Story by Rennie Scaysbrook
1984 was a long time ago. Michael Jackson took eight Grammys while managing to set his hair on fire in a Pepsi commercial, the Soviet Union boycotted the Summer Olympics in L.A, and David Lee Roth was kicked out of Van Halen.
1984 also engaged a shift in the way we saw sporting motorcycles, because at this year’s Cologne Show, the public got their first glimpse of the future. The Suzuki GSX-R750 was unlike anything ever seen before. It coined the phrase moto journos have used at nauseum “racer-with-lights” and spawned an entirely new industry, that of the modern superbike.
Thirty years later, the GSX-R750 is still going strong. The list of machines its vanquished is simply remarkable—the Yamaha FZ and YZF, Kawasaki ZXR and ZX-7R, Honda RC30 and 45, as well as innumerable Ducatis and Bimotas—all rivals that have been beaten by the GSX-R on the track and in the showroom.
The GSX-R750 is “the people’s superbike.” It was the first to bring factory-level performance to the public at an affordable price, and while there have been and certainly are now more powerful, faster, more technologically advanced machines, the GSX-R750 stands strong. Simply, its a bike with minimal electronics, a great engine and better chassis, a bike you can ride and feel like a MotoGP star.
Well, not in the States, at least. We’d have to wait another year for the bike to land, but the rest of the world got their fix. The GSX-R750F was a product of the factory GS1000R racebike that found success in AMA and Endurance racing. Sold as a 400 in Japan in 1984, the upgraded 750 of 1985 came to buyers garages with a race-bred 100 horsepower, DOHC, inline four-cylinder, air- and oil-cooled (Suzuki Advanced Cooling System—SACS) motor with 70 x 48.7mm dimensions, 29mm flat-slide carbs, aluminum box section chassis, 18-inch wheels, and bodywork that looked straight off the Endurance racetracks of the world.
The end result was a bike that weighed a claimed 394 pounds, substantially lighter than the same year Yamaha FZ750 with more power to boot. It was an instant success. The new GSX-R won the 1985 Le Mans 24 Hour first time out, as well as the Production TT and in 1986, a guy called Kevin Schwantz took second behind Eddie Lawson at the Daytona 200. That year of 1986, the new-to-U.S. GSX-R750G only saw slight revisions, with a 25mm longer swingarm, revised bellypan and slightly different headlights. There was also a 500-only GSX-R750 R that sported different colors, graphics and headlights, 310mm floating discs, steering damper, span-adjustable clutch lever, race-style dry clutch, a single seat, remote rear suspension reservoir and electronically activated anti-dive forks New Electronically Activated Suspension (NEAS).
For 1987 the only change to the GSX-R was thicker 41mm forks and a larger 5.5 gallon gas tank.
This was the first major overhaul of the GSX-R750. The new 750 featured a short-stroke 73 x 44.7mm, 748cc engine, higher-lift cams, larger valves and new constant velocity, Mikuni BST26SS flat-slide carbs (the bike’s Slingshot nickname coming because the slide cross section of the carbs looked like a slingshot). The Slingshot also had a 4-2 exhaust system and power was bumped up to a claimed 112 horsepower.
Up front the fork diameter was increased to 43mm, rear suspension was revised, new four-piston brakes and the show rolled on 17-inch wheels, finally ditching the 18-inchers of the last three years. Aesthetically the GSX-R was completely changed, with totally new bodywork and graphics. The GSX-R was now bigger and wider than before and, crucially, it was also heavier by about 20 pounds with less ground clearance.
The following year saw Suzuki bring out another special edition, the GSX-R750RR, of which only 500 were made. This model went back to the long-stroke motor (70 x 48.7mm), 40mm carbs, close ratio gearbox, braced swingarm, five gal gas tank, a race-style single seat, alloy tank and about 120 horsepower (claimed) on tap. If you find one of these in the States, buy it!
