Technology is a wonderful thing, but here’s a bike that proves most bikers aren’t regular viewers of Tomorrow’s World.
The GTS1000 was Yamaha´s showcase for the hub centre steering, sports-touring concept. It was odd, heavy and incredibly brave of the company. It also lost them a fortune.
Now a collector´s item, the GTS is an early Nineties classic that you can actually ride, day-in, day out, if you want to. It´s not as pretty as similar oddballs like the Bimota Tesi, or the Andy Stephenson Project ( ASP ), but the GTS was proof that even large corporations sometimes run on pure instinct, and a passion for engineering.
Disappointing is the one word that most accurately and succinctly summed up Roland Brown’s opinion of Yamaha’s gas-guzzling GTS1000 having taken it to the road in Spring 1993. It wasn’t that he found it a bad bike, but…..
It should have been one of the rides of the year, but instead it was one of the most frustrating. Glorious spring sunshine, a full tank of gas, and a 100-mile blast home down the A5 provided a perfect chance to give Yamaha’s bold new GTS1000 some serious evaluation after a day spent scratching round Midlands roundabouts for the photos.
Sounds great, and for much of the way it was. This was big-bike riding at close to its best, thanks to stable handling and a torquey engine with a smooth, sophisticated feel. If the wind roaring over the fairing’s screen at speed was deafening, and if the big bike felt less than agile when the road curved unexpectedly, and if the engine’s lack of zip above a 120mph was occasionally mildly disappointing; well, no bike is perfect, after all.
It was when the dashboard’s low-fuel warning light began flashing with just 80 miles showing on the tripmeter, suggesting that the fuel gauge’s plummeting needle was telling the truth and that I was going to have to stop very soon, that my patience with the GTS1000 began to run dry. Sure, the roads and the Yam’s mirrors had been clear (elbows excepted), and I’d been riding with a heavy hand on the throttle but surely that’s what motorcycles like this are all about?
Having made the same trip dozens of times before on a variety of big bikes, it hadn’t occurred to me that Yamaha’s sports-tourer for the Nineties would fail to make it home on a tank full. Less than 30mpg isn’t unusual for a big four ridden hard, but surely a gran turismo machine like this should have fuel capacity to suit? After having to halt for 3.5 gallons of unleaded (claimed capacity is 4.4 gallons, but the gauge said stop) on the outskirts of north London shortly afterwards, other niggles began to intrude and our relationship never really recovered.
Observant readers will have realised that after four whole paragraphs I haven’t yet mentioned the GTS1000’s star turn, its forkless front end, and the omission is by no means accidental. In theory the Yam may be notable mainly for its radical chassis and other high-tech features such as fuel-injection, catalytic converter and ABS brakes. After two weeks with the bike, more down-to-earth factors such as power, weight, fuel range and price seem just as relevant.
Let’s get the technical bit over with first. As the first mass-produced machine with alternative front suspension, the GTS is a truly innovative bike that its manufacturers are hoping will finally trigger a move away from telescopic forks. Designed by American James Parker ten years ago (and first track-tested by a youthful superbike pilot named Wayne Rainey), the forkless front-end’s theoretical advantage is that it separates the distinct elements of steering and suspension.
Suspension is handled by the large horizontal alloy beam leading from front wheel hub to a pivot on the C-shaped alloy frame (from the left the complete chassis forms an Omega shape, hence Yamaha’s name for it). A diagonal shock links the two. Steering is accomplished using the vertical strut that leads up from the hub to a telescoping steering box which takes up suspension movement, and which is linked to the handlebars.
There’s no room for a brake disc on the left, so the GTS is fitted with a single, centrally placed front stopper comprising ventilated, 320mm rotor and six-piston caliper with ABS. Wheels are broad 17-inchers at both ends, the rear held by a relatively conventional alloy swing-arm with vertical monoshock. There’s little more to the chassis than some small-diameter steel subframe tubes.
The engine is a modified version of Yamaha’s much-loved FZR1000 lump, which means four watercooled and angled-forward cylinders, 20 valves worked by twin overhead cams, and capacity of 1002cc from dimensions of 75.5 x 56mm. Where the GTS differs from the sportster is that it is fitted with fuel-injection, a three-way catalytic converter and no EXUP valve.
More importantly, softer cams, narrower intake ports and reduced compression ratio down from 12:1 to 10.8:1 conspire to reduce peak output from well over 125bhp (in unrestricted form) to 100bhp at 9000rpm. Maximum torque, meanwhile, is increased from 72 to 78ft.lb and arrives 2000rpm earlier at 6500rpm.
The rest of the bike represents Yamaha’s attempt to bridge the gap between adrenalin-pumping sportster and classy tourer. Its styling is slick and streamlined, although it’s a physically big bike that is heavy at over 550lb dry. Riding position is slightly more sports than touring, giving a slight lean forward to flattish bars, plus plenty of legroom. Finish is excellent, with deep-green paint (red is an option) that looks dull in poor light but sparkles in sunshine.
