Sportbike manufacturers operate more like world-class race teams than huge corporations churning out consumer goods. Product life spans are short as a matter of marketplace survival. Even when bike makers have a winner, they've got no choice but to keep the R&D machinery bouncing off the rev-limiter.
Such is the case with Suzuki's GSX-R1000. For 2003, it has 4 percent more horsepower, new brakes, suspension, bodywork and more, which, by sportbike standards, is a mild freshening. Now this $10,499 speed nugget occupies a coveted spot on the production street-legal performance continuum: The top.
As a point of reference, the Ferrari Enzo supercar makes a claimed 110.1 hp per liter. From a single liter, the GSX-R1000, which has a wet weight of 444 pounds, snorts out 152.1 hp at the rear wheel. And that's strapped to a dyno without the power-boosting effects of the Suzuki's ram-air system. With a 170-pound rider on board, each of the Suzuki's ponies has to move just 4.04 pounds, while the Ferrari's power-to-weight ratio is something like 6.0 pounds for each horsepower. The results are predictable. The Suzuki hits 60 mph in 2.6 seconds and burns through the quarter mile in 10.08 seconds and more than 142 mph, while the Ferrari loafs to 60 mph in a comparatively relaxed 3.3 seconds. By the way, the Ferrari also costs like a gazillion dollars.
Peel back the GSX-R's plastic bodywork and you'll find an "oversquare" inline four with a cylinder bore dimension that's 1.23 times as big as the piston stroke. A good automotive reference is the Honda S2000 inline four. Its bore is 1.04 times as big as its stroke-just about "square." This means the Suzuki's engine isn't working much harder than the Honda's, even with big numbers showing on the GSX-R's tach. At 12,000 rpm, the Suzuki's average piston speed is only 2 percent faster than the Honda's is at 8300 rpm. So Suzuki riders can leave their Kevlar con-rod-proof shorts at home.
Suzuki engineers relentlessly hunted down internal friction and pumping losses to find free horsepower. The Suzuki's pistons wear scandalously tiny skirts to cut friction and to keep them from cocking in the bores. Big cross-drilled 35mm holes in the cylinder bores below the piston rings connect adjacent cylinders to vent the pressure that builds beneath each descending piston. Thin-wall, hollow camshafts spin up fast, and the engine's gear-driven balance shaft is mounted high to keep it from churning up a lot of power-sapping oil. Tiny improvements that add up.
The relocated ram-air inlets in the front of the fairing increase the intake air pressure at high speed and force-feed cold air to a quartet of downdraft intakes and 42mm throttle bodies. With compact four-valve combustion chambers, compression is 12.0:1 and there's not a ping to be heard on premium pump gas. To carry spent gases, the entire exhaust system is constructed of lightweight titanium. It all results in an amazinly linear torque curve. Although its horsepower peaks at 11,000 rpm, the GSX-R makes a remarkable 75 percent of its peak torque from 4000 all the way up to 12,000 rpm.
And that's just the engine. We haven't even mentioned the diamond-like coating on the forks, which Suzuki says reduces friction five times more than the previous titanium nitride coating, or the frame's extruded members, or the unique four-pad-per-caliper setup, or the...you get the idea. This bike is, without a doubt, the performance and technology steal of the century.