Classic Scrap - 1991 Yamaha FZR1000R EXUP Vs Suzuki GSX-R1100

For many, these are still the two greatest superbikes ever built. Suzuki's legendary GSX- R1100 went head-to-head with Yamaha's EXUP for years, and in 1991 the two were at the top of their game

Click to read: Yamaha FZR1000R EXUP owners reviews

Click to read: Suzuki GSX-R1100 owners reviews

In the days before fuel injection and comedy dry n the days before fuel injection and comedy dry weight claims, we were feasting on the new breed of ultra-fast, fully focused and jolly affordable sports machinery. Long before the madness of ABS and traction control, the route to glory was pure and unadulterated, the object being to place as little as possible between the right hand and the rear wheel. Keep it pure. Keep it simple. The era of serious performance before electronic aid is not a nostalgic and starry-eyed daydream, it is real and relevant today as there are thousands of no-nonsense pedigree bikes still working and lurking in garages across the country.

Operating on the principle of there being more than two ways to skin a cat, the Japanese giants attacked the same goals with their respective philosophies. Yamaha developed the sharp-edged, finely tuned precision tool with their FZR 1000 Genesis which then turned into the EXUP, while Suzuki attacked the same challenges with muscle and unbreakable brute force, hence the total eminence of the GSX and GSX- R motors in the competitive quarter-mile scene.

These principles are validated not only in performance and handling characteristics, but also in design and detailing. The GSX- R sits blunt and threatening with aggressive angles and a whiff of the drag strip. The fairing and graphics have been updated over the previous l-model, the most obvious change being the sunken twin headlights peering through the new angled glass cover. The effect is far more pleasing on the eye and gives the m a modern makeover and a purposeful aerodynamic edge.

Suzuki went to the trouble at the world press launch of pointing out that it was indeed 3.5% more slippery than the incumbent l. The FZR is an altogether more sophisticated and classy-looking creature. The narrow and curvy bodywork flows more coherently over and around the sculptured Deltabox alloy frame with a pretty tailpiece to round it off. The vision that springs to mind as the two sit poised together is very much of beauty and the beast.

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Take a pew on the Suzuki though and immediately it feels the more civilised of the two. The seat is low, wide and nicely padded. The rubber-mounted handlebars sit higher than both the FZR and the smaller 750 Suzuki, only the cramped seat to foot peg measurement will be an issue for some during a motorway stretch. The fairing is wide and the screen low but steeply angled to create a flow of air that will escape most riders. The body is pitched quite far forward too but it just adds to the overall aggressive stance of the 1100. Long and narrow would summarise the EXUP in a nutshell. The natural position is more racer crouch than the Suzuki despite the similar reach to the bars. The knees are more cramped thanks to the lower seat and the wrists will ache quicker but it’s still spacious and sensible compared to what is being churned out of the same factory today.

The above is down to taste and there is no right or wrong but what really counts is the heart that makes them tick. While Suzuki persisted with their air and oil-cooled 1127cc engine, Yamaha stepped into the world of super-smooth, constant temperature performance with their liquid-cooled FZR. At this time, Suzuki had already poked a toe in the water with the peppy little liquid-cooled GSX-R400 so change wouldn’t be too far away for the bigger brothers. Suzuki hadn’t exactly sat on their hands though. despite heat being singled out as the hampering factor in the WSB team, the street bikes didn’t really have an issue with it.

So whilst development of the water-cooled future was well under way, the 1100 was not considered to be in need of fixing but rather in its final stages of performance development. With that in mind, new carbs and a revised cylinder head with hand ported inlet tracts were implemented to refine what was already on tap rather than offer any real world performance gains over the previous model. Thanks to the wonders of liquid cooling and their fancy 5-valve heads, Yamaha could attack with a smaller, smoother, higher-revving motor that had all but caught the GSX-R in the bhp and torque battle. obviously everything would be happening higher up the rev range, but this was the new breed and many were hungry for the high-tech way forward.

