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"Fast Bikes", May 1, 2013

THE VERDICT

PIC: JONNY GAWLER

While Ducati, KTM, Triumph and BMW have all excelled in bringing something new to the game with fresh initiative, the Japanese bikes have been left to rot. With a complete lack of effort (down to a complete lack of money), the 2013 bikes have been dogged by the K5 in this test. Eight years is a bloody long time, and the progression just doesn’t show a tangible correlation. Even the choice of rubber is mild-mannered. After walking round and doing the habitual tyre check, it soon became apparent that all these bikes come on shoddy OE rubber chosen by a Japanese bloke who has a safety-conscious OCD. The new GSX-R may be an exception, reveling in more modern rubber with its Bridgestone S20s. Ultimately, this means compromised performance on the track and the need for £250 spent on new boots.

The GSX-R lacks any meaningful USPs that its rivals brag, and the next generation needs an entire overhaul. The lack of Gixer sales is partly due to the economy being screwed which, as a knock-on effect, means used bikes are way more attractive – especially when the bike in question hasn’t changed much in the past eight years and looks very similar.

At the same time as the R6 Cup was taking off, superstock racing might as well been tagged the GSX-R Cup, with the vast majority of grids laden with K5s. Although the used market is ripe, finding a re-converted race bike with a straight frame is essential if you’re tempted.

I remember John Reynolds asking why you’d want a bike that moves around and isn’t easy to ride? That’s all very well, but you want a 1000cc sportsbike to scare you into submission, demand respect, and not whisper sweet nothings into your ear. The Gixer is a perfect all-rounder and, when ridden in isolation, it’s hard to believe there are three superior bikes.

Year after year, the R1 gets better and better. We all jumped off the Yamaha with big smiles courtesy of that engine. When a chassis that can handle 180bhp and doesn’t weigh as much as a Volvo estate is introduced, the R1 will be king again. But it looks as though the P3 concept (Yamaha’s attempt at a triple-cylinder engine) is more likely to make a mass-produced appearance beforehand.

Your 21st birthday usually means going hard and being found in a gutter at 5am, but the Honda is far more restrained. We can’t help but wonder a) how good the ’Blade could be if Honda injected some serious HRC steroids and weren’t so reserved in its company ethos, and b) what the new V4 will be like.

ABS, however you market it, is just ABS, and this isn’t enough to keep the Honda tailing the BMW – or indeed the ZX-10R. The HESD damper is a fine bit of overlooked kit though, electronically ramping up the stiffness as the bike gets quicker, but stability doesn’t supply thrills or sell bikes. Let’s hope next year’s V4 has enough panache to suck a Panigale into its ram-air intakes, because Honda and the mite of HRC genuinely could make a block rocking bike.

The Kawasaki demands saddle time to coax you into the purchase. Nothing is initially conventional or accommodating. And let’s face it – it’s properly ugly in standard trim. That said, it’s a clear winner in almost every segment of analysis, and a clear winner in Fast Bikes testing. It’s the fastest, most powerful, sharpest handling techno tool in the Japanese arsenal.

Then again, there’s always a K5... Back-to-back rides on the GSX-Rs, new and old, initially reveal how much the engine has progressed. The 2013 internals rev lighter and faster, spinning quicker and chewing gears with more angst, yet little separates them coming off a turn when upright. The K5 struggles with mechanical grip during big lean angles, but this is only an issue on the edge.

Taller gearing means less shifting, although the angrier delivery requires more thought on where the needle needs to be. The harder you work the older Suzuki, the more rewarding the outcome, but its involvement and added razzmatazz make the K5 more exciting to ride than some of the newer bikes. Viva Suzuki!

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