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Suzuki GSX 550ES
MCW predicted last year that Suzuki would have to look to their laurels to retain their lead in the 550 class—and, my god, they have. The new GSX550ES is completely new in almost all departments and could easily put Suzuki back at the top of the tree.
Heavy competition in the 550 class comes in the form of Honda's CBX550 and Kawasaki's GPz, both outshone the old 550 last year, but the tables have now been turned and Suzuki could once again have the best selling 550 as they did in 1981.
The 550 is every boy racer's dream. It fairly rocketed to its top speed of 123.44mph and recorded a mean two-way prone speed of 121.94mph. The mean top speed was slightly higher than all the other 550s but its top one way speed was down on both the Kawasaki and the Honda. This may seem disappointing but it blew the opposition into the weeds on the quarter-mile strip, returning times that were considered respectable for a mega bike of only a few years ago the Kawasaki ZR1000, Suzy GS750 and Honda CB750 couldn't match the 550's 12.63sec/104.94mph best quarter-mile dash.
The 550 powers its way to around 6000rpm where it hits a slight flat spot, from there to about 7000rpm it picks up again zooming up to the red line at 10,000rpm. The flat spot isn't that bad, it just lacks quick acceleration at around the 6000 mark.
Taking off from rest, the 550's power comes in with a bang, it takes a while to get used to the clutch and it is possible to stall it before becoming really accustomed. This is mainly due to the light flywheels.
Seventy miles an hour is reached while revving at just under 6000rpm with the minimum of vibration, and 100mph comes in at 8000rpm 2000rpm under the red line.
The small half fairing does a good job in deflecting the wind and prevents your neck taking the full blast during high speed runs. The smoked screen only just comes above the instruments, but the air flow is directed onto (in my case) the upper part of my helmet, I'm 5ft 10in tall, so a slightly smaller person would find the fairing even more effective.
The two easily removable pull off lower parts of the fairing reveal the upper engine, this is the only way you can remove the spark plugs.
The 572cc engine is compact and completely new, being only 20in across. Over the two-week, 1,500-mile period, it used one pint of oil, although it must be said that most of those miles were completed at high speed.
Two twin choke Mikunis are used this year instead of the usual four, the reason given is to save weight, and the space saved is used for the dial-a-ride rear suspension knob. The Mikuni carbs have two barrels each which are oval shaped but share one C-V chamber.
This is obviously going to make setting up the carbs easier for the home mechanic.
One thing which must be commented on is the engine's poor warm-up performance. Quite a few miles had to be covered before the engine reached working temperature—and that during the hottest July on record. It makes you wonder what the performance would be like in the winter if only short runs were the norm.
The black chrome four-into-two exhaust was cut off short and gave a quiet, muffled sound. The silencers twisted out and came underneath the footrests and generated a fierce heat. Nice in the cold winter months but not so clever when the air temperature is touching 90 degrees.
Box section tubing is new for this year, the only other road machine to use this is the Honda VF750. Although square section is the strongest form of tubing when applied to a motor cycle frame it is of doubtful advantage.
Underneath the seat, the top tubes are of the normal round variety making the visible square ones just a point of fashion.
The tubes are made of steel, although they give the impression of aluminium, being painted silver.
The gearbox ratios have been changed slightly from the old 550 but as before, are spaced well. Initially I did have a slight problem changing from second into first, it baulked when at a standstill, it didn't even fancy going into neutral. After a few hundred miles, though, it settled down and was fine with just the occasional clunk.
The outrageous styling of the Katana 1100 has been brought down to the 550 in a softened version that should send the heads of every racer-at-heart spinning. And although the styling is such, I was pleasantly surprised to find it could cope easily with two-up touring. The near five-gallon petrol tank, comfortable riding position and ton-plus cruising add up to a neat dual purpose machine.
Realistically, there's no reason why anyone would need anything larger than one of the present crop of 550s, they combine power, handling, lightweight manoeuvrability and with the Suzuki, lower insurance costs.
If a new GSX550 is bought, combined with Suzuki's low cost Crusader insurance for, say a 25-year-old living out of London with two or more tears no claims, the yearly third party premium could be around £45 or £125 fully comp.