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Thumbing the GSX-R into life brings it all back. The centrally mounted rev counter sitting in the brushed aluminium surround is pure Suzuki. With both needles pointing due south until the throttle is moved, and the deep humming burble of the 4 into 2 exhausts, there is no doubt that the 1100 sets a slightly intimidating atmosphere. Imagine a 19 year-old rider experiencing this 17 years ago! I knew a few who chopped in little 350 stink wheels and went on bended knee to their bank managers just so they could make up the huge balance, scare themselves stupid and impress the ladies. In every case, they were successful in achieving their goals. I was 26 in ’91 and terrified of killing myself on such a brute, so settled for a less threatening, early EXUP as my first ever four-stroke road bike. Ease off the new-for-1991 handlebar mounted choke (the previous carb-mounted efforts weren’t very user friendly) and nudge the brute towards its natural habitat.

In case you’re not sure, the GSX-Rs natural hunting ground is very fast, well surfaced ‘A’ roads (in an era before the dreaded Gatso). To some, this might seem obvious but I’m reminded after the primary 20-minute dash why this is so. The 1100M produces a lot of low-down power and grunt which doesn’t interfere with cruising/touring/motorway behaviour, but back in the day, it’s fair to say that machine performance was well ahead of tyre technology. The Suzuki was known to bite back on the twistier, more demanding ‘b’ roads if the pilot was a little too trigger happy with the throttle. The rear tyre on this example is well worn and we’re experiencing december temperatures in late september so the same rules apply.

The gearbox today is still as sweet and light as it would have been 27,000 miles ago and requires very little use if one is not in the mood. It is when one is in the mood, that one had better watch out as a good handful on the exit of a tight corner in less than excellent conditions can cause the rear to step out quite violently and spoil the moment. Better then to choose the taller gear option and use the torque to haul effortlessly on to the next turn. choose the faster, less severe A-road option and it’s possible to explore the boundaries with more confidence. To be fair, I don’t remember the Slingshot series as the best handling machines of the period. They needed a little muscle and a lot of confidence to get the best out of them – and a factory fitted (non-adjustable) steering damper to control a sometimes excitable and light front end from getting out of shape from an under-damped, soft rear shock.

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The ride itself is on the soft side, and takes a firm hand which I think suits the bike. having a huge but relaxed power delivery combined with a world-class 5-speed gearbox is a nice set-up. This is a dual-purpose superbike. Throw in the long luxury seat, half-sensible riding position, flat metal tank and low-slung cans for luggage fitment, and you have genuine high-speed holiday transport. If that’s not your bag, remove the most obvious perishables, tweak the suspension, invest in rubber and you have a very grunty (and classic) track tool. This is without doubt, one of the most versatile sports bikes of the modern era. And they were incredibly easy to tune. Not that this bike had been meddled with - which is what made it such a joy to ride.

Not only can you make the Suzuki fly, it was and still is very competent in the braking department. It was often (if not always) the case that the front lever was half way to the ‘bar before anything started to happen, but the initial bite is strong and the braking performance solid with a nice feel at the lever.

The 1100s were rather top heavy and cumbersome at low speeds, particularly with a full fuel tank. It’s nothing drastic but another reason to restrict the beast to the more experienced rider. It’s all forgotten once on the move though, and the excellent, if buzzy engine becomes the focus of attention once more. It really is one of the most incredibly flexible, and ferociously fast old school engines ever to leave Japan. I’d love to put this on a drag strip next to a 2008 GSX-R1000 and see the results. I’d be inclined to toss a coin over the nought to sixty (if pushed I’d favour the 1100), and maybe put a fiver on the 1000 for the quarter mile but there again, you’d need a perfect launch with both wheels firmly on the deck to see off the 1100. It’s still blisteringly quick.

Despite an almost identical wheelbase, the FZR manages to look and feel longer than the GSX-R. In standard form, it's a slower turner than the Suzuki but more stable in all cornering situations. These two monsters have quite a lot in common – similar peak power and torque figures,11,500rpm redlines, 5-speed ‘boxes, new fangled upside-down forks etc, but the experiences are very different. Admittedly I’m riding an exceptional example with very few miles that is indistinguishable from brand new but the difference in sophistication is quite startling.

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The Yamaha purrs on tick over compared to the grunting Suzuki and everything about it from every angle is lean, clean and sophisticated. It is also incredibly pretty still and has dated less than Suzuki’s design. There is very little vibration through the chassis to the rider’s feet and fingers, at any revs, despite an increase in engine vibration above 6,000rpm. Despite giving away a 124cc disadvantage to the GSX-R, Yamaha’s technicians closed the performance gap significantly. so much so, that the Yamaha can virtually match the Suzuki’s grunt in roll-on tests and just about pip it at the top end. It all happens higher up the rev counter as you might imagine, but it is interesting to note that the 1000 appears to rev much more quickly and readily than the 1100, and goes about its business with less noise and commotion, even though its internals are considerably busier.

