Re-Cycling: 1997-2005 Suzuki Bandit 1200

Suzuki Bandit
For 2001 the revamped Bandit 1200S got an all-new frame for sharper handling and the seat height was lowered nearly
two inches.

If you’re put off by modern technology like throttle-by-wire, fuel injection and trick electronic engine management systems, but still want gobs of horsepower available at the twitch of a throttle, you need to look back a few years to find what you’re looking for. To around, say, 1997, when Suzuki took a GSX-R1100 engine off the shelf, retuned it, bored it out to 1,157cc and stuffed it into a middleweight-sized chassis. Thus was born the Bandit 1200, a bike that packs a punch like a surly silverback gorilla and reminds you there was a time when software wouldn’t save you from yourself.

The B12’s air/oil-cooled four is a model of old-school simplicity, with four carburetors, screw-and-locknut valves that any halfway-competent home mechanic can adjust and few other critical maintenance requirements except changing oil, a job best done on time to prevent sludge clogging the cam-chain tensioner. The four-into-one exhaust system is a model of civility, but is also largely responsible for holding back the Bandit’s wild side—a freer-flowing system unleashes significant horsepower and torque, although possibly at the expense of the goodwill of your neighbors.

Suzuki Bandit
The Bandit was the Rider cover bike in February 1997.

The tubular-steel chassis is remarkable for its lack of remarkableness, and modifications to the damper-rod fork and price-point shock are necessary to bring out the Bandit’s best back-road behavior. The brakes, too, could stand an upgrade; braided stainless-steel lines and aftermarket pads are the minimum you need to effectively rein in the engine’s ferocity. In its day the B12’s hunger for rear tires was legendary, but modern dual-compound tires should curb its appetite.

From its debut in 1997 to its curtain call in 2005, the Bandit 1200 went through few changes aside from the seat and bodywork; later models got fairing-mounted mirrors and dual headlights. Those who know the model well, however, suggest giving 2001-02 models a close inspection for excessive oil consumption, allegedly caused by a run of pistons with incorrectly sized holes behind the oil-control rings. Also look out for leaky fuel petcocks that allow gas to dribble into the cylinders, past the piston rings and into the oil—have a sniff at the crankcase filler hole for a whiff of gasoline.

Suzuki Bandit
The Bandit 1200 in Marble Canyon, Arizona, on a two-up trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Los Angeles, California. It proved to be a capable touring bike—though we could have used a top trunk!

The Bandit quickly became one of the darlings of the street-fighter scene, making stock ones hard to find. Obviously, pass on those with cheap, loud exhausts, scarred frame protectors or missing plastic. A slip-on, a jet kit and a timing-advance kit are about all that’s needed to wake up the engine, and along with receipts or records of regular oil changes and valve adjustments are points in a bike’s favor.

You can score a decent B12 for $2,000-$3,500, the higher price worth it only for a stock, unmolested original. Performance mods add or subtract from the asking price, depending on whether they’re from reputable sources and were installed by a dealer or a competent mechanic. But even in stock trim the Bandit 1200 is a formidable bike, a cost-effective hot rod that comes with the potential to commute, sport tour or go totally snake-eyed with only a few modifications.

1997-2005 Suzuki Bandit 1200

PROS
Inexpensive to buy, simple to work on, cheap to modify. A rocket for riders without deep pockets.

CONS
Old-school chassis and running gear yield similar handling and braking. Engine vibration can be bothersome.

Displacement: 1,157cc
Final drive: O-ring chain
Wet Weight: 485 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 87 PON min./5.0-5.2 gals.
Seat Height: 31.0 in.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I wanted a Bandit for years … even after I gave up riding in college. Fast forward two plus decades and I came across a near-perfect condition 1997 Bandit 1200s. I looked at it out of state and the price was good but not great. Fast forward a year, and a fella about 20 miles from me bought the bike and then decided he didn’t want it because it was too powerful and too tall for him. He knew I loved it when I saw it and as the riding year was coming to an end (late 2019), he offered it to me for a pittance. The bike had about 6,000 miles on it when I bought it and had one small blemish on a side panel. The rest is stock. The bike fires instantly and runs like heck. I rode it about 5 miles and already had it up over 120mph on back roads. It’s that comfortable and easy to ride. I’ve had a lot of powerful bikes and several faster than this one but the relative light weight, powerful motor and dirt-cheap price conspire to make it my second favorite bike of any that I’ve owned. I know there are better bikes that are faster, but the value quotient on the Bandit is off the charts. It’s amazing to me how effective the tiny fairing is for my 6′ body. I’ve had 3 Concours and an FJR and they had a noisier air pocket than my mighty Bandit. The thing is a gem and I’m lucky to have come across the bike and even more fortunate to get it as inexpensively as I did.

  2. I have a 2002 and my lovely wife has a 2007 1250. We love our Bandits. I have a Hayabusa shock on the rear and Racetech fork springs. Pod filters and jetted. Danmoto exhaust. It runs pretty good.

  3. I loved the Bandit when it came out – at the time I was on an old GS1100G. After a few years of no motorcycle, I started looking for an old Bandit in 2012 – something modern in my mind, but not too far removed from the GS750/850/1100 E & G I’d had previously – when I ran across a first-generation FZ1. I’d ridden a couple bandits, like them – but the FZ1 was a whole level better. S O L D!!
    (still have it, 8 years later)

  4. I tuned my 2003 with an opened air box, Hole shot exhaust. Added a taller Zero Gravity windscreen, bar risers, engine guard with highway pegs, Top Sellerie heated seat and a full set of Givi luggage. The absolute best sport tourer for the buck anywhere!

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