During our recent visit to Brisbane to cover the Australian Formula Xtreme round at Lakeside we had organized 3 bikes to test – a new GSX-R 750 from Suzuki along with the latest model Yamaha R1 and Honda Fireblade. We had asked Kawasaki to supply a ZX-9R for comparison but they chose not to do so. Many thanks to Suzuki for organizing the GSX-R for us in Brisbane, sorry about the shagged tyres and brake pads but at least we cleaned it. Honda for sending up the same Victorian Fireblade that we used during the model launch back in April and also thanks to Yamaha for shipping the immaculately prepared R1 up from Sydney.
The editor of this electronic mag’, Trevor Hedge, has done all the bike testing so far. In a bit of a change for MCNEWS.COM.AU we also had Owun Taylor ride the bikes on the track and the road. Owun has covered the Formula Xtreme Tri-State series for us this year and as an ex-racer and current ‘Stay Upright’ instructor we decided to include his opinions in this comparo.
Owun rode both the GSX-R and Fireblade at Lakeside while I rode the GSX-R at Queensland Raceway and the Fireblade earlier in the year at Winton. We spent over 3,000 kilometres aboard the Fireblade earlier this year but Owun was yet to sample the bike so most of his time during the first few days was spent aboard the Fireblade. This was my first ride on the new GSX-R, so most of my time was spent aboard the Suzuki. We logged over 2,000 kilometres aboard the GSX-R, 700km this time on the Fireblade and 700km on the R1. The R1 time was pretty much split down the middle between Owun and myself while I did around 75% of the Suzuki kilometres. Owun’s opinions on the bikes are immediately below while my ramblings start on page 3. The images and multimedia are on page 5..
Owun’s bike-by-bike opinion
Yamaha R1 – The City Yamaha guys standard response to people when they ask if the Y2K Yamaha R1 is better than the ’99 model it replaces – “Its just a nicer bike”, there that was simple.
It’s true really, the ’99 R1 didn’t have much wrong with it and Yamaha have done a great job of not stuffing the sequel up like Hollywood does with movies. When I returned the beastie to Yamaha, Editor Trev asked me to sarcastically tell them it needed more power. The look on the guys faces at City Yamaha said either you are motorcycle riding God, a complete wanker or taking the piss big time. They probably just decided that we are complete wankers.
Trev and I stopped at a set of traffic lights just short of Lakeside raceway and he finally let me swap the GSXR for a go on the R1. There is a huge difference in the feel of the R1 to the GSXR/Fireblade. I thought I’d left my tank bag on the seat because I was sitting so high and the handle bars take a bit of getting used as well.
If you have ever ridded a hotted-up 1980’s bike, the kind that normally got fitted with those big fat foam grips, well that’s what it felt like to me. They also have the feeling that they have been fitted on the wrong sides, or pushed too far forwards, weird feeling for me.
Anyway back to the traffic lights and Trev has pissed off whilst waving the Suzooks front wheel at oncoming traffic (he thinks Shell put Viagra in the petrol & that’s why it pops up all the time), I made it just across to the other side of the lights before the front Dunlop popped right up in front of me. If you like to wheelie really easily, get an R1, it did wonders for me.
I can’t say how the R1 street bike tackles the track because we got it a day late for track testing but Michael Thomas (the winner of the F/Xtreme R1 in ’99) races a fairly standard R1 with good results.
I did have trouble getting the blue beastie to shift from 1st to 2nd & 2nd to 3rd when the noise needle (tacho) got up to near red line. I had to let the revs die right down before it would clunk into gear. This only occurred when I was trying to do race type starts at an airfield and would (should) not affect you when popping to the shops. How Kevin Curtain gets the Radars machine off the line without turning himself inside out I’ll never know.
The Yammy has the looks to make small kids run to their parents screaming. I could sit and look at the aggressive lines all day (although its more fun from behind the handle bars). The exhaust can has to be the best looking standard can I have seen, you’d have to be mad or hard of hearing to want to change this Titanium piece of art. As your relationship grows with the bike, so does the colour of the can…….nice..
Brakes, yep it got them. But I didn’t like the way they clamp so hard on the dinner plate size brake discs. I tried a bit of lever adjustment but that seems to be the way they are, still mustn’t grumble.
It’s a sports bike and if you need to take a bag with you ring your mate with the BMW, the blue beast provided me with 10 minutes of creative ocky strapping before I was happy, the rear foot pegs was the only place I could safely attach them to.
Fireblade – mmmm I’m not so sure that this 2000 model fits the comic book monster image that the name suggested of the 1992 model. The big body builder type of styling is a lot smoother than before. It still packs a wallop, but in a different way.
The R1 is like home made potato schnapps, the Honda is more like 12 year old Malt Scotch, its still gonna get you pissed, you’ll just not realise how far-gone you are.
