Suzuki RG250 FG Restoration

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Gary Croft had his work cut out when he set about restoring this stolen/recovered Gamma

 

uzuki’s RG250 Gamma was a landmark ’80s sportsbike. Not only was the original 1983 RG the first mass-production bike to feature an all-aluminium box-section chassis, it was also the blueprint for that decade’s quarter-litre race replica class which produced some of the purest, sharpest and most exciting sportsbikes to come out of Japan. Without the Gamma we may never have seen Yamaha’s TZR, Honda’s NSR, Kawasaki’s KR-1 or Suzuki’s own RGV250.

The Gamma was also a landmark bike for guys like Gary Croft who, over the past three years, has transformed a sorry looking and thoroughly secondhand 1985 RG250 FG into the stunner you see here. Twenty years ago Gary stepped up from a pedestrian GS125 four-stroke single onto a Gamma MkIII, his first big bike, and was blown away.

“I was 19 and skint, but I managed to get enough money together to buy a 1985 FG, just like the one I’ve got now. There’s no way the GS could have prepared me for the RG, they were like night and day. It felt so fast. My mate had one as well and we’d thrash around together. We’d take them absolutely flat out. I remember seeing 108-110mph on the clock.

“I had it for two years before I finally threw it up the road at a roundabout at Chapel-en-le-Frith on the A6. I ran out of ground clearance, the fairing touched down and spat me off. I got it fixed but funds were tight and I couldn’t afford to reinsure it, so I never got it back on the road. Then I got into the usual story; boy meets girl, girl doesn’t want to go on the back of bike, so boy has to sell bike to buy car…”

That was the end of Gary’s first Gamma and of bikes in his life until 2007 when his brother, Stephen, bought a Honda SS50 to restore. Although only a humble ’70s moped, both of them got stuck into the restoration. “I enjoyed helping out with the SS, and it was that experience which got me thinking about getting a bike again,” explains Gary. “And it goes without saying that I knew exactly what
I wanted – another RG250.”

Fired by nostalgia Gary bought this RG (an ’85 FG MkIII just like his first) on a whim. It was the first one he saw. When he travelled down from his home in Stoke to Margate, Kent, to pick it up he realised with hindsight he probably should have been more picky. To call it a wreck is being generous. Every panel was cracked, snapped, scuffed, holed or ill-fitting aftermarket fibreglass. The bellypan went straight in a skip.

“It ran, but I wasn’t surprised when the seller explained that it had been stolen and recovered. The state of the rear sprocket made it crystal clear what I was dealing with,” Gary tells us. “The teeth on the sprocket were so hooked the bike wouldn’t even roll backwards. Luckily the whole bike cost me just £206.”

Gary didn’t discover the true extent of neglect his Gamma had been subjected to by its previous 19 owners until he tore it all apart. So loosely mounted was the petrol tank that it’d been rattling about on the frame, blemishing and denting the rails in the process. The damage had to be dressed and filled with fresh weld before the frame could be powder coated.

“It was then that the guy doing the welding discovered the frame was bent, so I had to take it up to Seastar Superbikes in Norfolk to have it straightened. It’s a brutal process to watch.
I wasn’t sure the frame would take the strain without snapping, but luckily it did.”

The rear suspension linkages were in an equally poor and less than true state, and the shock absorber was scrap. “The linkages looked as if too much weight had been put through them, but there’s every chance they were bent by the impact that damaged the frame,” reckons Gary.

It wasn’t a pretty sight inside the motor either. With 23,000 miles on the clock and very few – if any – of the previous owners having shown any mechanical sympathy or nous, it was unlikely the crank had ever been refreshed so that went off to PJ Engineering in Wolverhampton to be rebuilt. The barrels and pistons were looking tired on their 0.5mm oversize, so they’ve been taken out to 1mm over (the largest overbore Suzuki supply pistons for). Rather than forking out for Suzuki – read expensive – bearings Gary made the smart move of getting the originals matched up by a local firm, saving himself a wedge.

