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Suzuki RG500: 'It really was a copy of the race bike'

Published: 26 October 2017

Updated: 26 October 2017

‘The RG500 was a proper GP replica’ Mat Oxley, former TT winner and MCN road tester

The mid-1980s were heady, smoky years. The Japanese factories knew that the writing – or to be more precise, the anti-pollution legislation – was on the wall for the two-stroke. So Suzuki and Yamaha, who had won the two-stroke’s first world titles in the 1960s and 1970s, decided to have one final blowout with their ‘stinkwheels’.

In 1984 Yamaha launched a replica of King Kenny Roberts’s 0W70 500 GP bike and the following year Suzuki brought out a replica of its RG500, which had taken Barry Sheene and Marco Lucchinelli to world-title success. Yamaha’s RD500LC was such a big deal that me and a bunch of friends drove to France to gawp at it for the first time at the Paris bike show.

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MCN got the first test bike, of course, and I was the lucky, callow youth who got to ride it. Basically, the 500 was a 250LC times two: hours and hours of socially irresponsible pleasure. But of course, it wasn’t an 0W70 replica at all. It was a mishmash of a reed-valve 500cc V4. Still did 148mph on the test strip though.

The Suzuki was an entirely different beast. The RG street engine really was a copy of the factory’s race engine. The bike was light and skitty, a bit like a GP bike. It made the RD seem tame. But even the RG was tamer than it should’ve been. That’s why all self-respecting RG owners took their engines to Kent, where famed two-stroke tuner Stan Stephens got busy with his porting tools and fitted race exhausts to make the RG go and sound like a proper GP bike: wheelies everywhere, accompanied by the mad soundtrack of four expansion chambers.

1985 was a gloriously reckless summer: terrifying myself, scaring horses and killing the planet, all at the same time. I still feel guilty.

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