20 August 2009
|At the southern entrance to Glen Coe|
|Near Loch Ness|
|Somewhere in Scotland!|
So when I was offered the latest addition to the Suzuki commuter range, the TU250X, I was actually quite looking forward to trying a bike that might fit the bill for the beleaguered commuter of the future.
During my trips to Spain this Spring, I saw quite a few TU's on the streets in Murcia. Although not as popular as the Yamaha SR250, there were significantly more than you'd see in any UK town.
The Mediterranean weather is far more attractive for people to consider biking. Most of the city centres in Spain are old and not suitable for traffic, and parking can be a nightmare. So small bikes come into their own. With the UK Government starting to see the commuter motorist as a source of revenue for the Treasury, small bikes might be the way to go. Unfortunately, the first step was somewhat backward, when Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, actually raised VED on this capacity of small bike. Even Homer Simpson could have done a better job than that.
So what about the TU250 makes it so popular in Spain? Essentially it is a GN250 in new clothes. The engine, frame and running gear are the same as the custom styled stable mate. What we have here is a 249cc sohc, air-cooled single cylinder motor, the same as the GN250. Suzuki's paperwork, which came with the bike, made no hp claims. I would reckon that it's probably around 20bhp at most. The 'bars are lower and the seating position is far more comfortable for larger and taller riders.
The model I had was officially Warm Silver Metallic, but it looked more grey than silver. The other two colours are Candy President Maroon and Candy Teal Blueish Green. Both of these were very evident in the Spanish market. At 125kg it is very light and a seat height of 29.5 ins. makes it ideal for shorter riders as well.
The 12-litre tank and seat unit are very different to the GN. The tank is quite bulbous and the overall styling is supposed to reflect the bikes of the Sixties. The legend 'Super Classic' on the side panel is supposed to confirm this. The seat is actually a tan colour rather than the usual black. The front section is removable and underneath you'll find a small tray for small items such as a disc lock. I couldn't fit my cable-lock in it though. The handbook and a European Suzuki dealer list is cleverly hidden under the rear seat in a small plastic 'cigar-case' style box cum folder. A novel idea.
Once on the bike, like most new Suzuki’s there is a clutch interlock and a cut-out on the side stand. Starting means pulling out the choke from the single carb, pulling in the clutch and if in gear, pulling up the side stand before pressing the start button. The starter didn't fail to have the bike ticking over after only one press of the button. The choke can be put fully in immediately. The gearbox is the same reliable 5 speed unit that Suzuki have been perfecting over a number of years and this one is no different.
The controls all fall easily to hand and feet and are very easy to use. Suzuki has dropped the tachometer and has provided the rider with a single chrome surrounded speedo on the top yoke. The headlamp is a large, and effective, unit that features a painted body ands chrome rim. It also only boasts three idiot lights; two symmetrical green ones for neutral and indicator repeater and a small blue high-beam light inside the bottom of the speedo.
The demo bike also came equipped with a genuine Suzuki fork mounted fairing. This was perfectly colour matched and fitted rigidly to the top of the fork legs between the yokes. It kept the wind off quite well and didn't have any real effects on handling.
Handling isn't too bad given the light weight and spindly S rated tyres. Suspension is a little basic with only the rear shocks adjustable. However, it coped with me onboard very well. At higher speeds on sweeping bends there was a slight tendency for the bars to wobble slightly. This may be a combination of suspension, tyres and the light weight of the bike combining. At 65-70mph the bike was pretty stable.
Overtaking is a serious business though. On the flat the top speed varies from about 65-75mph, on downhill runs I found myself shutting off to keep it in the 70's. Catching up slower moving traffic on the open roads required a lot of forward observation and planning to make sure that you can get past, and back in, before anything comes the other way, or worse, an incline appears, and speed begins to scrub off naturally! In the end, you get used to it and ride everywhere at 3/4 throttle! It is FUN!
The bike had only 360 miles on the clock when I picked it up from Crawley, and I added another 360 on trips commuting to work and on the BMF's Dunstable Downs run on August Bank Holiday Sunday. Given the low mileage it took a while to ensure that it was run-in okay. I cruised back on the motorways and after 88 miles managed to squeeze a mere 5 litres into the tank. I didn't believe it either! I had been moving along quite well on the motorways almost door to door and I'm sure Tesco aren't selling more petrol than their pump says! The first refill gave figures of 79.9mpg!
Although more suited to a smaller and lighter rider, the TU manfully took on the job of a whole week's commuting 15 miles each way to work and back. Mainly on fast A road and the Bedford bypass. Speeds ranged between 55 and 70 for most of the way. So imagine my surprise to get 158.2 miles for 9.5 litres - 75.6mpg! A smaller lighter rider must be able to get figures well in the 80's.