Coupled to the 550's speed and acceleration is the best handling and suspension I've come across on a middleweight. The 16in front wheel feels light and is claimed to improve the speed at which you can flick through bends. This is to some extent true, but I was apprehensive about how it would feel on fast sweeping bends as it was so light and manageable in town—I needn't have worried, it was great.
The credit can't all go to the front wheel though, Suzuki have really got the steering geometry spot on and this coupled with the 16 incher that Suzuki claimed at the launch would make every other bike look out of date, adds up to precise cornering at any speed.
At the rear end is Suzuki's proven Full Floater suspension. A single monoshock as on other models (except last year's 550) but with the difference of dial-a-ride adjustment. No more getting the C spanner out (or hammer and chisel in some cases), just twist the knob which hydraulically adjusts the pre-load, it couldn't be simpler.
I found the best position to be about 2i for myself out of the five positions available, adjusting it up made the suspension firmer and down, softer.
The 550's bigger brother, the 750ES, also has dial-a-ride adjustment for damping which the 550 does not have, a critical rider may feel the rear end needs this but in my opinion it is unnecessary as the single shock damps well-maybe for next year, though?
Biisteringly quick in acceleration and over 120mph on tap, you would be forgiven for thinking that fuel consumption would drop as a result. But out of a total of 13 fuel stops, 47.1 mpg emerged as an overall fuel consumption figure. 50.6mpg being the best and 45.0mpg the worst, except for when we were speed testing, that brought it down to 32.5, low but one of the best MIRA figures we have had for a fast machine.
The good fuel consumption figure at high speed is partly due to the TSCC or Twin Swirl Combustion Chamber which provides more efficient combustion, coupled to the light weight of the new, more compact, engine, new frame and overall weight of 469lb.
The fuel tank range is very important and here the large 4.8gals comes into its own without looking big and ugly. More than 160 miles can be ridden before reserve is needed, with still another 40-odd miles left.
The fuel tap was small and stiff and was hidden behind a flap on the top of the left-hand panel. Looks nice, but awkWard to open when you have run out of petrol at 70mph while overtaking a coach down a country lane—it was no problem after it fell off though!
Bakes both front and back are very effective, the rear disc is Jin smaller than the front two. All discs are slotted to repel water in the wet and aid heat loss.
The front brake lever having had most of the slack taken up, came into operation right from the first touch. And for the first time, Suzuki are using opposed piston calipers which means a separate piston is working from each side of the disc, effectively increasing the stopping ability.
The anti-dive is linked to the front brake, but is no better than last year's which was near useless. Maybe it would be better if it had some kind of adjustment.
When braking hard into corners, the front end tends to judder as if the steering head bearings are loose, but it is really the road bumps transmitted up to the handlebars. There is an override valve in the forks which cuts out the anti-dive for large bumps, but not for small ones.
The riding position gives the impression of sitting in the bike rather than on it, the front half of the seat is lower than the rear and your knees fit into cut-outs in the tank and are shielded from the wind by the lower half of the fairing.
Hands fit neatly on to the new shape bars which are non-adjustable and quite high, much better than a lot of Suzuki bars which tend to be too wide. Feet don't have to be stretched back on to the footrests but fit nicely and are within easy reach of the alloy-finished brake and gear lever.
Overall the riding position was good with all instruments and levers easily found. Pillion position is also good but the rear seat did slope down making the pillion slide into the rider. The grab rail has been improved with two side rails as well as the back one.
Both lights fitted flush, the back one into the rear tail fin and the front into the fairing. The headlight's a capable 60/55W power beam, but in the case of a blown bulb, removal is a long job because of the fairing.
The 11 -piece toolkit was of reasonable quality and was housed together with a smallish padlock (opened by a magnetic key) in the tail fin behind a plastic door. Two helmet locks are fitted, one to each side of the seat.
Overall the Suzuki is a good sports bike combining good looks, performance, near perfect handling and suspension, frugal fuel consumption and the ability to be used as a touring machine without any alteration.
Source Road test by Paul Carroll 1983