You can tell there’s something different about the GTS almost from the moment you turn the key in the specially theft-resistant ignition (now there’s an original idea). The fuel-injection means no choke is necessary, and it gives a smooth pick-up from low revs that makes the Yam’s heaviness and limited steering lock less troublesome in town than they might have been.
It’s the suspension that’s most noticeable, though, because the forkless system’s compliance makes itself felt even at quite slow speeds, where you’re somehow conscious of bumps being absorbed without them affecting the steering. Ride faster, and the Yamaha’s main handling characteristic becomes apparent. Its sporty rake and trail of 24 degrees and 100mm don’t bear much relation to telescopic figures, because the Yam is biased towards stability rather than flickability.
At speed you don’t have to worry about how bumpy the road or how fast the curve; the GTS simply motors round without so much as a nod of its head though the flip-side is that it needs firm countersteering to make it change direction in a hurry. The lazy-steering nature is a little more intrusive during slower-speed manoeuvres such as flicking left-right-left through a tight roundabout, when the Yam seems tall and a shade unwieldy.
At such times, a cynical rider might be tempted to ponder on the clever way that telescopic forks dive under braking, in order to quicken the steering just when it’s needed going into a corner. By contrast the GTS handlebars seem to get heavier rather than lighter, and to deliver slightly different feedback from the fat front 17-inch Dunlop. It requires recalibration of the brain and application of extra muscle if the Yam is to be hustled quickly along a twisty road.
That can certainly be done, though, aided by good grip from the broad Dunlops and adequate ground clearance. The GTS system has significant advantages, too, particularly in its unruffled performance when the throttle is shut in a corner. If an A-road curve tightens unexpectedly, for example, you can afford to slow dramatically while the bike settles slightly (a little brake dive has been engineered in) and stays under perfect control. Try the same stunt on virtually any other bike and you’d trigger a wobble or worse.
The Yamaha’s most impressive braking is done with the bike cranked over to improbable angles, when the front suspension keeps working in a way that a telescopic system could not approach. Despite the bike’s weight and single disc it gives good straight-line stopping, too. Under very hard braking on dry tarmac the front-wheel ABS surprised me by cutting in a couple of times when an ordinary set-up wouldn’t have locked, so there’s room for improvement. But under less ideal conditions there’s no safer motorcycle to be on if you need to stop quickly.
The engine is equally competent, giving out a very refined feel and delivering wonderfully smooth power throughout the range. It pulls reasonably well from below 3000rpm, and kicks again with a satisfying surge at around six grand, cruising lazily at a ton with power in hand for a top speed of around 140mph.
The smoothness and extra midrange give the GTS a nicely relaxed feel if you’re not in a hurry. But compared to the FZR1000 it’s decidedly short on beans at the top-end, running out of breath well before the 10,500rpm redline. Considering that the mighty EXUP is not exactly short on midrange power itself, the GTS seems to have lost more performance than it has gained.
I could happily live with the engine, although its thirst under hard use (for all the so-called efficiency of fuel-injection) is responsible along with the fact that the ’gas tank’ is mainly airbox, with fuel living behind the motor for the Yamaha’s feeble range. I averaged 33mpg, and never managed to cover more than 120 miles on a tank full. Gentle use would give 40mpg and allow 160 miles before stopping, but a serious sports-tourer needs much more. The Yam’s broad seat would be up to it; even the pillion gets plenty of room, plus sturdy grab-handles.
Some tank space is used for a small compartment that is handy for spare gloves or autoroute change, although I’m not sure why this couldn’t have been set into the fairing instead. It’s strange, too, that while the FJ1200’s flat tank provides an ideal base for soft luggage, the GTS makes fitting a tank-bag almost impossible. At least there are bungy hooks at the back, and protective rubber strips on the tailpiece. Hard panniers are available, in 30- and 42-litre sizes, at £381 and £405 respectively (including fitting kit).
The way the tank blends into the fairing is neat, but protection could be better. The taller, lipped screen (two are provided) creates so much wind-roar, particularly for tall riders, that I’d fit the sportier option. Surely this bike gave Yamaha the perfect opportunity to design a more compact version of the brilliant adjustable screen fitted to BMW’s K1100LT? The GTS fairing is also slightly too narrow, allowing airflow to chill the rider’s outer couple of digits.
Such criticism might be nit-picking, but overall I was disappointed by the package Yamaha have wrapped round their brave new chassis. For my money and I owned one for several years the FJ1200 was the sports-tourer of the Eighties, and for all its leading-edge technology the GTS has few real-world advantages. The older model is equally comfortable, faster both on top speed and on a long haul and much better value than the machine built to replace it.
The GTS1000 is not a bad bike; far from it. But at £9990 (the ABS-equipped FJ costs £6809) it needed to be very special indeed. Perhaps the saddest thing is that if the GTS is not a success and worldwide sales have so far been very slow the move away from telescopic forks may be stopped in its tracks.
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