What happens when the imagination is left to run wild? The result is a machine like this RGV500, a 1994 RGV250 alloy chassis, wrapped quite tightly around a four cylinder V4, it fits, it works and above all it goes like stink. The good news is the 250 chassis is more than up to the job in hand, it not only looks like a GP racer but it goes rather like one too, handling is sharp and relatively predictable but, like most big capacity two strokes, a keen eye is to be kept on the ball at all times as, when the power kicks in things start to happen real fast. With just 25 degrees of steering angle held true by a mere 94mm of trail, the steering is fast, not so fast though when the engine comes on the pipe and the rear squats, the front wheel barely kissing the road. It’s an exciting ride that doesn’t cease even when the taps are closed, the light chassis responding well to the massive discs and powerful calipers up front.
The RGV chassis is perfect for the four-cylinder motor, once again, like the Yammagamma before it, a great example of what the public really desired but the factories never made for us. It is light, blindingly fast and above all looks and sounds awesome, the four individual pipes providing a staccato sound track to your Revvin Kevin impersonations. On the move and at low speed you wonder what all the fuss is about, the RGV riding like any other machine with little need to be bothering the clutch once away from a standstill, let the tacho wonder around to the dusty side however and the soundtrack changes. Its as if the engine was just on one pot before and all of a sudden someone down below lit the pilot lights for the other three. That rush is highly addictive, making slowing down for corners filled with anticipation for the other side when the gas can be lit again and off you go ahead of a screen of blue haze. The engine quickly uses up the six gears and you can be at speeds that attract prison sentences within the blink of an eye.
The idea behind slotting this engine into this chassis is a great one and we owe a great debt to such people who dream these things up. To build one means effectively killing two cracking bikes in their own right but strangely it is well worth it, the end result being far greater than the sum of the parts in the first place.
Gavin Jones grew up watching Barry Sheene racing RG500’s and when he first saw the road going version on sale in 1985 it was the start of a love affair with these bikes that has lasted more than 23 years. At the last count he had owned no fewer than 15 different models.
“In 1989 I finally got enough money together to buy my first road going version, an F registered, blue and white model that wheelspun in the wet in third at 90.” Gavin recalled “I never got used to the powerband, when the rev counter hit 7500 it was as if you’d stepped on the cat. A little after this I saw Kevin Schwantz win the Japanese grand prix on a Pepsi RGV500 and the blue bike was immediately traded in for a brand new Pepsi liveried RG500.
That bike stayed with me until mid 1990 when the GSXR1100L came out, all the road tests at the time raved about this ‘wheelie machine’ and I thought that would be the ultimate bike, so the 500 went. The gixxer was a massive disappointment after the RG. It would have been easier to wheelie a small frigate off the throttle. It lasted a mere 3 months before I had to swap it for another 500. The day I rode that back from Leicester was one of the best rides of my life.
By this time Kevin was riding the Lucky Strike bikes and I thought that was the coolest paint job I’d ever seen. The bodywork went to Dream Machine to be wrapped in a fag packet and the engine went to RG500 guru Stan Stephens for the obligatory stage III tune. A set of Nikon pipes and GSXR1100 wheels joined the mixture. The bike that came back was a rocket and in one memorable afternoon in June left behind a GPZ1000RX – I was well off the clock as it stopped at 150 mph.
This bike was about as close as I could get to a GP 500 until people started replacing the swing arm and forks with those from the latest RGV250 from 1992. Now there were RG’s around that actually looked like Kevin and Niall’s (Mackenzie) GP bikes of the time and I owned a couple of these in various guises.
In 1995 an engineering company called Foxcraft finally did what every 500 Gamma freak in the country wanted and actually shoehorned the RG500 engine into an RGV250 chassis. The bike was superbly painted in Lucky Strike colours, ut was absolutely stunning and I wanted that bike more than Kevin wanted to beat Wayne. The cost at the time was around 18 thousand quid for a full bike starting with the donor model and there was no way I could afford that without remortgaging the house. So over the next few years I bought and sold a few more gammas making a few quid from each along the way.