The 1990 model year saw a raft of changes to the GSX-R750, most notably the introduction of fully adjustable, inverted forks. The U.S would have to wait until 1991 before they’d be getting inverted, but they got the rest of the changes.
These included a return to the long-stroke design—now pumping out 115 horsepower—of the original 750, Mikuni 38mm carbs that were 2mm larger than the 1989 models but 2mm smaller than the RR’s, new conrods, lighter pistons, large capacity oil pump and reshaped oil cooler, new 4-1 exhaust and a revised gearbox.
On the chassis side, wheelbase grew 10mm to 1410mm (55.5 inches), there was a new shock and swingarm, wider rear wheel, new non-adjustable steering damper (but not for the U.S market, we only got the mounting holes drilled in the frame).
If Americans felt ripped off by the fact they had to wait a year for the new inverted forks to arrive in the country, it got worse for 1991. This is where the GSX-R started to lose the plot, gaining 33 pounds over the 1990 model thanks to a new fairing, lights, seat and rear bodywork.
Americans had even more right to be pissed off at American Suzuki in 1992 with news the new water-cooled engine that everyone else was getting, wasn’t coming to the U.S. until 1993. As such, our 1992 GSX-Rs are the same as the 1991 models, just with different graphics. So for 1992/’93 (U.S.), the GSX-R got its hands on water-cooling, making for a more powerful, slimmer unit that pushed power out to a claimed 118 horsepower. The chassis and bodywork was essentially unchanged. Over the next four years, the graphics were restored to less offensive color schemes (there was a lairy pink and purple design), but by now the GSX-R was getting long in the tooth. The chassis design was old, having only received updates since 1985; the engine, despite water-cooling, was old and heavy, and bikes like the much lighter Yamaha YZF750R, faster Kawasaki ZXR750 and legendary Ducati 888 and 916s made the Suzuki look outdated at best.
It was time for a new GSX-R, and we got it in 1996.
It took Suzuki 11 years, but a totally all-new machine hit the world’s roads and racetracks for 1996. The GSX-R750T was closely linked to the RGV500 that Kevin Schwantz rode in his final season of GP racing during 1995. Suzuki reverted back to the short-stroke engine, now with 72mm x 46mm dimensions fed by 30mm carbs, and it also got ram air induction, a feature the company had immortalized on the side of the seat unit with the letters “SRAD,” meaning Suzuki Ram Air Direct. Suzuki claimed 130 horspower for their new weapon, shooting it back to the front of the horsepower pile.
The 1996 GSX-R was graced with an all-new twin-spar chassis, doing away with the ancient double-cradle design it had featured since the model’s inception. It also got new fully adjustable forks and shock, with weight dropped back to a claimed 394 pounds, the same as the 1985 original.
The new machine put Suzuki back on the racing map. While it struggled in World Superbike, the machine took out the Australian Superbike Championship, and a couple of yeas later, Mat Mladin took the first of three-straight AMA Superbike titles on the 1999 GSX-R.
For 1998, the GSX-R got fuel injection and large 46mm throttle bodies, as well as updates the ram-air system, gearbox, suspension and brakes, but stopped short of calling it an all-new model. That came in 2000.
The 16th year of the GSX-R750 in 2000 bought with it another new model, the third major revision in its history. The look was totally changed, with sleeker and bodywork replacing the bulbous look of the mid-90s. Underneath the new clothes sat a narrower engine with a totally redesigned fuel injection system. The cylinders and the upper crankcase were now cast as one unit, helping to increase the overall strength and bring weight down, plus the new chassis had a 20mm longer swingarm to aid traction and stability. New four-piston brakes (replacing the old six piston units), sat up front.
The 2000 GSX-R750 was claimed to be whopping 29 pounds lighter than the 1996-‘99 machine—11 pounds of that alone came from the engine-with power now claimed to be 141 horsepower. Mat Mladin uses the machine to decimate the AMA Superbike field, winning the title in 2000 and 2001 to make it three in a row before being stopped by Nicky Hayden and the Honda RC51 in 2002.
