OLD v NEW ON THE ROAD

Con­tin­ued over

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Features -

1985 GSX-R750F

Is there a sin­gle thing that the old GSX-R can do bet­ter than the new one? Well yes, ac­tu­ally. The old bike is the one peo­ple ad­mire. They want to stop and talk about it, per­haps be­cause it is so hon­est in the way it looks. Even non-bik­ers sense that it comes from a sim­pler time.

Clam­ber­ing on board is the first re­al­ity check. The 1985 GSX-R has an old café racer rid­ing po­si­tion, where you slot into the low V be­tween seat and tank, back bent and arms out­stretched with­out much con­trol. Even around town your el­bows touch your knees, and the mir­rors are hope­less un­less your chin’s on the tank. But the soft springs soak up pot­holes and drain cov­ers, and the en­gine is as­ton­ish­ingly smooth and flex­i­ble. Apart from the muted top end, it could be mod­ern.

Fast for­ward 10 or 20 miles on a good road and you’ll have dis­cov­ered two per­son­al­i­ties. One in­volves short­shift­ing through the slick gear­box at 5000-7000rpm, and waft­ing past cars while the birds sing and the sun shines. The other in­volves thrash­ing it a bit, and dis­cov­er­ing what the 1980s were re­ally like.

At much above 100 on a bumpy road ev­ery­thing starts to feel a bit vague. Go faster still and a gen­tle side-to-side sway­ing sets in, not just in fast cor­ners, but some­times in a straight line. The front end stays sta­ble enough – but when it catches a cat’s eye you can feel it could kick.

Brak­ing hard pro­duces the same dis­con­cert­ing move­ment, this time from the front, as the forks ‘walk’ to­wards the cor­ner. There’s lots of lever travel and, be­yond a cer­tain pres­sure, noth­ing you do can make the bike stop any quicker. Pos­si­bly that will im­prove as the pads bed in. Pos­si­bly it’s just caliper flex. Cer­tainly the whole bike has that plank-ina-swim­ming-pool feel, where you can’t change di­rec­tion too quickly. And it doesn’t bank smoothly; af­ter the ini­tial lean it flops quite sud­denly. Not ideal on cool roads dusted with the last of the win­ter salt and mud.

And yet... so what? Rid­ing the F is a rich, de­li­cious ex­pe­ri­ence, con­ducted at sane speeds. I spent a long time af­ter­wards just gaz­ing at the bike as it clicked and cooled. Is it just the power of nos­tal­gia? Or the or­ganic thrill of a pre-dig­i­tal ma­chine?

2016 GSX-R750L6

What­ever the old GSX-R’S al­lure is, the new bike’s to­tal per­for­mance pack­age smashes it squarely in the face. Rid­ing po­si­tion: per­fect. En­gine: blis­ter­ing. Sus­pen­sion: set up for con­trol. Brakes: huge power and feel. Agility: you bet.

You start off notic­ing the stiff springs, and wor­ry­ing it’ll be a bone­jar­ring night­mare af­ter the old bike. But you never think about it again be­cause you’re go­ing about 20mph faster ev­ery­where. And in­stead of be­ing pinned be­hind a huge tank you’re sat on top, flick­ing the bike through turns with your hips, shoul­ders and core. The new GSX-R is de­signed to let you use your body ef­fi­ciently.

And where the old bike sways and flexes, this one just digs in and grips. It still doesn’t run out of com­po­sure when you rag it to 13,000rpm at big lean in fourth, which is about as silly as it gets on the road. There’s less grunt than a 1000, but with a top speed be­yond 170 the L6 is hardly a weak­ling. It can over­take any­thing, wheelie off the throt­tle, or even just ex­ploit 10 yards of clear road. On the old bike you need to ap­ply in writ­ing for that kind of ca­per.

And it goes with­out say­ing the L6 is su­perb on a race­track, handy on a tour and com­pletely thrilling on a twisty road. You could ride it to the Alps in to­tal con­fi­dence.

The only gripe is the clutch and brake levers set slightly too high – some­thing Suzuki have done for decades – and the looks. Those fake car­bon fi­bre pan­els don’t fool any­one. They just spoil the rest of the bike – in­clud­ing, baf­flingly, the Suzuki logo.

Is there a whiff of en­dan­gered species about the GSX-R750? It hasn’t changed sig­nif­i­cantly for years yet it is ef­fi­cient, re­li­able, su­perbly de­vel­oped, and a bril­liant all-round mo­tor­bike. Its only crime is a lack of zeit­geist. It would be a shame if that fi­nally fin­ished it off. No-one else makes any­thing quite like it.

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