Suzuki GSX650F: All grown up and ready to go
Suzuki's offering has a sport-bike feel, reports Jacqui Madelin
All grown up and ready to go! It's tempting to shrug Suzuki's GSX650F off as a bantamweight Bandit in a sharp suit, but there's more to it than that - not least, the increased weather protection imparted by a fairing which also underlines its grown-up looks.
It feels grown-up, too, the 790mm seat tall enough to suit most riders, yet easy to swing a leg over.
The engine pulled keenly from the kerb into busy traffic, then smoothly accelerated to highway speed and cruised there, before we turned off and into the foothills of the ranges I cross to get home. And that's where my brain hit a speed bump, for the narrow bars and sharp bodywork had sold it into expecting sports-bike feel. It conveniently ignored the compliant suspension and flexible performance to instead anticipate sharp, turn-on-a-dime performance.
But this model's wheelbase stretches longer than a pure sports machine's. It matches its bigger 1250 Bandit stablemate for length, and that ensures stability but makes it less agile.
I'd brake into a corner expecting to flick it in, then have to rapidly correct my line on the throttle, a process that at least drummed in a new appreciation of how forgiving the engine is.
It took a few bends to modify my riding style, to slow a tad more into corners, take a smoother line and pull steadily on out - good habits for a learner, and far less risky on real-world winter roads.
There's a 656cc liquid-cooled four-stroke engine tucked under the GSX650F's bodywork, with electronic engine management tweaks and a few small changes to trim power and torque, pruning it back enough that combined with its 241kg wet weight, this bike sits on the learner-approved list.
Suzuki doesn't quote power and torque figures, but the 650F will happily rev to 9750rpm at 100km/h in second, dropping to 7500rpm in third.
Keep it percolating at this rev range and the motor feels its strongest; that said, it's clearly tuned for low- and mid-range urge and flexible response. You won't accidentally loft the front wheel, nor will bump-induced throttle jiggles send you somersaulting down the road.
Acceleration is creamy smooth, delivering enough real-world urge while stressing rapid progress will be attained only via good lines, the right gears, and conserving momentum rather than resorting to throttle thrashing and hair-trigger reflexes.
The GSX650F's relaxed recipe thus issues an enjoyable challenge to a skilled rider wanting to log a rapid time over a bendy back road, while the relatively upright sports-tourer riding position is friendlier to commuters and tourers than the bum-up stance favoured by pure sports bikes.
What wasn't so friendly was the wind buffet delivered by this screen, which hit my helmet amidships and caused it to shudder in a manner that was noisy and punishing to my puny neck. I gather other average-height testers noted the same thing, which underlines the value of a pre-purchase test ride.
Meantime, I stopped earlier than the 19-litre tank capacity would suggest, and bought some earplugs.
Anyone seeking a flexible commuter with some back-roads and touring ability should consider the latest fleet of learner-approved bikes. Machines like this $14,495 Suzuki GSX650F may not be as exciting as the production racing breed, but tuning out the performance extremes makes them easier to live with in a real world that encompasses affordable and congestion-busting commuting, as well as an occasional weekend B-roads jaunt.