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25 Years of Suzuki GSX-R Sportbikes

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The bike that started the modern day superbike revolution: Suzuki’s original 1985 Suzuki GSX-R750.
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.
 - GSX-R750
Suzuki’s ’06-'07 GSX-R600 and 750 were some of the best looking GSX-Rs ever produced.

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.
More composed at lean  Check.
The 2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 represents the pinnacle of Suzuki’s sportbike development.

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.
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mike -suzuki motogp team sucking  April 8, 2010 02:12 PM
i agree with billys comments suzuki needs to step-up their motogp effort
Ken C. -gixxer 4 ever !  March 2, 2010 12:50 PM
i have a K7 Gixxer 1000, and it doesnt get any better than that !....
Bert Thornhill -Quite pleased  February 27, 2010 06:19 AM
I have a 2006 gsxr750 and I love the machine,the way it handles,the acceleration,and just the comfortable feeling of crusing along the highway with friends.In my opinion(just an average guy)I find it to be a great bike to commute around the city,race,or cruse along the highway,no matter what speed you want it is still comfortable.I have always loved the gixxer and now can personally testify as to how I appreciate it.All around great bike.
Spike -Impressed in Twin Cities?  February 26, 2010 04:07 AM
I'll never forget. 1985, it was early morning on a saturday , eastbound on the Ventura freeway, when I look over and-WTF IS THAT?! It turns out that it was a new, before it was released, GSX-R750.
It had the fairing removed, (I guess to not draw attention!!) but the tank, wheels, frame, tail section jumped at you as obviously something new and unseen before. The first thing noticed was the dual headlights poking out of the jumple of wires and the rider leaning on clip ons.
Apparently somebody from Motorcyclist magazine was out for a test ride.
Summer night memories? How about banging fairings on Latigo Canyon at 0230 hrs on a tuesday night with a good bro, the night air torn with the shrieks from two D&D header equipped '87 Gixxer Lebbinhunnits. How do you stay awake in Minneapolis?
Westminister -Make an Effort to Think just a Little...  February 24, 2010 06:53 PM
Whoever said Capirossi is old (i.e. degrading his riding ability) obviously knows nothing about riding skill or talent, also doesn't know motorcycles either. I say sir, do you even ride a bike or bicycle for that matter... The quantity of ignorance is astounding... Stay in school or at least read book, a comic book even... Oh, the humanity...
Fred M. -Adam: You're alright.  February 24, 2010 11:15 AM
You wrote: "I hate all these comments about how this or that bike is crap." Amen! The Motorcycle USA forums seem to be filled with people who spew negativity about other people's bikes. People get on here and trash talk bikes that aren't even of the type that they ride. A good example was the Honda NT-700V review. A perfectly nice commuter bike and light sport tourer that has received positive reviews here, other web sites, and in magazines (most recently, in the latest issue of Ultimate Motorcycling). You can't believe how negative and hate-filled the comments got in that thread. There were people celebrating Buell being shut down -- as if it somehow improved their quality of life to see Erik Buell and 180 of his employees lose their jobs. Look at this thread: How the heck can people be so negative in response to a thread about the storied history of the GSXR?
Fred M. -Chalmers  February 24, 2010 11:00 AM
You wrote: "Oh look out we have another expert that knows everyone’s abilities or lack of." No, but I know that not one in 100 riders is good enough to fully exploit the abilities of any of these liter bikes on the street. Jerry's lack of specificity makes it pretty obvious that he's not speaking from a position of expertise or personal experience. You wrote: "Did Jerry steal your girlfriend/boyfriend?" It was a clever comment when I wrote it. That you simply copied it and changed the name speaks volumes. You wrote: "Go ahead now with some come back that will attempt to imply you know my skill, age, knowledge, income, manhood or anything else you randomly take a guess at knowing while trying to look witty when all you’re doing is being snide." You grossly overestimate your own importance. There's nothing that I could write which would discredit you further than you have done already. My comment to Jerry was due to his childish trash-talking about bikes simply because he owns, or wants to own, a different brand. But at least he was talking about bikes.
adam -gsx-r  February 22, 2010 08:58 AM
All bikes are winners. My next one will be a CBR600RR it just happens to be that one in black. I hate all these comments about how this or that bike is crap. They so close to each other that it comes to the rider who makes the difference so your riding skills are crap and not the bike !
Billy -Suzuki MotoGP  February 20, 2010 09:59 PM
Suzuki sucks in MotoGP for two reasons. First their test riders obviously have now clue what they're doing. Second, they don't pump enough money and resources into it. If they got some decent talent i.e. not old ass Capirossi and funneled some $$$$ into it they could beat Yamaha, Ducati, Honda, all of them.
Dustin -lkasdjf  February 20, 2010 08:32 AM
