This saturday the weather was good for a ride, so I rode to a British Classic MC meeting in Eidfjord. The video description has the details about it, so check it out. Watch in 1080p.
This week I went to Turøy at 19:30 to spend some time at the amazing landscape under softer light. Of course at this time of the year the light is still very bright until 21:00, but much softer than in the afternoon. You can see a few shots below. And the video of ride around Sotra is already uploaded, watch in 1080p.
Today's weather was a bit lousy in the morning and early afternoon. When I had planned my route to photograph and left, a summer shower comes. Enemy clouds everywhere, so I hoped they would dissipate on my way to Sotra. I stopped at some gas station to eat and by the time I arrived at Viksøyna, they were gone. Riding around the fjord was enjoyable without rain.
So this is what we brought home today, click to enlarge:
Ok, guys. I have put quite some hours of work on this bike since the winter, but though it has been in use for quite some time, just now I have it more or less how I wanted. You can see a couple of pictures here, they are far from being inspirational, one of them is pretty mediocre but it is there just for the sake of showing you how it looks like with some light. It was taken at Kleppestø. The other one is at Arna Fjord during a sunset at around 22:15, it had more light than this, but I chose to underexpose a bit to have a bit more color on the sky.
The most obvious change is the paint of the fairing, which used to be the original black and purple that may have looked cool in the 90s, but today it sucked. I'm not saying this paint is beautiful, just less boring. The black and white seat covers are custom made and can be bought at ebay. The muffler was painted in 15 minutes with Biltema's high temperature black paint. The front turn light lenses were painted with a dark transparent paint, proper for this. The rear turn lights already have dark lenses, but you can't see from the pictures. This taller windshield is aftermarket and can be found at ebay. I also replaced the mirrors, they look like the original but are aftermarket/ebay. The tank cover is a Bagster, it takes 30 days to be made and was ordered by Arthur at Minde Motorsykkel. The tank cover was the last aesthetic change pending, the tank has original paint and is very glossy compared to the fairing, so the cover evens things up. It also takes the tank bag by Bagster, which is the purpose anyway because it is the bike I use to travel.
The other changes that you can't see is a K&N air filter, Wirth Federn progressive front springs and a new chain/sprocket with 43 teeth on the rear sprocket, which makes the bike much smoother. I try not to think about how much I paid for the bike and how much it cost me to do all these changes, because it was much more than what the bike is worth. Much more. But that's it, so far I enjoy it.
Ok, guys. One more real world review of stuff. But why review an old bike, or what could I possibly say about a GSX600F that wasn't yet said? Simple: it is a big change of style to me, who spent many, many thousands of kilometers on custom bikes. So I believe this review will be useful not only for those changing style, but also for those looking for a very affordable and dependable all-arounder. Keep in mind this is my opinion and you don't have to agree on subjective points.
As the Oracle once said, first let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. My GSX600F is year 1996 but from the rider's point of view it hasn't changed much from 1988 to 1997, they will ride the same way, which I believe is the same for the next generation, the Tea Pot, which was more a restyling than an overhaul. It is also a budget bike, Suzuki's entry-level for Sport-Touring, and as such it will be evaluated. It means that finish is not its strong point, it doesn't have the refinement of a RF600/900, Kawasaki ZZR or a Honda CBF/CBRF, which is easy to conclude if you compare the prices.
In Norway you will easily find GSX600F from various years ranging from 18k NOK to 24K, the more expensive ones being the 750cc and generally equipped with side/top bags. In the US I have seen bikes in very good shape for less than 2K USD. The reason for this is because Suzuki sold SO MANY of them, this bike reigned alone in the entry-level 600cc class until other manufacturers realized "hey, we need to do something", so they offered what the GSXF didn't have: refinement. It is a functional motorcycle, it got everything you need: a center-stand, brakes good enough to stop it, a frame capable of handling some speed and carrying some cargo, a comfortable riding position, large aftermarket for replacement parts (buying original is always expensive), and an engine that is almost free of maintenance except for oil/filter. We will discuss this last.
