Clouds arrive quickly then settle in above Phillip Island. Ominous and unsympathetic, they have the power to bring this day to an end, to dampen every inch of tarmac and force us back into the garage-test over. All I can do at this point is cross my fingers and pray that the worst of the storm is behind us.

Suzuki’s new GSX-R1000R-the bike I’ve flown to Australia to ride-is the light at the end of an equally ominous, near-decade-long tunnel. It’s a bike that, if successful, could push the GSX-R platform back toward the pointy end of the sporting literbike category. Or, if not, offi cially end what has been an incredibly successful three-decade-plus run for the legendary four-cylinder series.

Just as our day hinges on those clouds playing nice, so too does Suzuki’s future on the perceived performance of its new crown jewel. Engineers stand nearby as the bikes are warmed, and there’s a general sense of not knowing how everything will go. All Suzuki can do is keep its fingers crossed and pray that the worst of the storm is behind it, with better days ahead.

Cue plea for clear skies-literally and figuratively-and a dry racetrack, at least for the immediate future.

THE BIKE
No motorcycle has more potential to alter Suzuki’s fate than this new $14,599 GSX-R1000 and $16,999 GSX-R1000R, the latter adding higher-spec Showa suspension, more advanced electronics, and a long list of smaller details- including a lighter battery-to a package that already claims a new engine, chassis, and electronics.

Designed to be more compact, lighter, and user-friendly, the engine powering both bikes has a smaller 74.5mm bore and longer 57.2mm stroke (76.0 x 55.1mm on the previous model). Pistons with shorter skirts shave weight, while reshaped domes deliver higher compression (13.2:1 versus 12.9:1). Evolution continues with new finger followers (versus bucket tappets) that accommodate bigger cam lobes and 24mm titanium exhaust valves (versus 25mm steel), the latter of which enabled engineers to raise the rev ceiling by 1,000 rpm to 14,500. Ti intake valves are 1.5mm larger than in the past and further contribute to claims of stronger top-end.

Suzuki Racing Variable Valve Timing (SR-VVT) is the big news. Like that on Suzuki’s race-winning MotoGP machine and GSX-R1000-based Superbikes, the system uses centrifugal force at high rpm to move 12 steel balls toward the outer edge of the intake cam sprocket. This rotates the sprocket on the cam and retards timing. Result? Smooth bottom-end and good midrange power through reduced overlap at low rpm and more top-end via greater overlap at higher rpm.

Dual-stage funnels at cylinders one and four have a similar effect at low/high rpm, essentially acting like variable-length intakes without added parts and complexity (a longer funnel sits atop a shorter one and air flows at different heights depending on rpm). The 46mm throttle bodies have a 2mm larger bore and are 19mm shorter, which helped Suzuki lower the fuel tank by a claimed 21mm.

Other changes-smaller stator, rerouted crankcase oil passageways, and six fewer degrees of cylinder angle- result in a 6.6mm narrower and 22.2mm shorter engine. This gave Suzuki more freedom to rework chassis dimensions for better front-end feel and increased stability. To this end, distance between the front axle and swingarm pivot is 20mm shorter, while the distance between the swingarm pivot and rear axle is 40mm longer. Wheelbase grew 15mm, to 1,420mm, or 55.9 inches. The twin-spar frame is 20mm narrower at its widest point, 60mm wider at the rear engine mount, and weighs 10 percent less. For increased rigidity, the swingarm is now braced on both sides instead of one as in the past. That longer arm will likely help mechanical grip, but in the wonderful world of modern literbikes, there's no replacement for good electronics. Fortunately, Suzuki has stepped up with an IMU-based electronics package that includes 10-level (plus “Off”) traction control dubbed Motion Track TCS. Additional electronic systems include Low-RPM Assist, an Easy Start System, launch control (R only), bi-directional quickshifter (R only), and ABS, which, on the R model, uses roll data from the IMU to add a cornering ABS function. Modern-day superbike tech. On a GSX-R. Finally.

NEW BIKE, SAME GREAT FEEL
One of the beautiful things about the 2017 GSX-R is that, while Suzuki has worked tirelessly to usher the bike into the modern era, it hasn’t overlooked the things that long made the platform so great. Ergonomics are the same, and the same overarching theme of userfriendliness remains. Pulling out on to the cloud-covered Phillip Island Circuit, I felt right at home. These are GSX-R bones. Just refined.

Suzuki claims 199 hp at 13,200 rpm, compared to 182 hp at 11,500 rpm, but around the same torque (87 pound-feet at 10,800 rpm versus 86 pound-feet at 10,000 rpm). That feels about right on the track: stronger up top but still a very user-friendly power delivery down low. I suspect the engine won’t dominate dyno tests, but it will prove flexible on track or street, with the VVT system actuating at 10,000 rpm and freeing up the engine. I saw speeds an indicated 184 mph on the front straight-no small feat. Downside? There’s no balancer shaft, and, as a result, the engine produces more vibration, especially at higher rpm. Out on the track, I felt most of those vibes through the handlebars. I was worried that the dramatically smaller frame spars would negatively impact the chassis feel that I’ve come to expect (and love) from a Suzuki, but such is not the case. Cranked over, the bike still feels stable and planted, with near-perfect feedback from the contact patch. Handling is a bit heavy compared to the competition, with side-to-side transitions requiring decent effort; small ride-height changes would probably clear that up quickly. It’s important to note that this is still an easier handling, more “flickable” bike than Suzuki produced in recent years.

The R model’s Showa Balance Free Front Fork and Balance Free Rear Cushion Lite shock add to the experience, offering up good support but also plush feel through the travel. I’d argue that you could race on this suspension and be tickled as ever. I can only imagine what that will mean for spirited street rides. Electronics are equally good. I never missed a single shift while using the R’s bi-directional quickshifter, and electronic throttle blips were smooth enough that they didn’t upset the chassis at corner entry. Traction control, meanwhile, could be set as high as Level 4 and still not affect drive off corner exits. Anything less and I felt like it allowed more drive slip than I wanted on this day at this track. Anything higher and I could start to feel bigger cuts that weren’t necessary based on tire life, track conditions, and lap times. Biggest thing I noticed was that, regard less of the setting, the TC system was almost always trying to feed me all the power I requested. By that, I mean the system didn’t just bring things to a halt for the sake of safety over everything else but rather worked with me to get power to the ground. And that’s what good electronic systems do-they work with you, not against you. Suzuki really has built a great traction control system. Within its range, you’ll no doubt find a setting that works for you. As for wheelie control, a Suzuki engineer told me, “This system is not managing wheelies.” Traction control cuts will naturally bring the front wheel down, “but if we developed a system for wheelie control, that would be much different.” ABS went mostly unnoticed in the sessions where we used it (Suzuki pulled the ABS fuse in the afternoon on racier Bridgestone R10 tires), with only one surge felt in the morning when I was braking aggressively for turn one as I tried to find my way around Phillip Island. These systems reward smoothness.

EVOLUTION CONTINUES
Going back to Suzuki’s comment about wheelie control, I take that to mean its engineers aren’t done yet-that the GSX-R1000 will continue to evolve and that Suzuki will continue to find ways of keeping this bike at the pointy end of the category without sacrificing what’s long made the platform so special. At the end of the day, this is not just an important motorcycle for Suzuki but for the industry as a whole. Suzuki knows it. We know it. Fortunately, it delivers on its promise.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it never rained during our day at Phillip Island. An omen, perhaps.