The original Foxcraft bike came up for sale in 2001 and I snapped it up in a shot. Within a week someone had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse for it so, after owning it for less than a month, my dream bike was off to a new home. I still had a Harris framed bike which was lighter, faster and better handling but it still didn’t look like Kevin’s bike so I hunted around for another. In 2002 I found the bike I now have. Derby Racing Services had already done the engineering work on the chassis, but the gearbox was way past it’s best. The bike jumped out of second gear at 7000 rpm, normally on a wet roundabout, and the fuelling / powervalve set up was so bad that the bike was almost unrideable at town speeds.
The paintjob was the standard RGV250 purple & black and the chassis finish was also very tired. The engine was sent for a new gearbox and the motor was rebuilt. The frame was polished and the bike was given the obvious Lucky Strike treatment. I was living in Barcelona at the time and got the bike shipped over to me where I picked it up in 2003. Unfortunately the temperature was over 100 on the day I collected it and I siezed it at 90 in third coming away from a motorway toll. Maybe I should’ve run it in a bit as it took me the best part of a year before I could get the engine back to UK to be repaired.
I eventually got the bike back together but the bike suffered chronic overheating problems every time I rode it. So much so that it was impossible to ride for more than a few miles without having to stop and let it cool down. It seemed to me the problem was that I was running a 570cc engine with a radiator that was designed for a 250 lump, so I sourced a tuning company in UK that could purpose build me a radiator to do the job. Despite many months waiting for this nothing happened, in fact the company did absolutely nothing except fob me off over the phone. They had sent the engine off to Stan Stephens though so it wasn’t all bad, I collected my chassis from them after much trouble tracking down what was where and put that job down to bad experience.
I picked up the engine freshly rebuilt by Stan and put it all back together and when I read the instructions on filling the cooling system found that you have to mix 50% water and coolant. Previously when I had filled the cooling system I had used pure coolant. It was this that had been causing the overheating. After all that hassle, the bike is now running the standard RGV250 radiator and has no overheating problems at all.
I now plan to leave the bike as is. It rides so well that I don’t want to risk breaking anything and it looks stunning at least to me. the biggest problem is running in the motor. The next project will be a replica of Kevin’s 1989 Pepsi bike which I think is one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made.”
Revvin Kevin and the spirit of 34
Gavin’s bike is painted in the scheme used by the Lucky Strike Suzuki team for the final two years of Schwantz’s GP race career. Kevin was crowned 500cc world champion in 1993 after a terrible season that saw his race career long rival, Wayne Rainey, seriously injured and left paralysed from the lower back down following a crash at the Italian GP. This left Kevin relatively unchallenged with just 3 GP’s left to go and he took the title by 34 points, coincidentally his race number throughout his GP career, Rainey still finishing 2nd come the end of the season. For 1994 the start of the season was marred when Kevin broke his arm in a mountain bike fall, this left him with little time to prepare for the defence of his title although by the 3rd GP of that year he was back to his winning ways. The fast emerging Mick Doohan proved dominant for six races in a row however, and with 2 further wins that year, was crowned champ for the first time with Schwantz lying 4th in the title hunt. A fast crash in testing for the 95 season saw Schwantz again injured and following a poor start and lacklustre finishes performances he decided to retire, coincidentally with 34 point scored in that final season. He remains a popular figure to this day, a real peoples champion and always the source of good entertainment with his hard charging, never quit, riding style.
Suzuki RG500 Special Specifications
- Engine – liquid-cooled 4-cylinder two-stroke
- Capacity – 570cc
- Bore & Stroke – 60 x 50.6mm
- Compression Ratio – 5.7:1
- Carburetion – 30.5mm Mikuni
- Max Power – 110bhp @ 9500rpm
- Torque – 54 ft-lbs @8000pm
- Ignition – electronic
- Transmission – 6-speed, wet clutch, chain final drive
- Frame – Alloy beam
- Suspension – 41mm USD telescopic forks, monoshock rear
- Wheels – 120/70 x 17, 160/60 x 17
- Brakes – 300mm discs 4-piston calipers, 210mm disc 2-piston floating caliper
- Wheelbase – 1380mm
- Weight – 154kgs
- Fuel capacity – 16ltrs
- Top speed – 150mph estimated
Suzuki RGV500 Gallery