king Road Test Review
It took six years for Suzuki to get its B-King into the showrooms. Given just how outrageous and radically different its ‘Bat-bike’ styling is, you’ve really got to applaud the Japanese firm for taking the brave gamble and going the whole way to get it to customers.
Unfortunately, the positive approval the concept version of the bike got at shows world-wide back in 2001 hasn’t translated to good sales, well not in the UK at least. Taking the same sort of style risk back in the eighties with its very distinctively-shaped Katana sportsbikes may have paid off for Suzuki, but this time round we Brits seem to be too conservative with our tastes.
That’s a shame for me personally, as I absolutely love the B-King. It’s one of my favourite bikes and one I always really enjoy riding, regardless of the sort of route I’ve taken. Apart from the unique and highly controversial style which I myself totally approve of, I’m really impressed by the breathtaking yet predictable performance it has. Better still is that its power is very safe and easy to access. And though I accept the design of the Suzuki is very Marmite-like; you either love or hate it, riding it deserves nothing other than maximum praise – though I admit I wouldn’t be surprised to hear anyone, bar those who’ve actually ridden a B-King, to find my admiration for it very hard to believe. I know I was very sceptical myself before I got the chance to ride one for the first time simply because it seemed far too ungainly and challenging to manage.
I’d accept in theory at least, the B-King has no right to perform anywhere near as well as it actually does. Of course the massive power coming so easily from its 1340cc in-line four engine – the same one fitted in the Hayabusa and producing a claimed 180bhp – could make it sound really intimidating for many. Combined with its hefty dry weight of 235kilos, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Suzuki is bound to be a scary handful, destined to land you in much trouble. But just like one of Paul Daniels’ magic tricks, any of those thoughts just vanish once you get the bulky-looking bike underway.
I must confess straightaway as it’d been a while since I last sampled one, so I did wonder if there was a chance of me reviewing my opinion. Just as I remembered though, the B-King is a great bike. The motor is highly impressive with floods of power and torque everywhere in the rev range. But even more remarkable than the amount of sheer pulling power it has, is the refined way it’s delivered. Not many engines making as much power as this one are as incredibly civilised. Believe it or not, the Suzuki is an absolute doddle, not to mention a total pleasure to ride – at any speed you choose. Superbly smooth and well-mannered, the big in-line four delivers its potency in a lazy and highly manageable way. The gearbox is typically light and sweet, but with all the broadly spread torque the B-King has, gear-changing is rarely needed. More often than not, I didn’t bother revving the tall-geared motor much more than 4-5000rpm. And with top gear good enough to drag the bike solidly from as little as 20mph all the way up to its estimated 170mph top speed, that’s the gear you can rely on for most riding if you wish.
So don’t worry at all about the power being intimidating in any way. The beautifully linear fashion it’s produced in guarantees confidence at all times. And should you want a bit less, then selecting the B power setting via a button mounted on the top of the tank, reduces output by 30%. This device adds to the versatility of the bike and will be especially useful if the going gets wet and slippery – even though the engine power is produced in such a friendly fashion I never selected it other than to give it a test. The smooth and progressive nature of the engine’s power gains make its huge performance very easy and relaxing to access and it’s just a matter of dialing in as much speed as you fancy. It’s fast, but never ferocious.
Anyone trying the Suzuki for the first time will quickly appreciate the engine’s usability, though the size and weight of the bike do take a little more time to feel comfortable with. But patience is the key here, and within just a few miles you start to feel a lot more positive about getting along with the B-King. In fact the handling is extremely light, agile and very well-balanced for a bike of its size and weight. The steering is sweet and neutral, and even the brakes are surprisingly effective. They often have a lot of speed and weight to cope with, but possess enough power and feel for you to rely on them with complete confidence. At times their stopping distances give you the impression the Suzuki must weigh 30-40kilos less than it does. Stability is sometimes a problem with powerful naked bikes, but the secure poise of the B-King is never in doubt, with the softly sprung, but well-damped suspension giving a great balance of control and support over rougher surfaces. Feel and feedback through its fat-section Dunlop tyres is remarkably good, and the ride quality commendably smooth.
Speaking of comfort, though the wind makes sustained high speed life a bit strenuous for your neck and arms, the relaxed upright riding position and plush seat do provide a very easy-going ride at a more sensible pace. That’s something I’ve discovered after many trips I’ve made on the B-King, including a previous 200-mile ride home from North Wales to my house in Gloucestershire. When I arrived there the only thing that hurt was my mouth; from grinning too much! And all of the numerous trips I made on it during this test resulted in the same physically complementary reaction.
On one particular ride I ended up getting slightly lost on the way home. But though I had a map in my backpack to help me find my way, I never bothered stopping to consult it. The mystery of it all took me down widely differing sorts of routes from single track lanes to big sweeping A roads, but as the B-King coped well with all of them just about perfectly the only thing that disappointed me was getting back on the right track and being home earlier than expected.
There may be faster and sharper tools in the box than the B-King, but few can match its combination of attitude, speed, manageability, entertainment and unique style. It’s a highly fulfilling bike to ride, whatever the pace you decide to ride it at and is a much better all-rounder than you’d expect. It’s a very hard bike to knock really. I’d only complain that the mirrors might be a bit bigger, and the massive silencer shrouds a bit smaller. None of these moans can ever prevent me falling for the B-King though. It’s one hell of an impressive bike, and a motorcycle I really wish more people would try out.