Road Test: Suzuki GSX-R750 History

Suzuki's GSX-R750 snapped up the TWO Bike Of The Year Award 2004 last month. To mark the occasion, we celebrate 20 years of three-quarter litre lunacy with every generation of GSX-R 750

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By Warren Pole on Tue, 22 Apr 2008 - 07:04

Visordown Motorcycle News


The year was 1984. Frankie Goes to Hollywood were winding the establishment up by telling everyone to 'Relax', Margaret Thatcher was embroiled in a Mexican standoff with Arthur Scargill and his miners, and the humble halfpenny coin bade farewell to the back of sofas everywhere as it was taken out of circulation.

But there would be one more landmark etched into the history books as the curtain fell on 1984, because it was at the Cologne show that October when Suzuki's GSX-R750 arrived to change the face of sportsbikes forever.

Here for the first time was a roadbike that not only looked like a racebike but went like one too. The weight was 25 kilos less than its nearest competitor and power was a claimed 100bhp. Even though this was substantially less in reality, thanks to the Japanese tradition at the time for vastly inflated power figures, it was still well up on any other 750 at the time.

From here on in, sportsbikes would become leaner and faster with each passing year as the major manufacturers all strove to pack more track-derived trickery into their flagship bikes. Suzuki had given birth to a monster.

Fast forward 20 years and we've just been blessed with the sixth incarnation of a bike that is perhaps responsible for more bad behaviour than any other. Her weight's fluctuated over the years and at times she's been dressed in some hideous outfits, but what has remained constant is the GSX-R's stubborn refusal to ever become anything less than a pared down screaming yahoolie of a sportsbike.

Since her inception, she's seen rivals come and go, from Yamaha's technologically superior but less exciting FZ750 at the start to Kawasaki's lardy ZX-7R which withdrew from the battlefield just last year. Honda's bigger-bore FireBlade stole her thunder in 1992 and swung the goalposts away from the 750 class altogether, but the GSX-R750 has stubbornly stood fast through thick and thin .

Now she sits first in a class of one as the only production sports 750 on the market. While everyone else has a sports 600 and 1000 in their line up, only Suzuki persist with the halfway house that is the 750. Why? Because it's a bloody awesome motorcycle, and in

celebration, we have lined up every generation of this mighty machine. We've howled them down Bruntingthorpe's desolate runway, we've caned them around Cadwell's curves, and we've narrowly avoided launching them into a number of Leicestershire's finest hedgerows along the way. So if you're sitting comfortably, let's start at the beginning...

1985-1987 | Generation 1 GSX-R750F, G & H

The Prizefighter

More power and less weight than any 750, this is where it all began

How it was different...

Seminal bike that rewrote the rule book for sportbike power, weight and handling

With one of these and a pint of Blue Stratos, 1985-man could not only see off all comers down the local twisties, he could also attract women at will, such was the pulling power of this machine in all respects.

The first GSX-R750 was dripping with technology hitherto only seen before on the racetrack. Firstly there was that anorexic weight, reached by Suzuki after a massive programme of development that saw oil cooling introduced for the first time on a bike, an all-alloy frame used for the second time ever (the first was Suzuki's own RG250), plus other touches including 'massive' 41mm forks, 300mm drilled discs and - the icing on the cake - a magnesium rocker cover. This stuff would have been a surprise on a spaceship in 1985, but on a motorcycle?

It wasn't perfect mind, namely because Suzuki's quest for weight loss resulted in a dubious frame which couldn't cope with the power. Tankslappers anyone?

By 1987 the Slabside (so-called thanks to its dinner-plate fairing panels) looked the same, but with 20mm added to swingarm length and beefier wheels (rumour has it you could flex the early ones with your hands), stability was at least improved and it was this model we used for our test.

In Cadwell's paddock, the ancient GSX-R looks more than a little bit out of place. The styling says it should be in a museum while the puddle of oil collecting beneath the bellypan says it should be in a skip. But boy, is it getting some attention? You'd think it was a brand new bike on a stand at the NEC the way people are massing around it, pointing at bits and occasionally daring to lean in for a squeeze of a brake lever. From its 'racing' tacho (doesn't even wake up until 3,000rpm) to its twin endurance spots, this bike is a modern classic, no mistake about it.

At least it is until you ride it. Try this and you will find other reminders of a bygone age like brakes that don't work ("you'd be better off putting your feet down" said a white-faced Whitham after just one lap), a motor that doesn't go and a chassis that gives so little feedback you might as well be riding in boxing gloves and wellies.

