Suzuki Bandit GSF 650 SA Review
Review Received 15 January 2023
I bought my first motorcycle about 5 months before I had my license. It was a ‘96 Suzuki Intruder 600. One day I basically decided on a whim that I want to get into these freedom machines, and what better way to do it than buying a chopper. The fact that I had chosen the wrong bike for my needs was laid bare to me soon afterwards. High handlebars were uncomfortable after 30 minutes of riding. Cruiser seating position was back-pain inducing after 1 hour. Loud exhaust was annoying after 2 hours of touring. Going faster than 70 kph without a windscreen was suffocating. No fuel gauge meant keeping track of my trip meter meticulously. Carburettors... no thanks, never again.
Despite all those shortcomings of the Intruder, I loved riding and I went to work with that thing even in winter. It was, however, becoming clear that I had to get a bike more suited to the way I ride. After doing 10k km on the chopper I decided to sell it and look for a more touring-friendly alternative, ideally with a windscreen and more storage capacity.
Looking through the used bikes in my area in Austria, I found a lot of cheap Suzuki Bandits of all kinds. Many in seemingly very good condition with low mileage and lots of accessories. The prices were actually too good to be ignored. Similar bikes from other manufacturers didn’t even come close in terms of value for money. I picked the best offer at that time that was in reasonably close proximity and went for a visit and a test ride. Soon after that, she was mine.
Now that looks like a great machine with enormous power (88 HP), wind protection, ABS, huge luggage capabilities and most importantly, a comfortable seating position. I called the guy and went to have a look at the bike. It was winterized at that time (February 2020) and the battery was flat, so I could not take it for a spin. The seller offered me to come back in a few days, then he would have the battery charged. I agreed, came back about a week later and took it for a spin. Made sure the ABS worked, all lights were fine and the engine and gearbox didn’t make any weird or inconsistent noises. We talked a bit about the bike’s history and why he was selling it, then agreed on a price and I took it home. The taking home part was a few days later though as I had to get it registered first, but it happened and the beast was mine.
The bike in question is of course the Suzuki Bandit GSF 650 SA, the “A” standing for the ABS version. Coming from a 33 HP machine, this bike had so much power that I almost rear-ended a car on my first short trip, because I misjudged the acceleration. Fortunately, the double disc brakes on the front saved me back then.
I went on a few tours with it through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia and was also briefly in Germany. Other than that, I mostly used it for commuting and visiting family over the weekends who live about 130 km away.
I never had any serious troubles with the Bandit. The only real issue was the battery suddenly dying just a month after I bought it. Swapped that for 50 bucks and from then on it was only the wear parts that needed replacement. Mostly the brake pads for some reason! The bike surely loved to eat brake pads, maybe because of its weight (250 kg), but honestly, I don’t know.
I bought the bike with a bit less than 38k km on the clock and sold it again with 63k after around 2 years. Around 25k km of touring, city riding and commuting. Looking back, I really liked the bike despite it being very top-heavy, especially when fully fuelled. This made it hard to manoeuvre around in the city and also parking was a chore, but I got used to it anyway.
What I loved about the bike
Smoothness. Boy, was it smooth to ride, accelerate, turn and brake. Once up to speed, I never hesitated to lay it in a corner because I knew I could trust it. The power delivery was predictable without any (significant) jumps and the handling was spot-on. To be fair, I never used the machine to its limit. The redline was at 11k rpm I think, but I only ever brought it up to 8k, mostly out of curiosity, but that’s when it got scary.
Comfort. Coming from a feet-forward chopper, the riding position was so much better for my needs. Even though I was a bit bent forward, when at speed, it didn’t matter so much. I could sit for hours on it, not needing much adjustment or even breaks. The controls were exactly where they should be. The only thing I would have liked to adjust would have been the handlebars, specifically to move them about 2” towards me, but the brake line wouldn’t have it. Oh well, still good.
Storage capacity. Three hard bags of about 110 L in total. More space than I ever needed, I realized. I always packed too much stuff on the trips anyway and still had space left to spare, so I mostly packed everything into the side bags and left only some daily needs and helmet space in the huge top case. The main use for the bags was actually shopping trips in town as I could fit my whole shopping in there with ease, so I didn’t even need a car.
What I didn’t love about the bike
To preface this, there wasn’t anything I truly hated about the Bandit. It served me more than well over these years and it showed me a new world of motorcycling, as well as helped me filter out my true preferences.
