Two-stroke su­per­stars

We cel­e­brate Suzuki’s iconic RGV500 racer (and get to drool over these ab­so­lute belters)

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Michael Neeves MCN SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER

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

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