When an existing motorcycle model is revamped, I hold my breath. Who will win in the corporate tug of war: The bean counters or the moto enthusiasts? How will they “improve” it? How much higher will that “new and improved” price be? For these reasons I was concerned when I heard that Suzuki was revamping its Bandit 1200S. This big, powerful four-cylinder roadburner has always been a favorite of ours, a sporty standard-style bike with fairing, and it’s sized for adults. There’s none of that forcing the rider into an extreme leaned-forward racing crouch, yet the bike offered plenty of performance. Instead, the Bandit 1200S (which was dropped after the 2005 model year) was a do-anything performance machine that could trace its roots back to the GS1100E of 1980, the bike that took the title of reigning Superbike away from Honda’s six-cylinder CBX. Through the ’80s Suzuki brought us the GSX-R1100 and its detuned cousin, the Katana 1100. On the latter you could go to the store or the beach, go haring around in the twisties or just load it with luggage and cross the country.
Suzuki’s first Bandit 1200 debuted in 1997 and was redesigned for 2001, so you had to figure it was about due for another makeover. We last tested a Bandit 1200S in our October 2005 issue when this air/oil-cooled four displaced 1,157cc and was carbureted. Such technology no longer passes muster with tightening emissions standards, so for its revamp Suzuki went to full liquid cooling, fuel injection, a catalytic converter and pulse air injection to keep the planet happy. To please the moto enthusiasts they changed out the five-speed transmission for a six-speed, and boosted displacement to 1,255cc. The latter was achieved by increasing the stroke from 59.0mm to 64.0mm while leaving the bore at 79.0mm. Compression was raised from 9.5 to 10.5:1, yet Suzuki recommends feeding it fuel with a minimum octane rating of only 87-regular gas.
One would expect a longer stroke to increase torque, and in this case one would be right. We ran the previous and the new version on the dynamometer over at Borla Performance when each was tested, and in 2005 our Bandit 1200S cranked out 103.7 horsepower and 74.0 lb-ft of torque. This new Bandit topped out at 78.0 lb-ft, but its 99.7 horsepower at 8,900 rpm was down 4 percent from its predecessor. While those numbers are interesting, they do not tell the full story. We’ll explore that later.
In remaking the Bandit, Suzuki started with an all-new liquid-cooled engine and fitted it with dual-throttle-valve fuel injection having four 36mm throttle bodies. The cam chain is now centrally located, and there’s a secondary balancer shaft to keep things running smoothly. Suzuki’s fuel injection includes an idle speed control system for improved cold starting, consistent idle control and reduced emissions. Our bike always started immediately and ran cleanly.
The cylinder head is also new, featuring dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. To enhance flow the ports are new, and the 27mm intake valves and 31mm exhaust valves are now set at a narrow 16-degree angle. The oil cooler is now liquid cooled, and the hydraulic clutch with its coil springs is also new. Power reaches the rear wheel through a #530 drive chain; the toolkit includes everything needed to keep the chain in adjustment.
Like its predecessors, the Bandit 1250S offers a fairly upright seating position with a wide, cushy seat and minimal fairing. Our only complaint is that the grips are positioned relatively high on a narrow handlebar, and at an angle that turns them in slightly, which I found a little awkward at first. The tube-steel handlebar should be easy to swap for one having whatever bend you prefer, of course. The pegs are just right for my 6-foot frame, and the seat’s step will not likely prove confining unless you’re of such height that you happen to play in the NBA.
Of course, getting on the throttle hard may stretch your arms to the point that basketball soon becomes your sport. Let out the clutch and power is available immediately as the bike whisks you away; our dyno test confirmed that with its flat torque curve the new Bandit is already generating 64.5 lb-ft of torque at just 1,800 rpm, and from 2,700 rpm there’s more than 70 lb-ft available on up to its peak of 78.0 at 6,000 rpm, at which point it’s already spinning out 89.1 horsepower. Acceleration is sprightly and smooth, right up to the bike’s 9,500-rpm redline, with no major powerband “hit.” The old Bandit 1200S did not reach 64 lb-ft of torque till around 3,000 rpm, or 70 lb-ft till 3,400. And as you know, while horsepower may be the Angelina Jolie looking pretty up there on the charts, torque is the Larry the Cable Guy with his crack showing doing the heavy lifting down in the engine room and yelling “Git-R-Done!” Rideability in the lower rpm ranges comes from torque.
The engine is strong, yet smooth, thanks in part to the secondary balancer shaft. There is some minor buzz in the grips, but much less than previously and never enough to numb the hands. Clutch pull is moderate, and the six-speed shifts with ease and precision.