To be fair though, a lot of this was down to our bike being five owners, 37,000 miles and 17 years-old. With this in mind, the fact it managed dynos, top speed runs, a road test and track sessions without giving up the ghost altogether was commendable indeed.

The riding position came as the biggest shock to the modern system. The high bars feel as if they should be on a chopper and are miles away, the front wheel feels as if it's in another county, the fairing's that big you could have a party behind it and the pegs are almost on the floor.

Fire the motor however and suddenly you couldn't be on anything but a GSX-R, as that family bark fills the air. Gassing the bike down Bruntingthorpe's runway for its top speed run, the asthmatic bottom end gives way to a brief fit of coughing and spluttering at seven grand before a brief albeit slightly punchy dive for the redline. No bottom end, all the power at the top. Sound familiar?

JAMES WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

I raced one of these in superstock, which was the biggest race class in the country back then and I got onto it straight from me 125. I first rode it at Brands Hatch and wondered what the fook I'd let meself in for as I tried to get me head around the extra power, even though it was never making the 100bhp Suzuki claimed (unless they'd measured it at the spark plug).

It was very light, almost too light - dead bendy and flexy, and when you crashed it bits got bent. Getting back on it, I couldn't believe the riding position - it was all wrong, and so narrow. The brakes were terrible, but then all brakes were crap back then.

1988-1991 | Generation 2 GSX-R750J, K, L & M

The Slingshot

Cool nickname, very cool bike

With competition FAST muscling in on their turf, Suzuki had to move quickly to keep their baby ahead. Their answer to the looming ZXR750 in particular was the GSX-R750J, or the Slingshot as it became known.

The nickname came from the redesigned Mikuni carbs and their straighter intakes. Also, in a move that throws current logic on its head, Suzuki made the new bike heavier than the old one, as the frame was beefed up in a bid to tame the previous bike's head-shaking histrionics. It worked, and allowed Suzuki to give the J more radical geometry.

As well as chassis work, the motor got a new bottom end which was simply nicked off the factory's existing GSX-R1100. Now this shorter stroke motor revved higher and faster, and the all-or-nothing power delivery of the Slabside models was replaced with a rather more usable spread of power from as low as 5000rpm. The bike hadn't become a pussycat, but faster had now become easier.

The restyle also meant the Slingshot looked the business and more like what we recognise as a modern superbike, although the twin spots, either side exhausts and dummy dual endurance filler caps are a giveaway to its late '80s heritage.

Little was changed between the J and K models, but it was tweaks aplenty by late 1989 and the M version, as the GSX-R fought to keep the competition at bay. Upside-

down forks made their first production appearance at the front of the M, while the motor went back to its old long-stroke format and power finally reached a genuine 100bhp after years of exaggeration.

Unlike the ghost train experience that was the Slabside, this bike was actually pretty bloody good. In just one generation, the GSX-R had skipped from museum piece to something akin to a sportsbike. The riding position was still on the relaxed side, and the huge analogue clocks root you squarely in the past, but there was a real feeling of being plugged into the bike.

The motor has a lovely smooth, revvy delivery courtesy of those good old carbs, and the biggest surprise has to be the brakes - they're still good even now.

Although it was all far from fresh, the suspension still had some damping left, while the clutch and gearbox felt good.

The result of this was a bike that wanted - demanded even - to be thrashed, caned and wheelied everywhere. A true GSX-R.

JAMES WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

I rode a standard J-model in the 1988 British Production championship. You had to have fully standard bikes for that; lights on and even working horns, although they were banned after a couple of rounds because everyone were hooting at each other down the straights. It wasn't the fastest bike on the grid, but it was the best handling and I won the championship on it. It was properly adjustable too. For the first time, you could adjust stuff on a roadbike and feel the difference. No other bike before it had managed that. The motors were unburstable too, as long as you didn't tune them up too high. They'd do it, but if you missed a gear you'd bend all the valves...

1992-1995 | Generation 3 GSX-R750WN, WP, WR & WS

Caught, and passed

It seemed Suzuki was losing its magic touch with these bikes

As the GSX-R750M shuffled off to be replaced by the WN (the 'W' is for the watercooling that appeared in a bid to up power), the cracks were showing.

First and foremost, Suzuki seemed to have its head stuck in the sand as it persevered with the GSX-R's trademark cradle frame. Revolutionary in 1985, this was now old hat. Everyone else was using beam frames wrapped around the engine, instead of going over the top which allowed motors to be angled forwards and down-wards, leaving room above for the airbox which in turn meant a shorter wheelbase and the handling benefits that came with it.

