The Suzuki GSX-R1400, the Big Boy

I was trying to think of a time when I felt less at ease on a motorcycle. But there weren't any. Normally not particularly good bikes strike you as just that, a little bit bland, a tad dull, uninspiring, unremarkable. But rarely do they feel like they're going to turn round and actually strike you.

But to be brutally honest, the only thing I can liken my first apex aboard the Suzuki GSX-R1400 to is trying to row with a pair of floorboards. It just resisted from every angle.

I had only been aboard a mere ten minutes longer when I met up with the appointed photographer, and I must admit, I couldn't belief the bend they'd been using for the test photography. Not just because it was a fairly fast second gear cornering, but because the surface looked more like a mogul field than a road and I could only cringe at the prospect of having to live up to the fast bikes reputation on a bike with a scaffold pole welded diagonally through the wheels and suspension that had thus far made a bouncy castle feel stable.
It wasn't looking good. I couldn't even begin to imagine the amount of sapling damage this bike was capable of should it leave the road. But even I wasn't quite prepared for just how outta shape the Suzuki GSX-R1400 ended up on that first run. To honest, there was so much movement front, rear and middle that I couldn't tell you in a million years what was doing what. All I know was that the tires were tracking the road like a front wheel doughnut, and as we got to full lean, which wasn't very far on that initial sortie, I had the distinct impression of staring straight into eyes of a foal, with eyes equally as started.

God knows what downhill was going to feel like. But do you know what? Downhill felt slightly better, and though the front was still gripping and then sliding for all it was worth, it was kinda manageable, and even first time round we managed a respectable pace and angle.

Next time up the hill I came in wide and missed some of the bumps, allowing more lean, and suddenly the 1400cc began to work a little better. It still wasn't some miracle metamorphosis, but at least it proved it steered, giving the chance. Perfecting this art a few more times, looking for the smooth piste, and then laying the big beast over guess what happened next?

I got pulled over. The police was more interested in the bike then me, but also asked me "what I think I was doing, going around that corner at that speed, multiple times" I told the police officer that I was trying to learn to do cornering more smooth. "Well I'm a motorcyclist myself and you looked completely out of control..!" Amazing, an observant Thai police agent, driving a Honda Phantom for god sacks is telling me I cannot drive..

Do you know what the greatest irony of bikes such as the Suzuki GSX-R1400 or the Yamaha XJR-1300 or even the slightly more advanced X11 is? They patently don't work ridding in the idiom of which they were designed, ie, as retro. Because what the manufacturers have done in their infinite wisdom is combine the most contradictory elements of both; the old fashion lack of weight over the front wheel, and high all up weight, mixed with the modern ingredients of lumpy ladles of power and big fat tires.

The idea, as it's so often articulated, is to give more torque and more grip. But in fact what happens instead is that unless you hang off the inside and weight the front, none of these bikes is ever going to steer fast enough, nor is the arse, with that big fat cover on it, ever going to follow it round. Sure, the originals had hinges in the middle and even cruder suspension, but they also had skinny wheels which allowed them to steer and turn quicker and footpegs that touched down way before the limits of the tires.

What's the point of going out of your way to enhance the grip at the rear when the weight distribution and rake produce so little security from the front? A 190 rear section tire allied to a 1510 wheelbase and 228kilo to haul just doesn't add up to me, however allegedly variable the front suspension might be.

So the more I rode the Suzuki GSX-R1400 less like a retro, the more it worked, and in fact, after a while, in controlled conditions, on somebody else's motorcycle, I began to quite enjoy this wrestling match. But if you've traded up a Suzuki Bandit 1200, the handling is not going to impress you. I mean, a lone drum brake would be enough to get these stanchions tied in knots, so you can imagine how lyrical it can all get with a grand total of a dozen pots acting on that front 17 inch rim.

On the other hand the Suzuki GSX-R1400 is a good bike to tour the countryside and if you going far the 1400 is a pleasant bike to drive. Redbaron in Bangkok has a Suzuki GSX-1400 for sale at 270,000 Baht (the bike is in blinking perfect condition and the papers are ok as you can expect from Redbaron)
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