Paul Ash is blown away by Suzuki’s new GSX250R
You’re a “hodad” (that’s surfer slang for old oke), trailbike kinda guy. And the Suzi looks like a sportbike. So WTF?
It’s true. I like my bikes with knobbly tyres and a sit-up-and-beg riding position, long-travel shocks and panniers for lots of gear. And when I saw the little GSX250R, all spiffy and sparkly in its, er, loud MotoGP paint job, I admit my heart didn’t exactly thump with joy.
Even as the Suzuki rep gave me a quick fam talk — “normal gearbox — one down five up, and she takes normal unleaded” — I was wondering why I’d stuck my hand up to test ride a sportbike, and a wee one at that.
But she started with a decent throatiness and even as I wheeled the little bike out of the depot, I felt, well, different. In fact, I felt like the famous sparrow perched on the Rock of Gibraltar. Which, as it turned out, was no bad thing.
Still, that first trek home in the chaos of Joburg afternoon rush hour revealed little in the way of the Suzi’s potential, but we can blame pilot error rather than anything else. I had also left my Respro pollution mask at home and I get ratty when breathing other people’s exhausts — how runners cheerfully jog along main roads while inhaling that crud is one of life’s great mysteries.
Now you’re rambling. When did disappointment become delight?
The very next day. I rode to work. Now my commute is not the most epic of rides, but it does involve a mix of rubbish Joburg roads with the attendant corrugations, potholes, speedbumps, errant SUVs, high-velocity taxis, sight-impaired school-lifters — and a sprint up the upper section of Jan Smuts Avenue which at rush hour may be one of the most hotly contested pieces of roadway in all of Africa.
The Suzuki handled it all beautifully. Crisp throttle response saw me quick away at the lights and that nicely tuned 250cc parallel twin motor meant I could stay ahead of the four-wheel dog pack until the next set of out-of-sync robots.
The riding position is less aggressive than usual on sportbikes. Coupled with clip-on handlebars set just right for a tall rider like me, I felt in control.
Despite weighing in at a fairly chunky 181kg — that’s heavy for a two-fifty — the bike’s handling is nimble and light, allowing us (note how I’m already saying “us”) to slip easily through the traffic.
While we might regret those extra kilos out on the open road where the engine will feel the weight, in town they helped give the bike a certain presence. And presence, as anyone who has ever ridden a two-wheeled machine on these mean streets will know, is everything.
After a couple of commutes, day and night, in all kinds of traffic, I was in love. It didn’t hurt that the bike gives a deep and satisfying chesty rumble when you back off the throttle, making you — and everyone around you — aware that here comes trouble, but in a good way.
It might be that “Katana DNA” that some people — including Suzuki — are talking about that has found its way into the GSX250R, but the designers have clearly worked hard on getting the balance right here. The result is a bike with excellent road manners, will not intimidate smaller or newer riders and yet feels like a proper let’s-burn-down-the-highway sportbike.
The groovy clocks of the classic 1980s Katana have given way to a clean and uncluttered LED display, along with surface-emitting LED position light and an LED taillight.
I took the little GSX out for a couple of long rides to savour the early morning emptiness of the Broederstroom road. While it begins to run out of puff around 120km/h — 8000RPM, or so —it also didn’t feel like the motor was shrieking like a banshee and about to tear itself to bits.
The seat is comfortable enough for a couple of hours in the saddle. It’s a pleasant improvement on the razor blades that come standard on certain other bikes.
The GSX250R would make a pretty decent weekend touring bike — but be prepared to travel light because there is zero storage space. Sometimes you need more than a tank-bag’s worth of stuff. Or not.
What about that styling and paintjob, man? That’s not you.
True that. I’m not a fan of garish but then Suzuki didn’t ask me. It’s available in a much more desirable and sexier black but, no, South Africans apparently love bright colours and these bikes are flying out of dealerships in MotoGP colours.
One side effect of the paint scheme was the great number of people who came over to ask me about the bike — conversations that invariably started with the phrase “Cool bike!” followed by “So, it’s the six-hundred, hey?” Cue wide eyes and a startled response upon learning that the little GSX is “only” a 250cc.
OK, so would you buy one?
If I had a spare R70k, I’d own one already. I liked the bike so much that I asked Suzuki if I could keep it for another week, to which they readily agreed. I may have used the word “love” on the phone, sweet music to any marketing department ears.
There were times in those two weeks that I thought I’d just tell Suzuki to get the papers ready. Except for two things: for the riding I do, I need a bike that won’t throw me off like a wild bronco the first time it sees a loose-packed gravel road. And I would want it in black. – Paul Ash
Fast Facts: 2018 Suzuki GSX250R
Engine: 248cc parallel-twin
Fuel Tank: 15-litres
Seat height: 790mm
Price: From R69 600