All might suzuki huh. Wonder why they cant get a grasp on moto gp. Seems no one can take down the mighty valentino rossi and the yamaha M1. Perhaps suzuki will figure it out one day.
Kayoko -Love to ride  February 20, 2010 02:15 AM
My gixxy will always be special to me ... it is the first thing I got of my salary ........ K8 (specially the white rims).... Love it
Duacti Rider -Suzook!  February 19, 2010 03:26 PM
Suzuki has dominated the sportbike scene almost non-stop since 1985. They may not be #1 in 2010 but watchout; Suzuki always seems to climb to the top of the mountain and knocks everyone else down, even mighty Honda has to bow to Suzuki.
RENDELL -CBR (they fit my frame best)  February 19, 2010 03:21 PM
AWESOME STORY! I like CBRs and I own one, but I have the most respect for Suzuki and their GSXRs. I don't understand how they can make such awesome sportbikes but lag behind in Moto GP. My next bike is going to be a GSXR 750 if they still make them in two years.
Chalmers -fred m  February 19, 2010 03:11 PM
“Be honest: You don't ride well enough to exploit the full potential of any of them, so it's a non-issue to you”. Oh look out we have another expert that knows everyone’s abilities or lack of. I don’t agree with Jerry one bit but making an observation, even if it may be biased and based solely on opinion, isn’t reason enough to insult someone’s presumed riding skill. Did Jerry steal your girlfriend/boyfriend? Go ahead now with some come back that will attempt to imply you know my skill, age, knowledge, income, manhood or anything else you randomly take a guess at knowing while trying to look witty when all you’re doing is being snide.
Matt -Gixxer  February 19, 2010 01:34 PM
Nice story. Like to see those old Gixxers.
Fred M. -Reply to Jerry  February 19, 2010 11:47 AM
You wrote "I know it's hard for all you faithful gixxer followers to hear this but Suzuki is at the bottom of the pack now, the gsxr 1000 can no longer hang with the R1 or cbr1000rr or zx10r..." Be honest: You don't ride well enough to exploit the full potential of any of them, so it's a non-issue to you. You also mistake track performance for street performance. Totally different. The suspension and engine that work the best on the track seldom work best on the street -- and vice versa. Did some guy from Suzuki steal your girlfriend/boyfriend or what? I'm just not seeing why you're so invested in how well, or poorly, this year's model of a bike that you don't even own performs in races.
Tim B -Jerry  February 19, 2010 12:54 AM
Jerry, the R1 is an all new bike! It had better perform better than the Suzuki or it would have been proof that the Yamaha engineers had failed. Just wait until it's Suzuki's turn to bring us a clean sheet design. Don't make your Yamaha bias so obvious next time...
Jerry -Suzuki Gsxr's dominance is shortlived, times have changed the gixxers are at the bottom now  February 18, 2010 08:52 PM
I know it's hard for all you faithful gixxer followers to hear this but Suzuki is at the bottom of the pack now, the gsxr 1000 can no longer hang with the R1 or cbr1000rr or zx10r , the gsxr1000 got it's azz kicked this year by the R1 all over the world it simply can't match the r1's level of performance.
Tai N -GSXR750  February 18, 2010 05:05 PM
I still have mine, a 1986 GSXR750. I have gone through three bikes since then but have always kept the GSXR. Just love that bike and will never give it up. Goiing to get another bike this spring but will still keep the GSXR. OG bike.
Gritboy -Love the looks  February 18, 2010 04:13 PM
I disagree. I think Gixxers have a cool, hawklike look -- especially with the intakes and front lights. Like most things Suzuki that take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. Very easy bikes to ride, maintain and insure.
Gixxer Rider -no 2010 bikes  February 18, 2010 10:32 AM
I agree I can't believe suzuki isn't bringing in any new bikes especially for the anniversary. something must be wrong inside the company.
Brian -bksavs  February 18, 2010 09:43 AM
The idea that we will not see the 25th Anniversary editions is ridiculous (even if they are kinda lame). The dealerships I spoke with are down to their last Gixxers and will have none to sell by spring.
Julian Bond -Best year?  February 18, 2010 09:20 AM
For me the K4-5 is the perfect compromise between performance and simplicity. The K6-9 looks too bitty and too much like a manga cartoon for me. And it's really sad that emissions laws mean they keep messing with the exhaust. First the cat and can were welded together. Now the cat and headers are welded on the K8-9. Both stop you from just upgrading via a cheap can. I guess what I really want is a K8-9 with the styling, exhaust and larger screen of the K4-5. Apart from that, still love my black K8 though. If you never shoot for top speed, -1T on the front sprocket really wakes it up and makes it more usable.
Matt -Suzuki GSXRS  February 18, 2010 08:32 AM
I've had a a few Suzuki's. Most recently an 2005 1000 and I love them. They are light and run like hell! I've got almost 25,000 miles on mine and it still runs strong!
BRKNtibia -Squids  February 18, 2010 07:10 AM
you're proud of that squid story? Remind me never to go to Minneapolis.
Tim B -your name  February 18, 2010 02:50 AM
That's merely an opinion. I'd give the "Ugliest Bikes" title to Kawasaki. The looks of the Suzuki bikes have been more safe than ground breaking over the years, but at least they're not ugly.
your name -your name  February 18, 2010 12:10 AM
still suzuki(6oocc,750cc 1000cc) are the most ugly race bikes.