Missing in Action

Where have all the 750s gone?

Blame the AMA. Blame the FIM. Blame Ducati. But don't dare blame the magazines, because motojournalists have been singing the praises of three-quarter-liter motorcycles ever since the Honda CB750 four burst on the scene in 1969. We still are.

So how did we get to the point that the Suzuki GSX-R is the only frontline 750cc sportbike? It's a long story that started in 1976, when the AMA's Superbike class was established. Period rules specified one-liter engines (plus an allowable overbore that added up to 1025cc), and Reg Pridmore rode a highly modified BMW R90S twin to the inaugural title. From that point forward, however, the series belonged to the big fours from the Big Four (well, three of them anyway--Yamaha was preoccupied with two-stroke formula bikes). Racers such as Wes Cooley, Eddie Lawson and Freddie Spencer became legends riding these powerful, evil-handling Flexi-Flyers, which were scary to watch let alone ride. So in 1983, in the interest of safety, the AMA reduced the Superbike displacement limit to 750cc for fours and 1000cc for twins. Five years later the startup World Superbike series adopted the same formula.

It worked, for a while. Californian Fred Merkel won the '88 and '89 world titles on a Honda RC30 before Frenchman Raymond Roche and Texan Doug Polen took three on the trot on the developing Ducati desmoquattro. All along, the Italian twins were given a weight break, but as they became more dominant they found themselves on equal footing with the Japanese fours. Meanwhile, the 750s had become ever more specialized, to the point that the bikes being raced were based on high-cost ($27,000 for a 1994 Honda RC-45), low-volume homologation specials that truly made lousy streetbikes--blame their high-strung engines with narrow powerbands, tall first gears and dry clutches. American superstars Scott Russell (Kawasaki) and John Kocinski (Honda) defied the odds to win World Superbike titles on 750s, but apart from those flashes of brilliance the series had begun to live up to its unflattering nickname: The Ducati Cup. In fact, the Italian twins have won 11 of 18 crowns to date.

Never one to admit defeat, Honda beat Ducati at its own game twice, with Colin Edwards winning the 2000 and 2002 titles on the RC51 V-twin. But by then the Japanese had turned their backs on 750s and were busy developing 1000cc fours that were little bigger or heavier than 600s. Customers were snapping them up in droves, and putting two and two together, the Big Four successfully petitioned the AMA and FIM to change the Superbike rules back to 1000cc for everyone. So, two decades after reducing the limit to 750cc because Superbikes were getting too fast, they raised it back! Australian Troy Corser took advantage of the redrawn rules to give Suzuki its first World Superbike crown with the GSX-R1000 in 2005, and now Ducati wants a 1200cc limit for twins. Will it ever end?

Add in MotoGP's insistence on 800cc engines for the 2007 season and it seems even more like a conspiracy. Hey everyone, listen up: There's nothing wrong with 750s! Fortunately, Suzuki still realizes that. MC

Kevin Schwantz celebrates winning the 1988 Daytona 200 on the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750