Suzuki Bandit GSF1200/1200S
Suzuki’s timing with the release of the first GSF1200 back in 1996 couldn’t have been better. Faced with the disparate choice of a full-on sports weapon or a mundane ‘practical’ bike, riders were calling for a big-bore, budget utilitarian that could deliver a few thrills along the way. The Bandit hit the spot perfectly at $11,999 and take-up was immediately strong.
The engine was a detuned version of the venerable oil- and air-cooled, 1156cc, 16-valve four-cylinder powerhouse fitted to the GSX-R1100 (with a longer stroke). While the term ‘detuned’ usually means power has been reduced to the point that the engine delivers a lukewarm response when compared to the original, this was not the case with the Bandit.
While it was nowhere near as powerful as the donor engine it still offered 73kW at 8500rpm and torque was a respectable 90.7Nm at 4500rpm. Coupled to a short wheelbase and relatively quick geometry, the bike delivered fun in spades. So much so, it was quickly adopted by stunt riders the world over (no lower fairing requiring replacement was a big attraction here) and the bike still features strongly as a stunt rider’s mount at events across the globe. Of course, the added attraction was the untapped power lurking beneath the surface for the interested tuner. In fact, just the placement of an end-can gave 15 extra horsepower!
There are shortcomings across the Bandit range, as build quality has always been a bugbear on ‘price-point’ motorcycles. It’s easy to see where the money has been saved – don’t expect carbon or gleaming add-ons with the Bandit, in any incarnation.
MODEL BY MODEL
The initial GSF1200 remained largely unchanged from launch in 1996 to 2000 (models T, V, W, X and Y).
The GSF1200S half-fairing model became available in 1997. At the same time, a version with anti-lock braking was introduced for certain markets. This model was prone to carb icing, but only in very cold conditions. A consideration if cold winter running is on your agenda.
The rear shock on the early Bandits was nothing to write home about and can lose damping. Take a good look here – any example with the original shock still in place is likely to be shagged.
Another issue that plagued a few of the early ones was loss of all instrument power due to water invading the wiring loom. The new Bandit 1200 was released in 2001 (there was some showroom crossover with the previous Y model), running through until 2006 (models K1, K2, K3). This incarnation could suffer from excessive oil burning, the problem sheeted home to piston design. This was dealt with via warranty and any potential purchase shouldn’t show any signs of this problem.
The 2001 bike was significantly revamped with myriad changes. These included new rear bodywork, electronic instrumentation, new carburettors, Suzuki ‘PAIR’ (Pulsed Air Injection) feeding clean air into the exhaust outlet to help eliminate unburnt fuel, an additional fuel filter, six-piston calipers, a 20-litre fuel tank (up from 19L), frame and steering geometry changes, a lower seat height (from 835mm to 790mm) and the S model got a new twin headlight fairing. Dry weight was now 214 kilograms for the naked model.
There have been some complaints in regard to the second-generation S version having weak headlight penetration. Not an easy area to check (test rides are rarely carried out at night), but ask about this, and if in doubt, arrange to see the bike again in the dark of night.
Seats on this model became brittle over time. This will see the vinyl crack, and water get in. A very annoying trait in the winter, look hard in this area. Fairings and instrument surrounds can work loose due to vibration. This is a pretty vibey bike, especially in the upper area.
The 2006 (K6) models got a re-shaped fuel tank, side panels, a height-adjustable seat and a longer swingarm with a hexagonal cross section. The faired ‘S’ versions also got a new fairing and mirrors, redesigned headlight system and ABS brakes became an option. This model signalled the imminent arrival of a new engine with running gear similar to that of the 1250. As a consequence, this Bandit ran for just one model year.
The discontinuation of the air/oil-cooled Bandits in mid-2007 was due to the engine failing to meet the then-new Euro 3 emissions requirements. Suzuki made major changes to the next model to comply.
The K7 Bandit was introduced in 2007 with a new, liquid-cooled and fuel-injected powerplant coupled to a six-speed gearbox. Now boasting 1255cc, power was 72kW at 7500rpm, but the big plus was to be found in the new torque curve, offering 103Nm at the lovely low figure of 3500rpm.
The earlier bikes were known for punch off the bottom but the new engine took that reputation even further. In short, this was a much better Bandit for real world use, and if you can find the little extra it will cost you to opt for the liquid-cooled version, we’d recommend it.
It’s worth noting some owners comment that the later version isn’t as comfortable as older ones. Seating dynamics are substantially different, so check this out if you are looking to cover big distances.
Brakes are not a high point on the Bandit. They work, but require a degree of effort at the lever. As mentioned, the whole deal is a little ‘down spec’ – while the bike does most things more than adequately, if you’re looking for sublime sporting performance, it is simply not here. Price tags don’t lie and offer a very good interpretation of what to expect. The Bandit reflects this.
Be aware many Bandits have had hard lives. The simple fact that many riders used the bikes to perfect their wheelie and ‘look-at-me’ skills, often means they’ve had more than their share of thrashing.
It has to be remembered this was a budget bike when it was released and that remained during the model run – including its rudimentary suspension and slightly down-spec running gear – so this was not a bike that generally drew the attention of the maintenance pedant. Steering head bearings, shock, swingarm bushes, brake rotors… You really need to check every area of a used Bandit. If you’re not mechanically minded, find somebody who is – there could be a world of pain waiting for you if you get this one wrong as a used buy.
The engine has a great reputation and the niggles are more likely to be chassis-based. On the upside, a good Bandit can be bought for a very small outlay and all the attractions the bike offered in 1996 still apply. It simply cannot be beaten if ‘bang for your buck’ is important to you.
Fast, reliable and a heap of fun – if not a little ‘homespun’ – do your homework, get it right, and the challenge will be keeping the smile off your face.