The latest GSX-R1000 now has a year and a half under its belt, and has taken race wins, championships, and even won last year’s Senior TT on the Isle of Man in its debut outing at the world-famous event. But the story that gets us to this point - a race-proven machine that boasts MotoGP-derived technology and a suite of advanced electronics - starts over 30 years ago, in Hamamatsu, Japan.
It's doubtful that those behind the first GSX-R750 would have ever envisaged the legacy they were about to begin. Never could they have thought that more than one million bikes with the GSX-R logo would come to be produced. Some 30 years and more later though, the GSX-R brand has become one of the most, if not the most, recognised prefix in motorcycling.
Suzuki turned the sportsbike market on its head in 1985, throwing the rulebook to the kerb and creating something so focused and innovative, it led to a whole new line of motorcycle development and a new generation of motorcycles.
After the initial introduction of a handful of GSX-R400s, the GSX-R750 was born in 1985 and to great acclaim. At the time, MCN's Mat Oxley wrote, "Compromise never came into designing Suzuki's new GSX-R750. Its raw edge is a world apart from the antiseptic whisper of some other fours," and "At the top end of the GSX-R is a rocketship with enough power to see off a lot of 1000s and 1100s."
Its raw, racetrack heritage was obvious - with a dry weight of just 176kg and a power output of 83bhp, it was good for over 145mph, with Oxley continuing, "From the styling to the exhaust note and from the riding position to the viciously powerful brakes and power curve, the GSX-R screams aggression."
It dominated not just on the road but on the racetrack too. After making its race debut at the 1985 Le Mans 24 Hour, it went on to win at the Isle of Man TT, with Mick Grant taking one to victory in the production class. It also subsequently dominated dealer showrooms. It wasn't perfect, but it was the first of its kind, and it was only just the beginning.
The year after the GSX-R750's introduction, the bigger brother followed; the GSX-R1100G. From the moment the 750 concept was born, so was the 1100's. Just like the 750, it too was launched to critical acclaim at Laguna Seca in California. However, despite adopting the same racing technologies as the GSX-R750, the GSX-R1100 was praised for being more forgiving than its smaller sibling. Even with its slightly more relaxed stance, it still featured the latest technologies from Suzuki with it being the first road bike to have cartridge forks.
Mat Oxley was also present on the launch of the first GSX-R1100, noting, "The Suzuki message is as clear as it was with the GSX-R750. The Hamamatsu factory are selling race bike technology for the road. The 1100 also has Suzuki's new electronically activated suspension. I'm convinced that it's the best sports bike ever. If you're into proddie racing you'd better throw away whatever you've got and buy an 1100."
1986 also saw updates to the GSX-R750, just to make sure it stayed ahead of the game. New, more powerful headlights, a one-piece seat, subtle bodywork changes and exhaust amends came for the second year of GSX-R750. It also came with a 20mm longer swingarm to improve stability at high speed.
1988 marked the first year of the Slingshot models. To improve the GSX-R750 further, weight was added in a bid to improve stability at high speed. To counter the addition of around 20kg, the 748cc motor was tuned to produce more power. The now oversquare engine had air fed directly into the air box, while dimensions were based on the factory World Endurance racer. It also boasted more powerful brakes and revised suspension. Kevin Schwantz took the bike to victory that year in the Daytona 200.
A year later and the GSX-R750RK was introduced; the homologation special which saw limited numbers produced for World Superbike contention. They were lighter, produced more power, had closer ratio gears, and a single seat. It also donned the same redesigned belly pan and silencers as the standard model with an increased ride height.
The GSX-R750 was continuously refined and honed with subtle changes and updates, keeping it ahead of the competition. In 1990 the 750 became the first UK road bike to feature upside down front forks, while power increased to 95bhp. It went up another 7bhp a year later.
The GSX-R1100 was also updated with new suspension and increased ride height to aid handling and a longer wheelbase to improve stability. The 36mm carbs were increased to 40mm.
1992 marked the first major changes for the GSX-R750 with the most notable being the shift from oil cooling to liquid cooling. The motor was lightened and slimmed, but after tuning produced even more power, making a top speed of 157mph easily reachable. A year later, the GSX-R1100 too became water cooled. In 1994 the 750 got a reworked frame, bigger and lighter front forks, plus other engine and gearbox upgrades.
After 10 years of GSX-R production, both the 750 and 1100 had evolved with the times. 1996 however introduced the first of a new type of GSX-R750. With the demands of faster racers and road riding, the future was bigger airboxes and stiffer chassis. Enter the GSX-R750 SRAD. It brought the relationship between race bikes and road bikes even closer than it had been before. The dimensions of the new 750 were based on those of Kevin Schwantz's 1993 World Championship winning RGV500.
"GSX-CITEMENT" read the headline in MCN after the bike's launch, and journalist Chris Moss labeled it, "the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping bike Japan has ever built." At the bike's launch in Misano, he described how the "razor-sharp handling is the GSX-R's towering strength" and that, "the gearbox and clutch are typical Suzuki - superbly slick." And in his verdict, Moss notes that the "new GSX-R750 is a race bike with lights."
The now iconic, period seat cowl with the SRAD decal referred to Suzuki’s Ram Air Direct system. The new air intakes in the front fairing forced air directly into the airbox, and all GSX-Rs since 1996 have employed this now common sense design.
A year later and an all-new member joined the GSX-R family; the GSX-R600.
Launched in November of 1996, the GSX-R600 walked into the ultra competitive 600cc class and immediately established itself at the top. Journalist Kent Kunitsugu opened his road test with, "The GSX-R600 has taken Suzuki right to the top of the 600 supersport class. Its searing speed and racetrack handling mean this will be the bike to beat in '97." He continued, "Take it up to 10,000rpm and the bike flies. Keep it screaming from here on up and you'll barely believe it's only a 600, the bike's so quick."
The GSX-R line up went three-strong into the late nineties, but with the GSX-R1100 starting to slip away, a new, faster, lighter, and even more race focused replacement was on the horizon. By the turn of the millennium, it had all but disappeared, ready for the introduction of the GSX-R1000 a year later.
Along came 2001 and with it the first GSX-R1000 arrived, ready to pick up the mantle dropped by the outgoing GSX-R1100 and establish a new breed of big capacity superbikes. Even though World Superbike regulations changed, the design brief, 'to own the racetrack,' was the same. Journalist Jim Yeardly wrote after the first GSX-R1000's launch at Road Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, "I reckon they've succeeded."
Despite the increase in capacity over the GSX-R750, pistons were 3g lighter due to a dished crown instead of a raised one. The new exhaust system was made from titanium, aluminium and stainless steel and fitted with a valve system that altered the exhaust depending on the riding style being used. The whole package was only 4 kilos heavier than the GSX-R750.
The GSX-R line now made a three-pronged attack on the road and racing scene. Regulations determined that the GSX-R600 and GSX-R1000 qualified for supersport and superbike classes. Whilst the GSX-R750 was not used for racing, it continued in the range where 750cc machines from other manufacturers fell by the wayside. Fast forward to 2012, and the GSX-R750 was still being praised as the "thinking man's sportsbike" by Bike Magazine.
All three models saw refinements rather than radical overhauls in the coming years, as evolution was favoured over revolution. Tweaks and alterations made sure the range moved forward, but the first big one came in 2005 for the GSX-R1000.
Stay tuned for part two.