The 100 bikes to ride before you die, brought to you by the guys at MCN's sister title, Performance Bikes.
If it weren’t for this bike…
Forget the alloy-framed, oil-cooled 1985 model or the GSX-R’s 1992-1995 wilderness years, this is the forefather of every modern Suzuki sportsbike.
For Suzuki, the 1996 bike is year zero. Everything you see on a fast Suzuki today dates back to this super-stiff beam frame, high-revving, short-stroke motor, ram-air, anorexic chassis, and marketing-led steering geometry that mimics GP bikes.
In a race-replica class that had already been refining itself for 10 years, this was a quantum leap as significant as that of the Fireblade, four years before. This bike is history made metal.
But none of this matters when you are 17 years old. In 1996 I was in love with the SRAD, mind boggled by massive lean and the concept of a speedo reading 185mph. This was the fastest, sharpest-handling bike there was.
The 12-year wait was worth it. My first acquaintance was on the winter roadtrip from heaven – 1500 miles in two days across Europe with an open pitlane at Guadix circuit in Spain as the final goal. The SRAD didn’t disappoint – even though the one I rode was the fuel-injected, sanitised 1998 model. Luggaged up, chin on tankbag, it ripped though France, hit 170mph, laughed at a Furygan-clad motard on a ZX-6R, and outran the winter, leaving me in sunny Spain with warm tyres.
On the C353, a perfect ribbon of tarmac that twists its way out of Granada, the SRAD engine howled to the 13,000rpm redline. The Tokico six-pots stopped with a ferocity that were at odds with their age. The SRAD captivates you in a way that few older bikes can, because it was so good when it was new. It’s still more than passable today, even if you’ve been brought up on super-sharp scalpels from the thick end of this decade.
The SRAD does everything that a modern Suzuki can, just a couple of per cent slower. You push and pull at the bars, tug harder at the brakes, use exaggerated body language to make it turn, but turn it will. It is so much more involving because it makes you work for it. The engine provides enough power to get you into trouble, the last 3000rpm still have enough violence in them to shut down a 600. The potential is clear.
This is still a credible performance bike – not so much a bike to ride before you die, more a bike you should own, as few bikes respond better to a loving owner. I already have my dream SRAD mapped out – a 1996 carb-fed model with a works WSB swingarm, a GSX-R750 K8 front end, Suzuki France endurance bodywork and an outrageously loud Yoshi pipe. Twelve years on, the SRAD is still an object of desire.