I’ve put about 3 hours on the bike today, mainly in city and highway riding, although I did take a brief spin through some mountain twisties, because I couldn’t end my first ride without a little taste of the curvy stuff. Having done so, I’ve got a couple of initial observations about the bike.
Before I do so, let’s be sure to be clear about what we’re talking about here. This is not a high-end motorcycle. You can tell that just by the price, which is around $6,199. while that price compares favorably with close analogs like the $7,499 MSRP of the 2009 Suzuki SV650SF (which isn’t actually made any more) or the $7,199 Kawasaki Ninja 600R, the feature set of the bike is also commensurately reduced, as well.
It’s a budget bike, designed for people who don’t want to spend–or don’t have–the extra $1000 or so to buy a more sophisticated alternative. It’s a 90% solution for a V-Twin sportbike, so let’s measure it against that design standard.
Don’t get me wrong, if Suzuki’s press fleet had any more SV650SFs available, I would have tested the two bikes side by side. Maybe that would be unfair, but it’s what I originally wanted to do. Since that’s not gonna happen right now, let’s look at the GT650R for what it is.
Visually, it seems like a previous-generation sportbike to me. Simple instrument cluster. Fatter tail section than modern bikes. No LED lights or turn signals. Bulbous fuel tank. The most distinctive visual element is the twin-spar steel frame.
The instrument cluster really looks like a 90s-era set of gauges. There’s an analog tach, and simple LED display that shows a large digital speedometer readout, engine temp, and fuel gauge. There’s a odometer with a trip meter and reset buttons to the right. Above are simple and obvious function lights. No bells and whistles, but they are relatively easy to read.
The overall fit and finish is acceptable, though not completely to the standard of the Japanese marks, while the solid red paint job is functional, rather than exciting.
The riding position is committed, with the clip-on handlebars mounted below the top of the triple tree, and the footpegs set fairly high. After a couple of hours in the saddle, it was getting pretty cramped for my 32″ inseam, and my wrists were a bit sore. Sportbike ergos. They are what they are.
On the other hand, the seat is really decent, being wide enough to support my bum well, and with some room to move back to front a bit.
Starting it up rewards you with a pretty decent V-Twin growl. I mean, it’s immediately obvious what this engine is. It sounds nothing like the hum of the small-displacement I-4s. It was also a bit louder than I expected, and it’s got a rumbly, rather than bubble exhaust note, which I like.
The other thing I liked was that getting it rolling doesn’t require you to pump up the revs like a small I-4. A little twist of the throttle, and it’s ready to pull from the get-go, which is also a pleasant V-Twin characteristic. It has a fairly high redline at 10,000RPM, so the power at 3,00o-5,000 RPM is relatively sedate in 1st gear, but it’s certainly there. Of course, the way they’ve done this is to make 1st a very short gear. It pulls well from a stop, but it gets to the redline fast, requiring a quick shift into second.
Second and third gears, on the other hand, are very tall, and you can spend a lot of time there. I took a run up and down the mountain from Escondido to Lake Wohlford and back, and kept it in second for the whole run through the twisty bits…but we’ll talk about that in a minute.
The suspension is set fairly stiff, which is good for twisties, but was less good on the bumpy I-5 South, where it transmitted more road feel than I wanted to my butt at 85MPH. Having said that, at street speeds, did a surprisingly good job of absorbing the cracks and small potholes. The 41mm front fork is adjustable for compression and rebound damping, while the mono rear shock has adjustable preload. I was satisfied enough with it not to consider changing it after I got home.
Once the engine gets above 6,000 RPM, the vibrations start to kick in. It gets pretty vibey under your butt, and the mirrors begin losing clarity pretty fast. On the other hand, the rubber footpegs and the handlebars do a decent job of isolating you from the vibes. Not once did I get any numbness in my hands during a 1.5 hour trip home. The vibration is going to be a point of contention for some, but not for me. I like V-Twins, and some vibration seems to me to be part of the character of that engine. Yes, the Ducati twins are much smoother. They also cost three times as much.
Handling on the GT650R requires a lot of rider input. I think it’s the OEM tires, because the 25° rake and relatively short 56.5″ wheelbase should make the handling a bit sharper than it is. The handling is, in fact, rock solid, it’s just not telepathic. You have to tell it what to do, and it complies happily, but you really have to tell it what to do. There’s no simple “look & go” like a GSX-R. On the other hand, it’s not twitchy, like the CBR. It just requires that you apply the appropriate amount of countersteer to make the magic happen. It’s been solid and planted at every lean angle I’ve put it through so far, though I’ve had to keep pushing the bars to keep a tight line. At low speeds, the GT has a much wider turning radius than it should, with a full-lock U-Turn taking up the whole street, as much as my FJR.
The engine’s power is very manageable for street riding, and not intimidating at all, though it can be deceptively fast if you flog it. Again 2nd or 3rd gear is suitable for almost any street riding speed. At highway speed, 6th gear at an indicated 80MPH shows 5,000RPM on the tach, the vibes are very muted, and the rear-view mirrors are surprisingly clear. A kick down to fifth is suitable for quick passing. Air management with the stock shield at highway speeds could be better, and I experienced buffeting around the head while traveling down the I-5 at 85MPH. But, then again, you can say that about a lot more expensive sportbikes, too.
The transmission is solid and dependable, if a bit clunky, but there were no false neutrals. Clutch pull was bit heavy, though, making surface street riding a bit tiring to the left hand. Maybe my AE model FJR has spoiled me.
Braking is OK, with two fingers on the front brake sufficing for most things. The braking is progressive, although it takes an excessive amount of finger travel on the front brake lever. The rear brake has decent feel, far better than the wooden feel of say, the rear brakes on a Buell.
So far, I’ve found a only a couple of things to complain about. There’s a lot of travel in the clutch lever, and it’s hard to find the friction point. It’s just really vague between no clutch and full clutch. While I didn’t have any false neutrals while shifting, once you put it in neutral, it really wants to stay in neutral. I haven’t yet found the magical combination of clutch, throttle, and foot pressing to get reliably out of neutral on the first try. Or the third, for that matter. Also, it’s not super-fast, but, OK, I’m a bit jaded, as I haven’t ridden a bike of less than 1000cc displacement for a couple of years, so we probably need to give it a pass on that. It weighs 474lbs wet, so all the supersport guys are gonna call it a porker, which probably explains why it’s a bit slow. But, again, I ride a 650lb FJR every day, so it seems marvelously light to me.
So, after my first day’s experience, do I like it? Yes, I do like it, considering what it is.
Here’s the thing: once you’ve spent a couple of years poncing about on 145+ HP bikes with $12K+ price tags, you get used to a certain level of power and amenities. So, going back to a basic 650cc intro sportbike–and a twin, at that–is a bit of a disappointment. You have to look beyond that.
The GT650R is a budget bike for beginners. It doesn’t have any weird spikes in the powerband to surprise you. It doesn’t pull your arms out of their sockets or frighten the bejeezus out of you give it a bit too much throttle. It doesn’t wander about the line in a curve, requiring a high level of finesse and technical skill. It’s got a pretty sedate power curve in town, but decent power for highway riding. It handles lean angles and rider input without complaint, and without going all squirrely on you. It’s not a great bike like a GSX-R, but it’s competent, and probably pretty exciting for a beginning rider.
No, it isn’t as pretty or sophisticated as a CBR or Ninja, but it also costs a bit more half of what a CBR600 costs, and $1,500 less than a base-model V-Strom. It’s a bike designed to give beginning riders a budget alternative to introductory sportbikes, and so far, it seems to me that it does that fairly well.