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Story: Guy Allen; Pix: Stuart Grant
Guido goes time-travelling with Suzuki’s GSX-R750, both old and new…
It’s May 2012 and I roll a first-model GSX-R750F (number 515, built in 1985) out of the shed, hop in the saddle and turn the key. A pull on the choke down on the left – right where I remember it – a stab on the starter and it grumps into something resembling life as I work the throttle a little. It goes from reluctant to interested as I raise the revs and tease in the choke. There’s little movement from the tacho, as it doesn’t read below 3000rpm.
This is a seriously weird experience.
The last time I fired up an F was when it was new, in 1985. It was in a lane beside the (then) Australian Motorcycle News offices, in Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. We were both much younger. I was a staffer on the mag and the bike was, after much launch fanfare, just starting to win races amid controversy over its hard-edged design and allegedly flighty handling.
It’s still May 2012 and I’ve now got the current version sitting right beside the original. Things have moved from weird to surreal.
You can’t help wondering if we gained anything over the intervening 27 years…
STEP BACK IN TIME
All the Japanese manufacturers had sexy 750s in 1985, but this was the headline bike of the day. Suzuki stole the limelight in the dealerships with a simple poster. It showed the bike, which looked like a pukka endurance racer, along with two simple captions: 106hp; 176kg.
They didn’t need to say anything else. That was 40-50kg lighter than any similar bike from a year before, and it had litre-class power. If you laid claim to being a performance hound, you had to make excuses for buying any other model.
The bald stats meant this thing could be competitive against much bigger tackle. (What we didn’t fully appreciate at the time was the first Superbike World Championship, which pitted 750cc fours against 1000cc V-twins, was to kick off in 1988.)
Back in the Suzuki dealership, the techno nerds among us had plenty to ogle. What exactly was this air-oil cooling system? You had to love the twin headlights, while you got an aircraft-style twist-and-release fuel cap for quick filling during endurance races – that was a first. And those sexy flat-slide carbs…that’s racer gear, too.
So much for the sizzle, what about the sausage?
In truth, Yamaha quickly caught up with its less greyhound-like FZ750 (the original five-valver), which was a more civilised ride, and went head-to-head with Suzuki. Honda was not to be messed with either, with the distinctive growl of its V4 VF750, while Kawasaki pulled a neat trick with its ultra-capable GPz900R when local racing was limited to a litre. I won’t go into all the variations, but you get the drift.
With the advantage of hindsight, there’s still no question the GSX-R750 was special. That Spartan look, loosely based on the GS1000R endurance racer, worked.
Suzuki argued the air-oil cooling system for its engine was an ideal compromise between an old air-cooled design and the water jacket required for liquid cooling. It was far more sophisticated than the former (with a huge oil cooler mounted up front) and lighter than the latter. Match it to the right tuning and those sexy flat-slides, and you had a powerplant which could rev to 11,000rpm in street trim.
A tacho that started at 3000rpm was a major mind-bender for the rider at the time, though it highlighted the no-compromises intention. In reality, it just means it gets going at three and the fun really starts at six.
Today, it’s still a good ride. You need a little patience to wake it up properly – it’s cold-blooded by modern standards. Even then, the carburetion isn’t slick, and performance can depend on your ability to show a little sympathy for matching your throttle hand to speed and gearing.
Get it right and this is a lively motorcycle. A hundred horses for around 180kg still works. It’s also low, narrow, and surprisingly responsive. My example needs the steering head bearings adjusted (it’s weaving a little in a straight line at the moment), but it tips in happily and responds to correction. With its narrow tyres, it feels like you’re tap-dancing on stilettos – fine if you’re used to it, but confronting if not.
This model saw the introduction of four-piston front brakes for Suzuki and, while they were the hot thing in their day, they’re just acceptable now.
Suspension had moved on from some of the anti-dive weirdness of the early ’80s and made real attempts to offer useful adjustability. It works, up to a point, and now looks as spindly as the frame.
It’s a constant source of surprise that Suzuki still bothers producing a GSX-R750. There’s no compelling race class and, outside the domestic market, no compelling audience. That is until you ride one. The 2012 model, like the generation before, is essentially a 600 on steroids – rather than a mini 1000. That works on the track and on the road.
Less ‘buzzy’ than the 600, it has enough grunt to pull out of a corner with authority without unwrapping an overwhelming brute force. Having ridden every generation of the GSX-R family since day one, I’m still a fan of the 750.
Okay, I still lust after some of the early 1100s, and I love the sheer madness of a well-sorted late-model 1000. But if you told me that I had to sell the lot and live with the current 750, I’d be more pleased than disappointed.
In 1985, the GSX-R750 had a moment where it could stick its head above the crowd. That’s no longer the case. Now it’s buried in the sport noise. So how do the original and new compare?
Throw a leg over a new one, and you can’t help but like it. It snaps into a growl as you hit the starter. Long warm-ups are no longer relevant.
I’m not so wild about the short take-up point on the clutch on the 2012 model. You get used to it, but it’s a nuisance on those occasions when you want more finesse. The original is more user-friendly.
Suzuki went through a golden period with its transmissions in the ’80s, but the new one is tighter and quicker.
The ride position of the 2012-spec machine is like sitting on a fence rail compared to the more sit-in and enveloping stance of the original. However, it has more legroom. Really, we’re comparing awkward with uncomfortable.
Power is now more authoritative from any engine speed, and there’s simply more of everything up to the 14,000-plus redline with a vastly more accurate throttle. No contest.
Braking? Still no ABS, which could be the definitive difference. However, the current is more powerful, has better feel and is more responsive – helped in no small part by bigger tyres.
Steering, suspension and handling has simply moved on from 1985. The original is delightful for being easy to handle and chuck around, but you’d want the new bike for anything that involved big speed.
Now here’s a twist – what does it sound like? The current GSX-R750 has a sensational in-fairing soundtrack that’s a mix of induction roar and mechanical yowl which no-one outside the bike will hear. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble with this and it’s an art that was in its infancy when the original was made.
The 1985 bike has its own appealing cacophony, but it’s not as good.
Maybe I’m one-eyed, but I reckon the original looks a whole lot more purposeful – it’s more assured and knows what it’s about.
Given the choice, which set of keys would you take?
The correct answer is both.
Spex - 2012 GSX-R750
Type: Liquid-cooled inline four with four valves per cylinder
Bore x stroke: 70mm x 48.7mm
Compression ratio: 12.5:1
Fuel system: EFI
Type: Six-speed, constant mesh
Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Twin-spar alloy
Front suspension: Inverted Showa 43mm fork, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Showa monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brakes: Twin 300mm discs with four-piston Brembo calipers
Rear brake: Single 220mm disc with single-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wet weight: 190kg (roughly equivalent to the original)
Seat height: 810mm
Fuel capacity: 17lt
Max power: 110kW (147.5hp) at 13,200rpm
Max torque: 86.3Nm (63ft-lb) at 11,200rpm
Test bike supplied by: Suzuki Australia
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres
*Manufacturer’s list price excluding dealer and statutory costs
Spex - 1985 GSX-R750