GSX R SUZUKI : THE HISTORY OF THE MOTORCYCLE
Suzuki's first Gsxr, a motorcycle whose twentieth birthday we're here to celebrate, took the accepted engineering wisdom of year to year incremental improvement and blew the premise to pieces.
The Gsxr burst onto the scene and set sportbike enthusiasts and magazine writers alike into a tizzy because it was impossibly light, amazingly powerful, and so
artfully conceived that the worst of the complaints about it amounted to a whisper in a windstorm.
Just as important, the Gsxr portrayed a clarity of focus and a depth of commitment to a concept
that few bikes in history had ever presented.
One glimpse, an eyeblink's awareness of the bike across
a showroom floor or coming the other way on the road, and you knew exactly, precisely what it was.
And what it was meant to do.
No compromises, no dilution.
This was a difficult task for a company that had always been so logical in the development of
its products, and one that had fastidiously worked to make each model as useful and broadly appealing as possible.
Remember, this is the company that built the GT s 750 two stroke, a gentleman's
recliner of a motorcycle smack in the day of Kawasaki's hair whitening two stroke triples. This was Suzuki's motorcycle way: prepare thoroughly engineered vehicles that were durable and practical.
Mature riders of the day loved the brand.
The beginnings of Suzuki's transformation from a conservative producer
to a market leader first came with the Hans Muth designed Katana 1100.
bike was sharklike, unusual, unrestrained, and controversial, but still conventionally engineered.
That's to say it was no lighter nor more powerful than the
big (and quite successful) GS series motorcycles that came before. Think of it
as provocative wrapping on a Christmas gift of woolly socks. Suzuki moto, like all major motorcycle manufacturers, had been racing. The
company had begun racing in 1953, when the 60cc Diamond Free won its
class in the Mt. Fuji Hillclimb.
In the modern era came Barry Sheene 's 500GP
championships in 1976 and 1977 on a Suzuki RG 500. One of his bikes is in the Suzuki Museum at the company headquarters in Hamamatsu,
and it's frightening to consider how fast he went on what to
day appears to be spindly, rudimentary machinery.
But it was
fast and capable in its time.
Suzuki moto could seemingly do no wrong. In the U.S., with the help of Yoshimura Racing, Wes Cooley brought back to back AMA Superbike titles in 1979 and 1980 on a Gs 1000 S Superbike. (Cooley was the first man to wrest the championship from the tireless Reg Pridmore, who had won it three times since the category's inception in 1976.) A pair of World Endurance titles followed in 1981 and 1982 on a bike called the Gs 1000 R (or XR 41) that would form the basis of the Gsxr.
The company's involvement in racing as a factory team for 500GP and through the American
arm of Yoshimura in AMA racing provided valuable feedback to the engineers in Hamamatsu
and, more important, gave them uncommonly powerful motivation and determination.
"Racing is a very important part of this company," says
Sadayuki Inobe, the company's managing director.
part of our DNA."
With the introduction of the Gsxr, Suzuki's motorcycles racing
fortunes changed in ways unexpected. In AMA Superbike,
the Yoshimura team won just a single championship (with
Jamie James in 1989) until Mat Mladin set sail for his record five titles aboard the Gsxr 750 and Gsxr 1000. But
something else happened.
The Gsxr, "born on the circuit, returned to the circuit," according to
then head of engineering Etsuo Yokouchi, would become the dominant bike for Superstock racing
and for privateers all over the world.
It was the closest thing to a race bike with lights and, as a result,
the bike most easily turned into a competitive racer.
It is impossible to underestimate the effect of the Gsxr on Suzuki's fortunes.
More than one
executive has said that the company would not be what it is today without the success of the Gsxr.
And success, in this case, is more than fiscal, although it can't be denied that the company's bottom
line has done well by the sportbike.
No, the broader truth is that the Gsxr gave Suzuki moto a distinctive brand image and catapulted
it from being a small manufacturer of fine and efficient but generally not world champion motorcycles to its current guise as the sportbike powerhouse.
The Gsxr drove Suzuki moto to the front of an
emerging category precisely when the company most needed the boost.
Today, with an entirely new generation of engineers pushing the Gsxr line forward, the brand
continues to shine. And although the relentless
pace of technology has put the series on a shortened development cycle one so short there's
barely time enough to launch the product, take a
breath, and look around to see how the competition is doing working on the Gsxr is considered the highest honor inside the company. Every
engineer, every styling designer, and every test
rider who pounds around the Ryuyo test track in
all weather views it as a plum assignment.
work, but intensely worthwhile.
Each of the nearly forty men who were interviewed for this book at the headquarters in Hamamatsu, the Ryuyo course, the factory in nearby
Toyokawa, and the u.s. subsidiary in California,
American Suzuki Motor Corporation spoke
reverently about the Gsxr and what it means not just to the company but to motorcycling as a
Well beyond portraying the company line, they explained how the success of this motorcycle on the road and in racing raised the profile of the company and gave it the resources to
fight larger battles and, in essence, to punch above its weight.
Their tales included recollections of
debates many quite heated about the direction of development and how best to serve the Gsxr's mounting reputation, Spend a few minutes with any of them, and you'll soon see the passion and
conviction hiding just below the surface of a guarded expression.
This company is enthusiastic of Suzuki Gsxr.
