2015 Suzuki GSX-S 750
The Economy Turns, And We Turn With It.

by Sam Q. Fleming

Motorcycles sales were at a record high in 2006, in 2007 the foundation shook, and in 2008 the bottom fell out, and then kept falling.  The total sales of motorcycles in the US has been cut in half since only eight years ago.  As motorcycle sales evaporated, racing sponsorship, contingency programs and, subsequently, participation, sublimated. 

For the last couple of years the premium European brands have been expanding while the Japanese sales shrank.  One social dynamic which drove this was that the American motorcycle consumer has followed the general socio-economic trend of a big split in income distribution, folks that can buy $20,000 motorcycles could still buy them, folks that could buy $8,000 motorcycles could no longer afford them. 

 So here is the deal, Suzuki had brought about 25 matt black GSX-S 750s for us to ride.  I was going to kick
the launch all street fighter style with moto-cross books and super motard leathers but the weather was
total crap so it was going to be slow riding (like Battlestar Galactica, on a led (even by Kevin Schwantz)
street ride we can only go as fast as our slowest ship) and rain suits.  Amongst the herd of black bikes
was one Yoshimura special.  It had all their accessories including the loud muffler and it was painted
in a custom red and black show color...and they had left a key in it.  So I grabbed it.  Look, I know
that really I should have been riding the stock colored bike but the pictures were going to suck no matter
what and I was riding for five hours in the rain in Texas for you people so allow me just a little bit of
joy by riding the one fancy show bike that they had there.  (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

A second financial dynamic at play is currency exchange rates.  Simply put, motorcycle imports change prices based on the relative strength or weakness of the Dollar versus the Euro versus the Yen.  In 2008 the US pursued a policy of Quantitative Easing whereby we, basically, printed a lot of dollars.  This dropped the value of the dollar compared to the Yen and the Euro whose governments reacted to the global financial crisis in different manners.  The net result was that imports got mildly more expensive and US export became more affordable to other markets.  In theory, that yielded more job growth in the US.  In practice, the US has a much lower unemployment rate than it did in 2008 and much lower than Europe so, maybe, it has worked out.

During all these macro economic shenanigans, Japan adopted policies which led the Yen to appreciate against the dollar and the Euro.  These policies were pleasing to the older people in Japan (and there are a lot of old people in Japan) because they could buy imports at drastically reduced prices but these same policies damaged younger people because, say, the factories did not need workers since they were exporting far fewer motorcycles to the US.  All of this meant, a few years ago, that a Japanese 600 was selling for just $1,000 less than a Ducati 848.  Which, of course, meant Ducati sold a lot of bikes and Suzuki did not.

This was supposed to be a picture of a rolling standing burnout, but it rained. (Photo by AOD Ministry
of Information)

A couple of years ago the Japanese elected a new Prime Minister.  Abe (the politician not the totally cool racer (RIP)) is a, relatively, younger politician and he decided to cater more to the younger Japanese voters (and women, but that's a different whole thing) by adopting economic policies which were going to hurt domestic buying power (by raising the prices of imports) but trying to spur growth.  So he took a page from the US Fed and printed a lot of Yen, the value of the Yen dropped, and Japanese exports became more affordable in other countries.  In the last two years the Yen has depreciated by roughly 50%.  That is a massive swing for a currency.  Japanese business have begun to grow and the Nikkei 225 index has almost doubled since Abe took power.  Now, Abe does have a bit of a troubling habit of paying respect to WWII war criminals responsible for the rape, torture, starvation and murder of hundreds of thousands of innocents so he is not all progressive economic wizard but the guy has to appease the old folks who can't buy cheap Samsung flat screens anymore somehow. 

Suzuki had a tough go of it since the crash of 2008 with their nadir clearly marked by the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of American Suzuki in the fall of 2012.  But the nice thing about lowest points is that there is nowhere to go but up.  In the spring of 2013 Suzuki promoted Toru Muraki to be the president of Suzuki Motor of America and he has set about to rebuilding Suzuki in the USA.

This was supposed to be a picture of a hooligan knee drag on a double yellow line, but it rained.
(Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Toru (he and I are totally on a first name basis now after bonding over breakfast) give props to Yamaha for spotting the changing US motorcycle market in the US with a low end and a top end.  Yamaha's new products include price point bikes like the FZ series while also having product for the 1%ers like the new YZF-R1.  For a long time the general understanding was that US bike consumers where status obsessed and, riding the sport bike wave, only the newest tech and the best performance numbers would sell.  Yamaha turned that on its head with its great selling FZ-09 (which helped power a 71% (!!!) increase in sales of standard bikes) and, now, its Suzuki's turn.

The GSX-S 750 is not the best bike Suzuki could make, it is just the best 750cc bike Suzuki could make for an $8,000 msrp.  It is, quite honestly, a deal.

