Brrm bbrrm… Fazer 600 vs Bandit GSF650 (both bikes being standard road models)
Recently I got shunted from behind on my Fazer 600 whilst sitting at a red traffic light. The silver lining to this dark cloud is that I got the chance to try out a Suzuki Bandit GSF650 (courtesy of the insurance company) while my beloved bike was being repaired. I’ve had the Fazer for three years now and am very happy with it, so I suppose it was inevitable I would compare my early experiences on the Bandit to my beloved Fazer. So here goes…
On first moving away from a standing start it was instantly noticeable how much livelier the throttle was on the Bandit than on my Fazer. I’ve always thought the Fazer’s throttle is a bit mushy. This is particularly noticeable when opening the throttle from completely closed when working through traffic. But it’s not a big problem. On the open road with the revs up it responds well to sudden shutting down to use the engine as a break before going into a bend (though the Bandit breaks slightly quicker under these conditions). In the Fazer’s favour it does mean you can generally use less pressure on the throttle grip. I only realised this after opening up some speed on the Bandit and felt a very slight juddering/faltering from the bike. At first I wondered if the timing was slightly out but quickly dismissed this possibility because I had been riding it for an hour and not noticed anything wrong with the power. Then it came to me. The road surface was slightly uneven and the bike was bouncing off the surface just a touch. Since I was holding the throttle loosely (as I would on the Fazer) the slight bounce from the bike was shaking my arm just enough to cause minute changes in my grip on the throttle. So I was almost imperceptibly closing and opening the throttle, hence the juddering. A slightly firmer grip on the throttle cured this. On long journeys a looser grip might be an advantage as it would be less tiring — a point in the Fazer’s favour though I would still like the Fazer throttle to be slightly quicker than it is. Having said that, the grip needed on the Bandit’s throttle when cruising for a couple of hours is as comfortable as that on the Fazer’s (though you might notice the difference when riding all day).
On a related issue I was surprised to find the Bandit’s clutch lever was as stiff as on the Fazer (which is known for this characteristic). With both bikes I find it tiring to keep the lever pulled in when sitting at the front of a queue at red traffic lights waiting for them to change. Consequently I always keep the bike in neutral even at the head of a traffic queue (probably not a bad thing anyway). It’s a bit more of a problem when working through slow moving traffic and clutch control becomes more important than at other times — the clutch on both bikes is smooth but my wrist can start to ache a bit if having to work the clutch a lot under those conditions.
Ok, so that’s the throttle and the clutch. What about the gear shift lever (operated by the left foot for anyone not in the know about bikes)? I’ve always thought the Fazer gear shifter to be a bit stiff (unless you get very conscientious with lubricating ALL the associated moving parts). But the Bandit shifter is a lot stiffer! At first I kept missing gears because I wasn’t pushing/pulling the lever hard enough. This was especially noticeable trying to get first gear, either from neutral or second gear. Quite a few times I got a false neutral trying to move down from second to first gear. Even after getting used to the bike this still occasionally happened.
A characteristic of the Fazer is that the power delivery suddenly increases above 7000rpm (the bike red lines at 14000rpm). The increase is easily noticeable but not a problem. Personally I quite like the way you quickly get more oomph as you get into the business end of the revs. (Yamaha cured this ‘problem’ on the next 600cc model, the Discovery. I tried the bike and it is very smooth. It probably makes a good first timer’s 600cc bike but I found that within an hour I was so used to it that there was nothing new to learn. For my tastes it was too smooth and there was definitely less power. My local Yamaha dealer had admitted the power curve had been smoothed out by accepting a loss of power/torque). The Bandit’s power curve is smooth and certainly has more pull at lower revs. To some extent this made traffic work easier as I could afford to leave it in lower gear for longer than the Fazer (avoiding the stiff clutch lever problem I mentioned earlier). But in general I found myself using the same gear as on the Fazer whether in traffic, cruising or keeping the revs high as I worked the bike hard around the bends of country roads.
While talking about revs and power curves, vibration through the foot pegs and the handlebar is more noticeable on the Bandit than on the Fazer. This is especially so at 6000 to 7000 rpm (the Bandit red lines at 12500 rpm) when the left hand and left foot get a lot of vibration. On the Fazer vibration is barely noticeable, if at all. I don’t think this is a big problem unless you end up staying at 6000 to 7000 rpm for some time. On the handlebars the problem could probably be cured by replacing the stops on the ends with heavier ones. (I don’t know how you would stop the foot peg vibrating so much — a heavier peg?)
Comparing the brakes between the Fazer and the Bandit is interesting. Although the Bandit’s brakes feel quite different a quick glance at them suggests they are the same basic set up as on my Fazer — namely, single disc on the back with double opposing pistons on two discs on the front wheel. So my braking technique is the same for both bikes. I know there has been a trend for people to talk about hit the front brake slightly before the back one but I don’t find this useful for the brakes as set up on my Fazer (and therefore for the Bandit as well). The crucial factor is the front brake on my Fazer has so much bite that if I hit that first I lock the front wheel and the back starts to slide sideways. I’ve not come off when this has happened (or hit anything) but I’ve gone back to Old Skool braking — hit the back brake just before the front one, pushing hard on the back one while smoothly increasing pressure on the front, if needs be pumping the front brake whilst maintaining constant pressure on the back one. The same technique applies on the Bandit.
On both bikes I find I have to push a long way down with my foot on the back brake. This made me wonder if this was a similar design fault. After some thought I decided it was more likely due to me having small feet for an adult male. My foot size is only 7 ½ to 8 whereas the average adult male’s is about 9. If, as a standard procedure, the brake lever on bikes is set up to be far enough forward from the foot peg for a size 9 foot to push it down comfortably, then with a smaller foot the lever is nearer the end of the foot and the foot has to push down at a greater angle to get the same braking effect.
People often tell me I over analyse things so maybe I should stop now. All the differences above are minor even though the riding experience is quite different for each bike. Both bikes are well balanced and respond well. Like speedy gazelles the Fazer and the Bandit lean quickly and easily into bends, responding quickly to any adjustments I make when negotiating a variety of bends. (Curiously, I rode a Honda CB600F a while back but never got the same confidence around bends as I get from the Fazer and Bandit. It was a typically smooth Honda but somehow didn’t feel as agile either in traffic or on the bends. Consequently I was not so relaxed when pushing it hard round the bends. I never worked out why this was the case. The Honda had the same dry weight as my Fazer. If its wheel base had been longer than my Fazer’s then that might have accounted for some of the difference, but it was the same.) A final point, COMFORT. This is very important to me as I have a bad back — bad enough for me to always be in some sort of pain. For this reason I can only ride with standard settings on a bike, no racing positions. Both the Fazer and the Bandit are very comfortable and I can ride constantly and intensely round larger country roads for nearly four hours nonstop with no complaints.
In short… I love both bikes and would not claim one is better than the other. They are quite different riding experiences but that is part of the fun of biking! I love my Fazer but if I owned the Bandit I would love that. My only word of warning concerns the maintenance costs. When I took my Fazer in for a scheduled major service at 24000 miles I was told that a Bandit would have already had the same service at 8000 and 16000 miles. That makes the major services three times as expensive on the Bandit! I’ve not bothered to check up on this claim so don’t take my word for it, but if you’re thinking of buying a Bandit you might want to check! That warning aside… if you buy a Fazer or a Bandit you’ll have many happy hours of riding!