Suzuki’s Bandit GSF 1200 and 1250 was fast, wild and incredibly good value. And, we reckon, still is!
Suzuki’s timing with the release of the first GSF1200 (T) way back in 1996 couldn’t have been commercially 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 for the bike 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 that power has been reduced to the point that the engine delivers a lukewarm response when compared to the original manifestation, this was not the case in regard to the Bandit. Sure, it was nowhere near as powerful as the donor engine, but it still offered 73kW at 8500rpm and torque was a respectable 91Nm at 4500rpm.
Coupled to a short wheelbase and relatively steep geometry, the bike delivered fun in spades. So much so, that it was quickly adopted by stunt riders the world over (no lower fairing requiring replacement as stunters honed a particular trick was a big attraction here) and the bike still features strongly as the stunt rider’s favourite at events across the globe.
Of course, the added attraction was the power lurking just under the surface for the interested tuner. Yes, a huge plus was the engine’s untapped performance. In fact, just the placement of an end-can gave 15 extra horsepower!
There are shortcomings across the Bandit range. 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.
Suzuki Bandit – Model by model
The initial Suzuki Bandit GSF1200 remained largely unchanged from launch in 1996 to 2000 (models T, V, W, X and Y). The GSF1200S also became available in 1997, the designation referring to the half-fairing fitted to the bike. At the same time, a version of the S Bandit with anti-lock braking was introduced for certain world 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 – anything that has the original shock still in place is likely to be shagged.
Another issue that beset a few of the early ones was loss of all instrument power due to water invading the wiring loom.
The new Suzuki 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 the following changes: new rear bodywork, fully electronic instrumentation, new carburettors, Suzuki PAIR (Pulsed Air Injection), feeding clean air into the exhaust outlet to help eliminate unburnt fuel from emissions, additional fuel filter, six-piston calipers, 20 litre fuel tank (up from 19), frame and steering geometry were changed, seat height lowered from 835mm to 790mm (an important distinction for those with height as a strong consideration), and the S model got a new twin headlight fairing. Dry weight was now 214kg (non-faired).
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 Suzuki Bandit became brittle over time. This will see them crack, and possibly leak. 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 new 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, totally redesigned headlight system and became available with ABS brakes as an option.
This model sent the signal that a new engine was coming with running gear very similar to that of the upcoming 1250. As a consequence, this Bandit ran for just one model year.
The discontinuation of the air/oil-cooled engined Bandits in mid 2007 was due to the engine failing to meet the new strict Euro 3 emissions requirements. Suzuki made major changes to the next model to meet the new rules.
The K7 Bandit was introduced in 2007 with an all-new water-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 the 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 water-cooled version, we’d recommend it.
It’s worth noting that some owners have made the comment that the new bike is not as comfortable as the older versions. Seating dynamics are substantially different, so check this out if you are looking to cover big distances.
Brakes are not a high point with 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 are 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.
Suzuki Bandit in summary
Be aware that many Suzuki Bandits will have endured hard lives. The simple fact that many riders used the bikes to perfect their wheelie and ‘look at me’ skills, often means they have had more than their share of thrashing.
It has to be remembered that this was a budget bike at release and that remained during the model run (pretty rudimentary suspension, 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 are not mechanically-minded, find someone 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, the niggles are more likely to be chassis based. Of course, the upside is the fact a good Bandit can be had for a very small outlay and all the attractions the bike offered in 1996 still apply.
It simply can’t 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.
Price New: $11999
Price Now: $2500-$4500
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.