Reader restoration: Suzuki GSX-R600
Michael Hunt has owned just about every significant bike of the 1990s, but machinery connected to a Mr Chris Walker holds a special attraction. Like this tidy Stalker rep Suzuki GSX-R600 SRAD...
Authentic Stalker tribute (minus 150cc)
his time, even though it’s only an out lap. An SV650 comes blatting down Mallory Park’s straight, past the pit garages, and that’s the second time I’ve seen it – with no sign of Michael’s distinctive blue and whitewalker rep GSX-R600 SRAD.
However, this is his Suzuki’s debut try-out; Michael estimates he’s poured 300 hours over nine months into the GSX-R and this is the first time it’s turned a wheel.and he’s shipped the bike from its home in Southampton here to a cold, overcast Leicestershire to do it.
But then I catch sight of Mr Hunt wheeling his stricken GSX-R across the paddock.and, with sudden and painfully obvious hindsight, perhaps a track day isn’t the best place for a shakedown test.the SRAD has broken down, or Michael’s crashed. Neither outcome is good news.
Thirty-eight year-old Michael’s road to this particular SRAD started almost as soon as he was walking and talking. “I was four years old when my dad took me for rides around the garden on his RD200,” he says. “I popped a piston out of it, holding the throttle open while he let me sit on it.” That’s one way to learn. “It certainly was. He said ‘Great, now I can teach you how to do a rebuild.and he did.”
It was the start of a lifetime of riding, buying, fettling and, eventually, restoring bikes.at school Michael rode field bikes, at 19 he passed his test. “I couldn’t afford much so it was buy what you can for £100 and make it work. I had loads of small-bore bikes that literally lasted a couple of weeks at a time.” University saw a move to bigger run-arounds: LCS, Kawasaki Zeds, Suzuki’s GS650, Honda’s NC30, Suzuki’s RGV250... “It was very much going through winter with a bin bag under my jacket andtesco shopping bags in my boots.”
As the years passed, Michael went through a list of bikes that reads like a 1990s who’s who of cool machinery – from ’Blades, Hayabusas, R1s, CBR1000FS (“Two of those”) – even a Pan European and a BMW R1150GS: “I don’t know exactly how many I’ve had; well over 100. Pretty much anything and everything.”
But the 1990s sportsbikes hold a special place: “They were the bikes I aspired to growing up,” Michael says. “And about 10 years ago the prices dropped out of 1990s stuff, and you could pick up all these Japanese superbikes for less than £1500. It was crazy, people were throwing them away.”
Michael got his first GSX-R600 SRAD in 2008. “Cosmetically it was OK but to ride, it was baggy – head races, wheel bearings, brakes, things like that. I’ve found over the years it’s not abuse, just people start to let them go when the value comes out of them. They keep them running rather than maintain them.and so I try and get the bikes back to where I think they should be; what they should feel like.”
Michael followed the 600 up with a couple of 750 SRADS, among other bikes; “I just keep coming back to them. I love them,” he says proudly.
He also loves racing, first going to meetings with his dad when he was a nipper. Michael’s
favourite era was the classic, season-long British Superbike duel between Neil Hodgson and Chriswalker in 2000: “I was on my knees, screaming at the telly,” he says. “They gave it everything.” Michael chose a side, and became a mildly obsessed Chris Walker fan. He’s not a Stalker stalker, is he? “No, I just admired his riding style – you could really see him giving it everything. It was animated, hanging off, head down, shaking around, the bike kicking off – it was all action. Some people, like Steve Hislop and Joey Dunlop – were incredibly smooth, and fast, but not very visual.”as proof of his loyalty, Michael proudly shows me his Walker-rep Arai and Stalker-signed leathers.
It was inevitable Michael’swalker and SRAD passions would eventually collide: “A few years ago I did my first restoration; a Kawasaki ZX-7R.THEN I did my first-ever trackday at Brands on it; after that I decided my next project would be an SRAD, but a trackday-only bike.”
Michael spotted this one last year, at a dealer up north, for £1695 as an R-reg, 1998 Mot’d road bike with 28,000 miles on it: “I offered him £1500, sold as seen, including delivery. He took it in the end. It was about the right price, bearing in mind thewalkerrep paint.”
I’m tempted to ask Michael what it was about the Chriswalker-rep that first attracted him, but he fills it in for me: “As soon as I saw it I had to have it. Even if it turned out to be a complete shed, I could break it and get my money back.”
