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 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 mo­ 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 the­tu­ally, 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 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.

The Ride

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 ur­ 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

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