Classic rides of the Pre-Pensioner
The next in our series where Classic-Motorbikes.net looks back at the machines enjoyed by those of us now in our 50s. What made them memorable and why we loathed or lusted after them?
GSX 1100E – Quarter Mile Master
Performance Bike headline from Jan 1986: ‘more grunt than a rutting sperm whale’ most apt for the Suzuki motor that created the world’s premier wheelie record in the mid 80’s; 137mph courtesy of a French lunatic named Richard Almet. Not the greatest selling machine for the Japanese manufacturer and the ‘E’ range barely gets a mention within company record books but it’s worth remembering competition on the showroom floor was brutal during this period, with so much choice, even ‘in house’. The Katana was in its final days and slightly slower than the ‘E’ as was the GSXR 750 enjoying its role of ‘new kid on the block’ whilst Kawasaki’s GPZ 900 was stealing sales from everyone including Yamaha’s FJ1100 and the Honda VF1000. Suzuki fired the first shots in the ‘Superbike War of 84’ with a bevy of beefy bikes all born from the same mother, some bespoke for certain markets but all 11E’s. In ‘Blighty’ the fully faired GSX 1100EF was Suzuki’s flagship model and on release was proclaimed as the fastest standard bike available offering 155mph but all this performance hadn’t been created out of the blue; this GSX had history.
1980 saw the arrival of the previous GSX1100, immediately crowned best performing roadster, and when Motor Cycle Weekly tested the 16-valve 1075cc over the ¼ mile they found the fastest accelerating stock motorcycle had dethroned Honda’s mighty CBX. The GSX motor superseded the much loved GS1000, considered the best sub 1-litre machine of the 70s; enlarged to 1075cc and offering 100bhp. Whilst the chassis and appearance were far from revolutionary the engine proved a substantial step forward. A very logical step that could even influence devotees of the big ‘V’ designed Italian machines; in this it failed but ironically it was an Italian engineer ‘Piatti’ who proposed the Twin Swirl Combustion Chamber (TSCC). This improved low speed throttle response with a more complete burn resulting in 136mph with the option of 39mpg for those not chasing the national speed limit in 4 seconds. At the time ‘Bike’ road tester commented ‘the GSX represents a quantum leap in motorcycle design with an economical motor with Herculean potential’. In 1982 the GSX1100 received an upgrade resulting in Katana styling with anti-drive forks, one of histories Marmite bikes that featured another cosmetic upgrade just one year later with production ceasing before 1984.
Suzuki realised their 70s era chassis would struggle to cope with any further increases in performance presented by their 1984 eleven’s and with one eye on the in-coming water-cooled sub one litre sports class the all new 1100E was launched with and a half faired ES and fully faired EF hitting the showroom floors. In America the economy was struggling, and Japanese manufacturers tried to shift stock by discounting to below cost. Harley Davidson petitioned Congress and large tariffs were placed on all imported bikes over 700cc. Suzuki were forced to reduce their Stateside range and include just three ‘street’ bikes. To add to the confusion, for the American market the GSX1100E and EF were re-branded GS1150E and EF for the fully faired version and finally the half-faired ES, was called the GS1150ES across the pond. Whatever the title, the pilot enjoyed 119bhp@8500rpm, with torque of 81ft/lb’s@6500rpm, stronger chassis, adjustable front and monoshock rear suspension riding on a 16inch front and 17inch rear wheels, uprated brakes and 140mph with or without a fairing. A box section alloy frame many believe was a test bed for later GSXR models proved Suzuki had tried to tame their beast, whilst poking it with a stick. Even if every road tester praised the warp-speed acceleration it’s no surprise some felt intimidated by its bulk; 576lbs/261kg fully loaded, almost a third more than the GSXR750! Although, it should be said by switching to a 16-inch front wheel the steering offered greater certainty and precision compared to their old model whilst the new chassis improved rigidity with more stability at all speeds.
Road Testers View
Motor Cycle World offered mixed views ‘a tractable rocket’ whilst complaining ‘this isn’t a motorcycle that’s snapped easily into a fast sweeping bend or rifled up a set of S-turns’. Motor Cycle Mechanics as recently as 2015 declared the fully faired UK model EFE ‘was a sports tourer in the truest sense’. Performance Bikes tested the naked option and claimed, ‘the sensation of sheer torque transmitted to the rider has not been equalled before and no motorcycle has more direct contact between the throttle and rear tyre’. The ultimate seek-stun-destroy street weapon was their conclusion and the only thing lacking was a fairing. One ‘Rider’ test compared a GS1150ES against the Honda’s VF1000F Interceptor and V65 Sabre plus the Yamaha FJ1100 and Kawasaki’s 750 Turbo with the Suzuki scoring maximum points when it came to mile munching at high speeds ‘for many of us, a big, fast, comfortable and relaxed motorcycle is just the ticket for sport touring.’ The anti-dive system failed to win many plaudits, a situation that confronted other manufactures attempting to make the system work. Several publications noted that during production years (84-87) subtle changes to each new model year increased rideability and long-term testers soon picked up that a change of rubber to Metzeler allowed for increased rider bravery.
