Waiting in the Wings: Suzuki RF900
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!