Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away
I usually kick off the riding season with a lightweight bike, some kind of smallish putt-putt with just enough benign power to rub away winter?s rust without endangering life and limb.
One of my first rides of 2014 was actually a late addition from last year?s lineup – the Suzuki GW250 that came to Canada in the fall of 2013.
Motorcycle companies do a curious thing compared to the more regimented routines of automotive companies. When a new product debuts, and if they have enough units to carry them over for a while, bike companies will simply skip a model year without worrying about it.
It?s quite common to go to a manufacturer?s website and see upcoming 2015 models, some current 2014 models listed along with 2013 or even bargain-priced 2012 models still up for sale.
Which means that the brash and naked 2013 GW250 will carry on this year with no 2014 replacement until a new 2015 version appears, probably unchanged except for fresh colours.
In Suzuki?s entry-level lineup, this very affordable Chinese-built GW250 ($3,999) seriously undercuts the TU250 ($5,299), a dated and traditionally styled single-cylinder thumper that no longer qualifies for California emissions but still maintains a dedicated fan base.
The GW250 also joins a growing list of lightweight competitors broadly aimed at a still vague and uncertain next generation market. A list would have to include mainly sport bike-styled competitors – the Kawasaki Ninja 300 ($5,399) and the 2013 Honda CBR250 ($4,499 but currently price-slashed to $3,499).
Honda will bump up displacement soon with a new 2015 CBR300 but the current sale-priced CBR250 is the most serious challenger to the GW, especially when you consider that the CBR250 ABS version has been sale priced at the same $3,999 price as the GW250 (which is not available with ABS).
Yamaha has a cruiser-styled V Star 250 ($4,490) and there are rumours of a possible R3 version in future.
Suzuki staff tend to pooh-pooh the competitors? increases to 300 cc as mere marketing ploys and they boast of smoother twin-cylinder power delivery compared to single-cylinder competitors. But, arguably, the real strong point of the GW250 is its naked bike design, a styling trend that is especially strong in Europe and gaining traction here.
The GW250 may be new to us, but it has established itself in those other markets where it sells as the GSR250 or Inazuma (Lightning). It has also been nicknamed the ?Baby King?, a tribute to styling cues in common with Suzuki?s former B-King, especially in instrument and headlight treatment, and in the unique way the front signals are integrated into the side fairings. Even Suzuki hints at this when they refer to GX styling as a ?kingly statement?. You might also spot some Gladius similarities if you squint hard enough, and the two bikes do share accessory pieces.
The overall design may leave you hot or cold, but I tend to give bonus points for any styling exercise that takes a risk rather than setting for standard complacency.
The GW250 is a very approachable bike. A low 760 mm seat height will entice younger, smaller riders and newbies. But larger riders have little to fear.
I?m 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and, although advancing age has loosed the shackles of shame, well, nobody wants to look like the bear on the circus bike. But I never felt cramped on the GW. My knees fit neatly into the tank indents and it?s an easy upright reach to the handlebars, making for a comfortable riding position.
After my usual vanity check, rolling slowly past one of those mirrored-glass office buildings, solemnly studying my reflection, probably to the amusement of workers inside, I was relieved to spot nothing to worry about, size wise at least.
That?s because, as far as small bikes go, the GW250 is one of the biggest. Compared to the competitors I?ve listed here, the GW250 is the largest, longest and heaviest motorcycle in the segment. There?s a sturdy solidity to the design and the twin mufflers, one on either side of the bike, add an impression of width and mass.
Getting around on the GW250 is easy. You can futz around town scooter-style, skip-shifting lazily through the even-numbered gears. But getting up to real speed requires twisting the throttle and waiting, legging out each shift to maximum revs.
The engine spins at around 7500 rpm at 100 km/h or at 9,000 rpm at the more universally applied 120 km/h. That?s getting close to the 11,000 rpm redline and the little engine sings out earnestly on the freeway.
I won?t confess to pushing past 130 km/h, officer, and I will leave it to lighter, younger riders to properly test the bike?s limits but, always keeping in mind that I?m probably 100 pounds heavier than the typical rider in this lightweight performance class, the power level seemed quite acceptable. As was the fuel economy, considering that even I was managing a 3.3L/100km average during combined driving, mostly highway and country road cruising for a roughly 400 km range.
Other features worth mentioning include a slick-shifting six-speed tranny with easy-to-find neutral position and light clutch pull, a seven-way adjustable rear suspension, handsome three-spoke sport wheels and a perfect instrument package with analog tach front and centre, idiot lights to the left and digital readouts to the right including an LCD speedometer, odo, twin trips, maintenance interval indicator and three-mode rpm indicator (Normal, Eco and Off).
A gear selection indicator is an unexpected addition for a bargain bike.
With alternative naked bike design going up against mainly sport bike-styled competitors, the GX250 makes for an affordable and likeable lightweight choice for either budget-conscious beginners or for aging veteran riders who have grown tired of lugging around the extra weight of macho pretension.
This is getting back to basics. Take a test ride and see.
Suzuki GW250 at a glance
ENGINE: two- cylinder, 248 cc, four-stroke, liquid cooled, SOHC (24 hp, 17 lb/ft)
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed constant mesh with chain final drive
SUSPENSION: Front telescopic, coil spring, oil damped; rear swingarm type, coil spring, oil damped with seven-position pre-load spring adjustment
BRAKES: Front 290 mm disc; Rear 240 mm disc
TIRES: Front 110/80-17M/C 57H; Rear 140/70-17M/C 66H
WHEELBASE: 1,430 mm
LENGTH: 2,145 mm
WIDTH: 780 mm
SEAT HEIGHT: 760 mm
CURB WEIGHT: 183 kg
FUEL CAPACITY: 13.3 litres
FUEL ECONOMY: As tested 3.3L/100km (comb)
COLOURS: Pearl Nebular Black or Candy Cardinal Red
Metroland Media for Wheels.ca