Hamstrung by the ageing frame, no matter how stiff or light it was, Suzuki was stuck with a motor that had to stay fairly upright regardless of how cleverly they squeezed everything in. Sportsbike design was changing and the GSX-R's frame meant she couldn't keep up as Yamaha's YZF750, Kawasaki's ZXR750 and, of course, Honda's FireBlade all queued up to give the Suzuki a bloody nose before nicking its dinner money.

As if to add insult to injury, the WN and WP were also the heaviest GSX-R750s of all time. Things weren't looking too rosy.

In fact, despite the motor still remaining a revvy hoodlum that needed constant stoking and attention in true racer style, the bike's weight against the competition meant it was becoming the softer choice for the road in the class. What was happening?

GSX-R life didn't get any better with the WR and WS models that followed. Once again the cradle frame remained, and once again Suzuki's engineers worked their socks off on the rest of the bike in a last-ditch bid to keep it somewhere near the money. Their endeavours may have seen the motor hitting 104bhp with a 13,500rpm redline, but sadly their suspension tweaks now made the bike too harsh on the road.

As for the WR riding experience today, it's really not so bad. Close your eyes and the feel is little different to the previous model. The long tank still feels as if its coming up under your chin, the bars are still a long way away and the pegs are higher.

The brakes are still as impressive as the M's while the suspension is in the same league providing adequate levels of control and damping. This bike is the least GSX-R of all our bikes here, lacking that final X-factor that turns a fast bike into a blinding one.

JAMES WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

I raced a WN in '92 and it was a piece of shit. All that styling was a stopgap while they worked on the new bike. We were trying to race it in superbike against Honda RC30s and Yamaha OWO1s, and I was just thinking, "We're fucked!" It was like a 20-year-old dinosaur against the rest. Mick Grant worked his nuts off to get it as good as it could be, but we should never have gone racing on it - it got to a point pretty quickly where you knew if you rode any it any harder, you'd be in the crowd.

1996-1999 | Generation 4 GSX-R750WT, WV, WW & WX

You've beam framed

A new frame, a new motor and suddenly, the GSX-R's back on

Holy cow! Just when the world and his wife had written off the 750 class for good and declared 1000s as the way forward, just when the FireBlade and ZX-9R were busy beating each other up every weekend, and just when the R1 was around the corner, Suzuki gave us the GSX-R750WT.

We didn't know it then, but this was to be the start of their lone and ongoing crusade in the world of the three-quarter litre sportsbike. Although they weren't going to miss out on the 1000cc boom, or the 600cc one for that matter either, as the WT turned out to be the founding father of both the 600 and later the magnificent GSX-R1000.

The WT finally ditched the wraparound frame in favour of a very tasty beam jobby, which was paraded in its stripped-down glory very proudly on the launch just in case anyone hadn't noticed it.

And inside those frame rails nestled the most powerful GSX-R 750 motor ever. There would be no pillaging bits off the 1100 here, and no other recourses to adaptations of old designs, but instead there sat a brand new motor in every respect.

Narrower and nine kilos lighter than the WS lump it replaced, with more revs, bigger carbs and electronic management, the WT motor made 113bhp to be precise - a figure very close to the FireBlade of the day.

Weight loss played a major part across the whole bike, just as it did with the very first GSX-R, and overall it shed 25 kilos over the WS. Transformation doesn't come close.

The styling is pure horn, even if opinions were divided over the seat hump, but although the blue and white one looks pretty as a picture, the GSX-R's shell suit days were far from gone as demonstrated by the black/gold and purple/yellow abominations which both looked as if someone in Suzuki's paint shop had let Coco the Clown do them blindfold on his unicycle after six cans of Diamond White.

But who cares about paint when a bike goes like this? That motor spins up with a hollow howl as if the internals are made of glass and, in the lower and middle reaches of the tacho, it feels like any other properly fast bike. Not shocking, but quick.

The shock comes when you hit 10,000rpm and the bike rips you towards the horizon on a cataclysmic surge of top end power that runs right up to the 13,500rpmm redline. In every gear. Exciting? You betcha. And with handling and brakes to match, the GSX-R750 was well and truly back in the frame, not only as King 750, but also as a viable alternative to a 'Blade if you were crazed enough to cane it hard enough.

After the WT came the WV. Same looks, same handling, same duff paint options and same mental top end, but now with improved engine management for slightly better throttle response. And after this came the WW and WX, which made the jump to fuel injection and a little more mid-range, making them easier to ride for the less committed rider, while actually making a touch more power to keep the loony brigade happy.

The one to ride has to be the WV though, as the most refined of the most barking GSX-R ever made.