The wind hit me midchest while I was seated upright behind that low fairing, which is sufficient to relieve the windblast but far from full protection. With more wind on the helmet the ride becomes noisier and you’ll likely want earplugs. The Bandit 1250S is a big motorcycle with a standard seat height of 31.1 inches. If that’s not enough, your dealer can show you how to raise it an additional 0.8 of an inch by switching the position of the rubber blocks on the seat’s underside. It’s also going to get pretty chilly in the pilot’s seat on a cold day, so you may wish to consider adding accessory heated grips and wearing a heated torso garment.
Out on the road the Bandit seems to shed pounds, and with a wheelbase of 58.3 inches and rake/trail figures of 25.2 degrees/4.1 inches it steers very quickly. It’s shod with those wonderful Dunlop Sportmax radial tires (a 120/70-ZR17 front and 180/55-ZR17 rear) that are a major factor in why it leans so quickly and easily into turns, and is so stable and predictable. This is a low-effort motorcycle, an easy joy to ride in a sporting manner.
The stout 43mm fork offers spring preload adjustment only, while the rear single shock provides both preload and four-way adjustable rebound damping. As it came from the factory the suspension did not impress, but when dialed in its action became more controllable and acceptable while stopping short of plushness. It kicks back on abrupt bumps, but is otherwise quite satisfactory.
Braking action on the ABS model is superb, though with some noticeable feedback in terms of pumping at the brake lever and pedal. Up front the Bandit features dual floating discs with four-piston calipers, while the rear disc is embraced by a single-piston caliper. There’s a bit more fork dive under heavy braking than we’d like, but that can be forgiven for its other attributes.
Our bike was equipped with the optional anti-lock braking system (ABS), a mere $500 option on the Suzuki that will cost you double or more on some other brands. While the pulsing feedback through the brake pedal and lever may put it a generation back in ease of use compared with BMW’s system, for example, it’s still certainly worth having.
Speaking of price, one of the most amazing aspects of the base-model Bandit 1250S is that its MSRP is a mere $8,299, or $8,799 with ABS. Granted, it’s not a super bargain like its predecessor ($7,399 without ABS), but it’s still a great value. How does a big 1,255cc roadburner four sell for just 88 big ones when the Bandit shares the marketplace with such bikes as the 599cc Kawasaki ZX-6R ($8,999), Ducati’s 803cc S2R800 ($8,995) and the 998cc Honda CBR1000RR ($11,499)? First, the other models mentioned are much more closely focused sportbikes that make greater power per displacement and have higher quality frames and suspensions. By comparison the Bandit is a sport tourer with a low-tech tube-steel frame (which now has larger-diameter tubing and is a claimed 10 percent stronger) and a more base-level suspension system; it weighs more and makes less power-as if it needed to apologize for 100 rear-wheel horsepower. Again, the Bandit has a very wide torque spread, which is what you want in a sport tourer.
A more direct comparison may be Yamaha’s FZ1, which is $9,199 this year. We tested it in 2006 when it received a major makeover, and found it a much more narrowly focused sporty bike. It cranks out 131 horsepower (much of it near its 11,500-rpm redline) but just 68 lb-ft of torque, and is not nearly as sport-touring oriented as the Bandit.
If you happen to own a Bandit 1200S, please note that the new 1250S offers an improved suspension, much better brakes and is a much lighter handler than its predecessor, despite the wheelbase having been increased by 2 inches to 58.3 inches. All this for about $900 more sounds like a bargain.
The steel 5.0-gallon tank can accept a magnetic tankbag, and our test bike averaged 40.5 miles per gallon while being ridden aggressively. For convenience there are bungee hooks below the rear of the seat, and plenty of places to hook bungees down by the passenger pegs. Pull off the easily removable seat to find a pair of helmet holders and a fairly complete toolkit. The centerstand is included (it’s becoming an endangered convenience these days).
The big digital speedometer is easy to read, but notably optimistic-either that or the daytime traffic on the Ventura freeway is now cruising at 80-85 mph right along with me. This year you can have the Bandit 1250S in any color you like-so long as it’s metallic blue.
The Bandit 1250S offers a very smooth, powerful 100-horsepower engine with easy shifting, a comfortable seating position and the ability to carry luggage and a passenger; Suzuki tells us that hard bags will be available. And while you may not be able to keep the fast guys on their 600cc sportbikes in sight in the twisties, you’ll likely catch them later in the day as they stand beside the road stretching, shaking their wrists and doing neck rotations. Everyone wants good value for the money, and if you seek a good, honest, adult-sized machine that doesn’t skimp on any of the important stuff while delivering comfort, power, handling and braking in spades, this bargain big guy should certainly be on your short list of major candidates.