We celebrate Suzuki’s iconic RGV500 racer (and get to drool over these absolute belters)
They may not have dominated Grand Prix like Honda, but it was Suzuki’s RGV500 that captured our imaginations in a way that Honda’s NSR500 just couldn’t. And you could buy sublime road replicas to help you live out your GP fantasies every weekend on your favourite twisties. We grab the bikes that ignited the passions of a generation.
It might not have been the most successful 500cc Grand Prix bike, but the Suzuki RGV500 captured the hearts and minds of race fans in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And it was all because of one man: Kevin Schwantz.
The flamboyant Texan was the Rossi of his day and the smiling assassin was all slides, spins and crossed-up wheelies out of corners - clattering sideways in on the brakes after he’d ‘seen god and backed off’.
Not only was Schwantz’s leggy, upright style captivating, the bike he turned up on in 1988 to begin his full time 500cc Grand Prix career was a thing of beauty. His Pepsi Suzuki was an instant poster bike and even by today’s standards still looks perfect. It didn’t do any harm to the legend of Schwantz and his 160bhp, 115kg RGV500 that they won first time out.
Kevin and his Suzuki inspired thousands of race replica Pepsi and Lucky Strike paintjobs on GSX-R road bikes and even more race rep Arais. Suzuki even made an RGV250 road bike, made to look just like Revin Kevin’s, but we never got the full RGV500 road replica we all desired.
From 1988 to 1993 Schwantz and his RGV500 were part of a golden age of 500cc GP racing. But Kevin quietly walked away midway through 1995, rocked by Wayne Rainey’s lifechanging ’93 injury and battered from fighting his fickle Suzuki, which was rarely a match for the Yamaha YZR500 and Honda NSR500.
The RGV500 carried on until the end of the 500 era in 2001 and won another world championship in the hands of Kenny Roberts Jnr in 2000.
Over the next five pages, we look at three of the most important RGV500S, kindly loaned to us by collector Steve Wheatman: the 1989 Pepsi, 1994 Lucky Strike and 2000 Telefonica machines. We also talk to GP mechanic Nathan Colombi to find out what makes them tick, and Motogp reporter Mat Oxley reveals how the RGV evolved over its 14-year history. Finally, we asked RGV250 owners how the RGV500 inspired them.
Bike collector Steve Wheatman has an enviable collection of ex-factory RGV500S, as well as an ultra-rare RGV250 and a brace of Suzuki WSB machines. He also provided the Team Classic Suzuki XR69 replica that Michael Dunlop used to clinch victory at this year’s Classic TT.
Nathan Colombi is the man charged with keeping this collection alive so the RGV500S can be ridden at classic events around the world. Few people outside the Suzuki factory know what makes the RGV500 tick. The bikes are stripped and fettled every time they’re used and parts checked and replaced, as they would’ve been back when they were used in anger.
In 1988, Schwantz stunned the GP world by turning up at the opening 500cc race at Suzuka on his lip-smacking Pepsi Suzuki and winning first time out. As their race-long battle reached boiling point, reigning champ Wayne Gardner ran off the track and handed Schwantz the victory on the final lap.
This is his 1989 machine, in the Pepsi colours for the last time before it wore Lucky Strike livery in 1990. It’s already a world away from the original 1987 bike and it had to be battling against the likes of Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner – arguably the most fierce competition ever witnessed in GPS.
‘Kevin acknowledges that 1989 was his best ever season’ NATHAN COLOMBI
1989 Suzuki RGV500 XR75 Rider: Kevin Schwantz 2000 Suzuki RGV500 XRB0 Rider: Kenny Roberts Jnr
1994 Suzuki RGV500 XR84 Rider: Kevin Schwantz
The bike that launched a thousand race-replicas
Schwantz’s last Grand Prix bike