GSX-R owner Carl, who'd come along and brought his current Y and had owned a string of WTs before that, got off it grinning like an idiot. "That was bloody excellent! I'm even tempted to sell my '03 to buy another one of these. I know it's not faster than my bike, and I know it doesn't handle as well, but it just feels so flippin' quick the way that top end kicks in every time".

And he's right. A well kept one of these is a true thing of joy that's still capable of doing serious damage at a trackday if kept in sticky tyres and decent brake pads. Make mine a blue and white one will you?

JAMES WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

As a roadbike, they were the most bulletproof. I raced one for Harris in '97 and it were a fooking rocketship that just revved forever and had the most screaming top end, but it had some real stability issues too, especially at fast tracks - it was as much as I could do just to hang onto the thing at times. Still, took a couple of podiums at Hockenheim and Monza, so it weren't all bad.

2000-2003 | Generation 5 GSX-R750Y

New century, new 750

Would Suzuki kill off the 750 for 2000? Of course not

The 750 class was dying as Y2K came up over the horizon, It was dead, kaput, finished, because in 2000 if you wanted to be a big sportsbike you had to have 1000ccs.

Rumours at the time suggested Suzuki was working on a new 1000 and all the odds pointed to the 750 finally bidding farewell to gravel traps and hedges everywhere.

But odds are there to be beaten, which was exactly what Suzuki did when it uleashed the GSX-R750Y. It couldn't compete with the litre pack on outright power, but it did have one major weapon in its armoury - weight. Or a lack of it to be more precise.

Suzuki stripped its new baby of all flab. The result was a bike with a dry weight under the leading 600s of the day. Five kilos had come off the all-new motor, half a kilo from the exhaust, and the frame had shed a whopping eight kilos, to name but a few of the slashes of the engineer's scalpel.

Years of sweat and toil in the engine room at Suzuki HQ gave the Y model 126bhp at the back wheel. They'd made a 600 on steroids.

No stone had been left unturned in Suzuki's quest for the ultimate 750 and it was quite obvious how passionate the company was about this bike. 750 class or no, Suzuki would keep making the GSX-R750 and keep making it better.

As ever, the motor is where you'll find all the action on one of these. It spins up with wonderful ferocity and has that same free-revving feeling of the earlier WT and V models, but now there's more refinement. Secondary valves in the throttle bodies smooth out the delivery, so there's less snatch getting back off a closed throttle and a smarter ECU also does its bit.

But although refinement can sometimes mean less fun, that's not the case here. With 126 ponies to play with there's plenty of scope for fun and games. She'll drive cleanly enough in the lower reaches, then she'll lift everything a couple of gears as you pass 7000rpm and just as you're really starting to go ga-ga, she'll hit the afterburners at 10,500 and dive for the redline with utterly indecent haste.

The chassis this gem of a motor is wrapped up in is also a peach. It does feel slightly muted in its feedback and a touch slow to turn compared to the very latest crop of sportsbikes, but as a riding experience on its own it still feels sharp, aggressive and as fast as you like. You may not be the fastest bike on track, but it will still take a very well ridden R1 or Blade to get away from a committed lunatic on one of these.

It's not all good though: the four pot brakes are disappointingly wooden,requiring a lot of effort, and then there's the damper.

Fitted by Suzuki after the nasty taste left in their mouths by the TL1000S issue, it is a nasty number that robs the bike of its finesse and poise through low speed corners. Fortunately the bike can be happily thrashed on road or track without it, as Suzuki's chassis alterations do a perfectly good job of taming the slappers on their own, so sling it in the bin and forget about it.

All of which leaves us with one cracker of a bike that can reward in spades just as long as you're prepared to work for it.

JAMES WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

By this stage, the GSX-R had almost become an institution on its own. I don't very often get on a new road bike - any road bike - and think "Fook me that's good!", but we had one of these on one of our Speedfreak track days and it took my breath away. It had proper race bike power and I just remember thinking that bikes this good shouldn't be allowed out to the general public.

2004 | Generation 6 GSX-R750K4

Still screamin'

THE BEST GSX-R750 EVER MADE

And now we've come full circle. 20 years since the launch of the first GSX-R750 and with the class having boomed and bust around it, the 2004 750K4 sits among today's sportsbikes as either an oddball anomaly or a belting bike that happens to have 750ccs. It all depends on your point of view.

Where in the past, development of the 750 fed into the GSX-R600 and later the GSX-R1000, now it's the other way around with the 750 taking pointers from its siblings.

