Suzuki GS-one-one-zip-zips, stop reading right here. Malcontents
complain that magazines do much too much testing of the 16-valve Suzuki
Superbikes, burning up time that might be better spent classic-testing
Piovaticci Fifties. Look at Cycle magazine; this makes three full tests in 27
months. Why do that? Because the GS1100 is the standard yardstick in Superbikes.
It was the instant King of Superbikes when introduced, and Suzuki hasn't left
its biggie propped up on its laurels. Every year there have been improvements
and additions. Enough to bring any motorcycle enthusiast back to it. To take
measure of the King once again.
Heart and soul of the GS1100 is its 16-valve, 1075cc engine. The
horsepower this engine has—and the quality of that power—goes a long way toward
making this motorcycle a king. The matter is broader than the sheer horsepower
on tap; it's the nature of that power easy, by-the-way, almost casual and
nonchalant. The engine, it would seem, is Suzuki's weapon of maximum deterrence.
Until someone else wants to build an 1100 engine with 16 valves set in Cosworth
mode, the GS-weapon remains un-threatened. No other production street engine has
as much potential for further power development as the GS1100. If some other
manufacturer wants to get in a horsepower race with the GS, it must be prepared
to lean heavily on its present engines, while Suzuki would need only to nudge
the GS1100 a little to jump the power. Right now, it doesn't seem worth the
while to anyone, including Suzuki, to push Superbikes into legitimate,
do-it-every-time 10-second quarter-milers. Since introducing the GS1100 two
years ago, Suzuki has done virtually nothing to hype the engine.
Go-fasters might be wondering already whether the new Z-bike is
quicker and faster and more powerful than the X-scooter Cycle tested in December
1980, and the answer is. . . no. This year's bike clocked an 11.33-second
quarter-mile, hitting the speed traps at 119.36 mph. That makes it slower, 0.15
seconds and one-half mile per hour, than the 1981 GS1100EX. Furthermore, the
1100EZ lacked the speed and quickness of the Katana 1000, which recorded an
11.29 at 122.11 mphat the drag strip.
A word of explanation. First, the performance of the 1982 bike
falls within a standard range of deviation. The 1981 bike was a strong runner
that benefited from a perfect day at the drag strip. The day wasn't as perfect
for the 1982 bike, which, on the dyno, proved to be about one to two percent,
and at places about three percent, down on the 1981 bike's horsepower. Second,
the '81 bike was stronger above 6500 rpm; that counts at the strip. Third, the
1982 1000cc Katana had an edge over the '82 1100 because it was lighter and had
less frontal area than the 1100, though the Katana had less muscle beyond 7000
It's worth pointing out that a three or four percent deviation
between individual bikes of the same year and model is not uncommon. When you're
working with that variation on a 90-horsepower base, the differences in raw
numbers can be significant. On the other hand, a four percent swing on
35-horsepower motorcycles may produce almost imperceptible differences at the
drag strip. Where do these differences arise in engines of all sizes? Well, lots
of places. Cam timing, ignition timing, valve jobs, etc. For example,
good-breathing engines with 16 valves can be quite sensitive to valve-seat work.
In fact, Suzuki made some subtle changes in valve seat cut-angles to the Suzuki
GS1100 in its first model year of production (1980); this begot better flow
around the valves, and from this change came the power to put the GS1100 in the
low-elevens every time. There's no "speed part" you can see in sophisticated
valve-seat cutting: on a production line the costs are little; the benefits,
large. Small invisible changes can make important differences in out-. put,
especially when working on big base numbers in the first place.
Changing something small and getting an improvement is still
Suzuki's strategy with the GS1100. This year, the engineers redesigned the
airbox, compressing the filter into a D-shaped cylinder in the interest of
lowering seat height 20mm. A new, single velocity-stack intake to the airbox
system replaced the older two-hole design. The result was less flow resistance
through the system and, consequently, greater volume of airflow, to which is
added more fuel by stepping up main-jet sizes (107.5 to 110), and, finally, more
force acting on piston tops. Splendid though that may be, this newly won
superiority didn't show up in hard testing numbers from the dyno and the drag
Riders with one-way right wrists may discover another
along-the-way 1100 improvement. Upgraded oil-tempered clutch springs, almost
built out of valve spring material, are more resistant to that brutal treatment
deserving a Dukes of Hazzard audition.
Elsewhere in the engine caverns of Mr. King, there's been some
mechanical reshuffling. The starter-clutch needle-bearing lubrication passage in
the crankshaft is history, and the holder for the oil pressure sending unit now
includes a sender for the oil temperature gauge. And, for the record, Suzuki has
moved the choke lever out to a fingertip position. Applaud.
Cold-starting has improved this year; on 40- to 50-degree
mornings the 1100 requires full-choke for a few seconds and half-choke for a
minute, then it's ready to run. The constant-velocity Mikuni carbs function very
well throughout the rev range. They respond instantly to snap throttle openings,
and the stock jetting is nearly spot-on.
The only cost of the updated jetting is slightly decreased gas
mileage. If you're fond of the GS (meaning you like to twist the throttle),
expect mileage figures comparable to ours. Most of our tankfuls registered 30-37
mpg. We once coaxed 43 miles per gallon out of a tankful, just to say we and the
bike could do it.
