SUZUKI is celebrating 60 years of building motorcycles in 2012 and it's doing so in style with a new superbike.
Before 1952, when boss Michio Suzuki decided to branch out into bikes, the company specialised in the most unlikely of crafts for a would-be motorcycle firm – weaving – operating under the name of the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company.
How things have changed and to mark the diamond jubilee I've just been getting to grips with a spanking new GSX-R1000 L2.
Until recently the Japanese manufacturer ruled the roost with some insane sports bikes and Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 in particular was top of its class.
It was launched in 2001, peaking in 2005 with the brilliant K5 model. Everything about this bike rocked – from the fierce 185bhp engine to the lightweight, nimble handling.
But in 2007 Suzuki’s fortunes took a downturn as the new K7 model wasn’t deemed as good as the previous and it became eclipsed by Honda’s new Fireblade and Yamaha’s crossplane-crank YZF-R1.
The coup de grace came in 2009 when a European manufacturer crashed the Japanese party as BMW launched its high-specification S1000RR superbike. It blew the competition out of the water and this year it’s the turn of Ducati’s groundbreaking Panigale to put the Japanese to shame.
So you’d think Suzuki would take drastic action to return its flagship to the head of its class, especially in this historic year.
Instead the changes are pretty tame – but they’re effective.
The bodywork remains the same apart from new graphics and the twin exhausts have reverted back to a single pipe just like on that brilliant 2005 model. It not only looks much better but no doubt contributes to the 2.5kg shaved off the overall weight.
The suspension has been revised and the Tokico radial brakes have been replaced with high-specification Brembos.
The engine upgrade includes lighter pistons and new profiles on the exhaust cams that draw on Suzuki’s MotoGP technology.
Although power remains the same, Suzuki’s aim was to strengthen the midrange, especially between 6,000-7,000rpm where the older model suffered from a dip in the power curve.
Amid all the excitement surrounding the likes of the BMW and Ducati it’s easy to forget just what an awesome machine the GSX-R is.
Swing a leg over the new GSX-R1000 and it feels much like last year’s bike – which means it’s spacious and comfortable compared to another of its European rivals, Aprilia’s tiny RSV4R superbike.
Twist the throttle and the L2 growls ferociously, oozing grunt and straining at the leash, promising to leave all other vehicles standing at the traffic lights - well, apart from an S1000RR or a Panigale...
But the mid-range feels muscular compared to last year's bike all the way up to 8,000rpm, and it’s really useful on our roads, dispensing swiftly with traffic and powering hard out of corners.
Handling on the L2 is an improvement too. Last year’s GSX-R1000 required muscle on the initial turning and on fast direction changes. But the L2 feels lighter and more agile, breezing into the turns.
The bike’s always been a guided missile in a straight line, and there's no change here.
Approach a corner at speed and a squeeze of the brake lever is all that's needed for the bike to slow right down - the braking system's new Brembo monobloc calipers are powerful and progressive.
Slam down the gears and the action is beautifully controlled by the slipper clutch. The bike enters the corner fluidly and holds a tight line.
Gone are the days of trying to edge more power out of these crazy production machines. It's all about harnessing the power that's there so the rider can make more use of it and this is what makes the GSX-R1000 so good for the roads. Other superbikes – notably the Aprilia – demand to be ridden on a racetrack.
So while Suzuki’s updated GSX-R1000 may not take back its crown in the competitive superbike class, it’s still blisteringly fast.
Factor in its sharp handling, the mid-range and its ergonomics and it becomes a most attractive road bike compared to many of its one-track-minded rivals.
Suzuki GSX-R1000 L2
Engine: four cylinder, liquid cooled, dohc 16v, 999cc
Performance: 183bhp @ 11,500rpm, 86 lb.ft @ 10,000rpm
Tank: 17.5 litres
Transmission: Six gears, wet slipper clutch, chain final drive
Chassis: Twin spar aluminium
Seat height: 810mm