However, a budget bike will have its downs. In the GSXF case it is the quality of stuff used, such as a cheap and aging fairing, one headlamp when most bikes offered two, cheap plastic panel/speedometer, useless mirrors and what really affects the riding: a mediocre front suspension. I can live with most of these issues, but the suspension is serious. The forks have 2 steel rods and 2 very cheap springs, that are compressed so easily that it limits how fast you can ride. I went to a 300km ride with Jan Arthur and not only I couldn't keep the pace at all when cornering, but in the end my arms were aching so much and stiff that I immediately asked him to order a pair of progressive springs, so he installed the German Wirth-Federn full-sized progressive and the change is so dramatic that even in very slow maneuvres it is much better. Riding faster is also safer and it changes directions now much quicker. Progressive springs aren't very cheap if you compare to the price of the bike, but it was by far the best money I put on it. So, if you decide to buy a GSXF, upgrade the front suspension as soon as possible.
As for the mirrors, you can't really see anything other than your arms or when the car is already beside you, so buy those small round mirrors that glue on the outter part of the main mirror, and you will be fine. Stopping power is no problem, 2 disks with 2 Nissin piston calipers on the front and 1 disk with 2 pistons on the rear. Rear suspension is ok for 1 rider with some luggage riding at civilized speeds. For anything else, upgrade the rear shock absorber. The handlebars are mounted on top of the forks and are not so forward as a sport bike, but you still need to lean forward to avoid pressing the hands against the bars, or your wrists will complain. It takes time to get used to it, but once you understand this is how sport-tourers should be ridden, all becomes easier. Footpegs are ok, the cheap rubber will be worn when you buy it but they do the job. Remember, this is a real world bike, as I once saw in Men and Motors.
To this date I still don't know how the original windscreen looks like, because I saw so many different pieces, and mine came with a short screen, didn't stop any wind or rain coming on me, but once I installed a taller touring windscreen it was much better. Tires, you will most likely not have the original ones on the bike when you buy it, so you just inspect and change if you need. Don't neglect new tires even on a cheap bike, it is your bike's shoes, you have to change them in expensive bikes anyway. Chain/sprocket and brake pads too. Do a visual inspection to see if the bike needs these replaced and negotiate the price accordingly, as with any other bike. The seat is large and comfortable, and I come from a very roomy FXST seat, this cheap GSXF leaves nothing to be desired against a Softail seat.
When it comes to handling, it will do very good if you think of how much you paid and how much more others paid for a marginally better handling motorcycle. The GSXF uses double cradle steel tube frame, so it will handle very well in cruise speeds with some load. Here in the Norwegian twisties this little 600cc sweeps very swiftly and safely after the suspension upgrade, and surely in more skilled hands it will do much better. When it comes to track days, I can only repeat what others said, since I am no reference in fast riding: fast cornering at, say, 180km/h or more, the rider will need a stiffer frame. In this regard, the ZZR and CBF/CBRF are reported to be better. If you want a more direct competitor against these, look for the Suzuki RF600 and RF900. The VFR800 should not be in the equation because it is in a totally different price point and is a far more technologically advanced bike.
Maintenance-wise, the GSX600F is a very mechanical bike, so if you have the tools and knowledge you should be able to fix anything. My knowledge is limited to changing aesthetic things, turn lights, oil change, but for serious stuff like carburetor tuning, I just take it to Minde Motorsykkel and Arthur solves it. However, this bike doesn't give me maintenance other than regular changes. The really big work was when I bought it, 4-1 exhaust installation, carburetor adjustment (someone messed up before), rear wheel alignment, but after that no other problems.
Around the city it is a nimble bike, you can filter, you can cover distances very fast, under rain you have no power surge because it is a 600cc after all, just don't try to ride it in winter like I did. With 200Kg it is not what I consider heavy, and inside tunnels or meeting trucks coming the other way, I wish it was heavier or didn't have any fairing at all. This weight also helps riders coming from smaller bikes or even new riders, and the power is not intimidating. It got 6 gears to make the most out of the available power, at 3k RPM you already have good torque and the engine will rev very well, taking the 2nd gear to the red line is enough to lose your driver license, so for city use it is more than adequate. Gas consumption, well, it is a 4 cylinder and as such it is never very fuel efficient when riding on traffic at only 40-50km/h, however, when you take it to the highway it will perform very, very well. Mine is doing around 22km per liter, it got a K&N air filter and a 4-1 exhaust, carburetor was adjusted by Arthur and I have nothing to complain.
