A chance sight­ing of the Suzuki ‘Doc­tor Big’ trig­gers a walk down mem­ory lane for de­sign guru Glynn Kerr, es­pe­cially with re­spect to the ‘in­te­gral’ as­pects of de­sign evo­lu­tion

Bike India - - CONTENTS -

RE­CENTLY, I CAME ACROSS A press photo of the Suzuki 750 DR ‘Big’ (or ‘Doc­tor Big’, as we used to call it). It’s a bike I’d com­pletely for­got­ten about, so it was a wel­come re­minder of this model’s sig­nif­i­cance. First in­tro­duced at the Paris show in 1987, this big sin­gle made quite an im­pact on the de­sign world, with an in­te­gral front mud­guard which blended in with the tank, and in­cluded some dummy air in­takes to boot. Although it took some ad­just­ing to at the time (the ad­di­tion of a sec­ond ‘real’ mud­guard which hugged the tyre made the up­per ‘beak’ purely dec­o­ra­tive), in ret­ro­spect, the ex­e­cu­tion was ac­tu­ally quite suc­cess­ful. Yes, it was a bit slab-sided, but so was the rest of the bike, so all was well.

See­ing it again for the first time in many years, it came as a sur­prise how well bal­anced it now looks. And more sig­nif­i­cantly, how it started a trend, which Suzuki them­selves seemed un­aware of at the time. This, in turn, al­lowed a ri­val in the newly de­vel­op­ing di­rec­tion of ad­ven­ture sports to en­tirely take over: the oil-head BMW GS se­ries.

Two years af­ter its in­tro­duc­tion, Doc­tor Big grew from 750 to 800 cc, and even ap­peared with a full tour­ing kit, in­clud­ing hard pan­niers and a top-box. This re­flected the real-world func­tion of this up­com­ing seg­ment — a goany­where tour­ing bike, with a gritty, macho im­age. But in­stead of de­vel­op­ing this di­rec­tion, Suzuki dropped the ball and went with the softer DR650 SE. The DR 800S sol­diered on in some mar­kets un­til 1996, by when it was look­ing de­cid­edly down in the tooth. It would be many years be­fore Suzuki re-en­tered this mar­ket with the V-Strom, and not un­til 2015 with an in­te­gral front mud­guard, by which time ev­ery­one else had jumped on the band­wagon.

Not that in­te­gral front mud­guards were en­tirely new when Doc­tor Big was un­veiled. The 1929 Ma­jes­tic — and, to an ex­tent, even the 1918 Ner-A-Car — had them, although we may be push­ing the def­i­ni­tion of a mo­tor­cy­cle at this stage. Both ex­am­ples were try­ing to be as close to two-wheeled cars as they could get.

In the mid-1950s, rac­ing mod­els from Moto Guzzi, Gil­era, NSU and a few oth­ers fused stubby front mud­guards with the up­per body­work, pos­si­bly out of a de­sire to re­duce un­sprung weight. These were of­ten re­ferred to as Dol­phin fair­ings due to their ap­par­ent vis­ual sim­i­lar­ity. Maybe, in the 1950s such shapes could be per­ceived as hav­ing sim­i­lar aero (or hy­dro)-dy­namic qual­i­ties, but in our own en­light­ened times, these de­vices look more like a sur­prised duck, and a stuffed one at that, than a lithe dol­phin. The clear­ance from the front tyre de­manded the rigid mud­guard sit high enough to avoid con­tact with the tyre at full damp and full lock, which turned the front of the bike into big para­chute. This did the op­po­site of ei­ther look­ing or be­ing aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fec­tive.

But art, de­sign, and tech­nol­ogy all have a com­mon thread that mu­tu­ally en­cour­ages their ex­is­tence in time, while also some­times lim­it­ing their de­vel­op­ment. Aero­dy­nam­ics was a huge de­sign move­ment in the 1930s, when even static ob­jects got the ‘stream­lined’ treat­ment, ir­re­spec­tive of its rel­e­vance to the ap­pli­ca­tion. Af­ter the bleak re­al­ity of the wartime years, aero­dy­nam­ics made a slow come­back in the 1950s. GP bikes started to look at stream­lin­ing once again, and the no­tion of in­te­gral body­work seemed a log­i­cal pro­gres­sion. In ad­di­tion to mud­guards, half-fair­ings were merged with the tank, with MV Agusta ten­ta­tively join­ing in the fun. Then, along came the bath­tub fair­ing, which cloaked the whole bike in­side a small, squashed Zep­pelin, en­tirely in­de­pen­dent of the rest of the ma­chine, and in­te­gra­tion was no more.

Worse still, bath­tub fair­ings them­selves were banned in 1958, mainly out of con­cerns of in­sta­bil­ity and the

Art, de­sign, and tech­nol­ogy all have a com­mon thread that mu­tu­ally en­cour­ages their ex­is­tence in time, while also some­times lim­it­ing their de­vel­op­ment

ef­fect of side-winds, at which point, rac­ing lost in­ter­est in the whole thing. The few, no­tably Bri­tish, pro­duc­tion bikes which had caught on to the trend — the Ariel Ar­row, the Vin­cent Black Knight, and, later, some Tri­umphs — were also ren­dered ob­so­lete by the move. Their mo­ti­va­tion for body­work in­te­gra­tion and aero­dy­nam­ics was to pro­tect the rider from the el­e­ments, rather than to in­crease the top speed, but the de­ci­sion of the GP reg­u­la­tors had a knock-on ef­fect, even so. In­te­gral body­work made reg­u­lar main­te­nance more dif­fi­cult and, be­sides, the bikes no longer looked like those of the heroes on the track. Tri­umph per­se­vered for a while with the rear bath­tub en­clo­sure and, up to 1966, with a slimmed-down ‘bikini’ ver­sion, but it was not pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially in the US mar­kets. It would be an­other decade be­fore fair­ings made any sig­nif­i­cant re­turn, and an­other two be­fore man­u­fac­tur­ers started to look to­wards in­te­gra­tion again.