Looking Back Riders View
70s tearaway Gary James, bike shop worker in-period, either owned, borrowed or blagged most of the era’s two wheelers…He always shares an opinion, whether we like it or not! He thinks … Oh boys and girls what a treat we have in store… the GSX title is legendary and this overweight wobbly framed spindly forked affair wore its credentials proudly. Its basis had more in common with the bikes of a decade before and was roundly poo poo,d at first well that was until you got on it! Dam that ugly seat hump came in handy and that stretched out riding position all made sense, well as long as it was 440 yards at a time! These old girls still make up a huge majority of the drag racing worlds two wheelers so if you’re up for a bit of the old traffic light grand prix this will tick the box!
Researching the various models Suzuki supplied in their ‘E’ range from 1984 it seems obvious with hindsight the half faired ‘ES’ may have been an option too far; especially within the restricted American market. So, it was no surprise it was the first to be discontinued in 1985 followed by the naked option just one year later. Officially, the fully faired version finished in 87, although dealers retained the final stocks of the final ‘air-cooled’ GSX for another 12 months. The GSX 1100F had taken over and what that lacked in character its oil-cooled GSX R engine made up for in performance; de-tuned but still restricted to 125bhp the sleeker styling with power screen presented the perfect package to tour into the 90s. Slick and quick certainly but still unable to top its predecessor over that ¼ mile drag, slower by one tenth and 1 mph.
Remembered as a ‘brute’ of a bike and well suited to the American market where lights to lights drag races are the norm. Ironic then that US lawmakers imposed tariffs on the GSX 1100 E range from 84-86, which no doubt restricted sales. Still buyers sought them out, not just Stateside but the ‘E’ range retains a following across the globe, popular in Canada, Australia and obviously in the UK. Suzuki blessed those who frequent the drag strip with a motor that can survive whatever modifiers dish out and still stop bullets. Whatever your preference, touring, track or street, the ‘E’ retains a healthy following three decades on; naked or clothed this bike has earned its cult status.
1984 Suzuki GSX 1100EF (GS 1150EF)
- Engine: Four stroke, transverse four cylinders, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder,
- Capacity: 1135 cc
- Bore x Stroke: 74 x 66 mm
- Cooling System: Air cooled
- Compression Ratio: 9.7:1
- Lubrication: Wet sump
- Induction: 4 x 36mm Mikuni carburettors
- Ignition: Analogue CDI (Capacitive Discharge Ign.
- Max Power: 119 hp @ 8.500 rpm
- Max Torque: 98 Nm / 10.0 kgf-m / 81 lb-ft @ 6500 rpm
- Clutch: Wet, multiple discs, cable operated
- Transmission: 5 Speed
- Primary Reduction Ratio: 1.780
- Gear Ratios: 1st 2.500 / 2nd 1.777 / 3rd 1.380 / 4th1.125 / 5th 0.961
- Final Reduction Ratio: 2.800
- Frame: Steel, double cradle frame
- Front Suspension: 37mm Kayaba air assisted, adjustable spring preload and compression damping.
- Front Wheel Travel: 150 mm / 5.9 in
- Rear Suspension: Single Kayaba shock, adjustable spring preload and rebound damping.
- Rear Wheel Travel: 114 mm / 4.4 in
- Front Brakes: 2 x 275 mm Discs, 2 piston calipers
- Rear Brakes: Single 275 mm disc, 1 piston caliper
- Front Tyre: 110/90-V16
- Rear Tyre: 130/90-V17
- Dimensions: Length 2240 mm / Width 730 mm / eight 1280 mm
- Wheelbase: 1 550 mm / 61.0 in
- Ground Clearance: 155 mm / 6.1 in
- Seat Height: 835 mm / 32.9 in
- Dry Weight: 238 kg / 524 lbs
- Wet Weight: 256 kg / 56.43 lbs
- Fuel Capacity: 20 Litres / 5.2 US gal / 4.4 Imp gal
- Consumption Average: 6.2 L/100 km / 16.2 km/l / 38.2 US mpg / 45.9 Imp mpg
- Standing 1/4 Mile: 10.4 sec / 128 mph (Motorcyclist Magazine)
- Top Speed: 225 km/h / 140 mph