Monster trucks still a blast for distance. Corners (for the GSX) a little less good
Suzuki’s GSX1100EF and Yamaha’s FJ1100 once marked the mid-’80s boundary between big, long behemoths and lighter, more nimble creatures – but today, they both make (very) substantial sports tourers
“Towering grunt the flick of a wrist away – a welcome reminder of how lazily testicular big-bore engines used to be”
BIT HARSH of Jim, really. “Whales...” he says. He’s the editor and they’re big old bikes for sure, but we shouldn’t prejudge the FJ11 and GSX11 just yet.we haven’t even ridden them. “...the roads and scenery will be perfect.” Ah –Wales! Good idea. Just over 100 miles of motorway to get there and a 200-mile loop around finestwelsh pointy bits sounds like a fine way to explore the sports touring capabilities of Suzuki’s GSX1100EF and Yamaha’s FJ1100.
And so it is my co-rider Jimmy and I come to be propelled along the delights of the early-morning M6, dodging overtaking artics and undertaking dawdling white vans. Both bikes purr at 5500rpm and around 90mph in top (fifth gear), with what feels like equivalent towering grunt the flick of wrist away, and generating booming, traffic-busting stomp from their big-bore, air-cooled inline fours. It’s a welcome reminder of how lazily testicular big-bore engines used to be before the Big Four went down the short stroke/ peak power/sky-high rpm development route – there’s no hanging around waiting for a highly-strung motor to scale a vertical wall of revs; the GSX and FJ simply stand and deliver when you slap the throttles open.
I’m tonking along, taking the first stint on the FJ1100.AND what a classic motor – developed from (but sharing nothing with) its predecessor, the underrated two-valve shaftie XS1100, the FJ landed in 1984 alongside Kawasaki’s GPZ900R and together the pair heralded a trouser-staining new era of sportsbikes. It was a cracking good time to be a motorcyclist; one day the topyamaha was an ill-handling, naked bus, next day it’s a sleek, sporty, half-faired superbike rearranging the nation’s performance terrain. Unlike Kwak’s GPZ, the FJ remained staunchly air-cooled – but the rest of its spec was horsepower heaven: 16-valve, bucket and shim valvetrain for reduced moving mass, holes bored between cylinders to reduce pumping losses (as every GSX-R has seemed to claim as Suzuki’s idea), and alternator behind the block to minimise engine width – resulting in a claimed 125bhp (measured at a more realistic 116bhp) and a 150mph top speed.that was some 25bhp – or a third – more than the XS1100 delivered.
Meanwhile the chassis was advanced too – a steel box-tube perimeter frame (with a ‘Lateral Frame Concept’ decal on the fairing) cradled the motor, rather than having the overgrown bicycle frame most big bikes used to that point.the bracing around the FJ’S headstock was complex and substantial, and unusual in that the frame spars triangulated in front of the steering stem; the headstock was effectively suspended between them in a lattice of tubing – like early Bimotas.
The FJ’S running gear was top deck too: 41mm forks with preload and damping screws living under caps on the forks, and three-way anti-dive on each leg – the beefiest and most adjustable forks in production. Yamaha’s rising rate Monoshock also came with substantial preload and damping adjustment, brakes were big 280mm discs
on the clocks, but wears them well with maintained, but unrestored, pride.the bodywork still has a deep lustre, and the engine’s deep black fins are as menacing as ever.andy has added plenty of touring, and few cosmetic, enhancements: a satnav, USB socket, heated grips, engine bars, stepped comfort seat, LED headlights, Motad N-eta system and a Giviwingrack are practical considerations.the polished fork sliders are purely for looks, but not my cup of tea. “I love them!” says Jimmy, wondering out loud if he can get hisvfr800 forks done.
But boy, how the FJ11 rides.the motor is the core of the performance, doling out a smooth, sensual rush of torque from so close to tickover you wonder if the engine’s actually a massive elastic band.there are no steps in the delivery; the carburation is perfectly crisp, the immaculate connection between what your brain wants and the motor supplies is entirely intimate. Drive is so linear and effortless the FJ puts on speed with deceptive rapidity – it never feels dramatic, right up to the point you glance down at the speedo and clock triple figures.this thing can truly shift.
And deploying all that shove is easy too – the FJ is a 30-year-old bike that handles pretty close to its original design brief. Steering is light and neutral, weight is balanced front to rear and suspension still has plenty of damping; theyam rolls confidently through bends with none of the laborious countersteer required on many older, big bikes (I’m looking at you, Suzuki GSX1100EF). Brakes have plenty of stoppage time in them – but only once we’ve bedded-in what we assume to be new pads. Watching Jimmy skate the FJ sideways into a roundabout, leaving a smoking black line from theyam’s rear Bridgestone BT45 is highly entertaining – for me.