The Fairybread was the first bike I rode for this test and we set off into the hills outside of Brisbane for a , shall I say spirited ride. Unlike the GSXR the blade can be ridden in one of two play modes. Rev the nuts off it in a low gear or up to a high one and use the grunt at the twisty bits. It’s just as stable, smooth & fast either way.
Brakes are nice (that’s all I need to say), gearbox has a normal Honda clunk to 1st but sweet after that. I do like the morning start, no choke lever to sod around with.
It was a very easy bike to get around the track on but I’d like to get it on one of my local Sydney tracks because Lakeside felt so slippery to me and I didn’t want to have to make a “Sorry” phone call to Honda (you mean it was the threats from me to handbag whip you should anything happen to the bikes – ed).
The Honda’s greatest advert was when Shannon Johnson put our very own test bike up to 5th for qualifying in Formula Xtreme. (Shannon had problems with his own bike so was forced to qualify on ours).
It’s still got that great station wagon size boot (alright a bit of an exaggeration) under the rear seat and nice little hooks for baggage and kind to feet rubber topped foot rests. The Yam & Suzuki both look like race bikes with lights, where as the Honda, in typical Honda stance, dresses for all occasions.
GSX-R – I was but a pup when the first Gixxer came about. I wanted one then, and I must say straight away of the 3 bikes here I’d shove this girl in my garage (its one of the few bikes that give me a chubby even with race leathers on). The other two do nothing wrong what so ever, I just fell for the Suzuki.
The instruments on all three are pretty much the same, easy to read LCD speedometers and needle tachometer and instead of the old reserve tap, all have YAGROP lights (You Are Gonna Run Out of Petrol) and they must work cos we didn’t run-out.
Enough of that crap, lets get her on the track…………………….
The engine sings its way up the rev range. Sweet noise’s come from both ends of the bike, as in exhaust & sexy looking headlight positioned intake scoops.
The front tyre/suspension combo, reads the road better than a 16-year-old with a Penthouse magazine and gives just as much feel. When asked, it will happily lift all its front bits and play in the air through 1st or 2nd and as Trev showed in the video, stay there into 4th with a smile.
From a standing start the GSXR nailed the R1, it kept the front wheel a great feeling one-foot off the road until the end of 2nd gear. After about 140kph the R1 pulls level and the closer we got to 200kph it showed its extra 250cc.
It’s a sports bike and you are going to have to use the gear lever a lot more than the other bigger capacity bikes, but that’s just it, its no effort to slot anther gear into action and when you are dancing on that gear box it means that you are having fun.
Money where the mouth is time goes to the Suzuki GSXR, Honda Fireblade and then the R1. Why?
Well I’m a lucky bugger who does not have to use a bike for everyday transport and I get a fair bit of track time when I need it. However, If I did more road riding and only a few track days a year then the CBR900 Honda would get my bottom on it’s seat.
Now it’s over to Trev for.
Overseas magazines have tested these 3 on the track (same day/same riders) and the lap-times have shown that the GSX-R is the fastest track bike, closely followed by the Fireblade and then the R1. This about matches our opinion.
The GSX-R makes you work hard for those lap times though as you really have to stir the gearbox in order to keep the engine on the boil. Thankfully the gearbox is fantastic. Both the R1 and Fireblade have slightly notchy boxes that can leave you with a sore foot after shuffling up and down the box all day but the GSX-R is smooth and effortless in the way it shifts. If it were any better it would be an automatic.
Stopping – While the GSX-R brakes are very good; the R1 and Fireblade better them in extreme use. The Fireblade has the best brakes of the bunch, but only by the tiniest of margins over the R1. The Honda brakes have excellent strength and feel that brings incredible confidence in those 330mm discs which are clamped by 4-piston Nissin calipers. The weight transfer to the front can make the rear end light but this has not presented me with any problems during the many kilometres I have spent aboard the bike. The R1 brakes are also excellent but do not quite give me the same feedback as the Honda items. The GSX-R brakes can suffer a little in extreme use which makes them a little harder to use than those on the Honda or Yamaha when on the limit, the operative words in that sentence being ‘extreme’ and ‘limit’, no matter how hard you ride on the road I don’t think you will find the GSX-R brakes lacking, only after many laps of a track does any weakness show itself.
Donks – The R1 engine has incredible drive from everywhere. This makes it hard to exit corners without the rear spinning up on the side of the tyre. Kevin Curtain may be able to use this to his advantage but a man of my ability can’t. For us mere mortals the GSX-R and Fireblade are a lot more useable on the track. They both have ample power to spin up the rear on the exit of the corners also, but they don’t have you in a constant state of apprehension when exiting corners under hard acceleration. That said, when not pushing really hard the R1 can just use its engine on the exits to make up any time in the corners. When stirred correctly the GSX-R will match both the Fireblade and the R1 in straight-line speed. We tested the acceleration in side-by-side runs at an airstrip with the GSX-R staying with the bigger bikes even though it felt a little slower. The GSX-R is the most stable on these types of runs. The Suzuki also has the best throttle response thanks to an injection system that is even more sorted than the Honda’s. The GSX-R has quite a good spread of power but it doesn’t really start until around 8,000rpm and then pulls hard through to 14,000rpm when the fun is interrupted by a very ‘soft-touch’ rev-limiter.