Returning the bike back to Crawley saw 171.1 miles on the clock before it went on to reserve. Not bad for a bike with a 12 litre tank and an oversized rider.
I took it on the BMF's Dunstable Downs Run, and it generated a bit of interest from folks that had never seen one before. I did my sales pitch for Suzuki in return for the loan of the bike. Most people commented on the old bike styling, and I think that's what Suzuki's designers had in mind.
The TU250 is the Fiat Panda of the bike world, well, possibly the Seat Marbella. The GN is the original and therefore the Panda! It is cheap to run, has few frills but seems to be utterly reliable. I speak from a position of knowledge having had a Panda for 160000 miles!
Admittedly, the bike is a little small for someone as large as I am. It is certainly too small for two-up touring, but as a commuter and gadabout bike it is ideal. It would suit anyone returning to biking after a lay-off, and also any learners that want a small bike to learn on and then keep for trips after they have passed the test. It is the ideal solution to the latest of the Government's "soak the car drivers as usual" scheme.
At the top of the Suzuki brochure for the model it says 'A Fun Bike that "Grows on You"'. It's true. Although small and relatively under powered I had a grin on my face after riding it!
If you are in the market for a small commuter or fun bike for local trips, then at the Suzuki list price of £2899 you could do much worse. And think of the savings in petrol over your Volvo or Mr Prescott's rail fares!
I added the pix after I received a comment from a viewer, containing a few expletives that I won't publish, complaining about the lack of photos.
These are not ones I took as it was years ago and pre-digital era, although as soon as I get a scanner I can add the pics of the bike tested. Those here are 'net pix.
18 August 2009
17 August 2009
To avoid the traffic jams on the M23 that were trying to merge with the M25 westbound through the upgrade works, we set off across country towards Reigate and Dorking on the A25. I figured this would give me a chance to get used to the ergonomics without too much hassle.
All the controls fall readily to hand. To start the bike you have to pull in the clutch lever to disengage the interlock, it also helps to be in neutral or have the side stand up! Belt and braces I suppose. Once started the motor ticks over quietly, the exhaust note very muted. The clutch is hydraulic like all the GSXR's and their derivatives, and was very light and failed to give up despite some dumping on the high speed getaway tests!
The gearbox is all you expect from a Suzuki, very slick, but with a clonk engaging first. I have always been a fan of the Suzuki gearbox, with the positive stop at the top of the box. I also have a great love for the gear indicator fitted on older machines, unfortunately with a bike that will pull from sub 2000 revs in top; a gear indicator might help the novice know where they are in the box. The Bandit had a little over 3900 miles on the clock when I picked it up and it was so smoooooth! A big change from my own Water Buffalo!
No sooner had we got to the M25 further along from the road works, than it started to rain and I had to pull out of the contraflow to don waterproofs. Unfortunately my Nike trainers were waterproof for less than a yard and I was soon very miserable below the ankle! As a result I was unable to answer the question "What'll it do Mister?" this time. By the time I got the ninety miles home I was ready for the E.R!
It rained for most of day 2 as well, although I did get out testing the panniers didn't touch the exhaust. Part Two of the test would be the Bandit and I trying a spot of long distance touring in Scotland with Team-SOC (Suzuki Owners Club).
Part One continued on Saturday when equipped only with a magnetic tank bag for the 120 mile ride to Lydney in Gloucestershire to start the 1996 National Rally. The route was over 500 miles, in addition to the getting to and from the start and end points, and covered a good selection of road types. From Lydney we had a mixed bag of A and B roads up through the Forest of Dean and northwards through the Shropshire Hills and Welsh mountains. In daylight you need to make up as much ground as possible to get the distance behind you and I suppose we were cruising about the legal limit, or thereabouts. Actually we were averaging around 75mph for the daylight sections.
Due to the flexibility of the engine and transmission, I was able to restrict changing gears and use the power to enter and exit corners. I had one fright that I put down to a combination of a tightening (80 degree!) left-hander and a sneezing fit just as I went in - hay fever! I lost concentration, ever tried keeping your eyes open and sneeze? I couldn't! A quick look up the road assured me nothing was coming and I let the bike run a little wide, regained the initiative and shot off after Andy, my team mate on his 600F Katana. I had plenty of time to think about it later and I had the feeling that when I got the brakes on that something was amiss. We had a look over the bike and everything seemed okay.
