How the Suzuki GSX-R750 saw off all-comers during its 31-year reign
t’s hard to imagine another bike that has seen such fundamental changes happening during its lifespan as the Suzuki GSX-R750. The first mass produced bike to use an aluminium alloy frame not only created the blueprint for the modern sportsbike, it also continually developed and evolved to match its competition and outlasted and outblasted them all. From air to water-cooling, carbs to fuel-injection, conventional to inverted forks and even the onset of the electrical revolution, the GSX-R750 has seen it all. MCN charts a few of the GSX-R750’s toughest battles and celebrates the Suzuki’s successes…
Fledgling years: 1985: Suzuki GSX-R750 v Yamaha FZ750
100bhp and 176kg v 105bhp and 209kg
In 1985 the GSX-R750 burst onto the scene with a stack of attention-grabbing technology that saw it overshadow its main rival, the also-new Yamaha FZ750 (pictured, top right). The Suzuki’s aluminium frame made the Yamaha’s steel one seem obsolete, its claimed dry weight of 176kg knocked the FZ’s (more realistic) 209kg out of the water and the GSX-R’s full fairing made it look futuristic.
Yamaha’s engine was water-cooled rather than air-cooled and featured a clever five-valve head design that gave the FZ more mid-range and peak power than the air/oil-cooled Suzuki, not to mention the fact it was angled further forward for better weight distribution and arguably superior handling. But style sells and the GSX-R defeated the FZ750 in the showrooms because it looked like the future, even if its technology wasn’t quite up to speed.
Pub ammo: The GSX-R and FZ took their first WSB wins in 1988 at the same round. Gary Goodfellow won race one in Japan on a GSX-R while Mick Doohan (yes, really) took race two on an FZ750R.
Result: Victory to the GSX-R
The early 1990s: Suzuki GSX-R750 v Kawasaki ZXR750
112bhp and 195kg v 107bhp and 205kg
Having seen off the FZ750, the GSX-R750 faced its sternest test so far in 1989 when Kawasaki rolled out the ZXR750. Like the FZ, the ZXR was water-cooled, but it brough an aluminium beam frame, 17in wheels and race-rep looks to the party. Not to mention genuine track pedigree. The GSX-R might have taken the odd national title, but aside from World Endurance it hadn’t made any impact on the world scene. The ZXR, however, was making waves.
This working man’s superbike from Kawasaki was taking on, and defeating, exotic specials such as the Honda RC30 and Yamaha OW-01 in WSB. Track success and an affordable price saw the ZXR’s reputation grow while the GSX-R’s halo slipped. Even water-cooling in 1992 wasn’t enough to stop the rot and when Scott Russell took the 1993 WSB title on a ZXR, the GSX-R was in desperate need of a complete overhaul to revive its flagging fortunes.
Pub ammo: The 1990 GSX-R750L was the first generation to feature inverted forks.
Result: Victory to the ZXR750
Mid-90s power games: Suzuki GSX-R750 SRAD v Yamaha YZF750R v Kawasaki ZX-7R
122bhp, 179kg v 125bhp, 195kg v 122bhp, 203kg
In 1996 Suzuki pulled out all the stops and released the GSX-R750 WT – or SRAD as most know it. This was an odd period in time for the 750 as Honda’s 1992 FireBlade had changed the game. The GSX-R’s main rival, the YZF750R, was doing spectacular things in WSB thanks to Nori Haga, and its brash paintschemes and sharp look was bang on trend for the style-blind 1990s. But 1996 also saw the launch of a new model from Kawasaki, the ZX-7R.
Suzuki played on the fact the GSX-R750 had the same silhouette as Kevin Schwantz’s title-winning RGV500 to give the SRAD the track cred it needed. This, coupled with the fact Kawasaki had over-engineered the ZX-7R and made it far too heavy, made the SRAD the 750 to own.
Pub ammo: The SRAD won four World Superbike races, one in 1998 at Sugo thanks to wildcard rider Keiichi Kitagawa while Frankie Chili took two and Akira Ryo one in 1999.
Result: Victory to the GSX-R750
Making up for lost capacity: Suzuki GSX-R750 v Honda FireBlade v Yamaha YZF-R1
122bhp, 179kg v 126bhp, 180kg v 150bhp, 177kg
In 1996 where Suzuki had trimmed down the GSX-R and focused on light weight and power and agility, Honda’s 900cc Blade was being dulled to make it more practical. On track the SRAD ran rings around the bloated Blade and in the sportsbike-obsessed 1990s that gave the GSX-R huge credibility. For two years the SRAD was the top inline four sportsbike for performance fiends, but then the YZF-R1 landed and decimated all before it. The future had arrived and it was 1000cc, Like the original Blade, the R1 demonstrated that racing prowess isn’t necessary to secure showroom success – performance sells and the R1 weighed less than the SRAD but made 28bhp more power. Unsurprisingly, it sold in huge numbers.
Pub ammo: SRAD stands for Suzuki Ram-Air Direct and was Suzuki’s first forced air induction system.
Result: Victory to the YZF-R1
Last of the breed: Suzuki GSX-R750 v Ducati 749
125bhp and 163kg v 110bhp and 196kg
By 2004, only the GSX-R750 and Ducati 749 remained as true 750cc sportsbikes, rivals on the road that never met on track despite sharing a capacity, which is something of an irony. But could a small-capacity Italian sportsbike and an inline four Japanese bike really be viewed as competitors?
Despite its rule-bending capacity (which allowed the 748 to win a WSS championship) the 749 was always billed by Ducati as the firm’s entry-level sportsbike with ease of use taking precedent over outright performance. With the GSX-R1000 the firm’s flagship performance model, this banner could also be applied to the GSX-R750 and with only £1200 splitting the pair it wasn’t too much of a jump for potential buyers. That said, the 749’s looks and high running costs did little to tempt riders.
Pub ammo: To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the GSX-R750, Suzuki released an Anniversary Edition in 2005 with retro paint and a few bolt-on extras.
Result: Victory to the GSX-R750
In a class of one: Suzuki GSX-R750 v electronics…
By the mid-2000s the litre class ruled while the supersport class was the hotbed for new tech. Yet, Suzuki refused to kill off its GSX-R750, piggybacking development with the GSX-R600 to keep costs under control. While this may be viewed as simple sentimentalism by Suzuki, there have been several years when the 750 has actually outsold the 600, proving they have a point. With litre bike power turning increasingly violent, in the mid-2000s many were viewing Suzuki’s 750 as the perfect blend of usable power, agility and performance.
Pub ammo: The 1996 GSX-R750 and 1997 GSX-R600 were the first GSX-R models to be developed simultaneously.
Result: Victory to the GSX-R750
Words: Jon Urry Photos: Mark Manning/Bauer Archive