When he finally saw it, the Suzuki wasn’t a shed – but it was far from perfect. “Cosmetically, from 50ft, it looked lovely,” says Michael. “I thought I’d got a good deal. It had the bodywork already on, as it is now, decals and everything – apparently it’s Dream Machine paint job, and as a perfectionist I’ve seen a few claimedwalker reps and they aren’t even close; this one was so close to his 2000 Crescent bike it tugged on my heart strings. Plus it had theakrapovic system and the wavy discs.and all already on there.” So what was wrong with it? “Chassis-wise it was a complete mess. Front pads down to the metal, rumbling wheel bearings at both ends, head races lethal – seized, and when you could get it to turn there was a noticeable drop in the bearings.they were destroyed.the swingarm bearings were shot, and the subframe was cracked – on an SRAD it’s a known problem. They crack around the top bolts, because they carry the load.they seize, and if you go at them with a pneumatic wrench it cracks the subframe. So when I took the seat unit off I thought hello, this doesn’t look right.and sure enough, two cracks.when I pushed
“Cosmetically from 50ft it looked lovely. I thought I’d got a good deal. It was a complete mess”
down on the frame, you could see them open up. So I panicked, thinking an SRAD subframe will be rare and expensive. No; ebay, £9 delivered, for a subframe complete with plastics – undertray, etc.amazing.”
Doesn’t sound too grim, replacing that lot. What state was the motor in?
“Not too bad mechanically. I always do valve clearances anyway, and this one needed a couple of shims – but the main reason the whole bike ended up being stripped was because of just one snapped exhaust stud. On number one cylinder, number one bolt, sheared off. So I had the fairing off, dropped the rad – and every bolt was seized, snapped or rounded. I had to drill two of them out, but a couple were seized solid – I tried a blow-torch but they weren’t shifting so I dropped the motor and took it to a local engineering firm who had a blowtorch the size of a Saturnv rocket – they got them out.”
The motor sounds like it’d been through a few winters. Did it need cleaning?
“It was absolutely disgusting,” says Michael. “It took elbow grease, wire wool, Scotch pads,autosol, many Dremmel pads, hours of degreasing.there’s 15 hours in cleaning the engine alone. But it runs well. I dropped the sump and cleaned the sight glass, but it seemed to be a good motor.you can rack up three or four hundred quid on an engine rebuild and gain nothing. If it isn’t broke, do the valve clearances and leave everything else alone.”
Carbs were a different story: “SRAD carbs wear really easily and the fuelling plays up. I think it’s where the constant vacuum wears the float needle valve seats, and the needles wear badly on their own.the first sign is when it won’t start hot.the solution is get the carbs cleaned ultrasonically, then fit a carb rebuild kit.”
With the motor out, and the forks and swingarm out for new bearings, the SRAD was effectively in pieces. But it was like
peeling an onion – every time Michael looked a bit harder, there was another problem. “So I started polishing the frame. It was flatted off – had gone matt. I tried Autosol at first but it polished it up too much and I don’t like mirror frames. In the end I usedwd40 and a kitchen scourer, then finished it withautosol and a soft cloth. It took about 20 hours. Swingarm was the same.actually, this swingarm isn’t the original one – that one had stripped the threads on the chain adjusters, so I bought a used replacement from ebay.”
Michael has kept the original 28,000-mile shock and polished off a previous owner’s black Hammerite finish, then stripped and rebuilt the forks, and dropped the yokes 5mm to sweeten the steering.
Then, using skills honed fettling multiple small-bore howlers over the years, Michael rebuilt the SRAD: “Once you’ve done it once, you’re not frightened to do these things.you know what you’re doing.and the more you do your own work, the less you have to use professionals.”
As a track bike, Michael has made a few odd choices.the SRAD has no battery: “Instead it’s got a battery eliminator – it’s basically a big capacitor,” he says. “It means I can get rid of the battery, which weighs a lot, and just jump start the bike from a car battery.”
Yes, but you now need a car battery to start the bike!and hang on, if this is a track bike, why the headlights?
“When I did my first trackday, I was always looking in my mirrors worrying about people behind me,” Michael says. “So I’ve kept them on the SRAD so that people can see me behind them more easily.”
And with that, it’s out onto the track for
“On a hot track with sticky tyres you could maybe get away with this steering. Not at a chilly Mallory”
the opening laps – Michael is first, warming the bike up for me. He follows the instructor down pitlane, around Gerrards... and the next time I see him and the bike, they’re being pushed across the paddock.the SRAD’S Dream Machine paint is royally scuffed down one side, with grass and dirt hanging from it.the rear brake lever has a snapped tip.what happened?
“I honestly don’t know,” says a stunned Michael. “It’s only tin and plastic, and my bikes are meant to be ridden so it doesn’t matter... but I’ve no idea. I just lost the front in the chicane. It went away so quickly.”
