairing mounted mirrors, it’s transmitted 600-style through to your tingling hands and seat.  It’s exciting! You feel alive, connected to the engine… for a while, and then after a few hundred kilometers it’s simply tiring.

Surprisingly, the perched seating helps make up for the buzz, it’s simply not as uncomfortable as you’d expect.  The position is classic sportbike; legs seriously folded to make the pegs, weight resting firmly on your wrists and rump resting on a foam plank.  And in complete contradiction to all that, the Gixxer ends up being faintly humane to the rider, that or at 6”2’ my ape-like reach has allowed me to sit more upright than 5’10” snapper Kevin, who protested of wrist pain and back fatigue after riding city speeds.  Still there is a major quirk in the ergos, for those of us with size 11+ boots you’ll likely be contacting the pipe with your heel should you assume proper balls of feet on pegs riding position.  Regardless of the GSX-R 750 feeling like the layman’s concept of a stripped-down, hunkered-down racer, even over a long day’s riding I found the bike surprisingly comfortable.  Though I’m not chomping at the bit to hop on it for another 1000kms come the next morning, even with good clean airflow and “kind” sportbike ergos you’re not likely to slap a set of Givis on it and call it a sport-tourer.

There are few if any pet peeves to fall prey to reviewer’s ridicule.  Build quality is a little on the rough side.  Our tester suffered from a stuck rear break lever that failed to return, which was easily sorted by a bit of lubricant.  Also the fairings weren’t flush at a couple of the joins.  These are minor niggles, but in the age of modern production techniques and the sort of engineered-to-the-nines performance we see in this engine, these kind of slip-ups shouldn’t happen. Pet peeves with this bike are few; the kickstand nub is hard to get at with toe or heel, making it hard to deploy, and the buzz through the mirrors are minor negatives.  But our most annoying and final pet peeve is also the smallest; the lack of complete spring action returning the key to a removal position when the gas cap is depressed.  Not major, just an ongoing irritant.

From a standalone looks perspective the Gixxer is an odd mix.  At the start of the week the sharp lines against the easy curves and origami folds grow on you…  Then you look at it again three days later and it all goes wrong. It stops growing on you and just ends up a generic sportbike; there’s nothing special or outstanding about the design.

Worse, put the GSX-R 750 beside its sibling 600 and 1000’s and without the assistance of the badges you’re hard-pressed to tell them apart.  Which is truly unfortunate, because this is a bike that deserves to stand out visually. Maybe this is why the yellow and black paint scheme is our favorite option for this bike; the scheme stands out in a sea of blue and white.  So if you’re after the GSX-R 750 for its ability to stand out visually in a crowd you’re likely to be disappointed.  Back on the road all these worries evaporate with a turn of the throttle, and they should.

The GSX-R 750 is Suzuki’s seminal dissertation on what a completely unrepentant sportbike should be.  It gives you the revving thrill of a 600 at almost the same weight, and proper kick in the pants power without having the brown in your pants stonk of a litre bike.  In fact the GSX-R 750 is almost user-friendly with clean, linear and precise throttle control, and superb road holding suspension.  Of course all that refinement is completely masked by the bike’s raucous, raw nature.  Get on this Gixxer 750 and you’ll need Jedi Master focus to constrain the hooligan within. Two years ago this bike would have held it’s own against the litre bikes of the time, and now simply because of its usability the GSX-R likely still can on real world roads.  For $12,799.99 MSRP CDN it’s hard to ignore the GSX-R 750 sitting alone in a class of one, but in the swirl of media attention over the litre bikes and 600s this season, the GSX-R could well be the most mistakenly overlooked bike of the year.

We’d like to thank the western division of Suzuki Motorcycles Canada for providing our loaner GSX-R 750 for this review.

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