25 Years of GSX-R Models
Sportbike fanatics that have been around for a while will remember how much of a stir the original GSX-R750 created when it was introduced in 1985. Built with racing in mind and a primary mandate of reducing weight, the GSX-R was truly a racebike with lights. Just as sportbikes were dabbling with liquid-cooled engines, the Suzuki ‘s air/oil-cooled mill was housed in an equally innovative aluminum chassis. Few considerations were made for street use, which helped the GSX-R to scale in at a flyweight (for the time) 464 pounds wet, or about the claimed dry weight of its main competitor, the Yamaha FZ750. Emissions requirements, the International Trade Commission tariff on bikes over 700cc and worries that the bike was too sporty kept the bike from American consumers for a year, but journalists from the U.S. still attended the world introduction at Suzuki’s Ryuyo test track in early 1985. Jeff Karr attended for Motorcyclist magazine, and summed up his report as follows: “The GSX-R750 put on an impressive show at Ryuyo. When recently shod and ridden well, it’s a tremendously fast race bike, which should make it a wickedly fast bike on a racetracklike road.” While sales did in fact start slowly in the U.S. in 1986, the introduction of the GSX-R cup series late that year kickstarted the racing/streetbike relationship that grew to define the model and was responsible for launching many racing careers.
Landmark sportbike that it was, the GSX-R was nonetheless significantly updated for 1988—one year earlier than the expected four-year development cycle for the time. The second generation model had a short-stroke engine with larger valves for more power and higher revs. Chassis updates included a cartridge fork and 17-inch wheels (from 18-inch) shod with radial tires. Unfortunately, the Suzuki gained 26 pounds in the transition and the short-stroke motor was difficult to tune for racing. An RR model, built for 1989 in small numbers, reverted to the long-stroke motor while the production 1990 model did likewise. Other updates included an inverted fork and another 20-pound weight gain by the last year of this generation in 1991.
The third generation GSX-R finally followed its rivals in the switch to liquid cooling in 1992, but the family identity was kept by retaining the double-cradle frame (while other sportbikes were using beam frames) and closely spaced cooling fins on the engine. Although the engine was more compact, weight increased by yet another 20 pounds; revisions in 1994 to address this included magnesium engine covers, a lighter frame and hollow transmission shafts, shedding 30 pounds. It wasn’t until 1996 and the fourth generation, however, that the GSX-R returned to its lightweight roots with the SRAD version. Gone was the classical GSX-R look, and for the first time the Suzuki was lighter than the original version. The new engine featured slightly more oversquare cylinder dimensions, a three-level crankcase with two splits to stack the transmission, and in 1998 fuel injection was incorporated.
In 2000, the fifth generation GSX-R underwent a host of detailed changes that combined for a significant upgrade. Further weight savings resulted from the use of thinner bodywork, while many steel parts were replaced with aluminum; the fuel injection was improved with the introduction of a secondary butterfly. Updated again in 2004 with more detailed changes, the GSX-R750 took many of its cues from the 2003 GSX-R1000, such as extruded frame rails replacing the stamped pieces, radial-mount front brakes and (back to this again…) increased weight. A major update for generation seven in 2006 saw a completely new engine with truly stacked transmission and return to the original model’s bore and stroke dimensions, a frame made almost completely from cast sections and yet another increase in weight. The last upgrade prior to this year’s, in 2008, included styling changes, a new ECU and larger exhaust.
Many other Suzuki models can trace—either directly or indirectly—their lineage back to the GSX-R750. Most obviously, the current GSX-R600 and GSX-R1000 share many similarities, and in many cases exact parts. The GSX-R1100 was introduced one year after the 750 and was produced through 1998; the 1000 surfaced in 2001. The original GSX-R600 lasted only two years, 1992 and ‘93, before being dropped and was re-introduced to much greater success in 1997. And although they never made it to this corner of the world, GSX-R400 and GSX-R250 models extended the family even further. The Bandit, Katana and RF models have all used GSX-R-based engines over the years, and even the Hayabusa is heavily influenced by the GSX-R.