This my bike. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My bike is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My bike, without me, is useless. Without my bike, I am wheel-less. I must ride my bike true.
I must ride straighter than my enemy, the cage driver, who is trying to kill me. I must pass him before he t-bones me.
Okay, enough already. You get the idea (and my apologies to the U.S. Marine Corps.)
After my last post a few folks have asked me what kind of a bike I ride…Well, truth be told, someone I know asked me what kind of a Harley I ride.
Look, I’m fat, bald, and like to watch “Sons of Anarchy” on a regular basis, but stereotype much?
I love collecting Harley T-Shirts from dealerships visited in my travels, but the bike a person rides is usually a reflection of their personal style and riding preferences, and Harleys are just a wee bit too laid-back the kind of daily urban commuting runs, and canyon craving I do. I ride a 2007 Suzuki GSF1250s Bandit, and this is my bike.
The Bandit is a bike with a long, and kind of interesting, history. Suzuki started out in the late ’90s with the idea of building a no-frills bike with the basics of a sport touring bike. It was built with mostly off-the-shelf parts, and available with either a half-fairing, as seen above, or in a “naked” model that developed a rep for being a “hooligan bike” in Europe.
Over the years the bike evolved, and in 2007 was given a brand-spanking-new, 1248cc, water-cooled, engine, and made available with an ABS option. The non-ABS version (what I’m riding), was available for an MSRP of $8,299, which was ridiculously reasonable compared to other bikes in the Sport Touring class such as the Honda ST1300 or Kawasaki Concours.
In 2009 I was looking to trade in my ’93 Suzuki Intruder 800, a nearly indestructible cruiser with chopper styling (it was a great, reliable, ride, but uncomfortable and ugly as hell), when I came across a new, left-over, 2007 Bandit at a local dealership that was being offered at an even MORE ridiculous price.
I like the Bandit because of its inline-four, 16-valve, engine, which has a reputation for delivering a massive amount of torque (a must for any San Francisco commuter bike), in a highly reliable, low-maintenance, package.
For some reason the 2007 Bandits did not sell all that well in the U.S., possibly because of its in-between the lines positioning between a true sport bike and an upright standard, and just never got the same kind of love as the GSXRs and Hayabusas. The bikes have done extremely well in Europe, where there is a fairly decent aftermarket for turning the Bandit into a full-on street fighter, but Suzuki has re-tooled the 2011 Bandits into fully-faired bike aimed at the Sports Touring market. In doing so they’ve added ABS as standard equipment, and upped the price to a not-nearly-as-amazing-but-still-cheaper-than-a-Beemer-or-Honda, $11,599 M.S.R.P.
The U.S. buying public’s fickleness is their loss, and the potential gain for anyone who wanted to get a great deal on one of these bikes.
I’d love to say it was all rainbows and fluffy bunnies from there on (but I wouldn’t say that, ’cause I’m a guy, and we don’t say stuff like that), but it became clear on the ride home that the Bandit, while having the basics of a great bike, needed some serious sorting out before it would live up to the promise. That’s the trade-off in buying a Bandit vs. one of the higher-end Sport Touring bikes; There is less initial sticker shock, but you wind up having to put some of those saved dollars back in to the bike to bring out its potential.
The biggest problems?
- In order to meet Euro3 emissions standards the stock fuel injection map is so wonky that the bike is subject to serious lurching and stuttering in the lower power bands…Trying to maintain a steady pace in city traffic at 25mph is more or less like riding a horse that isn’t saddle broken.
- The front suspension, which offers only preload adjustment, and uses extremely light, multi-rate, fork springs, is too light for most U.S. riders (especially us plus-sized models), and is subject to major front-end dive when braking.
- The stock seat is pure Hell on Earth and, even after a 1600 mile break-in period, one of the biggest ergo/rideability issues with the bike (IMNSHO.)
Also worth mentioning, while not a huge issue, the catalysed stock muffler on the Bandit is a huge, ugly, chrome beast that adds an extra 20lbs of mass, and rusts almost instantaneously upon purchase.
None of these issues, with the exception of the fuel mapping, are absolute show-stoppers, and while the bike and rider is initially the worse off for the trouble, everything is fixable in the fullness of time…and cash. It’s also important to remember that this is a price-point bike, and that skimping on these things is what allowed Suzuki to keep the M.S.R.P. down on the bike in the first place.
