2001 Suzuki Bandit 600S
by Ted Laturnus
So here I am, hurtling across the desert on Nevada’s Highway 95 at between 160 and 170 km/h. I know I’m being a bad boy, but I’m running late; trying to get back to Las Vegas after spending too much time tearing around the highways around Laughlin and Kingman, Arizona. The sun’s going down, I’m getting a little cold, and I have to be back in time for a dinner party. I’m riding with two other guys; one on a Suzuki Bandit 1200, the other on an Intruder LC. I’m astride a Bandit 600S, and having absolutely no problem keeping up with the larger bikes. In fact, the guy on the Intruder has been slowly fading from sight in my rear view mirror for the past few kilometres and is struggling manfully to keep up with the two sport bikes. During a series of high-speed esses, he disappears altogether, and I slow down a titch to let him catch up.
As we eat up the kilometres, I can’t help but be thoroughly impressed with the technology of the bike I’m riding. Cruising at 160 klicks on a 600 cc motorcycle!! Years ago, when Triumph and BSA 650 twins were popular, just getting up to this speed - or “doing the ton” - was considered a major feat. The Bandit 600S is powered by an engine that displaces a mere 599 cc, yet it is very comfortable and effortless to ride at high speeds, with plenty of reserve power for passing. It will also accelerate from a dead stop to 160 km/h in about seven seconds, and do it easily. At 160 km/h, the engine is revving at 8000 rpm precisely, and the bike is actually more comfortable and less buzzy at that speed than it is at - say - 120 km/h. The engine will rev all the way up to 11,000 rpm, so I’ve got plenty of power to play with. I can’t quite keep up with the guy on the 1200 when he really cranks it, but then, he’s riding a bike with an engine twice the size of my own.
The Suzuki Bandit 600 was originally put on the market in 1996, but despite being tremendously popular in Europe and Asia, just didn’t catch on in North America. Suzuki retired it in 1998 and then re-introduced it for the 2000 model year. My test bike was a 2001 model, but it is virtually identical to last year’s. Like the Bandit 1200, the 600 comes in two versions; one with a small fairing, one without….or “naked”. The engine is an air/oil-cooled in-line four cylinder with four Keihin 32 mm carburetors. Seat height is 800 mm (31.5 inches), weight is 208 kilograms (459 lb.) dry, and the bike has a six-speed transmission and chain final drive. As far as 600 cc sport bikes go, the Bandit 600 is actually on the low end of the scale. Suzuki’s GSX-R600, for example, has the same size and configuration of engine, but bangs out 109 horsepower, compared to the Bandit 600’s relatively modest 78 hp at 10,500 rpm. Torque output is fairly impressive, at 41.7 foot-pounds, but it doesn’t peak until 9500 rpm, so this is a free-revving powerplant, with precious little bottom end power. During my time with the bike, I found that it has to be given generous handfuls of engine rpms off the line, or else it’ll either balk or stall outright. Once the rpms are up, it sings, and the faster you go, the smoother it gets. Fuel consumption, if it matters, is also impressive: about 5.7 L/100 km (49 mpg).
Unsurprisingly, the Bandit has excellent suspension and brakes (a good thing, given the relatively heavy traffic we’re weaving through), with twin two-piston discs up front and a single disc in the back. Front forks are 41 mm in size, and there is a single adjustable shock in the back. Despite the fact that the Bandit features relatively conventional technology, it’ll handle high-speed turns easily and is an extremely nimble motorcycle. Once I got comfortable with it, I was happily surprised with its behaviour at high speeds, both in a straight line and otherwise. It’s also very stable, and more than enough bike to keep 99% of us interested. Best of all, it has a sticker price of $8200, which makes it pretty affordable.
On the downside….well, actually, there is no downside that I can see. If you’re looking for an entertaining, lightweight sport bike with huge gobs of fun quotient, a reasonable price tag, and a good reliability record, here it is.