The year was 1985. The Cold War was in full effect, the wild screams of Motley Crue could be heard blasting from every speaker, and Japanese motorcycle manufacturer Suzuki had just released its cutting-edge GSX-R750 motorcycle.
More than just an all-new motorcycle, Suzuki’s original GSX-R ushered in a new era of sportbikes. Machines designed specifically for fast laps at the racetrack with the fitment of road-going equipment such as lights and mirrors only to meet bureaucratic stipulations written by prudish old government men.
A quarter-century later the GSX-R lineage has expanded from just one model to three (GSX-R600, GSX-R750, and GSX-R1000), thereby offering an optimally sized sportbike for any would-be sport-oriented motorcyclist. I remember the first day I witnessed the jaw-dropping performance of a “Gixxer” like it was yesterday!
Be Careful, This Gixxer Bites
It was a warm summer night in 1999 – the kind of evening where you can comfortably lounge outside in nothing more than a pair of shorts and flip-flops. I was partaking in one of the Minneapolis area’s famed late night rides that ran until either the sun rose, you crashed, or got thrown in the back of a cop car. Depending on the weather, and the day of the week, tens, sometimes hundreds of local riders would meet up at the spot—a gas station adjacent to a few of the Twin Cities major freeways in the vicinity of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The evolution of Suzuki’s GSX-R. (Above) The 1996 Suzuki GSX-R750 changed the game by melding a lightweight and rigid frame with compact and rev-happy liquid-cooled Inline-Four engine. (Below) The 2002 Suzuki GSX-R750 featured a variety of tweaks to keep it ahead of the competition.
One who has never been would probably assume that a place like Minnesota, which gets buried under snow for six months out of the year, would have virtually zero sportbike riding population. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, my home state has one of the most hardcore sportbike riding populations in the United States.
Riders started pouring into the meeting spot around 10:00 p.m. and within a matter of minutes it was overrun by packs of barely-muffled and brightly-colored sportbikes of all makes and models. After about 30 minutes of cigarette smoking, smack talking and general parking lot mayhem, everyone threw on their gear, fired up their machines, and rolled out onto the dark highway.
That night I was piloting a bright green 1996 Kawasaki ZX-7R. At the time, in my own little world, there was nothing badder…or so I thought. There we all are, probably about 50 of us, heading east on the 394 freeway, less than 10 minutes into our ride. All of a sudden three guys at the front snap up wheelies. And these weren’t little clutch-up wheel-in-the-air-for-five-seconds jobs. No, these were full on 12-o-clock, 80 mph, headlight-pointing-to-the-sky stand-up wheelies. I can still picture the way the bulging tail sections of those 750s, ‘SRAD’ plastered on each side, as they sped down the freeway on the back tire for what seemed like forever. From that moment on, I knew I needed a Suzuki GSX-R Superbike.
The Legend Continues
Although it took a couple years, I finally got myself a brand-new 2002 Suzuki GSX-R750 K2. From the moment I wheeled it off of the showroom floor I was in love with this bike. It embodied everything that was pure about sportbikes. Not only was it light, maneuverable and fast, it did away with a lot of the useless road-going riffraff that many of the other manufactures sportbikes had built into them at the time.
It was impressive how much character the bike had. From the sound of the engine’s howl during flat-out acceleration to its sharp, yet stable chassis; it was impossible not to be impressed by the Gixxer’s charisma. The fact that it appeared nearly identical to that of the Yoshimura Suzuki racing bikes further upped its allure in my freshly molding sportbike mind.
Not only are Suzuki’s GSX-Rs the epitome of performance, they are as reliable as a hammer and easy to work on.
That year I logged over 8000 miles in a single, short Minnesota riding season – easily less than six months. I even did the occasional road race on it at Brainerd International Raceway. And I couldn’t believe how simple it was to wrench on. Converting from street to racetrack was almost too easy. It was surprising how much aftermarket performance parts and technical expertise was available for it. It’s almost like engineers actually designed the bike to be tuned and raced. Gee, what a concept?
In retrospect, the early 2000s were the heyday of sportbike development, with almost every manufacturer tweaking and redesigning its flagship sportbike every other year. Therefore, it seemed necessary two years later to have the newest generation Suzuki. So, after saving up a fat wad of cash, I got my hands on another GSX-R750, this time a 2004 K4 model.
The ‘04 bike featured some all-around enhancements, including an updated engine with lighter pistons, bumped up compression ratio and completely reworked top-end with titanium valves. The chassis was also tweaked, with a narrower frame paired to sharper steering geometry.
That motorcycle impressed me every time I lifted up the kickstand, especially with how much smaller it felt compared to its predecessor. Within two years I had logged over 20,000 miles running around on the street and at the occasional trackday, all with minimal mechanical tinkering. A routine valve adjustment, chain/sprocket replacement, and scheduled motor oil and air filter swap were all she required.
As the rapid rate of sportbike development continued, I was again compelled to make the jump to the next generation GSX-R750 in ’06. (Read the review in the 2006 Suzuki GSX-R750 First Ride). The K6 machine was heavily cued after the previous model year’s revamped flagship GSX-R1000 Superbike, including its more compact engine, slimmer overall chassis, plus it now had a true mechanical slipper-clutch which made the bike that much easier to control during aggressive deceleration.
Despite lacking a bit of chassis performance as compared to the recently redesigned K8-K9 version, to this date, the K6-K7 generation GSX-R is one of my all-time favorite motorcycles. This is due in part to its lovely aesthetics and throaty-sounding shorty MotoGP-style exhaust, making the fitment of an aftermarket muffler almost senseless.
Although the rampant pace at which GSX-Rs have evolved has slowed due to slower motorcycle sales worldwide (American Suzuki won’t be importing any of its sportbikes for 2010 in order to clear all existing 2009 inventory), rest assured that Suzuki will keep cranking out its legendary high-performance sportbikes. Why? Because there will always be sport riding enthusiasts like myself that want nothing more than the lightest, fastest, coolest thing on the road; something that’s purposeful enough to ride on the street and fast enough race on the weekends, while still being easy to work on in the garage at night. A bike that is chalked full of character and absolutely devoid of any useless street-oriented gimmicks – that is the essence of what Suzuki’s line of GSX-R sportbikes is all about.