He patches the GSX-R up, drilling and adding a bolt as a new brake lever.we check the Dunlop Qualifier’s pressures: in spec.we check the suspension settings: in spec. So I decide to go for a wobble round as well, to see if I can work out what the problem is.
From the moment Michael’s SRAD rolls down Mallory’s pitlane, it’s clear all is not well. For a start, we hadn’t noticed a tiny span-retainer casting on the front brake lever had snapped off, meaning the lever could pivot outwards beyond finger reach. Never mind, I’m only going slow and as long as I keep my fingers on it...
I also notice the steering is absurdly quick – tipping into Gerrards is like riding on a knife-edge. On a hot track with sticky tyres you could maybe get away with steering this reactive, but on a chilly morning at Mallory it’s like riding on a tightrope.
At Edwina’s chicane, scene of the crash, the GSX-R teeters and topples into the corner and I can fully understand why Michael lost the front.there’s no grip and steering is far too urgent.to cap it off, there’s a flatspot at around 6000rpm and as I drive through Devil’s Elbow with the throttle open, the engine only clears up and starts howling by the time the Suzuki is alongside the pits. It’s got plenty of go in it, but it’s not that easy to get to.
When I get back to Gerrards, I spot a flaw in my plan – I forgot to rest a finger on the lever, and it’s now rotated out of reach. Fortunately, I’m not going fast enough to have a scare so plenty of time to reach out and grab it back into position. But that’s enough track testing: back into the pits, where Michael wants to know what I think might be wrong.
“I think you need to start by pulling the yokes back up the forks, then maybe look at the fork action – it felt like they popped up way too quickly off the brakes,” I say, inspecting the build date of the Dunlops. They’re 2013; four years old. Not ideal, but not responsible.
Then Michael mentions he fitted tapered head bearings instead of ball bearings, and something in the back of my mind flashes a warning. I’d change them too, if I were him.
A few days later Michael phones to say the head bearings were the culprits. He’d nipped them up too tight. “It was a nightmare getting 600 yards down the track and realising something was very wrong,” he said. “And then throwing it up the road too.”
Typically, it’s now perfect.
1 JULY ’16 DEC ’16 – BARE BONES Michael had intended to simply address the GSX-R’S baggy chassis, but once one of cylinder one’s exhaust studs sheared off he decided a total strip was the only way. – HEADERS-UP 7 The full spring-mounted Akrapovic system requires these inserts to slip between cylinder head and downpipes. Without these exhaust gases would be blowin’ in the wind (as Bob would say). JULY ’16 DEC ’16 – COMING INTO PORT The filthy motor was treated to 15 hours of attention and cleaning before being placed back in the frame. Serviced and valve clearances checked it was good to go. 2 – SINKING FEELING Michael threw everything at his GSX-R including the kitchen sink. Do not attempt this at home unless your domestic arrangements are unshakeably solid... 8 AUG ’16 JAN ’16 – BACK IN THE FRAME Reviving the aluminium chassis’ matt factory finish was a job first for Autosol and a soft cloth, then WD40, a kitchen scourer and elbow grease. 3 9 – CROSSED WIRES A simple loom is all that’s required on this track GSX-R. Michael kept the headlamps in place to warn fellow riders of his presence. If only all trackdayers were so courteous to their fellow riders.
OCT ’16 10 JAN ’17 – AGING ROCKER – CARBS ONLY 4 GSX-RS are all about tight, accurate handling so an overhauled rocker and tidied tie-bars help keep the rear end sweet and on-song. SRAD carbs rarely reach 25,000 miles-plus without becoming baggier than a clown’s trousers. An ultrasonic clean plus a fresh set of internals have rolled back the years. NOV ’16 11 FEB ’17 – SEAL THE DEAL 5 – UTTERLY LEGLESS Little do these stripped and rebuilt forks know that their performance is about to be seriously compromised by a suspect fitting of new taper-roller head bearings. GSX-R600 calipers were never that good new, so corrosion only serves to reduce their effectiveness further. New seals please. NOV ’16 FEB ’17 – TAKE A BRAKE 6 – TOTAL SHOCKER Stock shock had 28,000 miles to its name, as well as a grotty coating of black Hammerite. A careful strip and rebuild had it back to its very best. 12 Rear mastercylinder and reservoir parts await the chance to work as one again. Nothing less than spotlessly clean is good enough for Michael’s Suzuki.
Overtight head bearings were the crash culprits Making light of things New loom keeps things simpler, but still provides for working headlights. Michael likes a beaming presence on a trackday, so people can see him coming (if they’re looking, that is).
Neither looking nor feeling very comfortable
Looks a million dollars, rides like slightly less