On the A roads through north Wales and into Cheshire the bike ran faultlessly, mechanically, but I had a feeling that all was not well with the handling. After another similar moment, without sneezes, on the Cat & Fiddle section between Macclesfield and Buxton, I was more concerned that the bike was causing the problems. The Cat and Fiddle is a very biker-popular section of a mountain road with plenty of deceptive bends, off angle cambers and the bikers’ friend - the four feet high stone wall! At the Darley Moor Race Circuit pit-stop we checked the front tyre again, and it looked almost had it. The Michelin Macadam Radial has diagonally aligned side blocks and these were badly worn on the trailing edge of each. In the dark from then on we took it very steady until the finish at Cheltenham Race course, some 150 miles away. In the end we finished the course with 22 controls visited and 518 miles ridden.
The following morning I took it back to Crawley and Roger fitted a new set of tyres and the handling was transformed.
Let's assess the bike according to the following criteria: Looks, Comfort, Fuel Economy, Performance, Handling, and Practicability.
Looks: The 1200S comes with a small top half fairing, which despite looking pretty small is very effective. I like to be able to see the engine of a bike and am less than enthusiastic about the all enclosed race-reps. The GSXR derived engine is a pleasing dark grey and as engines go, it's quite a good looker, unlike the big bore offering from Honda, where the CBR derived engine is ugly with pipes all over the place! The rear end is very nicely shaped and not as radically wide as the RF's.
Comfort: A larger than standard rider like me (220lbs!) had no problems with wind against the body, or wind noise around the helmet, the small looking fairing had done its job. I found the seat's limitations after 300 miles of the rally! Although I 'm sure a lighter rider would be able to travel a bit further! All the controls fall to hand okay and the foot pegs are about right for a six foot tall rider. Seat height is also okay, I can get both feet flat on the floor, and very good for maneuvering around the car parks on the 22 controls we were faced with. Although shorter riders may feel a little jittery.
Fuel Economy: Here's a funny thing. On the mixed riding we had that included a slightly more than legal run along the M54/M5/M42 freeways for three of the controls in the Midlands, plus the faster A and B roads the figures returned varied from a worst of 35.2 mpg and a high of 40.84 mpg (all US gallons!). I consider this excellent for an 1127cc engine with a large load to carry along. In comparison, Andy was only putting in a half gallon more at the same gas stops, at the most, sometimes less! I found that the bike would go into the red on the gauge at around 135 miles and then require reserve from about 150. If we stopped for gas immediately it generally only took three and a half gallons!
Handling: Before the front tyre went off, handling was very good, the brakes are a little strong at the front for the soft springing, and this makes for an interesting learning curve. I found that I could hustle around corners as well as the others on a multitude of machinery, and even found that the Fireblades weren't getting too far ahead with their jockey-like riders aboard! Things were very different with the tyre beginning to go off. On the brakes into a corner caused the whole lot to stand up and attempt to go straight on. The incident on the Cat & Fiddle had me wondering if I was to be the next statistic for Cheshire County Police to use for 'rider education'! The bike is as at home on the fast A and B roads as it is on the freeway.
Performance: Any big-bore GSXR derived engine must have plenty of oomph! And the 1200S is no exception. Pulling from low revs in top has the needle spinning from 25 to over the 100 mph mark in no time at all. Opening the throttle to overtake is the same, no messing with a down change, just give it a handful of throttle and hold on tight. "Light the blue touch paper and stand well back", seems to ring through the ears as it takes off! I've never ridden the 1100 Katana that also used a GSXR derived engine, but the I can assume that the Bandit is faster, it's lighter and the engine is so free running that it must have the performance edge.
Practicability: The 1200S is what bikes used to be about before the Japanese convinced us that we need a bike for sport, another one for touring, and yet another for commuting. The Bandit is a jack of all trades. It was good for the 700 mile day on the National Rally whether or not it was poodling around in the dead of night or thrashing along a freeway to make up some time and get a few controls under the belt, or for having a good time around the mountains. And it has two seats should you wish to take a pillion, and space for your luggage. Yes, you can carry luggage on a GSXR, but not so easily and I can guarantee that the GSXR seat will kill your under parts (guys at least) before the Bandit will!
Generally? The bike had been out to a few other magazines before I got it. They had managed 3900 miles in five months. I put over 1200 on it in the week I had it and when Part Two, the Tour of Scotland, is over it will be in excess of 2500. I think I can speak for the bike with a bit more authority from the perspective of an owner/rider rather than a journalist looking to score a few points with his buddies and keep the advertising rolling in.
The build quality of the 1200S surprised me. I expected that it would be built down to a price. It doesn't have the de-rigueur massive alloy frame like the GSXR750WT or the opposition. It does have a rather attractive painted tubular frame. The forks may be a bit cheaper and lack much adjustability and the rear shock might not be up to race standards, but it all works very well together. All in all you get an awful lot of bike for your post-tax dollars!
