‘We thought: What a great bike, this is just what we need’ Kevin Sch­wantz

It was my first big bike, and the first I used to travel abroad, to events like Le Mans’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature -

Few bikes be­come icons, and far fewer are so sig­nif­i­cant that they change the whole di­rec­tion of pow­ered twowheel­ers. But Suzuki’s first GSX-R750 is just such a ma­chine.

Launched in 1985, that orig­i­nal GSX-R750F be­came the first true race replica. By set­ting a whole new stan­dard for road per­for­mance and han­dling, it be­came not only the new bench­mark on the street, but also hugely im­por­tant for a whole gen­er­a­tion of racers.

Kevin Sch­wantz be­gan his long as­so­ci­a­tion with Suzuki in AMA Su­per­bikes on the air-cooled GS700. But it was the suc­ceed­ing, rad­i­cal, oil­cooled GSX-R750 that thrust him into the public con­scious­ness.

“We first got the GSX-R750 in the States in ’86,” Sch­wantz told MCN later. “When we first saw it we thought, ‘Oh man, what a great bike, this is just what we need’."

And although Sch­wantz never won the AMA se­ries aboard Suzuki’s new­comer, the new GSX-R cer­tainly helped pro­pel him into the lime­light, not least af­ter a se­ries of great du­els with team-mate Wayne Rainey in the 1987 Transat­lantic Tro­phy.

With hind­sight, the GSX-R’S race replica con­cept seems noth­ing new. The point, how­ever, is that the GSX-R was the first su­per­bike built in this way, fol­low­ing on from Suzuki’s Ja­pan-only GSX-R400, which in turn fol­lowed the RG250 two-stroke.

All mim­icked race bikes with their light­weight, box-sec­tion alu­minium frames and high per­for­mance en­gines. Specif­i­cally, the big GSX-R was mod­elled as closely as pos­si­ble on Suzuki’s world en­durance cham­pi­onship-win­ning ma­chine, the al­loy-framed XR41/GS1000R of 1983. The GSX-R’S en­gine, mean­while, was an all-new com­pact four with a novel oil-cool­ing sys­tem Suzuki called SACS. The re­sult, equipped with cut­ting edge brakes and sus­pen­sion, mak­ing 100bhp, weigh­ing just 185kg and wrapped in twin-head­lamp race-rep body­work, was an im­me­di­ate sen­sa­tion with racers and road rid­ers alike.

Per­haps even more sig­nif­i­cantly, though, that first GSX-R750 was so suc­cess­ful it sired a dy­nasty which lives on to this day. The first ‘Slab­bie’ (as the ’85-’87 mod­els be­came known due to their ‘slab-sided’ body­work), led to the 1988 ‘J’ Sling­shot, the con­tro­ver­sial 1989 K and then, in turn, the 1990 in­verted fork ‘L’ and restyled 1991 ‘M’. And while none of these quite had the same im­pact as the orig­i­nal, and the sub­se­quent wa­ter-cooled mod­els were leap-frogged by more fo­cused, beam-framed ri­vals, all still had a strong fol­low­ing due to a ‘bad boy’ im­age and real world road aplomb few oth­ers could match.

One of those who suc­cumbed was MCN reader David Spencer. “It was my first big bike,” he said. “A slab-sided G model in blue and white that was about the cheap­est sec­ond-hand bike in the show­room. It made me feel like a su­per­hero, even with the dodgy brakes and fi­bre­glass pat­tern fair­ing. It also made me want to wear ur­ban camo trousers, put an M1 bomber jacket over my leathers and fit an irid­ium vi­sor to my Arai… Well, it was the '90s!”

An­other was Keith Mor­ris. “I had a 1989 model,” he told MCN. “It was my first big bike and the first I used to travel abroad on, to events such as Le Mans. I've many great mem­o­ries of it!”

That’s the thing about the early GSX-R. The later, beam-framed bikes may be ‘bet­ter’ mo­tor­cy­cles but they’ve never been as sig­nif­i­cant nor changed so many lives as the orig­i­nal.

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