The Suzuki RGV500 Legendary or mythical?
The RGV500 caught the imagination of race fans more than any other 500 Grand Prix bike. Mat Oxley tells the story of the machine’s variable fortunes.
Suzuki’s RGV500 is a legendary Grand Prix machine, but is that status more myth than reality? The RGV raced for 15 seasons, during which it won two riders world championships and not a single constructors title. During the same period Honda’s NSR won nine riders titles and nine constructors crowns, while Yamaha’s YZR took four and six respectively.
The RGV is legendary not so much for its performance but for the talent of its most famous rider. Kevin Schwantz won the RGV’S first title in 1993 and 25 of its 37 Grand Prix victories.
Schwantz first raced the RGV in 1987, Suzuki’s reconnaissance season following a three-year absence from GPS. He commenced his full-time Grand Prix career at Suzuka the following March, when he only went and beat Honda’s reigning champ Wayne Gardner.
That Suzuka win was 90% Schwantz and 10% RGV. And it didn’t help Suzuki’s R&D focus, because factory bosses fooled themselves into thinking their bike was already as good as the Honda and Yamaha.
Over the next decade and a bit Suzuki always suffered from the same problems. The race department was so small and underfunded that the factory ran only two riders, while their rivals ran four or more. This compounded R&D problems, as they were getting much less rider feedback than their rivals.
Hence the RGV was rarely quite right. Schwantz accepts some responsibility for that. He was so new to 500s that he didn’t have much of a clue about set-up, but he did have a clue about riding the wheels off a motorcycle that wasn’t quite right.
The RGV wasn’t only a bit slow, it also didn’t handle that well. The chassis was too flexible, so the bike would tie itself in knots.
Suzuki did make some progress, though. For 1989 they reversed the crankshaft rotation to improve crankcase-scavenging, which improved carburation and power. The RGV was now fast. Schwantz won six GPS in 1989, but it also became fragile – the engine broke three times.
Then Suzuki lost their way – in 1992 Schwantz scored only one win. “The bike wasn’t right. It was a load of shit!” he recalls.
At the start of 1992 the factory found the right road once again, by hiring EX-HRC technician Stuart Shenton. By 1993 they were ready to rock – Schwantz attributes that year’s title to Shenton, more than anyone else.
After Schwantz retired midway through 1995, Suzuki once again got lost in the wilderness. Over the next three and a half seasons they won just two races. Redemption came in the shape of former Team Roberts engineer Warren Willing and a new rider, King Kenny’s son Kenny Roberts Junior.
They got it just about good enough for a rider who based his riding technique on precision and repetition. In 2000 Roberts Junior won the world title, beating Rossi into second place. KRJR raced the RGV for the last time in 2001 – the year before the Motogp four-strokes arrived – but by then the NSR and YZR had once again jumped ahead.
‘The bike wasn’t right. It was a load of s****’ KEVIN SCHWANTZ
Schwantz: winning despite the RGV rather than because of it? It was an animal