While admittedly being a bit of a gearhead (okay, a complete and total gearhead in every aspect of life), I think you need to put your money into what will make your bike ride safely, and comfortably, so that’s the general order of priority for the upgrades made to the Bandit over the years.
Holeshot/Cogent Fork Springs and Race Tech Gold Valve Kit
Dale Walker, over at Holeshot, has developed a pretty large line of aftermarket parts and accessories for the Bandit, as well as other bikes. He worked with Cogent Dynamics on developing fork springs and rear shocks for the Bandit.
The springs are available in standard as well as heavy weight, and combined with a Gold Valve kit from Race Tech, which functions as a cartridge fork emulator, provide a nice, plush, response to the front-end of the motorcycle, and eliminate the nasty diving characteristics of the stock springs when you’ve got to get on the brakes hard.
While we’re talking suspension, the stock rear shock on the Bandit isn’t anything to write home about either, but it can be finessed enough to work well. At some point it will get replaced by a Hagon unishock (half the price of an Ohlins with about 85% of Ohlins’ quality), but it isn’t something that needs to happen in the first 15-20K miles.
DynoJet Power Commander and Leo Vince Evo Muffler
After building a safer front end, the problem of the throttle response/engine lurching has to be dealt with…Especially if you are a daily commuter, like me, who sometimes winds up having to deal with miles of backed-up and slow traffic where you are in the 18-25mph zone (yes, this is California, and lanesplitting is a helpful option, but some times you just have to sit in traffic and deal.)
The Power Commander is a nifty little computer gizmo that sits between the ECU (Engine Control Unit) and the fuel system, arbitrating between what the ECU thinks it wants the EFI system to do, and what the EFI really needs to do. You download a custom map for your bike/exhaust configuration, and the Power Commander takes care of the rest.
If you’re into a racing mindset, the thing to do is to get the bike run on a dyno and have a custom map generated for your bike. I’m not really into trying to squeeze every pony out of my bike …In fact, while I know that between the Power Commander and the Vince slip-on, the Bandit is capable of pulling something like 115hp and hitting upwards of 120mph, I wouldn’t know exactly what the numbers are, and don’t have any intentions of finding out first hand.
Using a stock map, the bike is fast enough, and torque-y enough, to negotiate the madness of California Freeways, and haul-ass up and down the steep hills of San Francisco during my daily commutes. That’s plenty for me.
Again, safety and comfort are the key words.
I could have left the stock can on the bike, but opted for the Vince EVO slip-on for ergo/aesthetic reasons; the stock can is coyote ugly and ways a friggin’ ton. The Vince slip on is quiet (EPA approved), small, light, and, yes, I paid about a hundred bucks extra to get the carbon fiber model ’cause it’s black and looks bad-ass. (So there. :p)
Corbin Gunfighter and Lady Seat
The last of the essentials was actually something I really waited too long on.
This past summer I finally got rid of the stock Bandit torture-seat-from-hell, and replaced it with a Corbin model. After about a 1500 mile break-in period, this single purchase has paid some of the biggest dividends on any investment put into the bike.
As a motorcyclist you can, and do, put up with a lot of adversity on a daily basis, from idiot Bay Area drivers who think that turn signals are optional equipment, to a hundred other obstacles in your way, but it’s a lot easier to take the slings and arrows of every day motorcycling in stride if your ass is happy. (And you can quote me on that.)
There is a lot of other little stuff on the bike … Mirror extenders, bar risers, and a Givi top box to carry tools, emergency supplies, rain gear, and a growing list of riding essentials (so much, in fact, I’m going to have to add side bags just to be able to pick up a few groceries on the way home.) A GPS would also be nice, but then I’ll have to add a bus box, some wiring, and, hey, that Bluetooth system for my iPhone/iPod would also come in handy, and … Yeah. Total gearhead.
But, after all, this is my bike. There are many like it, but this one is mine …
Props to the Folks who Keep Me Running …
When I first started riding, almost 10 years ago now, I knew absolutely nothing about motors, cars, or anything mechanical. While I keep learning, and do more fiddling about with a wrench and a voltmeter than I used to, all of the heavy lifting for customizing the Bandit has come with a lot of help from some friends.
Tyler Carson and Anton Lovett, over at Hayasa Motorbikes in East Oakland, have been working on my bikes for about 5 years now, and have done all of the custom suspension and electrical work on the Bandit. They’re great mechanics, knowledgeable, honest, and have created a shop that’s every bit as great an environment to hang out around as it is to have your bike worked on at. More about Hayasa in a future blog …