An important note here, if you come across a GSX600F that seems to be drinking too much or performing a bit lazy, even after installing new spark plugs and tightening them properly, take it to a fast motorway where you can rev a bit, go through the gears, do good accelerations, engine braking, burn a full tank so it "cleans" the engine from old combustion remains. In the next tank you should feel it much better. It was my case, the bike was just ok around town, but after I took it to the highway a couple of times, it is born again.
If you are buying the GSXF for what it is supposed to do, touring, then you came to the right place. My bike will shake a bit between 70-80km/h, after that it will be smooth and at 120km/h in 6th gear it is quiet, very responsive and ready to cruise. So far I have ridden with very light cargo but don't think 10-15Kg distributed on the tank bag and attached on the passenger seat will change much, BUT, I have read from other owners who went to rides with someone sitting behind and some baggage that the bike is out of its comfort zone. Get a 750 if your riding conditions are like these. I can't speak for passenger comfort but for the rider there is nothing to complain about such a budget bike. Foot pegs are in the right position for me, I am 1,74m and after 3h non-stop riding it is not even close to feeling the tiredness of riding the FXST, which I could never, ever go for a 600km ride without taking a pain killer. As for autonomy, the tank has 20 liters including 5 liters of reserve, so a well tuned engine will give you very good reach.
READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED FROM THIS POINT
Now, to the really important part: the engine. These bikes used to have a GSX600R unit on them, with modifications to run at lower RPM and to have more power in mid-range. I will say again, these bikes were equipped with a GSXR engine running at lower RPM. What does it mean? It means they have the most reliable engine on the planet, period. Now comes the controversial talk, so I will be very blunt: I don't care about what people say about other brands. I have a pair of Harleys and put a CRAP LOAD of kilometers on them, so I know. They left me speaking alone before, and boy I take care of my bikes, and I don't know ONE SINGLE owner of an early 80s or 90s Harley who EVER answered "yes" to the following question: "hey dude, do you trust this so-called indestructible bike for a really long tour, full throttle on, just stop for gas and food? If you do, let's plan so I can book my vacation". I meet MANY of these on the highway, and most of the time they are doing short 100-200km runs, which any bike should handle.
You will see a lot of riders avoiding uphills or very long stretches for some days in a row if their bike is 2 decades old or more. Reputation doesn't come out of nothing, it is from people's experience, and though any engine seems bulletproof in their first years, it is after some decades of HEAVY use that we talk reliability/durability. Suzuki's reputation comes from its tradition of winning endurance races, which is the ultimate test of reliability for production motorcycles. MORE THAN HALF of all FIM endurance championships were won by a Suzuki motorcycle. Do some searches and you will see Kawasaki H2 engines seizing out of nothing, Yamahas exploding at those Mullholland turns at 60km/h if that much, but I dare you to find a GT750 or a GSX engine failing. You will find some guys revving the GSX for so long until the exhaust glows red, and it it goes as if nothing happened, Suzuki engines and gearboxes are incredibly overbuilt. There is nothing wrong, however, in preferring other manufacturer, it is democratic, you buy what you want, just keep this in mind when talking about reliability.
Bottomline is, with the GSX600F you have an engine with proven reliability in endurance races, but running at lower RPM, which vastly increases its already high durability. You will be in good hands, don't worry.
So, what I recommend it for:
- Affordable city commuter with cheap insurance
- First bike or upgrade from smaller bike
- Long solo trips. If you have a passenger, get a 750
- Customization without feeling guilty since it is a common bike
What I don't recommend it for:
- Track days. You can, but you won't be setting any lap record
- Long trips with heavy load. Get a 750 instead
- Taking it to showbike events. Go to the highway instead
So that's it. In the next weeks I will take it to much longer stretches and see what it can do, then I make another post. I hope you get some good information from this article.
Photographer, motorcyclist, traveler, gamer. Your host.