2004 Suzuki GSX-R750 Motorcycle Test

Suzuki's magic balance of power and weight add up to the perfect sportbike, but only if you're good enough

Way back when some folks were sniveling about a 72-year-old actor in the White House, or about missing the last episode of MAS*H, sportbike fans had a real dilemma. Literbikes were too much, it seemed, but middleweights weren't quite enough. The answer, when it finally materialized here in 1986—a year later than the rest of the world—was the Suzuki GSX-R750. Not too big. Not too small. It was, as Ms. Goldilocks said before the bears came home, just right.

Looking more like some bug-eyed refugee from the Bol d'Or than any other streetbike, Suzuki's groundbreaking light heavyweight sent 87 horses to its countershaft sprocket and weighed 464 pounds soaking wet. For those who absolutely, positively had to get around the next corner ahead of everyone else, that GSX-R750 was in a class by itself.

Arriving just in time to cash in on the 750cc limit in big-time European four-stroke racing and the AMA Superbike series, the GSX-R was a godsend for aspiring world champions and grass-roots punters. Through five major redesigns—'88, '92, '96, '00 and now '04—and various tragic graphic treatments, no single model before or since has been so connected to the track. In '99, 65 percent of the grid was on GSX-R750-based Superbikes.

Twenty years after Suzuki stole the '84 Cologne show with that first GSX-R750, the Archetypal Japanese Supersport still wraps a 16-valve four in an aluminum skeleton and slinky plastic skin. Superbike racing has since scrapped 750s in favor of 1000cc fours. But those 150-horsepower literbikes can be too much on the street, and peaky, 15,000-rpm middleweights aren't always enough. Meanwhile, this sixth-generation GSX-R is clearly the best sporting 750 from Japan. But with the other major players cashing in on 1000cc prestige and 600cc profits, the GSX-R750 is literally in a class by itself. So why is it still here?

The rationale for staying in the 750 game is as emotional as it is empirical. The GSX-R is an icon cast in pure 14-karat marketing gold. It's been the heart of Suzuki's bike lineup and the soul of its corporate persona for years. GSX-Rs are the only bikes Hamamatsu makes that couldn't come from anywhere else, so nobody's itching to axe the original. Besides, the 750 remains a strong seller even if Mat Mladin's Number One is now on the 1000. Sharing a heavy dose of technology and development costs with the '04 GSX-R600 makes it much more economical to produce, so nobody's cutting this GSX-R out of the lineup any time soon.

Aside from different paint and "750" stickers, you could be looking at a new GSX-R600. The narrower fairing and more compact, 4.5-gallon fuel tank are identical to the smaller GSX-R's. The 750's tach wears a 14,000-rpm redline that's 500 rpm higher than its predecessor, but 1500 short of the new 600's limit. If most of the bits between those new ram-air nostrils and the LED taillight look like they came from the 600's parts bin, it's because they did. Differences are relatively subtle and hard to spot, but those of you who memorized Aaron P. Frank's first-ride screed back in our May issue already know where to find them. Peel off the plastic and you see engine enhancements inspired by the GSXR1000's '03 makeover.

The massive cast-aluminum steering head and swingarm pivots are the linchpins of the '04 skeleton. The aluminum frame's main spars are taller and extruded rather than stamped, with an internal stiffening rib to cut flex. Swingarm length is status quo, but the 55-inch wheelbase is marginally shorter than last year's 750. Steering geometry is racier㬓.25 degrees of rake buffered by 93mm of trail vs. 24.0 degrees and 96mm for the '03 bike. Like we said: subtle. Suzuki engineers did all the hard work in '96, essentially lifting the logos and rolling a new GSX-R underneath.

Basic engine architecture hasn't changed much since the current short-stroke (72 x 46mm) engine and three-piece crankcase came online back then, complete with the obligatory parade of Arcane Acronyms: the ever-popular SRAD (Suzuki Ram Air Induction) and low-friction SCEM (silicon carbide electro-plate) cylinder liners. The '00 engine was subsequently lighter and more compact. Digital SDTV (Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve) fuel injection replaced the 39mm carburetors on the Y2K edition.

