We believe that when it comes to the sportsbike for the masses – it’s always been the GSX-R that comes out on top.
Despite what you may hear next year – 2019 is the 35th year of the GSX-R range.
Yes, for while 1985 was the launch year of the 750F Slab-sider, the bike was launched at the Cologne Show of 1984 and – more importantly – the GSX-R400 was in fact a 1984-year model over in Japan.
For our purposes, we will concentrate on the 750 version, but also give notable due to the other members of the family: and there are many!
Let’s touch upon the 400 then as it was the first of the breed, launched in March of 1984. The first version had a 398cc, 59bhp and that recognisable aluminium double-cradle frame and endurance twin headlight stare. It was the start of a long line of GSX-Rs and a long-ish line of 400s, which went through a range of chassis designs, some using the double-cradle (1984-1985) then going beam-frame (1986-1989) and then returning to the double-cradle set-up (1990-1996) to more accurately reflect the 750 of the time. Interestingly, these little rev-rockets were perhaps some of the most attractive GSX-Rs ever built. Go check them out.
The model with the biggest impact has to be the 750. Despite going up against the likes of some amazing machines from 1985, the GSX-R stood head and shoulders above them all. That year saw the launch of the Yamaha FZ750, Kawasaki’s ground-breaking middleweight GPZ600R, Honda’s two-stroke NS400R and Suzuki’s own madcap two-stroke RG500.
The GSX-R750F put them all in the shade. The looks alone told the story. The GSX-R’s endurance race heritage was obvious thanks to those twin-beamers. Then came the double-cradle alloy frame, the full-fairing and the slab-sided tail unit. Effectively, this bike was a marriage of the endurance racing XR41 chassis and a 750cc inline four motor. The bike was lightweight: just 176 kilos – and the motor pumped out around 100 claimed bhp. In the real world the Suzuki pushed around 80bhp to its skinny 140-profile 18-inch rear-wheel, around five bhp less than the 25-kilo porkier FZ.
So while the five-valve-per-cylinder, liquid-cooled FZ750 pointed the way forward from an engineering standpoint (the R1’s five-valve head lasted until the 2007 model year) the GSX-R gave us all what we really wanted – a lightweight race bike for the road.
MCN first tested the bike in January 1985 at Suzuki’s Ryuyo test track. Mat Oxley said: “Suzuki’s new GSX-R750 is closer to a four-stroke racer than anything else before.” From there the bike cleaned up in tests, being more feisty and ultimately more rewarding to ride than its contemporaries, even if it was not as powerful.
Then things went wrong. As time went on the bike piled on the pounds and then along came the competition. Kawasaki’s ZXR750 came in 1988 with similar spec and price to the GSX-R, while Honda and Yamaha came in with the exotic RC30 and OW-01, which were of a higher standard specification to fight for the new four-stroke World Superbike title but had prices almost double that of the GSX-R and ZXR. These two then were the choice of the common man…
Power on the short-stroke 1988 GSX-R750J was up to 112bhp, but weight had crept up to 195 kilos. In 1992 a major change came in – water-cooling. This was something originally left off the first GSX-R as the design team felt that this would bring an unacceptable weight penalty. But, with the opposition moving ahead and with the bike being un-competitive on the track, desperate measures were needed to keep ahead. By now the motor was back to a long-stroke design, but weight was up too, to 208kilos dry! The Suzuki seemed the bloated bike out of the crop of early 1990s 750s…
Suzuki knew they had to get back to basics with the 1996 GSX-R750WT SRAD. Rumour had it that Kevin Schwantz’s 500cc-title-winning RGV500 two-stroke donated the dimensions for the lighter-weight SRAD. Out went the signature double-cradle frame that had dominated the design of the GSX-R, but dogged its weight distribution and engine breathing. Instead an all-new motor and ally beam-frame came in, but all wrapped up in that distinctive double-headlight scowl. With the weight back down to around 179 kilos and power around 120bhp, the 750 was now threatening the FireBlade for top superbike honours. Y2K’s 750Y saw a further weight-loss, but by now the 750 class was dead and the GSX-R was alone and battling the sharper supersport 600s and the awesome litre-class sportsbikes like the YZF-R1.
Thankfully, Suzuki has stayed faithful to the 750cc concept, with updated versions of the machine coming out every so often – even when other manufacturers have given up on the class.
And the GSX-R family grew… 250cc versions (1987-1991), a 50cc Gag bike, sleeved-down 600cc versions in the USA (1992) and then pukka supersport 600 versions from 1997-on and more besides. The biggest capacity GSX-R was the 1100cc versions which were launched from 1986. Like the 750, these would fluctuate in weight and power, with the 1995 W-S model being the most powerful at 155bhp. The machine disappeared from the Suzuki range by 1999… just in time for the GSX-R1000.
This was a machine built to finally beat the Honda CBR900RR FireBlade and Yamaha YZF-R1. From 2001until the present day the GSX-R1000 has taken over the mantle from the 750 as the GSX-R at the cutting-edge of road and race duties for Suzuki.
But let’s go back to the (almost) original and best… here’s our rundown of the best classic GSX-R750s…
Model designation: GSX-R750F
The original slab-sider is now a cool classic. But, you need a rose-tinted visor to ride this ‘Flexi-Flyer’ today, thanks to wibbly-wobbly handling, strange seating position and brakes that often don’t do very much. That lovely oil/air-cooled motor pumps out 100 claimed bhp and the bike weighs just 179 kilos.
CB-Net rating: 10/10
Model designation: GSX-R750J
Still had attitude and image, thanks to being universally known as the ‘Slingshot’ from the carbs of the same name. Short-stroke motor made this a rev-happy hooligan but it still had a respectable 112bhp shunting along 195kilos. On the chassis front, the wheelbase was down from 1435mm to 1410mm.
CB-Net rating: 9/10
Model designation: GSX-R750K
Finally the issues with the J’s ground clearance were now sorted even if the bike looked just like the J. It also now came with a single seat cowl. Also out this year was the GSX-R750RRK. This was a limited-edition special which aimed for World Superbike wins but wasn’t up there with the RC30 or OW-01. To please the tuners, this model had a long-stroke motor, which made 120bhp and weight was 187kilos. It had a close-ratio gearbox a wider rear-rim and only 500 were made worldwide.
CB-Net rating: 9/10
Model designation: GSX-R750L
Upside-down forks (a first on a production bike) can’t hide the fact that by now the likes of Kawasaki’s ZXR750 was running the GSX-R close. Racing dictated a return to the tune-able long-stroke motor, too… This meant power was up to 114bhp and weight down to 193kilos.
CB-Net rating: 7/10
Model designation: GSX-R750M
Same power as the L but heavier still at 208kilos – new faired-in double headlights gave the bike the look of the Endurance Suzuki racers of the time. Under the fairing the chassis and engine were updated. It looked great, but the M was a bit of a lard-monster.
CB-Net rating: 6/10