Wait­ing in the Wings: Suzuki RF900

Motorcycle Monthly - - Vjmc - Words: Steve Cooper

With all this spin about buy­ing modern clas­sics as an in­vest­ment, as a ‘pen­sion pot’ and the like, there’s only one way the mar­ket is go­ing in terms of cost... and that’s up.

No sooner has a bike fea­tured in one of the nu­mer­ous mag­a­zines ped­dling older bikes to older folks than its value in­creases. Un­less it’s this month’s sub­ject mat­ter – well at least for the mo­ment any­way. Suzuki’s oft ig­nored, long over­looked and oc­ca­sion­ally de­rided RF900 has so far failed to fig­ure in fi­nan­cial spec­u­la­tions, and here’s hop­ing it doesn’t for the fore­see­able. Why? Be­cause it’s supremely good large ca­pac­ity for sig­nif­i­cantly lit­tle money.

When launched, many re­ports damned the big­gest RF with faint praise ar­gu­ing it was nei­ther fish nor fowl, didn’t seem to sit well in Suzuki’s model range and was, ap­par­ently, made down to a price. This came from the same ‘ex­perts’ who hap­pily talked-up the al­most self-re­cy­cling Ban­dit range… pah! Per­haps the real deal breaker was the strange shark gill pan­els that filled out a sub­stan­tial part of the bike’s midriff. Var­i­ously lam­pooned for look­ing like some­thing from a Mi­ami Vice cus­tom car or a poor man’s Fer­rari, the vents al­most killed the RF900’s sales be­fore the bikes were un­crated. How­ever, those that took a test ride or scrounged a few miles from a mate’s bike came back grin­ning from ear to ear. Here was a stun­ningly com­pe­tent ma­chine that went fast enough for most real world mor­tals and han­dled bet­ter than many can ride… and it was cheap, al­most ob­scenely so. Back in 1994 the RF900 was a sig­nif­i­cant 10% cheaper that a Honda VFR750 and al­most 25% cheaper than a Honda Fireblade.

Based around a down­sized GSXR1100W mo­tor, the RF’s cre­den­tials were al­ready a given; the power plant would be bul­let proof. Down­siz­ing valves and car­bu­ret­tors upped the midrange from good to de­li­cious, mak­ing the bike so much more real world us­able. Suzuki’s leg­endary gear­box war­ranted less toe in­put thereby fa­cil­i­tat­ing a sig­nif­i­cantly less fran­tic ride.

Dis­pens­ing with cut­ting edge ex­truded al­loy frames in favour of good old fash­ioned steel may have in­creased the bike’s mass but it also low­ered the price. Yes, agreed, the sus­pen­sion was at the bud­get end of the spec­trum but ar­guably it was more than up to the job and, cru­cially, bet­ter than 80% of the po­ten­tial buy­ers’ rid­ing abil­ity any­way. The RF900 wasn’t tar­geted at the out and out sports bike rider, which was where the jour­nal­ists had got it wrong. The in­tended mar­ket was what’s now nor­mally de­scribed as ‘sports-tourer’. This was the sort of ma­chine that could main­tain se­ri­ous speeds hour af­ter hour with­out de­form­ing the limbs and spine of its rider. It wasn’t a CB900RR and was never in­tended to be one. This was near su­per bike per­for­mance at a se­ri­ously re­duced cost. Flex­i­bil­ity is the key word here and with the nu­mer­ous con­sid­ered mod­i­fi­ca­tions be­stowed on the 1100 de­rived mo­tor it only needs five ra­tios in the box. With a claimed 135bhp at the crank, more like 120bhp at the rear wheel, and 74lb-ft of torque there’s enough go­ing on there to keep most rid­ers more than en­ter­tained.

Given its an­ces­try and re­vi­sions, en­gine re­li­a­bil­ity was un­ques­tion­ably a given and in 1993 Suzuki Ger­many, sup­ported by Met­zeler and the Ger­man mo­tor­cy­cle mag­a­zine Mo­tor­rad, col­lab­o­rated to de­liver four en­durance records over one, six, 12 and 24 hours. Any mo­tor­cy­cle that can run for an en­tire day and av­er­age more than 152mph con­sis­tently has to be ex­tremely well made.

Still not sure it’s a bike wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion? The RF900 has been var­i­ously stroked back to 1100 and some ccs, has been su­per­charged, turbo charged, sprinted, drag raced, tuned, tweaked, turned into a track day ma­chine and just keeps on com­ing back for more. Be un­der no il­lu­sions this is a se­ri­ously strong piece of kit!

Cos­met­i­cally the RF900 splits opin­ions. The sin­gle colour ver­sions can look var­i­ously bland or street sleeper if in black de­pend­ing on your per­spec­tive; or ap­pear to be a poor man’s VFR750 when decked out in red. Af­ter just one model year Suzuki de­cided frames painted the same colour as the plas­tics was a bad idea and opted for flat sil­ver, giv­ing the il­lu­sion of al­loy. Later mod­els came in var­i­ous colour schemes per­haps best de­scribed as ‘re­strained shell suit’.

Okay, the RF900 may not be the ul­ti­mate late 20th cen­tury rocket ma­chine but two decades on, who ac­tu­ally cares? And for the modern clas­sic fan the news is sim­ply stun­ning. You have to work re­ally hard to spend more than £2500 on an RF900. For less than the price of sec­ond-hand scooter you can have a 900cc mis­sile. A bar­gain you say? Oh yes… but get in there fast be­fore ev­ery­one else catches on!

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