With twice as much ROM as last year, the 32-bit engine control computer crunches numbers with eight ignition maps: four for each cylinder in the first five gears, plus four more in sixth. GSX-R1000-spec 42mm throttle bodies send air and unleaded through larger intake ports. Exhaust ports are larger as well. In between, Suzuki engineers shaved weight from vital reciprocating bits and cut evil parasitic drag wherever possible. Lighter, hotter cams—more lift and intake duration—along with titanium valves and lighter forged pistons save 8.6 ounces. With valves opening and closing 100 times every second, that's a big number. Since crankcase pressure under four fast-moving pistons can slow things down, Suzuki pulled another trick from the GSX-R1000's book. Clever 35mm vents near the bottom of each cylinder let air beneath each descending piston flow next door to the neighboring slug on its way up.

On the dyno, all that adds up to 127.3 horses at 12,750 rpm, beating the '00 edition's 123 horses at 12,500. Amazingly, the new 750 is just four horses down on Yamaha's original YZF-R1. A GSX-R1000 nips the '04 750's total at 8750 rpm, 2250 rpm short of its 150-horsepower peak. Nevertheless, horsepower is only half the game. On the scales, the new 750 is 10 pounds lighter than its muscle-bound big brother. At the strip, our last GSX-R1000 covered the quarter-mile in 10.10 seconds at 142.50 mph. The latest 750 did it in 10.39 at a tick over 135—close enough to make the big boy nervous. Meanwhile, the 429-pound GSX-R600 complicates things with a 10.77-second, 128.2-mph pass.

At 434 pounds complete with fluids, the 750 is a measly five pounds heavier than a new GSX-R600. It feels 600-sized because it is. Ergonomics are identical. You sit more upright and farther forward than on a GSX-R1000, with a shorter reach to the bars and pegs. The narrower fuel tank puts less bike between your knees. As we found on the '04 600, fit and finish are vastly improved over previous GSX-Rs. No ugly brackets or wires inside the fairing.

Once the engine starts you'll forget all about the 600. Open the throttle at 4000 rpm and there's enough power to flow through traffic without tap dancing on the shift lever. That's a good thing, since our bike came with a stiff, slightly notchy gearbox (more miles will likely help this) and a touch too much driveline slack. This year's fuel injection turns the throttle into more of a toggle switch than we'd like whilst rolling off idle, and the clutch crams most of its engagement into the last few degrees of travel. Still, getting around town wasn't much of a hardship.

Freeway travel on the new 750 garners only a B-minus grade. A full 4.5-gallon tank of super unleaded lasts 175 miles at 70 mph—about 80 miles more than we could. There's not much legroom, so extended interstate travel can be painful if you're over 5 foot 10. Still, a supportive seat and minimal vibration at 75 mph mean 500-mile days won't cause permanent damage. Passengers larger than a mature Siamese cat may argue that point. Fuzzy rearview-mirror images make it impossible to tell a patrol car from a melon truck at that speed, which could damage your driver's license. GSX-R ownership demands certain sacrifices. If you're going from Tehachapi to Tonapah, take the bus. So what's it like in the twisty bits?

Cut loose on one of our favorite stretches of fast mountain road, the 750 behaves more like a nuclear-powered 600 than some flyweight 1000. Lightweight, low-friction internals let the engine rev with amazing haste. There's enough linear, predictable thrust between 4000 and 8000 rpm to flow through corners at a respectably brisk clip. Carrying corner speed in long, sweeping arcs allows you to go fast by not slowing down. Steering is dead neutral and hugely confidence-inspiring whether you're trailing the brakes into corners or not, and the chassis is as stable as the house next door. Unfortunately, it takes a smooth hand to keep the choppy fuel injection and loose driveline from turning slower corners into a lurch-fest.

Venture beyond the midrange, however, and you come face to face with the shrieking, goggle-eyed maniac who lives on the other side of 8500 rpm. What's it like? Unless you have a trebuchet or a rocket sled handy, 9000 rpm in second gear is roughly equivalent to inhaling a triple espresso with one finger in a light socket. What happens after that will recalibrate your personal space/time continuum as quickly as a literbike's will. Peak torque arrives at 10,750 rpm, making it difficult to keep lunch and/or the front wheel down. The entire 127.3-horse herd shows up 2000 rpm later, which is usually a really good time to upshift. The whole 3750-rpm trip takes slightly longer than an enthusiastic sneeze. Power tapers gradually to 125.8 horsepower at 13,750 revs, so there's plenty of headroom when you need to stick with one gear through some tricky bit at the next track day. Timing and throttle control are everything. Trigger that avalanche of horsepower prematurely exiting a corner and you can high-side yourself into the next ZIP code. Squeezing real speed out of this one requires a more mental effort.