Feel – The suspension on all the bikes is excellent but in my book the Fireblade and GSX-R inspire me with the most confidence. I can jump straight on the GSX-R or Fireblade and feel at home right away. The R1 always feels a little strange to me. The riding position and a front end that I never feel completely comfortable with being the culprits. The 2000 model is much better than the ’99, but for some reason I can’t get on with it. For overall suspension brilliance it would be hard to separate the GSX-R and Fireblade, both are simply brilliant. The GSX-R requires a little more effort through the bars due to the steering damper but this is really getting picky now.
Touring – The Fireblade is by far the easiest to strap luggage to. Both the R1 and GSX-R have tails that bow out to the side from any points where you can secure luggage. Both the Fireblade and GSX-R have excellent tie-down hooks but the Honda’s are much more easily used because of the shape of the tail. The Fireblade can have gear strapped to it without having to worry too much about putting duct tape on the panels to prevent scuffing and scratching from your tie-downs. But the GSX-R must have protection strapped over its panels otherwise damage will result very quickly. The R1 is hard to strap luggage to without buying an aftermarket rack of some description. All the bikes have quite reasonable under seat storage areas but it is the Honda that once again holds the edge in this area. During my time on the Honda I have stored sneakers or even a bulky camera under the seat.
In the comfort department these bikes are all quite reasonable as far as sportsbikes go. They all have quite good seats and ergonomics for the rider but, as you would expect pillion accommodation is woeful on all three. The Suzuki is probably the worst of these three as a two-up bike. That is not to say the GSX-R’s perch is any worse for the pillion. It is that the extra steering effort that the rider is required to put in for the GSX-R to be turned. Obviously the change in the bikes geometry that results from somebody sitting up there is part of the problem but the steering damper is also a major factor in this. That said – the Suzuki is probably the only bike I have ridden with a damper that would not have me throwing the damper in the bin as soon as I got it home. The GSX-R is probably the most comfortable for the long solo haul. Taller pilots seem to feel at home on the R1.
Road – All these bikes are excellent on the road. The R1 is an excellent commuter; the engine can be left in any gear and just lugged about. The GSX-R and Fireblade are also excellent around town but the extra mid-range of the Honda puts it in front of the Suzuki in the city. For licence preservation reasons the lack of bottom end in the Suzuki can actually help, on the Fireblade or especially the R1 any little dip in the road has you fighting the urge to twist the throttle a little bit in order to get the front airborne.
Out on country roads the stability of the GSX-R wins me over, how the GSX-R can be so light and flickable and still be so stable is incredible. It does have a steering damper fitted, but unlike many other bikes that suffer in many other areas when fitted with a damper (such as Suzuki’s own TL1000R) the GSX-R does not. I never felt its presence in extra low-speed steering effort at all but it must work extremely well because I could hardly ever provoke a sizeable twitch out of the Suzuki (the damper can be felt on the track but not really on the road). Given some of the goat tracks that we covered which were very bumpy and twisty with the front often in the air off the bumps on the exit of corners this is awesome. The GSX-R may be the lightest (by a couple of kilos wet) but when set-up well it seems to be the most stable and useable of the bunch if the roads turn nasty! Now that is a turn up for the books. All bikes have a touring tank range of well over 200 kilometres, pushing reasonably hard that comes down to around 200kms dry and if going absolutely bonkers, well then you can nearly half that again.
Trev’s conclusions – The R1 engine is awesome. If potential buyers were to take each of those bikes out for a quick run around the block from a bike shop I would bet that 90% of them would buy the R1 over the others. Simply because they would have felt the engines awesome drive that is everywhere in the rev range. A back road fang is what is needed to really appreciate the Fireblade and GSX-R. The Fireblade has a much healthier bottom and middle than the GSX-R but is still no match for the R1 for outright grunt everywhere. But even though the other two do not feel as though they are as powerful as the Yamaha, when it comes to dragging they are all fairly evenly matched for acceleration. Over the quarter mile the GSX-R is fastest followed by the R1 and then the Fireblade.
The build quality of the Honda is high and if I was in the market for a long-term sportsbike purchase I think I would probably take the Fireblade home. However if I was only buying a bike in the aim for keeping it for 18 months before trading up, I think the Suzuki would end up in my garage.
Trev scored the bikes out of a comparative ten in 10 different areas and asked Owun to do the same. There was no collusion between the two when arriving at these scores.