The last RGV250 may have officially landed in the UK way back in 1994 but the lightweight screamer still lives strong in the hearts of a generation for which the Suzuki V-twin remains the ultimate two-stroke 250 racer replica.
From 1986 through to the mid-’90s this breed of lightweight, ultra-fast 250s were the closest thing to a roadgoing GP bike and, as such, inspired more than a few would-be racers.
Chris Walker was one. “I bought an RGV for a couple of grand, nicked my dad’s van and went road racing,” he told MCN. “I won twice in my first meeting.”
Reigning and five-times MCE British Superbike champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne is another. “I had the banana swingarm one with the twin exhausts and was proper in love with it as a teenager,” he told MCN. “It was the most beautiful bike I’d ever seen, and I had one for about five days… then it blew itself to smithereens. I never quite got it out of my system.”
Even MCN Senior Road Tester Michael Neeves says the RGV is one of his favourite bikes. “I had two – the first K model and the sexy N with its banana swingarm. It was a crisp, mini-version of Schwantz’s RGV500 and went round corners faster than anything.”
But if the RGV was among the most popular of the 250 GP reps, there were plenty of others to choose from. Yamaha had a liquid-cooled parallel twin TZR; Kawasaki had their parallel twin KR-1 and S; and Honda a series of NSRS. All were the result of Japanese domestic licensing laws which, until 1997, favoured 250cc two-strokes and 400cc four-strokes – hence the proliferation of such sportsbikes, many of which were Japanese market only, although some trickled into the UK.
What set the RGV apart was its racing pedigree and the fact it was pretty much the only one officially imported into the UK through most of its lifetime. (Honda’s arguably even more desirable NSR250, for example, never officially came here).
That race pedigree dates back to Sheene-era RG500S. Following Lucchinelli and Uncini’s 500 crowns for Suzuki in ’81 and ’82, the first road going version, the water-cooled, alloy-framed, fully-faired, parallel twin RG250 Gamma was launched in 1983 and revolutionised the quarter-litre class overnight. After two RG updates, rivals began to respond with bikes such as Yamaha’s TZR250 in 1986. Then, in 1987, Suzuki unveiled their own V-twin RGV (it wasn’t imported into the UK until 1989) and, with 56bhp and razorsharp handling, was instantly regarded as the most extreme sports 250 of all.
Although Yamaha, like Honda, didn’t officially import their updated 250 thereafter, the Suzuki didn’t have things in the UK all their own way – indeed a fierce battle ensued with Kawasaki’s KR-1 (and KR-1S) to be top dog 250.
Reader Michael Coutts was another of them. “I bought a new RGV250 which I loved,” he told MCN. “I had it for two years and toured all over before trading it in but I still have very fond memories and a place in my heart for the RGV.”
That overall impact is down to a variety of factors. First, thanks to a series of updates, the RGV was always thereabouts THE sports stroker 250. That first Uk-imported K (or VJ21) model was updated into the M (or VJ22) in 1991 with USD forks, banana swinger and other changes. This then evolved again into the P (or VJ22P) with a stronger, braced swingarm in 1993. What’s more, the RGV was also always considered a mini-replica of hugely popular GP star Kevin Schwantz’s machine, reason enough for it to be a huge hit. Plus, the cute Suzuki went just as well as it looked. Back in the early ’90s there was no finer twostroke or handling thrill.
It’s these later models (the RGV was dropped in the UK in 1994 although a facelifted, VJ23 version was sold in Japan between 1996 and 1998) that, today, are most prized of all with prices for good ones now topping five grand.
Shakey’s love for it, meanwhile, was sufficiently strong that he finally bought another as a project. “It’s going to be absolutely immaculate,” he told MCN at the time. “It’s only going to be a sunny day bike – I might ride it to get its MOT, but it’ll look nice in the garage!”
The RGV250 has that effect on people – lots of them.
‘I had the banana swingarm one. It was the most beautiful bike I’d ever seen’