A few niggles I had were:
- Modern looking though it is the switchgear was a bit naff. The hi/lo headlamp switch is diabolical and difficult to use with thicker gloves. Overnight in the mountains being able to change the beam is important if you are to see the next bend or sheep!
- The lack of a clock. The Bandit sits very nicely in the sports/tourer bracket, and there's plenty of room in the bottom of the tachometer for a clock!
- Non cancelling indicators! In this day and age we all get used to indicators that switch off for us! Those on the Bandit don't. I don't know how many miles I rode with one or the other flashing away!
What else? I genuinely can't think of anything else to complain about! The good points of a £6500 bike with hardly any faults simply sell the Bandit 1200. The price alone is the biggest selling point. Not only is it a superb motorcycle, but it undercuts the retro Zephyrs and the other big bangers quite considerably.
Would I buy one? If I had had the money and they'd have accepted my (low) offer, I'd have got this one!
My rating? 10/10 a class above the rest!
14 August 2009
Anyway, no tight spots as I cocked a leg over the seat of the GS. The knee armour needed to be pushed into the right place as it seemed to be ideal for the knock-kneed. The hip armour was comfortable.
The only concern I had is that with a 32" leg length, that they might be too short when on the bike. They are only supplied in 30" and 32". Whether that is only in fat sizes I can't tell.
Once on the M20 and up to cruising speed there was a little flap from the calf area and this may be down to the diameter of the legs and perhaps I need to be a little more ruthless with the Velcro that goes around the bottom of each leg, and tighten it more.
From the seating position it is hard to look at your own ankles (!) so I can't say how high they ride up the boot, time will tell.
So after one 75 mile ride I was impressed with the fit and feel of the trousers. Maybe if I am unlucky I'll get to test how waterproof they are!
Considering they were only £39.99 plus postage from the EBAY shop of Roland Brana they seem pretty good VFM!
If you can't find them on EBAY, I'm sure Roland wouldn't mind you emailing him for details and to buy a pair - email@example.com
13 August 2009
9 August 2009
7 August 2009
When Geocities announced they were closing I saved the source.
Thanks to some jiggery-pokery by Dave Pitcher, Chairman of the Kettle Club UK and Suzuki Owners Club member, we had a half hour. No. A wonderful half hour of track time to ourselves at the VMCC's "Festival of a 1000 Bikes" on the Sunday of the weekend event.
Having a special Kettle-only session meant that we didn't have to put up with the myriad of slow blokes on Z900's and old British rubbish as we had done in Sunday's first session, the 1972-77 Over-500cc 'parade'. Waiting in pit lane I listened into a couple of other owners - "Soon blow this **** out of the way" said one to the other, eyeing myself and a couple of other Kettles behind him in his mirror. "By the end of lap one!" laughed his equally ignorant friend. By the end of lap two they were well to the rear of the Kettles and when we came round to lap one of them later he was forced to the side by the travelling Marshall. Perhaps now you will respect others and their choice of bike?
I digress. I have always treated my Kettle like an elderly aunt. Not too much thrashing and a nice drink every so often to keep everything well oiled! A sort of sherry drinker of the biking world. Although it's been around Europe as far east as the Czech Republic and Hungary and as far south as Spain, it's not been to the races, often. The last time at Brands Hatch, on the circuit, was when I was the corner commander at Dingle Dell Corner for BMCRC, and it was all of ten years since I went by Kettle. Then you could get a lap less the start/finish on the way to and from the corner. Sometimes you missed and had to go around again!
Then I got my comeuppance.
The bug bites very easily and it would be easy to imagine that I am the next Mick Doohan! But, no it was fun. Some of us where giving it a bit more than others and overtaking bunches was part of that. Next year I would like to have another go. I will remove the topbox; I was the only one there with one! It might help the handling and slipstreaming along the finish straight!
No problems reared their ugly little heads. No leaks anywhere and nothing fell off, not even me, despite the hardest this bike and I have ever worked in my 14 year ownership!
The old sherry drinking maiden aunt was a bourbon drinking, muscle rippling Wonder Woman for a day! And she loved it.
All material contained in this document is the copyright of the author and may not be used with out express authority from the author. Paul Devall 18/08/98 15:15
Copyright: Paul Devall.
Last revised: August 25, 1998.
3 August 2009
Well, it was actually 60999 but I didn't want to stop half a mile down the road on Essex Road when it tripped over! Near enough though.
Pic taken in the car-park at work. Nice new black tarmac and whiter that white lines...