Peo­ple

Jeff spends a day ‘fang­ing’ a mint 1991 GSX-R750M Down Un­der to re-live the glory days of 750cc sports­bikes.

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - ME & MY... - WORDS: JEFF WARE PHO­TOS: HEATHER WARE

When we look back at the 1990s and the evo­lu­tion of the Ja­panese sports­bike there are few names that stand out more than Suzuki and GSX-R. The sports war was about to hot up when the M rolled off the pro­duc­tion line in late 1990. Yamaha and Honda were not truly in the pub­lic ac­cess game just yet, with an age­ing FZR1000 for most pun­ters more re­al­is­tic than an ex­otic FZR750 OW-01 and Honda rid­ers hav­ing to opt for a VFR over a more de­sir­able VFR750R RC30! What was cool, though, was the FIM spec World Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onships that were re­ally hot­ting up de­vel­op­ment of the wa­ter-cooled twins and fours. Suzuki was be­hind the eight-ball with the oil-boiler GSX-R range and its first wa­ter-cooled models were cum­ber­some dis­as­ters – mak­ing the last oil-cooled Suzuki GSX-R750, the M, at the very end of its de­vel­op­ment, pos­si­bly the best oil/air-cooled mo­tor­cy­cle ever pro­duced and as col­lectable as the 1985 Slabby and the 1996 WT/SRAD 750s. The M model was based on the suc­cess­ful L model and the L model RR vari­ant, which was built for FIM ho­molo­ga­tion in a lim­ited run of 500. The RR had a long-stroke engine that was in­tro­duced to help smaller teams from around the globe tune the engine to be com­pet­i­tive. Af­ter us­ing long-stroke en­gines from 1985 to 1987, small teams strug­gled glob­ally with the high revving short-stroke 1988 model, with only Yoshimura and the Ja­panese fac­tory en­joy­ing any suc­cess. The 1989 RR proved a hit so the 1990 stock ver­sion went back to the long-stroke mo­tor, giv­ing the bike more us­able mid-range and mak­ing it a bril­liant road sports­bike and pri­va­teer race­bike. At a time when Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki all made peaky race­track fo­cused 750s, the GSX-R750L sud­denly

made a lot of sense with its smooth, long-stroke engine with strong mid-range. As well as re­tain­ing the long-stroke from the orig­i­nal 1987 model, Suzuki went for more midrange by re­duc­ing valve sizes by 1.3mm in­let and 1.0mm ex­haust, fit­ted smaller spark plugs, al­low­ing for more ma­te­rial be­tween the valves, and the four-into-one ex­haust was re-fit­ted and re-tuned. Al­though it looked the same, the L model’s frame was all-new. Rake and trail were in­creased slightly, the swingarm was based on the 1100 swingarm, up­side-down Showa forks and the first re­motereser­voir shock on a Suzuki ap­peared. Slot­ted front ro­tors re­placed drilled ones and the rear tyre was a ‘whop­ping’ 170 rear-sec­tion. The bike was a hit but styling was get­ting old. By 1991 the Kawasaki ZXR was look­ing pretty damn cool with its ‘Hoover pipe’ in­takes, so Suzuki had to do some­thing – not to men­tion the im­pend­ing re­lease of the Honda Fire­blade – a bike that would knock the wind out of vir­tu­ally ev­ery man­u­fac­turer… So, the GSX-R750M car­ried a new fair­ing, with the twin en­durance-style head­lights be­ing cov­ered by an aero­dy­namic sin­gle-piece plas­tic fair­ing. The chas­sis was car­ried over from 1990 but the engine got a sur­prise makeover. Ev­ery­one was ex­pect­ing Suzuki to go wa­ter-cooled and first im­ages of the M sug­gested it might be, how­ever, a gi­ant over­sized oil-cooler was the cul­prit! The world had to wait another year for a wa­ter-cooled GSX-R but the last of the mighty oil-cooled GSX-RS still got up­grades, al­though it was also a whop­ping 15kg heav­ier! Valve ac­tu­a­tion was changed from the in­dus­try stan­dard fork and screw/lock­nut rocker arm to di­rect rocker with shim un­der bucket ad­just­ment. This al­lowed for el­e­vated engine speeds and a shorter cylin­der-head. Aside from that and the styling, noth­ing else changed for the M and we should all be grate­ful for that – for any­one who has had the