Mid-range power makes the 1100 a standout. From 2000 to 5000 rpm
the engine pulls strongly and cleanly. Around town you can keep the revs below
4000, never shift above fourth, and still keep ahead of virtually all traffic.
On the open road the mid-range allows you to burble along in fifth at 3820 rpm
(60 mph), then roll on the throttle to pass a row of cars without a downshift.
Run it up to 5000 rpm and you're gliding at about 75 mph.
If you're into chasing through the canyons—and you probably
can't own a GS and not be attracted to the twisties—then you'll want to know
about power above 5000 rpm. Rest assured, the 1100 fulfills your expectations
when you head toward redline. In the lower gears the front gets light and your
stomach flip-flops when you grab a fistful of throttle. In the upper gears you
quickly break the 100-mph barrier.
Though the original GS-T and last year's GS-X had gearboxes
which performed flawlessly, the GS-Z's has a trifle rough and imprecise
shifting. Another gearbox/driveline related complaint concerns the GS's
excessive drive-train snatch. Around town in all gears, and at low speeds in the
lower gears wherever you ride it, the 1100 lurches when you open and shut the
throttle quickly. We traced the annoyance to oveny large engagement slots in the
gears, which allow the opposing dogs to move back and forth sloppily. The
clutch, on the other hand, works very well, engaging over a wide arc,
withstanding drag-strip abuse, and disengaging with only a moderate squeeze at
the hand lever.
For the rider, the GS's engine vibration is, for practical
purposes, non-existent. Up to 5500 rpm you can sense the typical high-frequency
mechanical motion of a transverse four-cylinder engine through tne handtebar ana
ianK—enuuyn iu iei you know your bike's running. At about 5500 rpm, that's about
80 mph, the tingle picks up, especially through the bar and pegs. In the
high-speed cruising range-above 80 mph—the 1100's resonance is very noticeable,
but that fits the situation. You sense things are moving quickly in the engine,
just as they are by the roadside. For the passenger, there's some noticeable
vibration through the rear pegs, throughout the mid-range and into the upper
Naturally enough, the minor changes in the chassis produce some
distinct but subtle alterations in handling. Most important among the
modifications is a switch to a center-axle fork (which was necessary to
accommodate the new anti-dive system). The new axle position increases trail
(about one-half inch over last year's GS) and decreases the wheel-base a like
If you like to troll down the boulevard or make off for the next
state on the weekend via the straightest roads you can find, you'll probably
never notice the difference in handling. However, when you get the GS-Z into the
canyons, you'll feel some variations. Previous GS1100s have had neutral
steering; the '82 model's steering feels neutral at sedate and moderate speeds.
(By neutral we mean that once you've countersteered the bike into its cornering
attitude, no further input is necessary to maintain that arc.) At higher speeds,
though, the front end tucks in and pushes oh-so-very slightly. Experts will pick
up on the phenomenon easily; it will be less clear to others who, when really
pushing, will simply describe an imprecise and sudden reaction to input,
probably because they overcompensated for the action. All in all, we like the
slightly quicker handling and quicker turn-in compared to that of previous
GS1100s. It makes the '82 GS feel nimbler than last year's bike at all speeds,
and the high-speed handling characteristics are nevertheless blue-ribbon stuff.
Much of the fine overall handling ability stems from the
rock-steady chassis. The frame is heavily gusseted around the steering head, and
the aluminum box-section swing arm resists flex extremely well. The rest of the
credit goes to the GS's reasonably light weight. The '82 1100 weighs 562 pounds
fully gassed; that's four pounds lighter than last year's bike, even though the
GS-Z holds an additional 0.8 gallon of gas (roughly equal to five pounds). The
Kawasaki GPz1100 (with 5.7 gallons of gas) weighs 568 pounds, which puts these
two bikes in a league apart from such heavyweights as the Honda CBX, which
weighed (before it was clothed in sport-touring garb) 606 pounds. Suzuki trimmed
ounces from the muffler brackets, seat, tail piece, fork, front fender,
headlight, taillight and mirrors to cut the total weight.
Sport riders always question Ground Clearance. With the '82 GS,
you can be sure you'll scrape only lightly, and then only if you're into
hot-dogging. Few riders will touch down any chassis pieces; experts can touch
the pegs consistently, claiming the rubber works well as feelers. After the
peg-rubbers, hot-dogs can get into centerstand and portions of the pipes. In
fact, the tires start sliding before you have to worry about solid chassis parts
dragging. The V-rated Bridgestones are good compromise hoops, providing very
decent traction and reasonable wear. Suzuki should fit the GS1100 with bigger
tires on wider rims; this motorcycle could use more than 1.85 at the front and
2.15 at the rear. The benefits would be better traction, if not better mileage.
A couple of modifications affect the '82 machine's seating
position. Suzuki moved the footpegs about two inches rearward compared with the
GS-T and X. The other change results from the switch to Katana-inspired styling.
To blend with the new lines of the tank and tail piece, the seat has been
lowered almost an inch, reducing unladen seat height from 32.7 inches to 31.5.