But this would be the last time the 750 would be considered a true superbike. The GSX-R1000 arrived in 2001, the power race had started, and from 2003 the 750 was in no-man’s-land.
A bike without a class, the 750 soldiered on for 2004. Kawasaki’s ZX-7R died at the end of 2002, so Suzuki began the trend of sharing the majority of its parts from the GSX-R600 with the 750. These included the chassis and bodywork, but for 2004 the 750 did get an all-new motor with lightweight pistons, more compression, titanium valves and new camshafts to give a claimed 155 horsepower. This was of course nowhere near what the GSX-R was truly putting out at the tire, with 125-130 horsepower the likely numbers you’d see on the dyno.
The 600 chassis was 15mm narrower than the old 2000 750 unit, and the 2004 GSX-R got new Tokico four-piston calipers.
The GSX-R remained the same for the 2005 model year, although Suzuki did release a 20th Anniversary machine with colors reminiscent of the original 1985 legend with slight bodywork changes and different brake discs.
The 600-morphs-to-750 trend continued with the 2006 GSX-R750, which used the same basic platform from the 600—chassis, suspension, brakes, wheels and bodywork.
The engine again got new pistons, a secondary balancer off the crank, longer duration cams and compression boosted from 12.3:1 to 12.5:1 and it now revved to just shy of 15,000 rpm for a claimed 148 horsepower, really about 132-135 horsepower if you were lucky. There was also a new slipper clutch, slightly shorter overall gearing and a new stubby exhaust muffler that exited just behind the rider’s right boot.
The 750 weighed only six pounds more than the 600 with 25 extra horses, so you got a fair amount of bite for the bark with a 750. There was now almost no international race classes for the 750 and very few at a club level, so it was surprising that by this stage Suzuki chose to continue with the selling the machine.
But continue they did, and for 2008 the GSX-R750 got yet another new face, its third in four years. The headlight now featured a trio of horizontally mounted globes, a different exhaust system and muffler that now exited near the passenger’s right leg and new colors.
A new short-stroke engine now sat between the frame rails and utilized camshafts that had their intake lift reduced to attempt to increase midrange power. Increases in the number of holes in the primary and secondary injectors from four to eight, as well as a repositioning of the primary at a steeper angle, were aimed at better fuel atomization.
This was the first GSX-R750 to come with the Suzuki Drive Mode Select (SDMS) system, a three-way map switch that altered the power according to what map you were in. But in reality, the system was a bit of a waste of time in that if you were in level C (the lowest), the GSX-R put out horsepower more akin to a 1990 400cc, rather than a 2008 750.
On the chassis side, the 750 got a lighter subframe, footpegs that were adjustable and a steering damper, plus a new fully adjustable 41mm Showa fork. There were also new lighter wheels and the Tokico calipers now bit onto 320mm discs.
The last major revision seen for the GSX-R750 to date came back in 2011 and we got a bike that was a claimed 17 pounds lighter than the outgoing 2010 model. Aside from a few changes to the engine block aimed at reducing pumping losses and increasing bottom-end power and revised injectors, the engine was essentially the same as the old bike, but the new chassis had a 15mm shorter wheelbase, new Showa Big Piston Forks, new Brembo calipers and totally restyled bodywork and dash layout, with the Suzuki Drive Mode Selector dropping to two maps rather than three.
This is the longest time we’ve gone in the history of the GSX-R750 without any updates (aside from colors) and for 2016, it seems unlikely we’ll get any more. Is this a sign from Suzuki the GSX-R750 is reaching the end of the road? Regardless of any outcome from Suzuki, the GSX-R750 continues to be the iconic legend that spawned the modern sportbike back in 1985. Whether it continues for another 25 is anyone’s guess, but no one can deny just how important this machine has been to modern motorcycling.
Big thanks to Cycle News for helping out with this article.