Suzuki’s finally stepped into the junior sportbike ring with the new GSX250R, but are they too late?
I am always thrilled when a class gets a new motorcycle, particularly so when it’s a sportbike. Junior sport bikes—unlike the class in general right now—are the hot ticket for manufacturers who are eyeing big time sales in South East Asia and Central and South America as a driving force for overall company revenue. These areas of the world (especially places like Thailand and Malaysia) are nuts for little sportbikes, mainly due to capacity restrictions that mean it’s rather difficult to own an R6 or a GSX-R1000.
Photography by Suzuki
Thus, bikes like the new GSX250R carry a lot of clout when it comes to end-of-year board meetings. The class may be for little bikes but there’s big money to be made, and it’s now a more competitive segment of motorcycling than ever.
Suzuki’s answer to class stalwarts like the Yamaha YZF-R3 and KTM RC390 is this 248cc parallel-twin, wrapped in a little and lithe twin-spar aluminum chassis with looks inspired by the legendary Suzuki Katana range. That’s part of the reason why the GSX is called so and not taking the same designation as the GSX-R. The Katana was labeled a GSX and has gone onto receive cult-like status in the motorcycle community, and rightly so. Whether the same future awaits the GXSX250, is up for debate.
But there’re GSX-R styling cues everywhere with the front end looking slightly like the new GSX-R1000 and the rear a direct copy. This, however, isn’t really a sportbike—it’s more a naked bike with a fairing—thanks to the raised ’bars and low ’pegs that make for a very comfortable riding position, perfect for around town zipping—this an excellent traffic weapon despite the, shall we say, reduced output of the little twin.
The suspension is as basic as can be allowed in the junior sport bike class with an un-adjustable Kayaba fork matched to a monoshock with preload adjustment out the back. It’s a soft ride, no doubt, but combined with the relaxed riding position makes it smooth on most road surfaces.
Suzuki has done well with the new dash. The digital unit looks like a relic from a 1990s Gameboy but it displays a stack of information and it’s easily read at speed. It’s backlit in such a way that direct sunlight doesn’t seem to affect its ability to relay information to the rider too much—it’s one of the more easily understood dashes in the lightweight class.
Under the classy clothes sits that 248cc twin, itself derived from the GW250 naked bike. It’s been updated with a new cylinder, reworked intake and exhaust valves, tappets and fuel injectors, but it’s essentially the same indestructible motor from the GW.
Riding a 250 twin is generally a case of high revs—high revs in traffic, high revs in canyons, and super high revs while riding on a freeway just to make sure you’re keeping up with traffic, let alone trying to outrun it. The GSX is far from immune to this little class trademark, and requires the rider to have the engine singing north of 7500 rpm almost the entire time to have any meaningful form of momentum. I wish I could say there’s a great rush of power in the top rev ranges, but sadly, there isn’t. This little GSX, while being great in traffic and around town, couldn’t pull the skin off a cold soup. It struggles to clear 75 mph in a headwind, and while I know I’m not the ideal weight for a 250, I’m not that big! With a sidewind down a very steep hill to the Cycle News office, I could just crack 85 mph with the revs nudging 10,500 rpm but the second that wind turned and I was going head first into it, the mph dropped and the little Suzi began to slow.
Suzuki only has itself to blame here. The lightweight sportbike class moved on from 250cc twins over two years ago, with Yamaha’s R3, Honda’s (admittedly equally slow single-cylinder) CBR300R, the KTM RC390 and the Ninja now 400 twin the class standards. It’s not that these bikes are modern sport bike levels of fast, but they are all faster than the GSX.
Maybe I’m missing the point, but a quick look at the MSRP of the GSX reveals only a $500 difference to the R3 and the Ninja 400, so when faced with this dilemma, I think Suzuki needs to punch their little twin out to at least 300cc—if not 400cc—by the 2019 model year or risk being left behind altogether. Perception is everything, especially in the sportbike class, no matter what the capacity.
But it’s not all bad. The gearbox gracing the 249cc twin is excellent, with smooth, hassle-free gear changes and a cable activated clutch that has a nice feel and take up from the lights.
You can hustle the 250 along in the canyons quite well and the skinny dimensions of the chassis will be a welcome feature for new riders who want to learn the craft of riding a sport bike efficiently. Every move you make is exaggerated on a the GSX due to the soft springers—which is not necessarily a bad thing because it teaches the rider to be gentle with inputs to get the most out of it.
General traffic riding is quite good fun on the GSX as the ride position means you can be dodging in and out of cars all day and not get too tired. In this way, the 250 is very similar to the GSX-S1000F—a bike with a touch of sporting prowess but with all-day comfort, even for taller riders.
The braking power of the little GSX’s twin piston Nissin caliper is excellent, as is the feel at the lever. It doesn’t have a huge mass to haul up in the GSX but this is, in my opinion, one of the standout features of the bike—another factor new riders are going to love.
The Suzuki has many factors going for it—great looks, good brakes and once you get it in its groove in slow to medium-speed canyons, great fun—but it is let down by an engine that just isn’t up to class spec. Had this bike come out four years ago, it’d be one of the best machines in its class, but the rest of the junior sport bikes have stepped up their game substantially in that time.
Where the GSX will excel is with brand-new riders that are just dipping their toes in the sportbike waters. Suzuki wants these riders to hang onto their GSX250Rs for a long time and not have to upgrade them right away, but for this to happen, I feel the motor needs another 100cc to keep them interested. CN
SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Suzuki GSX250R ($4499)
4-stroke, liquid-cooled, SOHC, parallel-twin
Bore x stroke:
53.5 x 55.2mm
Cast aluminum twin spar
Telescopic fork, non-adjustable
Single shock adjustable for spring preload
Single-disc, Nissin 2-piston caliper
Single-disc, Nissin single-piston caliper
392 lbs. (curb, claimed)