When it's spun up, inertia from the 750's heavier crankshaft makes it slightly harder to steer than its little brother. It's also somewhat buzzy at stratospheric revs. But with 10 fewer pounds on-board, it's still noticeably easier to wield at a take-no-prisoners pace than the big GSX-R—or any of the other '04 literbikes, for that matter. With that wicked power and super-stable chassis, it's every bit as quick as the open-classers through a nasty set of back-road corners or at the racetrack. Just ask Ben Spies, who set the AMA Superstock pole on a new 750 at Barber Motorsports Park in May.

Suspension is very good but not perfect. We found the springs a tad too soft for extreme use with heavier (more than 170 pounds) riders, just as on the new 600. On top of that, damping adjusters at both ends have an extremely narrow range. A little change makes a big difference. Slightly firmer springs and a bit of revalving at both ends would transform the bike, especially on patched and cratered SoCal back roads. In stock trim, our bike was much happier with settings that let it move around a bit, the suspension absorbing the bumps instead of sending them directly to the chassis. The right setup is in there, but it's just not easy to find.

Beyond that, the rest of the chassis leaves very little to complain about. Braking power is stellar, and thanks to the radial master cylinder design, wonderfully easy to use. Stiffish sidewalls on the standard-issue D218 Dunlops don't filter out small bumps as well as equivalent Michelins or Bridgestones, but stability and grip are first-class at street speeds.

Add up all the columns at the end of the day and the 750's inimitable balance of power and weight make it the best GSX-R in this year's crop by a solid margin.

Lighter literbikes and stronger 600s have been encroaching on 750-class territory for over two decades, so this new GSX-R isn't the panacea the first one was. It's not easy to ride quickly, and it doth not suffer fools lightly—if it suffers them at all. Friendly and easy aren't words we'd use in its presence.

Still, the 750 delivers a more manageable balance of power and weight than the average 150-horsepower literbike. No stock 600 can touch it on the track. So for $9599—$1500 more than an '04 GSX-R600—anyone with skills equal to its abilities can still leave just about anything else—literbikes included—panting without getting worn out in the process.

With the most ruthlessly efficient balance of power and chassis manners currently available, Suzuki's '04 GSX-R750 is as close to the perfect sportbike as Japan has come yet. In that sense, as Ms. Goldilocks would say, it's just right.


Age: 45
Height: 6 ft. 3 in.
Weight: 210 lb.
Inseam: 35 in.

I should love this thing, but I don't. It steers like a scalpel, has astounding brakes and makes 24 horsepower more than a GSX-R600. So? Most of those horses live up above 9000 rpm, and when you get there the whole herd starts coming out of the gate at once. Like trimming your toenails with a 35,000-rpm Dremel tool, minor errors in judgment can be painful. On the Scrupulously Accurate Motorcyclist Scales the 750 is only five pounds heavier than a GSX-R600. Flicking into some dirty, decreasing-radius, uphill, off-camber, Armco-lined Sand Canyon corner with the tach to the left of 8000, the inertia of 750-sized engine internals makes those five pounds feel like 20. Then there's the lurchy driveline, toggle-switch throttle response and peevish suspension.

I can work around all those things at the track, but juggling them on a fast street ride is too much like work. While its chassis isn't as sharp and the brakes have devolved this year, the GSX-R1000's Colorado River of midrange means you only spin it when you want to. You spin the 600 because you need to. And despite the extra shifting involved, the GSX-R600's 103 horses are far easier to modulate than the 750's 127. A nice 119-horse twin such as Ducati's 999 or Honda's RC51 is more fun than any of these frenetic four-cylinder things anyway, so there._
—Tim Carrithers_

Age: 41
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 190 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.

Now comes the dissenting opinion (from Timmy's angle, at least). In a nutshell, I adore the GSX-R750, would buy one in a heartbeat over the 600 or the 1000. For my size, my riding style and my needs in a sporting streetbike, it's just about ideal—a seamless blend of 600-class weight and big-inch power. On the GSX-R600 I'm ever mindful of keeping the revs just right for a satisfying launch out of the corners, while the 750 tolerates transmissional laziness thanks to all that midrange. Other testers find it peaky, and I'll respectfully disagree: ridden alongside a 600, the 750 feels like a steamship. Give me five minutes with a Factory Pro Teka—to remove that annoying low-end lurch in the throttle response—and the propulsive side of the package would be perfect. Yes, it is sprung a bit softly, but I found a setup that worked to my satisfaction, combining predictable turn-in, no-stand-up cornering on the brakes and plenty of traction. Somehow I doubt one motorcycle will be responsible for the revival of a class, but I'm sure glad Suzuki's trying. —Marc Cook

Age: 41
Height: 6 ft.
Weight: 220 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.

