As you’d expect, hot air collects behind the finely finned cylinders and wafts up from the fairing, tinged with an aroma of hot paint and vaporized oil. I appreciated that warmth during our frigid (by Southern California standards) winter photo shoot, but it must be brutal on a hot summer day. Immaculate though it may be, this machine is 25 years old, and time has not been kind to its brakes. Early testers boasted that the GSX-R could lift the rear tire under heavy braking, but that ability has long since been lost on this example.
The only thing that felt truly unfamiliar about the LE was its ergonomics. Rather than sitting on top of the machine like one does with a modern sportbike, the vintage GSX-R rider sits within the bike on an exceedingly plush saddle, arms stretched way forward toward the narrow, high clip-ons. The stepped, padded seatback proved helpful while powering out of turns and transitioning between bends, and provided a new bracing point for a rider accustomed to anchoring his thighs to the tank sides. The ’86 GSX-R was considered uncompromisingly aggressive for its time, but compared to today’s torture racks its riding position is actually fairly tame, and much easier on your backside. The large half-bubble windscreen works far better than that of any modern sportbike, as do the wide-set mirrors.
After riding the Limited, I’m beginning to understand what a huge step forward this bike was for its time. If the suspension and brakes were freshened up, I’m confident this 25-year-old motorcycle would blow my mind. As it was, it did a commendable job of dissecting a twisty mountain road, and I finally understand why those early GSX-R riders were so floored. My education is complete.