FOREWORD by Kevin Schwantz
Has it been twenty years already? I'm delighted to help the Gsxr celebrate this important anniversary because both the bike and Suzuki moto itself have been so much a part of my racing career. And now, of course, my school uses Suzuki sportbikes exclusively, so I've had the opportunity to watch the development of the Gsxr from its earliest days
as the ground-breaking race-replica sportbike to the incredible machine it continues to be today.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Suzuki Gsxr was well ahead of its time. I remember hearing a lot about the bike and then seeing photos in early 1985, thinking, "Wow, this is an amazinglooking street bike." I could tell that it would translate well into a race bike, but I also thought that it would be a big change from the bike I had been riding for Yoshimura in 1985, the Gs 700 E.
Because the Suzuki Gsxr was not brought to America in 1985, I was still riding the Yoshimura Gs. I believe we tend to look back on that period of AMA Superbike racing and think that the bikes were less developed than they are now, even a bit crude. At the time,
I didn't think so. When I came into the Yoshimura team, it all seemed incredibly exciting and I was just happy to be there, working for a well-run team that had good equipment. My goals and strategy were pretty simple: take it day by day and win races. I always got along with the Gs 700 E. I'd come from motocross and dirt track, and so I liked the big handlebar. The bike, to me, was an absolute hoot to ride.
It would do what I wanted it to do, went where I wanted it to go. I wouldn't say finesse was a big part of my style then, but my style seemed to work well on the Gs. We won the second race of 1985 at willow Springs and picked up two more wins later in the year. I think the fact that Yoshimura had a year of development on the 750 cc bike before I got there really helped.
In 1985, I got to ride the Suzuki Gsxr 750 for the first time in a 200-kilometer race with Graeme Crosby as preparation for the Suzuka 8 Hours. I was immediately impressed with the bike's performance, even if it was a big change for me going to clip-on handlebars from big, dirt bike-style handlebars.
I would like to think I had a hand in the development of the bike through the Yoshimura team, which has always been very tightly aligned with the factory. During our first two seasons with the Suzuki Gsxr 750 race bike, we made many small changes and requested more. I was always impressed with the factory's response.
In 1986 and 1987, I rode the bike and we worked really hard to develop it. I could see that Suzuki was paying attention to our efforts because the '88 Gsxr had a lot of changes that we had introduced in the Yoshimura team the two years before. The '88 bike was much nicer to ride from a handling standpoint. of course, that year I rode the Gsxr at Daytona in 1988 and won.
I have to say that the win at Daytona in the 200 was, for Suzuki moto, almost as good as winning the championship.
We went out and proved what we could do against bigger teams, and the win felt great. In 1988 I was in Grand Prix racing full-time on the Suzuki Rgv 500.
That year we managed to pick up two wins and came home a strong eighth in the championship. At the time, Suzuki moto was starting to use our feedback on the GP bike to help develop the Gsxr. We were working hard on aerodynamics and suspension technology, which was coming along rapidly. I'm sure that what we learned in GP was put back into the Gsxr.
It has been interesting to watch the development of the Gsxr. I remember the introduction of the 2000 Suzuki Gsxr 750 at Misano.
World Superbike had been there for the last race of the year, and we were there for the press launch the following February. It was cold, around 40 degrees. But in spite of the compromised traction from the low temperatures, I was less than ten seconds off the WSB pole on a totally stock motorcycle. At one of the events tied to the launch, I told the assembled journalists that I'd offer a bet: Let's take this bike to Daytona just as it is.
I don't even need a whole day, probably just an hour or so to get it set up. But I guarantee that I could take this motorcycle on DOT tires and set a time that would beat my pole in 1988. Totally stock bike, blinkers and all.
Nobody argued with me or took the bet. The Suzuki Gsxr had, by then, progressed amazingly far.
It was, right off the showroom floor, a better race bike than my fully prepared, factory-supported Gsxr of a dozen years earlier. The pace of the Gsxr's development is, if anything, accelerating. I've spent a lot of time on the 2005 Gsxr 1000 and can tell you that it is awesome. I came back to American Suzuki and said, point blank, that if we at Suzuki moto have anybody we support who's riding one of these new Gsxr 1000s and not winning, there's something wrong with the rider.
That bike is by far the best production motorcycle I've ever ridden on a racetrack. I couldn't make it do anything wrong. I never adjusted the suspension on the bikes I rode; just right out of the box, they were amazing.
Everything about the bike was so good. The changes from the '04 model have made a massive improvement. This new bike is so light and agile it gives me that 750 feeling again. It has so much traction and responds so well.
Click Here to Search This Site
The engine pulls so well right from idle and never has a big hit in the powerband. As the bike starts to spin the back tire, it doesn't feel like it's going to get away. Instead, it feels like there's so much grip that the tire will start spitting asphalt, really digging a trench.
It's just amazing to experience. Suzuki moto has learned so much from racing Superbikes, 500 GP, and Moto GP and the company has kept this up over the years.
I really can see where Suzuki moto has worked out solutions in racing and quickly applied them to the production bikes. That responsiveness and commitment is something I just don't see from other manufacturers.
So, happy birthday to the Gsxr. It has been an incredible experience for me to be involved with the bike early on and now with my school.
And it's been an honor to be associated with Suzuki moto, a company that, I think, understands how to go racing and how to put lessons learned from the track right back into the product.