Weight. It was heavy to move around. I’m a “light” male, 180cm with around 68kg. I dropped the bike twice in the time I had it. In every case it was my fault only, but I quickly noticed that the weight is unforgiving. Once you lean it over a certain angle, there is nothing you can do. Picking it up was possible, but only just. I’m not trained at all, but with the right technique I could manage to lift it from almost flat. Luckily I didn’t damage the bike much, but I had to replace the clutch lever once.
Wear parts. This is a weird one. The Bandit, for some reason, liked to eat tires and brake pads. My tires were worn out after about 8k-10k km, most of it city riding. I would understand if that happens on a long highway tour, but this was unprecedented. I also had to change the brake pads three times in the 25k km I made on the bike. Even had to change both front discs once! My current bike (DL 250) still has its first pads (now with 24k km) and they still have some meat left.
These aren’t any major issues all in all. Even as a commuter vehicle, it wasn’t that expensive to keep up, even with its weird quirks. But ultimately, I decided to go lower cc, as I did most of my riding in the city.
Would I recommend the Bandit to anyone then? Absolutely yes. For that price it was more than worth it. Had my riding consisted more of touring instead of commuting, I’d likely still own the bike. But, you know, priorities change, perspectives change and preferences change. That’s just the way of things.
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Upt'North ¹ said :-
Nice write up Ivan, I always liked the Bandits but never owned one, it was on my shortlist for a 1250 when I settled on a CBF1000.
I think your wear issues were just physics, and you can't argue with physics.
30/01/2023 09:37:09 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
"you can't argue with physics" - ie "you canny change the laws of physics, captain".
Weight is a thing to be noted. Sharon's 150kg 250 and Sharon herself at 50kg makes for 200kg. Me with my 196kg bike plus 5kg of extras plus 80odd kg of me makes for 280-290kg, probably more. The mileage Sharon gets out of chains, brakes and tyres is phenomenal. Part of this is riding style, a good part of this is sheer mass and the lack of therein.
Ivan's write up is rather good innit.
30/01/2023 13:57:23 UTC
Ive¹ said :-
Thanks for the feedback both of you!
Yeah, the whole package with me + bike and some stuff I carry (Laptop, etc) is about 250 + 68 + 5 = 323 kg. That definitely makes a difference then, I just wasn't aware how much it was.
@Upt'North: I feel the 650 was more than enough for me, so I wasn't ever really looking for something bigger. It might make a difference if you are riding a lot on the highway, which I don't. For regular roads and city commuting it was more than big enough :).
30/01/2023 16:33:12 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Ivan, my considered purchase at the time was for a two up tourer. I wanted to go with oem luggage too, it's just easier. Having just fitted a mix of Shad and Givi on my WeeStrom I think oem is still a better choice when it works but that wasn't an option that would work on the Strom.
Looking back I think a smaller cc bike could well have been an option but the 1000 was a good Autoroute blaster and it did plenty of it, it was probably more beneficial on steep mountain passes in Europe too.
The Strom now feels plenty lively enough although this year it was relegated to second bike by the Pan, we'll see how it copes loaded up this year.
I note you're from Austria, there's some lovely rides there although I wouldn't include the Vršič Pass in the lovely ride Category. Although is that in Slovenia? I know I was travelling towards Austria at the time.
My memory is weak.
31/01/2023 09:01:04 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
It's got to be time for an Austrian bike porn pic. This near Leogang. Great family run hotel too.
31/01/2023 09:12:43 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I wanna go to The Alps!
01/02/2023 19:22:00 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
You've been and you did nowt but complain.....
If wer're doing hotels this is my Commando outside the Savoy in Rome. They had nowhere to put the bike when I was attending a meeting for 3 days so I had to negotiate the one way system to an underground car park beneath another hotel. I was a bit anxious it would have vanished by the time I retrieved it but it was fine. Leaving Rome in the morning rush hour heading towards Brindisi was slightly challenging however.
02/02/2023 12:33:26 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Can't be something I do that often, I can't find many pics, but here's one from Chaves, Portugal, last summer. I think it was The Hotel San Francisco.
02/02/2023 17:57:16 UTC
nab301 said :-
Interesting comment on the brakes and tyre life. I had an '04 Bandit 600 purchased in 2014 with 10k km's recorded on the original tyres fitted and what looked like the original pads. I reckon it was the easiest bike on tyres and brakes that I've ever owned! The first replacement set of tyres that I fitted last 16k km's and I sold the bike at 42k km's with out ever replacing the pads.
10/02/2023 22:15:56 UTC
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