In the battle of the sports tourers, next up is the Suzuki GSX- S1000 GT v Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello clash!
Suzuki GSX-S1000 GT
During the first Covid lockdown in what now seems a surreal lifetime ago, I found myself looking in the bathroom mirror one Friday night after a few glasses of wine, and seeing the Abominable Ulsterman looking back.
My hair was like an explosion in a mattress factory, and made Tom Hanks in Cast Away look like a skinhead.
It was time for action, so grabbing the beard trimmer I’ve had from the days when designer stubble was in fashion, I set to, using the theory that if I trimmed straight up each side and straight across the top, nothing could possibly go wrong.
Astonishingly, I was right. When I came downstairs, Cate said it looked surprisingly trendy, so I decided I never needed to go to the hairdresser’s again, and could spend the money I saved on even more wine.
Which brings me, naturally, to the Suzuki GSX-S1000 GT, which was obviously designed on the same principle of straight lines and sharp edges. If you can find a curve on it apart from the mudguards, I’ll eat my helmet, then my goggles for pudding.
The result looks as sharp and cool as the Fonz, unlike when BMW tried the same thing with the first generation of the Z4 car and its R12000ST bike and got it horribly wrong.
Design aside, the previous Gixxer 1000 was such a fabulous beast of a bike that Suzuki didn’t need to change much, and wisely haven’t, more of which in a moment.
The previous power modes were A, B and C, but some wise guy at Suzuki HQ has decided that’s too boring, so they’re now Active, Basic and Comfort.
Like all Suzukis, it was very good value for money when it was launched at £10,999, compared to its main rivals, Yamaha’s £12,502 MT-10, Honda’s £11,999 CB1000R and BMW’s £12,035 S1000R.
Even after it very quickly became the UK’s best-selling sports tourer and Suzuki hoisted the price to £12,499, it’s still a grand cheaper than the basic version of the Moto Guzzi, although there are small signs that it’s been built to a budget, with a digital rather than TST screen, and standard ABS and traction control rather than the posh cornering versions.
That screen is a bit cluttered, with the small tacho figures tricky to read in sunlight, and the mirrors are very average, but that engine is a peach, as was its predecessor.
A few riders have complained that the throttle on the previous GSX-1000 was a bit snatchy, although I never thought so, but the throttle bodies have now been changed for a smoother power delivery, and the torque is down a smidgen, but tweaked to give big fat dollops of it in the midrange, which is where you need it most for overtaking and powering out of corners even in Comfort mode.
The quickshifter is a work of genius, snicking up and down through the six-speed box effortlessly even at low revs and first and second gears, which some quickshifters struggle with.
The wide, high bars make for not only a comfortable riding position, but effortless cornering. The merest hint of pressure on them, and you’re soaring around bends as if by instinct.
The Brembo brakes are unchanged from the previous model, and just as powerful and progressive, while a slipper clutch stops the back wheel locking under aggressive downshifting.
Switching into Basic mode brings a more aggressive power delivery, although never in a way that makes you think you’re going to die at any second, and Active makes you feel like a combination of Joey Dunlop and Valentino Rossi, although possibly slightly less skilful than either.
All in all, a deeply satisfying motorbike, at a deeply satisfying price.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to open a bottle of wine and trim my hair.
Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello
Here is a message for the Austrian manufacturer of a well-known energy drink.
You don’t need Red Bull to give you wings.
You see, the V100 Mandello, Moto Guzzi’s latest sports tourer, comes with an elegant pair on the side of the tank which pop out to keep your knees dry in the rain, and cossetted in a cocoon of still air even in the middle of a howling gale.
Innovative – but then, so is the whole bike, which was created from scratch to celebrate the centenary of the company founded by First World War Italian Navy pilots Carlo Guzzi, Giorgio Parodi and Giovanni Ravelli.
When Ravelli died in a plane crash in 1919, the other two chose an eagle as the company symbol in his honour when they started Moto Guzzi in 1921 in the factory on the shores of Lake Como where the bikes are made to this day.
It was rather appropriate, then, that I climbed aboard the bike outside that very same factory on a cool, damp morning to test a machine which like all Guzzis still bears that eagle logo.
Being Italian, it looks infinitely stylish, and with rain in the air, the outriders had donned midnight blue Dainese waterproofs which made them the only riders ever to look good in rain gear. The rest of us looked as if we wearing bin bags.
Still, never mind. If God had wanted me to look stylish, he would have called me Giovanni.
Climb aboard the plushly sculpted seat, and it being a sports tourer, the seating position is a happy marriage of sporty and touring, the mirrors are good although not astonishing, and the 5in TFT screen, while not the 10.25 widescreen that BMW has on its bigger beasts, is entirely adequate, showing you all you need to know, including which of the four modes you’re in – Pioggia, Strada, Turismo or Sportivo.
If you’re not as fluent in Italian as what I am, these translate as Soggy, Urban Hipster Dude, Born to Cruise and Hooligan.
The controls, unlike the Honda Africa Twin which has 4,826 buttons on the left bar, are beautifully simple and intuitive. A single button on the right bar toggles between the riding modes, and four buttons on the left got the electric screen up to maximum height and the heated grips nice and toasty quickly and easily.