plea­sure of rid­ing an M model would ap­pre­ci­ate the fan­tas­tic per­for­mance the mighty orig­i­nal oil/ air-cooled GSX-R750 pro­vided at the pin­na­cle of its de­vel­op­ment. Keith El­lis bought this M model seven years ago af­ter search­ing for 18 months to find an orig­i­nal M. “I wanted it so bad that I paid a lit­tle too much for it at just un­der £3500 but it had 12 months’ road tax and im­por­tantly, was orig­i­nal right down to the pipe,” he says. “I al­ways liked the look of the M and be­ing the last air/oil-cooled GSX-R made the bike ap­peal­ing to me. Un­der the fair­ings was 15 years of road grime but it was an hon­est 20,000-mile old ex­am­ple.” Keith got the bike home and stripped it ready for restora­tion. First job was to strip the 38mm Mikuni CV carbs and elim­i­nate the rich pi­lot fu­elling. The sus­pen­sion was taken out and re­built with a heav­ier rear spring and af­ter­mar­ket fork springs go­ing in, as well as a re­mote hy­draulic preload ad­juster cus­tom made for the rear. The engine was given a full ser­vice in­clud­ing valve clear­ances. Now it runs like new. Braided stain­less brake lines and Goodrich ro­tors up­graded the brakes and Miche­lin Pi­lot Power hoops bring the bike up to mod­ern stan­dards in the grip de­part­ment. Aside from that, the bike is stock and de­tailed back to new. Keith rides it most days and is very happy with the fin­ished prod­uct. He says: “I bought the bike as a rider. I’d just re­stored an RD350LC and did not want to do another ma­jor re­build or resto, just some mi­nor main­te­nance and de­tail­ing. I love rid­ing this iconic bike and it is prob­a­bly more en­joy­able than most mod­ern bikes on pub­lic roads – plus it still per­forms like stink!” My turn to throw a leg over Keith’s baby. Now, I have some fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries of GSX-R750MS from when I was a young hoon, fang­ing a TZR250 up and down my lo­cals. Two mates had M models – Si­mon and Mick – and they both knew how to ride! I re­mem­ber their awe­some all-gear wheel­ies and try­ing to keep up with them on the TZR. I’ve al­ways loved the M and still think it is one of the best look­ing 750s ever pro­duced – par­tic­u­larly in blue and white… I never owned one and never came close. Ap­pren­tice­ship wages and 250 pro­duc­tion rac­ing meant baked beans and two-minute noo­dles were the sta­ple diet back then but 20 years on, here I am rid­ing a mint 750M up and down the same road on

a bright sunny win­ter (yes it is sunny here in win­ter) Sun­day. It feels like I’ve stepped back in time… The bike is ev­ery bit as spe­cial as I re­mem­ber it – and more. In fact, as I fa­mil­iarise my­self with the bike and get some heat into the tyres I re­alise just how good these things are, or were, or (well) still are… The bike is tiny. It is nar­row be­tween the knees and com­pact with a fan­tas­tic, racy old school reach to the bars that places me right where I feel con­fi­dent – low and head over the front-end. The bars are closer to­gether than a mod­ern bike and the ’pegs are re­ally high and close to the seat. It’s a proper old school race crouch – the tall tank un­der the chest and a tall screen to tuck be­hind. The front end is sen­sa­tional – I lit­er­ally feel like I’m hold­ing the front axle – feed­back is that good and the bike will hap­pily re­spond to any steer­ing in­put on the brakes, off them, coast­ing or on the power. Once on its side the bike is so planted, in a way that just does not ex­ist any more with mod­ern point and shoot geom­e­try. The 1990s geom­e­try some­how al­lowed for sharp steer­ing while main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity at full lean through a turn that just wills the rider to carry more and more cor­ner speed. It’s a long sta­ble arc that puts a se­ri­ous grin on my dial. And this oil boiler long-stroke gem of an engine: I’d for­got­ten just how good they were. Pick a gear. Any gear. And en­joy the ride. If you need to pass a mate or a car, go back a gear and rev the thing to red­line – it’s still a rocket up top but makes silky smooth lin­ear power from as low as 5000rpm. Try that on a 2017 GSX-R750 and you will go back­wards at a rapid rate! With the brake up­grades on this ma­chine stop­ping is up to mod­ern stan­dards and at the end of my ride I’m smil­ing a lot more than I would be on one of my own mod­ern bikes. Pulling up at the café is cool too – not many bikes at­tract the at­ten­tion that a minter like this does. Thanks Keith!

ABOVE: The M is still a looker from any an­gle.

BE­LOW: Clock-set is clas­sic GSX-R.

BE­LOW LEFT: Steer­ing damper was a help on the road.

BE­LOW: Clas­sic Nissin calipers grip up­dated wavy discs.

ABOVE: Still rapid and still got the looks.

BE­LOW: Orig­i­nal can is hard to come by now.

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