By the late 1980s, there was a new fad for body in­te­gra­tion, al­most to the point of de­nial that the nasty, oily me­chan­i­cal parts be­neath ex­isted at all. That had al­ways been the phi­los­o­phy with scoot­ers, whose rid­ers wanted sim­ple trans­porta­tion with­out the in­tru­sion of the me­chan­i­cal as­pects into their daily lives, just like a car driver. But when that ex­tended to sports bikes, such as the Honda CBR 600F and 1000F, the Ca­giva Frec­cia, the Bi­mota DB1, and the Du­cati Paso, the world seemed to be head­ing in a new di­rec­tion. It wasn’t, as it hap­pened, be­cause the cus­tomers fought back, de­mand­ing that the en­gi­neer­ing re­main both vis­i­ble and ac­ces­si­ble, and re­ject­ing the in­creas­ing propen­sity for al­len­velop­ing plas­tic. Nev­er­the­less, this was the world into which Doc­tor Big was born, and com­pared to its ‘yo­ghurt-con­tainer’ sports sib­lings, it still man­aged to re­tain a feel­ing of pur­pose and trac­tor-like sim­plic­ity.

BMW took on the man­tle with the R 1100 GS. While hav­ing ar­guably started the whole ad­ven­ture tour­ing craze sev­eral years pre­vi­ously with the 1980 R80 G/S, these ear­lier air-head mod­els re­tained a more tra­di­tional look. It was only with the 1994 Karl-Heinz Abe de­signed 1100 oil-head ver­sion that the in­te­gral mud­guard, now sym­bolic of the GS se­ries, made its some­what clumsy in­tro­duc­tion. Later mod­els re­fined the con­cept con­sid­er­ably, up to the so­phis­ti­cated 1200 ver­sion we know to­day. In the mean­time, smaller 650 and 800 off­shoots have con­tin­ued the di­rec­tion, and their suc­cess has in­spired ri­vals to at­tack the same mar­ket for a slice of the pie. Tri­umph, Du­cati, Honda, Zong­shen and any num­ber of other ad­ven­ture-tour wannabes have cashed in on the craze.

BMW may have de­fined the di­rec­tion, and later com­man­deered the look, but it was Suzuki with the 1987 DR 750 ‘Big’ that de­fined the style.

IAM FROM DELHI AND cur­rently I am pur­su­ing LL B fi­nal year. I be­came fas­ci­nated about rid­ing af­ter be­ing in­spired by my el­der brother, Javed, when he vis­ited Ladakh on his bike in 2010. Since then I have done some ex­treme rides. In 2016, I made a plan for this ride cov­er­ing all 29 states in the min­i­mum pos­si­ble time af­ter ap­proach­ing the Limca Book of Records.

I had never gone on such a long trip on my own, but I knew it was very much pos­si­ble. Although a few of my rel­a­tives and friends ad­vised me against the ride, my par­ents sup­ported me both fi­nan­cially and morally and I de­cided to pro­ceed. In­deed, for­tune favours the brave.

I started my self-fi­nanced ride on my KTM RC390 on 5 March 2017 from Delhi and com­pleted the ride on 28 March at 11.27 am at Delhi, hav­ing cov­ered all the 29 state cap­i­tals and five Union Ter­ri­to­ries, the to­tal dis­tance be­ing 16,143 kilo­me­tres. I faced a few chal­lenges along the way, which in­cluded the com­pli­cated log-book at­tes­ta­tion process, made even more dif­fi­cult by the lack of co-op­er­a­tion from the bu­reau­cracy in Ranchi and Patna. I also ran out of money in Itana­gar. To make mat­ters worse, all the ATMs there had no cash; how­ever, my friends there helped me out.

I re­ceived great sup­port from the In­dian Army (As­sam Ri­fles) who al­lowed me to stay in their camp when my bike broke down be­tween Silchar and Im­phal. It was al­ready dark and the road ahead was very dan­ger­ous. Be­sides, the area was highly mil­i­tant­prone. The Army of­fi­cers pro­vided me with board­ing and lodg­ing with full of cour­tesy. This will be re­mem­bered by me through­out my life.

I would like to com­mend all the po­lice staff at all the state cap­i­tals and Union Ter­ri­to­ries for pro­vid­ing their at­tes­ta­tion eas­ily and for be­ing so sup­port­ive. I would also like to thank all my rider brothers from each and ev­ery state and city who sup­ported me dur­ing my en­tire ride. With­out their sup­port it was not easy to com­plete this ride.

The DR 750 had clear ad­ven­ture tour­ing in­ten­tions

The 1953 NSU Ren­n­max with the Dol­phin Fair­ing

The DR 800S sol­diered on un­til 1996

Lat­est GS se­ries shows huge re­fine­ment over ear­lier in­car­na­tions

The 1980 BMW R80 G/S ar­guably kicked off the whole ad­ven­ture tour­ing di­rec­tion — but only later would it fol­low Suzuki’s de­sign lead

BMW’s first in­ter­pre­ta­tion of an in­te­gral mud­guard was a lit­tle clumsy

The DR Big’s in­flu­ence has been wide and long-last­ing

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