“The gearbox was okay, but the splines on the output shaft were knackered, and the clutch basket hadn’t been tightened properly so that was rattling around on the primary shaft butchering the splines on that as well. I had to replace both shafts.”

While rebuilding the engine proved to be relatively easy, sorting the carburation was anything but. The 28mm Mikuni flatslides were stripped, vapour blasted to remove all fuel residue, and rebuilt with fresh stainless screws and replated fittings but, according to Gary, they were a nightmare to set-up. “I had them on and off the bike three or four times before I got the carburation spot-on, and the rubbers between the carbs and airbox have gone hard and brittle over time – I’m still on the lookout for a better pair.”

Gary’s approach to the RG’s restoration has always been to repair and refurbish parts where at all possible (he even built his own blast cabinet), but given the tawdry condition of some of the bike’s components it wasn’t always possible. “Both downpipes were rotted through, so I enquired about having them repaired but the cost was astronomical. It never was a chequebook restoration so I ended up hunting down a better used pair of pipes.”

The wiring loom was also beyond repair. Gammas have a reputation for overloading and eventually burning out their looms, which is exactly what had happened to Gary’s. After pricing up a repair it proved cheaper to fit another loom. The generator was rewound by Westcountry Windings, but they were unable to overhaul the sealed CDI unit. “It misfired when I first fired it up on the old CDI. With a different unit it fired up and ran perfectly first time.”

Gary bought anything and everything MkIII RG he could get his hands on – his garage is littered with boxes and shelves crammed with clocks, barrels, bodywork and even a brand-new frame. “It’s new-old-stock and is in pretty good condition, but it hasn’t got any numbers. I’d like to get it stamped up and use it on the bike, but that’d mean stripping and rebuilding it all over again. Besides I’ve had the original frame powder coated because I’m not a fan of lacquered alloy – it pits too easily. I built this bike to be used so I want it to be up to it.”

After much hunting he pieced together a decent bodykit. Even the tank had to be replaced because the one the bike came with was full of filler and rotten along its back seams. The whole lot’s been brought back to life by Dream Machine who’ve made a stunning job of reinstating the original white and blue colours. An RG MkIII hasn’t looked this good since 1985.

The engine’s paint finish is just as eye catching. Gary got the blue/grey colour matched by a local bodyshop, BS Supplies at Burslem. “I took along one of the powervalve caps and they matched it from that. They also matched the gold for the anti-dive units and calipers – it’s actually a Volvo colour.”

Stumbling across a bargain is always a joy when you’re mid restoration. Gary’s bargain was a rear shock. He was considering replacing the knackered original with an aftermarket unit when his brother spotted something in an autojumble box at Stafford. “It was a new-old-stock Gamma shock. The bloke didn’t know what it was for, so I got it for 60 quid.”

It’s all too easy to lose momentum with a restoration, especially when you’re stuck in a cold garage rubbing out the pits on 25-year-old aluminium with only a radio for company. The temptation to throw in the towel and head indoors to a warm living room and a cold beer can be irresistible. Gary’s way of dealing with this was seeing each stage of the restoration as a milestone, an achievement reached.

“There have been numerous milestones along the way, but the best three were definitely when the rolling chassis came together, then the engine, and finally hearing it run for the first time. The noise, vibration and smell of a two-stroke – not to mention blue smoke drifting up the driveway – are hugely nostalgic for me. I got as much pleasure out of building the thing as I do out of riding it.”

So does it make him feel 19 again? “Without a doubt. I’ve not had it flat out yet, but the feeling’s there. It’s not the fastest two-stroke, but that’s not the point. The Gamma was a big deal to me back then, and having a bike that evokes those feelings is brilliant.”

Others obviously agree. Gary says the RG always draws an admiring crowd whenever he takes it out and about. “I’ve not had the confidence to leave it for too long yet, but people are always commenting on how nice it is when I nip down to the local bike shop on it. One thing’s for sure; I won’t be selling this one even if the missus won’t go on the back.”

 

Words Jim Moore   Photography Rory Game

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Practical Sportsbikes

By Practical Sportsbikes

Buying, owning and modifying the best bikes of the 80s, 90s & 00s