As John Smith, the proud owner pointed out, the slow steering could be easily improved by fitting a longer rear shock linkage to raise the ride height, not that it’s overly ponderous of course – just slow enough to consider an upgrade. Power delivery is less brutal with a smoother, more linear feed leading to a stronger top end than the GSX- R, though this is ultimately more suited to the race track than the street. The gearbox is also a strong point on the FZR. It doesn’t ‘snick’ tightly into gear like the Suzuki but still offers a positive and effortless change.

The FZR will hold a better line on a fast or slow corner and drive out more smoothly than the GSX- R, which is prone to being slightly skittish and untidy when hurried. Neither are able to upset the front forks under extreme braking though, and it's easy to set them up for a turn though not so easy for either to deal with a series of flicks from left to right – the Yamaha requiring muscle due to its slow-steering geometry and the Suzuki a steady hand on the tiller thanks to its high centre of gravity.

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Neither are perfect in the handling department but both are a lot of fun and rewarding to push in different ways. The Yamaha will win on the faster stuff because it’s better prepared with standard settings and will no doubt be easier to fine tune. It also wins on normal riding thanks to a more sophisticated chassis and better weight distribution.

We can cut to the chase right now. The FZR1000 is the better machine, history showed this to be the case. It is more sophisticated both internally and externally. It is more modern and refined in every department and scores highly with its looks. but the FZRs never, ever got the cult following of the GSX-R1100. Even today, this is a bike not to be messed with. There is something so charismatic about the GSX-R - as always it romps away with the bad boy trophy and has a less technical, but highly addictive engine that will provide at least as many thrills and smiles as the FZR.

From an era when the Gatso camera was a thing of fiction, both these bikes would make excellent classic-bike purchases and have loads of grunt and presence. If you want to look different and get there quick, these old fellas have still got it.

What’s it like, Mr?

John Smith, 52, Steelworker: "I always fancied a 1000 EXUP but couldn’t afford it first time around. Now they’re cheaper and I can afford it! I saw this one for sale at a dealer in Wales for £2,350 and paid £2,200 for it. It had 2,850 miles on the clock and I’ve added just six miles to it this year. Because it’s still on the original tyres and 100% immaculate, I want to keep it that way so I bought another identical model for £900 that I use regularly with currently 33,000 miles on the clock. So, I have one to look at and one to ride and don’t expect either to depreciate."

Peter Alloway, 59, "This example came along a few weeks ago in a part exchange and is in my showroom at £2,495. Although it’s not 100% immaculate, it’s a very good example in standard, original condition with great bodywork. It is a solid old school sports bike that unlike some of today’s top end machines, remains a practical every day tool with enough power and torque low down to give a fairly civilised ride. We don’t often get one like this – most of them have been modified or thrashed & crashed so we steer clear of them. This one comes with a full service history, original and after market cans and is ready to go."


Suzuki GSX-R1100M

Price now: £1000 - £3000
Engine: 1127cc oil-cooled, 16-valve inline doHc 4
Power: 149bHp @ 10,100rpm
Torque: 112 lb-ft @ 7,250rpm
Front suspension: Kayaba 41mm telescopic usd fork, preload adjustable
Rear suspension: Kayaba monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: twin 320mm discs, 4-piston calipers
Rear brake: single 260mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Dry weight: 226Kg
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Top speed: 160 mph
Colours: red/black, blue/white

Yamaha FZR1000 EXUP

Price now: £1500 - £3000
Engine: 1002cc water-cooled, 20-valve in line doHc 4
Power: 145bHp @ 10,000rpm
Torque: 107 lb-ft @ 8,500rpm
Front suspension: 43mm telescopic usd fork, preload adjustable
Rear suspension: monoshock, preload & rebound adjustable
Front brake:twin 320mm discs, 4-piston calipers
Rear brake: single 267mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Dry weight: 209Kg
Fuel caPacity: 19 litres
Top Speed: 165 mph
Colours: red/white, blue/white