As opposed to me using the usual bloke method of pressing buttons at random until something happens, that is.
The engine, meanwhile, has been tilted forward slightly for more legroom for taller motorcyclists, and as one, I can report it works. There is a taller seat option, but even at 6ft 7ins I found the standard seat entirely fine.
Since we started by winding our way through the Mandello city streets, I started in Urban Hipster Dude mode, then out on the open road switched to Born to Cruise, but to be honest didn’t notice a huge difference.
The aforementioned wings slide out seductively at 70km/h, or 43.496mph precisely, but I didn’t notice much difference when they did, to be just as honest.
Still, they look cool, which in Italy is the main thing.
Even in Born to Cruise mode, progress is gloriously swift and smooth, and with 82% of torque available from 3,500rpm, I could take uphill hairpins in second gear without even coming close to stalling.
The bike weighs 233kg, but is so beautifully balanced that handling is light and agile, and semi-active suspension on the S version I was riding means that it soaks up rough straights, while cornering ABS on both the standard and S laughs off gnarly bends with equal aplomb.
For those gnarly bends if you’re caught out after dark, the headlights turn into corners as you do in case there’s an insomniac cow standing in the road.
With Brembo callipers and two hefty 320mm discs up front, braking is equally smooth and swift, with a slipper clutch to stop the back wheel locking if you downshift a little too enthusiastically, although surprisingly, the rear brake was a bit spongy and needed a firm foot for trail braking into downhill corners.
The quickshifter, which like the heated grips comes as standard on the S version, was a bit clunky in the first three gears, as many are, and refused to play ball a couple of times, but when I needed to use the clutch, it was delightfully light, and going up and down the top three gears, the quickshifter was firm but flawlessly precise.
Right, time to switch to Hooligan mode, which added a thrilling alacrity to proceedings, although at the expense of making the throttle occasionally snatchy and the suspension firmer.
To be honest, for smooth, swift progress, especially with the love of your life on the back, I’d go for Born to Cruise pretty much all the time.
As for the sound, I have said several times that on electric bikes you get used very quickly to swishing along in blissful silence, but I’ve had a word with myself to remind me that there is something deeply satisfying about the visceral snore of a big V-twin.
By now the promised rain had arrived with a vengeance, so I switched to Soggy mode, at which point the wings slid out to keep my knees dry, but progress was so sluggish that I was soon back in Born to Cruise mode.
And in spite of the rain, feeling splendidly happy to be riding a machine which is agile and sporty yet all-day comfortable, and with a gloriously smooth yet characterful engine, all of it adding up to a very fitting tribute to 100 years of Moto Guzzi, and to the ghost of Giovanni Ravelli.
Suzukis have always been good value, and the GSX-S1000 GT gives you lots of bang for not so many bucks, even after Suzuki hiked the price because it was proving so popular.
Wisely, the Japanese company has tweaked the previous GSX-1000 rather than made major changes – and based the design on my lockdown haircut. Inspired.
On the V100 Mandello, meanwhile, the vita doesn’t get more dolce. With a gloriously smooth yet characterful engine, agile and sporty handling and all-day comfort, it’s a fitting tribute to 100 years of Guzzi.
Looked at with your head, the Suzuki is the better bike, with slightly brisker progress thanks to its 150bhp over the Guzzi’s 115bhp, and slightly sharper handling, not to mention being a welcome surprise from a company which did nothing much for years then produced two winners in succession in the shape of this and the GSX-8S.
But with your heart, the Guzzi looks more stylish, that being compulsory in Italy, not to mention more character, quirkiness, charm and the sound of a V-twin, probably the most evocative instrument in the motorcycle orchestra.
Tough call. You won’t be disappointed either way.
Suzuki GSX-S1000 GT
Engine: 999cc inline four
Power: 150bhp @ 11,000rpm
Torque: 78 lb ft @ 9,250rpm
Colours: Blue; grey; black
Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello
Engine: 1042cc liquid-cooled V-twin
Power: 115bhp @ 8,700rpm
Torque: 77 ft lb @ 6,750rpm
Colours: White; red; gold; black; grey; green/grey; grey
Price: Standard £13,500, S version £15,750
About Geoff Hill
Geoff Hill is a critically acclaimed author and journalist who’s won multiple national and international awards for feature and travel writing.
He’s written weekly motorbike columns for the Irish Times, Sunday Times and Daily Mirror which are desperate attempts to disguise the fact that he knows bugger all about motorbikes.
He’s also the editor of Microlight Flying magazine, in spite of the fact that he knows even less about aeroplanes than he does about motorbikes.
He’s the author of 19 books, including accounts of epic motorbike journeys from Delhi to Belfast and Route 66 (Way to Go), Chile to Alaska (The Road to Gobblers Knob), around Australia (Oz) and In Clancy’s Boots, recreating the journey of Carl Stearns Clancy, the first person to take a motorbike around the world 100 years ago – complete with Clancy’s original boots.
His novels are Angel Street, Smith and The Butler’s Son, and the best of his collected travel stories are in Where was I again?