Pancho the Traveling Bandit is my silver 2002 Suzuki GSF1200 Bandit, which I use as my exclusive means of transportation for daily commuting as well as business travel . . . and of course also for my "48-on-2" Project. I bought it new on August 8, 2002. One year later, on August 8, 2003, I had 18,000 miles on it. As I write this today (Wednesday, February 29th, 2012) I have well over 160,000.
As you can see, I'm in my full "combat touring" regalia in the picture above, wearing my Aerostitch Roadcrafter all-weather riding suit, a "suitcase you can wear" featuring ten pockets and TF2 ballistic material protecting the knees, elbows and shoulders, my Shoei RF-900 helmet and my incredibly comofortable Cruiserworks armored, waterproof boots.
Let me tell you something: seriously, having the right equipment makes all the difference in the world. On long trips in every kind of weather, things that would be luxuries for a quick ride on a sunny spring weekend become absolute necessities. Quality gear is the difference between an easy 700-mile day and a miserable 300-mile day.
The picture above was taken in the parking lot of the Two Wheels Only motorcycle resort in Suches, Georgia. I highly recommend it.
The addition of a set of lockable, removable Givi hardcases transformed Pancho into a sport touring bike with more storage area than a freakin' Gold Wing, man! The top case (a Maxia E52) has about 50 liters of storage capacity, enough to hold two full-face helmets next to each other. The side cases (a pair of E360s) have about 40 liters of additional storage capacity each, for a total of around 130 liters. Plus the top case has a luggage rack to secure even more stuff. I can easily pack enough gear for a week-long expedition . . . and I often do.
You basically need two things to make a motorcycle into a touring bike: luggage and a comfortable seat. This is my very nice Corbin saddle, which easily adds a couple hundred miles to my riding day. Note the scooped-out, "bucket" shape. Not cheap, but worth every penny on a long trip.
I have five priorities in a motorcycle:
This bike meets those criteria very nicely. The GSF1200 Bandit is the "naked" version of Suzuki's versatile big-bore street machine. The 1200S model has fairings and a windshield. I've never liked windshields. They create a swirling low-pressure zone that buffets my helmet. I prefer a nice steady relative wind that I can relax into. And I've never liked fairings, either; I really prefer the raw look of exposed engine parts.
Since I don't own a car, I ride to work every single day of the week -- that's a 46-mile round trip -- rain or shine. (Check out the Ride to Work Web site if you are interested in doing this or supporting those who do.)
Although it is not as luxurious as an all-out touring bike, the Bandit is laid out for a fairly neutral, natural riding position and I can stay in the saddle all day with no problem. And although it is not quite as fast or powerful as an all-out sportbike, the Bandit has more-than-ample torque and horsepower for the street. And although with an average fuel burn of about 45 MPG it does not get the spectacular gas mileage of a smaller-displacement bike, it is still better than a car and far superior to an SUV. Its decent fuel economy combined with low maintenance costs make it a practical alternative to four wheels. It's a bike that appeals to many different types of riders.
Originally, I had really wanted to get a dedicated sport-touring bike (such as a Honda ST1300, a Kawasaki ZZR1200 or a Yamaha FJR1300) since I planned to do so much commuting and traveling on it.
I'm very happy that I bought the Bandit and "customized" it into a sport-touring bike instead, however, because now I have a motorcycle with an engine just about as big (in terms of displacement, anyway) as the powerplant found in any of those others plus triple the carrying ability -- and for only about $6,000. That's less than half what I would have paid for one of the three I just listed by the time you include options and fees. With the money I saved I was able to buy lots of top-of-the-line, kick-ass equipment.
"Character" is not something I look for in a bike. In fact, it's something I try to avoid. "Character" is usually code for noise, vibration and quirky handling and performance traits. "Character," lauded poetically by riders of big American cruisers, is something you enjoy on a 5-mile ride to the bar with your friends. It is something you tolerate on a 50-mile ride. It is something you can barely endure on a 100-mile ride. And it makes the bike all but unusable for the big 500-mile or 1,000-mile days. That's why I want a bike with as little "character" as possible! You should be able to forget it's there and just enjoy the ride. That's what I like about the Bandit. It's smooth, quiet and easy to steer. It doesn't leave you aching and numb with a ringing in your ears. And it keeps on running.
The Bandit uses a well-proven 1157cc, 4-cylinder, air/oil cooled, DOHC 16-valve engine tuned for strong low and midrange power . . . in other words, power for the real world. It may not be able to compete with a race bike when it comes to flat-out top speed, but it merges with freeway traffic effortlessly and squirts out of trouble quickly and with ease.
Four Mikuni BSR36 carburetors with a throttle position sensor provide precise ignition timing control for strong low-RPM response. It employs camshaft timing and a stainless steel 4-into-1 exhaust system with an aluminum muffler to enhance low and midrange power. Its high-capacity oil cooler improves heat dissipation and helps to maintain a more consistent engine operating temperature. You can feel some radiant heat around your legs on hot days, but this usually isn't much of a problem. On a cold day it's actually quite pleasant.
Its 5-speed transmission shifts smoothly, with a positive feel, due to a low-maintenance hydraulic clutch with high-rate springs and a large-diameter slave cylinder. The battery is maintenance-free and the ignition is digital and transistorized. A pulsed secondary air-injection system (PAIR) reduces emissions. The lightweight, box-section aluminum swingarm has high torsional rigidity. A color-matched, cradle-type frame with large-diameter tubing offers strength and rigidity -- plus, it looks cool.
The handlebar pod features step-motor-powered instruments for more precise operation, plus an LCD odometer, twin tripmeters and a very handy fuel gauge! I like to zero out tripmeter 1 whenever I refuel and then use tripmeter 2 to keep track of my mileage on specific jaunts -- various routes to work, for instance, or the total for a multi-day road trip.
Its large-diameter (43mm) front forks have adjustable preload for stable suspension. Its single-shock rear suspension has seven preload adjustments, 4-way rebound damping and a movable gas/oil separator for consistent damping performance. The tubeless radial tires are mounted on wide cast aluminum wheels. Dual disc front brakes with Tokico six-piston calipers give the rider awesome stopping power.
The seat, although wide and comfortable, was initially a little too high for me (I'm 5'7"), so I had it lowered by about an inch shortly after I bought it.
You can put 5.3 gallons in the large-capacity fuel tank for legs of 180 to 200 miles. The reserve is a full 1.2 gallons, which frankly is a bit too much. You have to switch from the main fuel supply to the reserve fuel supply after burning just 4.1 gallons -- 77% of your total on board.
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