This is special in an odd way nostalgic; the Suzuki Bandit 650 S ABS has guided me down memory lane like reminiscences with old friends. Every one has a first bike, and then a real first bike. The Bandit ‘96 600 S was my first real bike and it’s here on the road to Port Renfrew that I first remember having my first “real sport ride”.
The road was, and still is, bumped, heaved and downright treacherous at points, and I didn’t care… The Bandit 600, and I, took it in what at the time felt like perfect synchrony. Over the years riding experience grows and refines, and the Bandit has also undergone a bit of self actualization. Can you go back? No, time moves on, and often it takes you someplace undeniably better.
“Undeniably better” is a turn of phrase that’s easy to apply to the new Bandit 650 S ABS. The in-line four engine has been bored out to 656cc, and has been tuned for midrange and torque rather than better top end. The engine is near-electric smooth and matched with superbly smooth carburetion; the throttle offers no surprises, just linear delivery. You won’t be reaching for the thesaurus to find new alternates for the word “ferocious”, but “nice”, “smooth”, “pleasant” and “reasonable” all fit.
Rolling on and off the power, the Bandit 650 S belies its output, in a gentle wash of torque. In the absence of the latest super-bike you might shun established orthodoxy and find yourself admitting that the peak 49 ft-lbs (claimed at 7500rpm) is agreeable, sensible, capable of a little fun and eminently practical for daily use. Power delivery culminates at 10,500 rpm in 78hp (claimed at the crank) with the redline nudging you out of meditative gauge gazing at 12,000.
Sweeping through the corners of Highway #14, marine layer has given way to sunshine and there are tantalizing glimpses, and the occasional full vistas, of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a fast and easy rhythm, with the Bandit’s suspension eating the wallows and compressions comfortably. Sweepers at speed prove stable, quick and drama-free, and when the road gets coiled the Bandit handles it without fuss. The BT-020’s living up to the sport part of the touring equation and holding well even across damp stretches.
The rear suspension’s preload has been dialed up for my mass, 200lbs, with the compression rebound, while adjustable, being left stock and soft. Upfront preload has seen a similar increase, the only adjustment option available. The Bandit 650S’s suspension is soft, supple and comfortable – the lyrical flow of the corners is uninterrupted by any consciousness of the suspension doing its work. Those with sporting aspirations will feel their chakra’s are out of balance and dub the Bandit a bit of a comfy-couch. A more holistic view sees the suspension as being well suited to the Bandit’s calm demeanor.
Braking might upset that tranquility a little. Until the ABS threshold, the braking, like the rest of the Bandit 650S, is linear and progressive. The ABS, however, is easy to invoke when riding aggressively and there is room for refinement. This might be a factor of the brakes being well, er, puny. Out front there are Dual 290mm discs with two pistons calipers a piece and in back a single 240 mm disk with twin pistons. The lack of power here means you end up using a bigger handful than expected, and that likely leads to the occasional lock up.
Burning off speed coming hot into a corner, the ABS kicks in, the pulse unexpectedly releases the rear tire. I go wide in the corner, and I come away with a new heart-rate accelerating trick. When the ABS kicks in the pulse can be felt through the levers – it feels vaguely like a first generation BMW. Under other emergency braking tests, and straight line fare, you can still get the rear to issue the odd chirp. Still, for everyday commuting, all you need is one distracted rainy day with the car ahead of you slamming on the binders to clarify the value of ABS.
Keeping in mind that at an MSRP of $8,799.00 CDN the Bandit 650S ABS is low-cap fare, it is surprising this bike sports anti-lock braking at all. That it does is likely due to the European market, where the Bandit 650S ABS goes head to head with Honda’s CBF 600S ABS in the commuter niche.
Where the brakes fail to inspire, the Bandit’s slick 6-speed transmission reminds you that Suzuki has some of the best shifting in the business. The transitions are smooth, silky and affirmative. It all makes clutch-less up-shifts a non-issue as you move through the ratios, and leave one wondering how a “budget bike” landed such a great feeling gearbox.
Opening the Bandit 650S up and driving hard out of a corner I casually wonder if my 600 ever sounded this good? From the cockpit of the new 650, I would say no. The pipe is more affirmative sounding, a bit rougher without being overbearing. The feedback is well, just right. Enough to let you know what you are doing, but not so loud the neighbors will complain.
Photographer Kevin stomps on ahead, and I let him have the lead. This isn’t a race, instead it’s relaxing. Pacific calm permeates the ride and I’m content to explore the world at 100-120kph on the dodgy road. The Bandit 650 handles double the posted through the corners, but doesn’t demand it for fun. Unlike the recent crop of sport 600’s this bike doesn’t judge you for taking your time, it just goes about making you comfortable.
The ergos are relaxed, with wide bars providing great leverage for maneuvering the relatively portly 201kg Bandit 650S. That leverage action, and a refreshed chassis with improved rigidity over previous generations makes the 650S nigh flick-able. Those bars also provide comfort and are movable by 10mm between two positions thanks to stock spacers. The seat also is adjustable, with two heights (770/790 mm or 30.3/31.1 inches), done by flipping the under-seat rubber bumpers upside down. All that makes for a relaxed accommodation, if a bit cramped for those over 6 feet. The seat itself is plush, padded, and good for about 4 hours of touring before a break is needed. That should be plenty of time; the 20L tank gives you about a 365km range depending on throttle usage with the 650 gently sipping its way through the world at 5.5L/100km.
Wind protection is on the minimal side; adequate to 120kph but not beyond. The Bandit lets you feel your velocity with that air flow, and in some ways that feedback just adds to the experience. Past 140kph and the entire business just becomes damn hard work, even though the little 650 will get you up to about 200kph on the vaguely face-like dash… with a good run at it. Is that a failing? Probably not, some bikes are not about top speed, instead being more about usability which the Suzuki Bandit 650S ABS has in spades.
Everything about the bike is usable and friendly. The road begins to swing thru 50 to 20kph marked undulations, and the Bandit and I go for a bit of a thrash; the Bandit encourages using all the engine and clearance has to offer. I take a quick moment to pass a corner-cutting Pathfinder, with an agro-head of the household attempting to do in his wife and kids – he either wanted the insurance money or felt the need to display his driving prowess by repeatedly clipping apexes. Dropping two gears thru the quick and slick gearbox and we are out and around soon as the sight-lines permit.
The Bandit and I placidly put him in the rear-views, where I watch him for a while with little to no vibrations. Once dispatched, he backs off… I sigh a bit of relief, shattered glass, bent metal and ambulances were in his future if he didn’t. I suppose to the driver we just looked like another sportbike coming up fast. The Bandit’s revised ’05 looks however have been toned down over the previous generation. They are softer and less aggressive looking, more sedate… It’s as if Suzuki has conceded that this is not a sportbike but something all together more congenial. Most likely the driver missed the practical points that differentiate the species, bungy strap points, passenger grab rail, center stand and ample under seat stowage – he’d have needed X-Ray specs for that last one.
Is it possible to build a bike of pure unconditional positive regard? If so, Suzuki has done it with the Bandit 650S ABS. If the Bandit had any nicer or sweeter disposition you’d likely be calling out for insulin. Some things are sweeter in the recycling process of nostalgia, but in the case of the ’05 Bandit 650S the present outstrips any memory of the past. The Bandit has mellowed over time though, as our expectations of a bike grow, and if you’re looking for edge, best to move on. However, if you’re looking for a practical, economical and magnanimous everyday ride, you’d do yourself a favor and consider Suzuki’s Bandit 650S ABS.
MSRP: 8,799.00 $CDN
Web: Suzuki Canada