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.
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.
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
Inexpensive to buy, simple to work on, cheap to modify. A rocket for riders without deep pockets.
Old-school chassis and running gear yield similar handling and braking. Engine vibration can be bothersome.
Final drive: O-ring chain
Wet Weight: 485 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 87 PON min./5.0-5.2 gals.
Seat Height: 31.0 in.