25 Years of GSX-Rs | Revolution

A quarter-century ago, Suzuki turned the sportbike world upside-down

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

Superlight engine internals and magnesium outer covers meant the short-stroke, 749cc engine weighed a whopping 29 lbs. less than the air-cooled GS750 engine, and produced a claimed 106 horsepower and 53.8 lb.-ft. of torque—roughly a 25 percent increase. That exotic alloy frame weighed just 18 lbs., or less than half as much as the GS’s steel affair. Actual curb weight for the complete bike was 464 lbs. on the Motorcyclist scales—featherweight compared to the 550-lb. Honda VF750F, 525-lb. Yamaha FZ750 and 530-lb. Kawasaki GPz750. This gave the first GSX-R an unbeatable power-to-weight ratio, putting Yokouchi’s trio of performance targets well within reach.

Karr’s riding impression wasn’t without criticism, however, as the radical GSX-R was far from perfect. Our tester noted how sensitive the bike was to rider inputs, especially at high speed, where he described the bike as “borderline twitchy.” Karr also critiqued the tendency to pitch excessively fore and aft, causing headshake under acceleration and weaving under heavy braking. The GSX-R took skill and a subtle touch to ride fast—but a capable rider could exploit the lightweight, hyper-responsive superbike like nothing else on the market.

Compliance with stricter emissions regulations, along with a stiff, 24.4 percent tariff on bikes over 750cc, delayed the GSX-R’s American introduction until ’86. The addition of a steering damper and a 1-inch-longer swing-arm calmed the handling enough to suitably impress the rest of the Motorcyclist staff in a March ’86 comparison. Testers effused over the Gixxer’s “ride on water” handling, even if they found the less-demanding Yamaha FZ750 ultimately the more agreeable bike.

Testers were less impressed with the GSX-R’s engine, especially compared side-by-side with Yamaha’s 20-valve torque pump. While in every other market the GSX-R was equipped with a rack of 29mm Mikuni flat-slide carburetors, the U.S.-spec engines used 31mm CV carbs, and suffered from a massive midrange flat spot that torpedoed rideability on the street. The peaky, top end-biased powerband demanded more frequent use of the close-ratio six-speed gearbox. Outright performance for the U.S.-spec machine suffered somewhat, too. Our example achieved only a 144-mph top speed—well short of the promised 150—and an impressive (but not definitive) 11.22-second, 120.5-mph quarter-mile.

Just as Karr predicted, however, the GSX-R set a new standard for sportbike performance and design. Soon all the competition—including Yamaha’s FZ, as well as Kawasaki’s ZX and Honda’s CB models—added an R suffix and adopted similarly uncompromising, racing-focused design strategies that persist to this day. For better or worse, the GSX-R brand has led the way for the last 25 years, pushing the performance envelope at every opportunity. A big-bore GSX-R1100 was introduced in ’86, followed by a baby brother GSX-R600 in ’92. The new millennium brought us the GSX-R1000—another iconic Suzuki that has had almost as great an impact on the sportbike world as the original GSX-R750. But even as the GSX-R lineup expands, contracts and changes over the years, the GSX-R750 remains the one constant. After rule changes favoring bigger bikes phased 750s out of racing, and every other manufacturer abandoned the three-quarter-liter displacement category, Suzuki’s GSX-R750 still soldiers on—filling an important niche for enthusiasts who demand a uniquely capable, all-around sportbike.

Unlike Kawasaki, which let its ZX-7R linger essentially unchanged for almost a decade before finally discontinuing it in ’03, Suzuki has continually updated and upgraded its signature GSX-R750 to ensure continued success. The model wandered off-line a bit in the ’90s, when it gained liquid cooling and a bad case of middle-aged bloat, but an extreme makeover for Y2K brought it back to the original, light-is-right design philosophy. The 2011 version—which marks the 25th anniversary of the GSX-R750 in America—is fully 20 lbs. lighter than last year, showing that Suzuki’s engineers remain as committed as ever to the lightweight performance ideal.

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