Rare thing that it is, I'm with Cook on this one. Reason being, I really do feel that Suzuki's latest—and hopefully not its last—GSX-R750 is the most competent hard-core production sportbike in all the land. Is is two-wheeled perfection? Not quite. But its few warts are minor relative to the absolute wallop of its engine and chassis performance, every bit of which is displayed prominently whether you're commuting, cruising up the coast or ripping apexes during a DP Safety School track day at Laguna Seca—something I recently did on the new Gixxer.

Here's the thing: At Willow Springs a month ago during our literbike shootout, I spooned a set of Dunlop's newest D208 GPAs on our GSX-R750 test bike and did a few stints on the Big Track. Result? Not only did I go every bit as quickly as I did on the open bikes, I had a much easier time of it. The bike turned easier, was less tiring to ride quickly, produced a far lower pucker factor and was simply a lot more fun to ride. I'm not sure you could ask for more in an affordable, mass-produced sportbike, especially when you're talking a $9500 sticker price. And 127 horsepower? Sheesh, them's open-class numbers from just a few years ago. 'Nuff said._
—Mitch Boehm_

Photography by Kevin Wing
The narrower '04 frame uses more rigid stamped bits in place of extrusions.
Cast in pairs rather than individually, the quartet of 42mm throttle bodies fit between frame spars that are 15mm closer together.
The new headlight looks better than it works.
**Dyno Chat: ** Suzuki's latest 750 just about splits the difference between the 600 and 1000, albeit without the literbike's unusual low-rpm surge. Still, 127 hp from a 750 is impressive, particularly in light of its Jamba Juice-smooth torque curve.
Performance * Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.39 sec. @ 135.0 mph * 0-60 mph: 3.06 sec. * 0-100 mph: 6.17 sec. * Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 3.56 sec. * Correction factors (time/speed): 0.971/1.031 * Power to weight ratio**: 4.74 lb./hp (Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions. **Wet weight plus 170 lb,. rider divided by measured horsepower.)
Cheers & Jeers: * Engine: 9 A certified stun gun above 9000 rpm * Drivetrain: 8 Gearbox is good; a bit of lash * Handling: 9 Sharp, solid and trustworthy * Braking: 9 Much better than the '04 GSX-R1000 * **Ride: 8 **Soft springs, fiddly adjusters * **Ergonomics: 7 **It's a GSX-R, not a La-Z-Boy * **Features: 9 **Egad! A real shift light * **Refinement: 8 **A little rough around the fuel injection * **Value: 9 **The perfect balance of power for under $10,000 * **Fun Factor: 9 **Joy if you're good; trouble if you're not Details, Details... * Terrible mirrors—buzzy and not wide enough Wonderfully easy to work on Nighttime sorties require a better headlight That fairing can be hard on sensitive shins No 23mm wrench in the kit to adjust fork preload?Verdict: Stronger than the 600s and nearly as light, Suzuki's edgy, original-recipe GSX-R can strike fear into the hearts of 1000cc overdogs if you've got the skills. It's an amazing motorcycle.
Specifications * MSRP: $9599 * Warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles * Colors: blue/white, yellow/gray * Engine type: l-c inline-four * Valve arrangement: dohc, 16v * Bore x stroke: 72.0 x 46.0mm * Displacement: 749cc * Compression ratio: 12.3:1 * Carburetion: electronic fuel injection * Transmission: 6-speed * Final drive: #525 chain * Frame: aluminum-alloy twin spar * Weight: 434 lb. (wet), 407 lb. (fuel tank empty) * Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. * Suspension, front: 43mm inverted cartridge fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping * Suspension, rear: single shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping * Brake, front: dual four-piston radial-mount calipers, 300mm discs * Brake, rear: single two-piston caliper, 220mm disc * Tire, front: 120/70ZR17 Dunlop D218 * Tire, rear: 180/55ZR17 Dunlop D218