In the olden days Suzuki was known for its 2-stroke engines (which were all based on technology stolen by an East German racer from a Nazi missile scientist, but that is a different story) but in 1976 they brought to market their first four cylinder four stroke to challenge Honda dominance of that sphere.  The GS-750 had an air-cooled 60hp engine, triple disk brakes a steel frame and weighed in, wet, at about 550 pounds.  These bikes also sold for $2,195.  $2,195 dollars in today's purchasing power translates to $9,286.  That means that the MSRP for this bike of $8,000 it is actually 16% cheaper that its predecessor from 40 years ago with vastly improved everything.

It looks like it should cost a lot more than it does. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

The real crazy thing is that without Abe's manipulation of the Japanese Yen, this bike, just three years ago, would have been priced at $12,306 or $2,000 more than a Ducati Monster 796 was that same year.  In 2015, the Suzuki is $8,000 and the Ducati 821 is $11,451.

So what do you get for your $8,000?  You get a great looking street bike with an assembly of tried and true parts that racers might mock but, at the end of the day, are perfectly suited for a street bike and, of course, this bike is $4,300 less than the GSX-R 750 so that money has to come from somewhere.

The budget engineering is most egregiously visible in the steel frame, steel swing-arm, pre-load only adjustable suspension and two piston front brakes.  I say "visible" not "noticeable" because riding the bike on the street belies its price point.

Last summer the addition of a moto-curious teenage girl to my household led to the scheduling of a two night street ride.  Now, before I started racing, motorcycle rides/camping trips of lengths from two days to seven weeks were relatively common with my social circle.  Racing, of course, tends to burn out the moto-pleasure centers of our brains and street riding pales into insignificance.  However, through her eyes, exploring 800 miles of West Virginia back roads (even from the pillion seat) was about the best weekend imaginable.  I had sent out a general invitation to the ride so we had a motley band of motorcycles ranging from decade old sport 600s (including ex race bikes) to some relatively modern standards up to, and including, a Moto Guzzi Griso.  And you know what, we all got to dinner at the same time and everyone had the same amount of fun.

It works a lot better than its price tag suggests. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

If I had been given a choose (which I wasn't) between an S or an R to follow Kevin Schwantz on a slow meandering ride under leaden skies on rain soaked Texas roads for a couple hundred miles, I would choose the S every time.   Sure the bike doesn't have the redline or top end of a GSX-R but, on the street, you never get to that part of rev range anyway.  Cams which stack the torque curve to the left make for much more pleasant street riding that endless clutch slipping and wound out motors. 

I set out in the morning with the best intentions of giving you a hard hitting review of the bike but, well, weather laughs when men plan but, in actuality, crappy road conditions and weather are probably a better real world test of the bike than anything else.

At our real world speeds with heavily compromised traction, the steering was light and neutral, the brakes were matched to the conditions, the gearbox was smooth, the fueling was predictable even in that tricky faint on-throttle lean spot bikes have struggled with since the board track days.  No vibration made it through the pegs to my delightfully waterproof Goretex lined Alpinstars shod feet.  Once in a while my right hand would start numbing out but I wouldn't be able to swear it was due to vibration versus decades of musculoskeletal abuse.

An extra $200 gets you some brighter colors on the plastic, a blue chain and golder fork stanchions.
(Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Of course, I am a poster boy for George Shaw's unreasonable man so if I was going to take issue with Suzuki's choices I would whine about:

The budget suspension worked fine on our undemanding ride but, given the rough roads and low speeds I started noticing the abundance of compression damping that was transmitting a fair amount of road imperfections.   That said, in dry conditions with higher speeds and tire loads, all that compression damping would have probably been welcome. 

The brakes were fine.  I am not sure would want to try three hot laps at Summit Point with them but then again, this is not that kind of bike.

If I was going to be mainly riding it around town I'd leave the gearing alone, if I was going to mainly be on the highway I'd probably stack another tooth on the front sprocket to bring down the RPMs on the highway. 

There was just a trace of lean steady throttle burbling but the up side to that is crazy good mileage north of 40 mpg.

The seat is cut narrow in that trendy way to allow for firm footing in showrooms, or at stoplights for shorter riders.  That is all well and good but it is a bit narrow and thin for long saddle stints. 

Yours for the 2015 price of $9,300.  Clear evidence that the world is a much better place today
than in 1976. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

The GSX-S is a fine modern example of the UJM (universal Japanese motorcycle for you millennials) in that it is shocking competent for its price point.  Suzuki does have an upsale strategy in mind for the GSX-S customer.  You can buy the Z model with its appearance package for an extra two Benjamins.  You can buy a little windscreen, a chin spoiler, a little rear seat cowl, an extra piece of bodywork to bolt by the exhaust, swing arm spools, valve caps, a tank bag, tail bag, and a cycle cover.   Yoshimura has made a California legal slip on muffler available for $625.  The downside of an $8,000 motorcycle is that a $625 muffle raises the price of the bike by about 8%.

Suzuki has also been working on the all important credit solution so, presumably, they are willing to finance anyone.

Suzuki has a 1000 version on the way and the Euro is headed down against the dollar.  So with the US approaching full employment, wage increases beginning and a new era of less expensive bikes from Japan and Europe, its a fine time to be a nascent motorcycle enthusiast in the US.

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