Anyone with short legs will like the new seat at stoplights.
The new seating position suited a remarkably diverse
cross-section of our testers and satisfied them for various types of riding. For
sport use, our five-eight to five-ten riders claim the position is nearly ideal,
with one tester calling for a handlebar with less pullback.and one calling for
pegs back just a little farther still. Our taller riders would prefer a bar with
less pullback or, as a second alternative, more-rearward pegs. For highway
riding the position is superb; only one tester wanted the bar more forward.
The seat accounts for the GS's excellent ergonomics; it's a very
long saddle that allows most everyone to find a position that feels right. Also,
there's very little step in it, so even when you slide back nearly to the
passenger area, it feels comfortable. Though the newly designed seat is firmer
than last year's saddle, it's fine for hours-on-end cruising.
There may be a bit of one-upmanship going on in the recent
development of anti-dive fork systems. The GS incorporates a Kayaba unit,
essentially identical to the one found on the Katana. It differs from a Showa
system (as used by the Yamaha Seca 750) in that the Suzuki's setup is
non-adjustable. The GS's anti-dive system is activated by brake fluid, which
moves a plunger to block the path of the fork oil, thus effectively stiffening
the compression damping dramatically when the brakes are applied. There is a
blow-off valve, which allows the suspension to work when you hit a bump while
braking. Tests by Suzuki indicate a fork equipped with their anti-dive system
compresses about an inch less than one without; however, the amount of
compression varies drastically depending on, among other things, the amount of
brake pressure applied, the speed of the motorcycle and whether or not a bump is
In general use, Suzuki's anti-dive system works, but its effect
is noticeable only if you look for it. We think most riders will like the
anti-dive because it lets the suspension work freely over holes and bumps. Our
experts prefer Honda's TRAC system, which activates through thecaliper(not by
brake fluid) and has a much more pronounced anti-dive effect, very much reducing
There is a definite side-effect to the Suzuki's
brake-fluid-activated system: front brake action has a somewhat mushy feel
through the lever. Regardless of the vagueness in feel at the lever, the brakes
are powerful and responsive. You can haul down the 1100 from any speed quickly
and surely, time after time and without fade. In normal use the brakes activate
progressively and with only a moderate amount of lever pressure.
Suzuki revamped the fork to accommodate the new center-axle
design. The GS-T and X models had four-way adjustable damping, which you varied
by turning knobs located on the fork bottoms. The key here is that the
leading-axle design allowed the rod to have a straight shot up from the bottom
of the slider.
That's not possible with a centrally located axle blocking the
rod's path, so Suzuki redesigned the setup to produce the same effect; the GS-Z
also has four-way adjustable rebound damping with the same rate of change. Now,
though, the fork oil routes through side channels, which you see on the outer
sides of the fork sliders as bulges. Inside the sliders, these channels direct
the oil through a new system of different-sized orifices, which you engage by
turning knobs on the sides of the sliders; that's still a simple, two-second
operation. Oil traveling through this bypass completes the transfer of fluid
through the damping circuit.
The suspension is otherwise unchanged. The fork has full
adjustability; it includes four-way spring preload positioning, infinitely
variable air pressure, four-way damping, and of course you may alter damping by
varying the amount and weight of oil. The shocks have four-way damping
adjustments and five preload positions.
That all adds up to a bike which offers excellent performance,
whatever your pleasure. For highway cruising, where we wanted a soft, supple
ride and quick suspension reaction to small and fre-
quent bumps, we chose the middle shock preload position and
either the number one or two damping setting. Up front eight psi air and the
number two damping setting worked well for 145-pound to 175-pound riders. The
stock 15-weight oil and the stock fork preload setting both work fine for
For hustling down our favorite back-roads, we bumped the shocks'
preload to full stiff, selected the number four damping setting, injected the
fork with 15 psi air and clicked the knurled adjusting knobs to number three.
The whole operation takes less than five minutes and really affects the
suspension's action. With its suspension on firm, the GS maintains its Ground Clearance, resists wobbling over high-speed rough ground and in general handles
in a precise, taut and controlled manner.
Along with the styling change came a switch to a round,
eight-inch quartz-halogen headlight. It throws a broader beam than the old GS's
square headlight did, and one about the same depth. It's very good for night
riding; it cuts a precise pattern and allows you to cruise at normal speeds
The question now is: Where does Suzuki go from here? We'd like
to see the odd percentage horsepower restored, though that might involve only
getting a stronger individual bike, and one that would shitt with the slick
precision of previous GS1100s; we'd like a more positive feel at the front brake
lever and less slop in the drive train; wider rims and more
rubber would benefit the GS1100 too. And that's about the end of
As things stand now, three out of three of the quickest and
fastest motorcycles Cycle has ever tested have had the big-inch 16-valve Suzuki
engine ('81 GS1100, '82 Katana, '82 GS1100); this
GS is the most comfortable, best-handling big street bike money
can buy; it's ergonomically successful, fitting a variety of rider shapes and
sizes as well as any motorcycle in memory; and its engine is tolerant, tractable
and docile. What more can you say? King. ®