The downer to all this leads us to perhaps the one main criticism you can level at the bike, which is that it looks like every other GSX-R in the range. The upside is this is the trickest 750cc roadbike money can buy.

Dimensions are nigh-on identical to the latest GSX-R600, which makes this one narrow bike, and thanks to extensive weight loss, the 750 only weighs in two kilos heavier than its smaller brother.

Suspension units have been uprated to cope with the 750's extra poke, as have the swingarm and frame, but this bike is all about balance. With the 600, Suzuki's engineers needed maximum power from a small motor and ultimate race adaptability, with the 1000 power would be the key focus, and with the 750 they could mix up the best bits of both bikes.

And boy is it good. The level of control, feedback and confidence this bike offers is the best I've ever sampled on an out-of-the-crate superbike, and this is all borne out of the way the package balances together.

Take the brakes for example. At last they're what the 750 deserves - fiercely powerful, but with so much feel both at the lever and through the forks that pinning the bike onto its nose is so simple it becomes a pleasure, and you end up doing it everywhere just for the hell of it.

And of course, this bike is a GSX-R, so no rundown would be complete without a look at the motor. Is it barking? You betcha. With 128bhp and a 14,500 redline this thing is a true screamer that begs for revs and tears for the horizon pretty much as fast as your brain can manage.

It does feel slightly tamer than the last two incarnations however, because of the way the power now comes in. Better fuel injection and more horses all round mean a smoother and slightly fatter delivery off the bottom end, which then means the 7000rpm transition point as the power really hikes up feels less extreme than in the past.

But what you lose in this sense is more than offset by the pure power that's now available to your right hand, and also the chassis package which lets you use every last bit of it wherever you are. Don't be fooled - this bike is every bit a GSX-R and that still means it will make you do bad things because it is almost impossible not to.

It begs, needs, demands and loves being thrashed to death, and that is what makes it a GSX-R750. Damn it's good.

JAMES WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

This is exactly what god intended a 600 to be. It's just like a 600, but faster. It revs its tits off, makes you change gear and makes you work on it, which I like. Because you have to work the GSX-R, you get satisfaction when you get it right. It's quicker than a 600 where you need it - mid-range - but you can't be as lazy with the engine as you can on a 1000. The handling is as good as the 600's and it's bloody good fun to ride. A good compromise if you want a 600 with some kick and are a bit scared of the power offered by a 1000.

The year was 1984. Frankie Goes to Hollywood were winding the establishment up by telling everyone to 'Relax', Margaret Thatcher was embroiled in a Mexican standoff with Arthur Scargill and his miners, and the humble halfpenny coin bade farewell to the back of sofas everywhere as it was taken out of circulation.

But there would be one more landmark etched into the history books as the curtain fell on 1984, because it was at the Cologne show that October when Suzuki's GSX-R750 arrived to change the face of sportsbikes forever.

Here for the first time was a roadbike that not only looked like a racebike but went like one too. The weight was 25 kilos less than its nearest competitor and power was a claimed 100bhp. Even though this was substantially less in reality, thanks to the Japanese tradition at the time for vastly inflated power figures, it was still well up on any other 750 at the time.

From here on in, sportsbikes would become leaner and faster with each passing year as the major manufacturers all strove to pack more track-derived trickery into their flagship bikes. Suzuki had given birth to a monster.

Fast forward 20 years and we've just been blessed with the sixth incarnation of a bike that is perhaps responsible for more bad behaviour than any other. Her weight's fluctuated over the years and at times she's been dressed in some hideous outfits, but what has remained constant is the GSX-R's stubborn refusal to ever become anything less than a pared down screaming yahoolie of a sportsbike.

Since her inception, she's seen rivals come and go, from Yamaha's technologically superior but less exciting FZ750 at the start to Kawasaki's lardy ZX-7R which withdrew from the battlefield just last year. Honda's bigger-bore FireBlade stole her thunder in 1992 and swung the goalposts away from the 750 class altogether, but the GSX-R750 has stubbornly stood fast through thick and thin.

Now she sits first in a class of one as the only production sports 750 on the market. While everyone else has a sports 600 and 1000 in their line up, only Suzuki persist with the halfway house that is the 750. Why? Because it's a bloody awesome motorcycle, and in celebration, we have lined up every generation of this mighty machine. We've howled them down Bruntingthorpe's desolate runway, we've caned them around Cadwell's curves, and we've narrowly avoided launching them into a number of Leicestershire's finest hedgerows along the way. So if you're sitting comfortably, let's start at the beginning...

Click here to continue to the Generation 1 Suzuki GSX-R750F, G & H

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