“Everything about the bike is reassuring, smooth and plush,” he says. “Throttle nice and light – so I thought the brakes would work.that woke me up!”
Over a Costa, we discuss where the FJ1100 fits in the scheme of things. “What’s a good FJ cost?” asks Jimmy, interested in buying one. I’ve seen low mileage minters at nearly £5k asking, and properly grotty examples on ebay for less than £1500. But there aren’t a huge number of rivals for a large capacity, carburetted, inline four sports tourer.the CBR1000, early Blackbird, Kawasaki ZX-10B and ZZ-R11...
“Or maybe the GSX1100EF,” says Jimmy, motioning to the Suzuki parked outside.
The Suzuki is slightly odd for several reasons. First, this is a 1986 GSX1100 EFG – the last of the air-cooled GSX line – with 39,500 miles on its bores. So in both those senses, the Suzuki is a younger bike than the FJ11. But it’s a whole generation behind the 1984Yamaha in design and development.
The Suzuki is born from and last in a long line of confusing models, kicked off by the GS1000 in 1977. Suzuki were the slowest of the Japanese factories to build a 1000cc engine, but the thou was based on a bored and stroked GS750 – a development process that would come to characterise later GSX-R models.the base GS spawned many variants – the E,S, L and G. By 1980 it grew in capacity and valve area to become the 1074cc, 16v GSX1100 – again, in naked ET
“The GSX is enormous. If you threw it at the scenery, the scenery would lose”
and EX form, as the half-faired ES, the Katana-styled naked EZ, the Katana S models, the naked ED... hard to follow.
By 1984 the writing was on the wall for the big, air-cooled inline four – with development of the first GSX-R1100 underway for over two years, Suzuki just needed to squeeze a few more units from the GSX before the R took over – so a 2mm overbore took capacity to 1135cc, and a new square section steel frame, monoshock rear end, 16-inch front and 17-inch rear wheel sizes and styling overhaul gave the GSX a few more years.as before, there was a naked E, half-faired ES and this bike, the fully-faired EF.
The end-of-development-line status means the GSX1100 is, still, fundamentally, a giant, motorised pushbike.the massive motor makes no excuses for being a wide, heavy lump, with alternator and ignition on the crank ends. But with the top rails of the frame running over the engine, bicycle style, rather than around it as the FJ1100’S does, the Suzuki’s big fuel tank lifts the bike’s centre of gravity.added to its ocean liner wheelbase and raked out steering – all to accommodate that gigantic engine – and the Suzuki has an over-compromised geometry and weight balance. It makes the bike super-sensitive to handling deficiencies; tyre pressure and wear, suspension settings and maintenance, and frame trueness and wheel alignment matter a lot more than they would on a bike with a more forgiving set-up.
This is important because the GSX1100EF is absolutely enormous. If you threw it at the scenery, the scenery would lose; the 1100
would put a sizeable dent in any mountain. You wouldn’t want that to happen.
But, right from the off, it’s a very real possibility because there’s clearly something amiss with the Suzook. Lots of unrestored, slightly tired bikes wobble a bit at various speeds – but it takes no time at all to discover the GSX goes into a full-scale egg-beater, ’bars waggling from lock-to-lock, if we take one hand off the ’bars for a second.
It makes flipping up visors, waving at Jimmy and generally resting one arm on the tank a bit tricky. Ploughing a furrow through Bala inwales, a moment’s forgetfulness as I sit up slowing into town generates a steering wobble nasty enough for a farmer in his Land Rover to flash his lights and lean on his horn. Not sure how he was helping there.
The GSX is less than keen on going around corners, too; it takes a big effort to lean on the ’bars and make it steer. It feels just like underinflated tyres.we stop at a garage and check.the Suzuki’s Bridgestone BT45S – same hoops that serve perfectly well on the Yamaha – are indeed a bit flat.
Ah.with a more sensible high 30s psi in them, the Suzuki’s steering woes are diminished, but the wobble is just as bad.and a serious front end vibration at around 80mph hammers through the forks too – enough to make me wonder if the caliper bolts won’t shake out.and there’s one more issue, before we get to the good stuff – the GSX has a growing misfire.at the start of the ride it was just off tickover, clearing its throat at around 3000rpm. But now, halfway round Wales, the misfire has crept up to 5000rpm, and keeping the Suzuki running at low speeds requires lots of re-starting the engine. Which kills the battery. Blimey.
“It’s hilarious!” exclaims Jimmy. Is he mad? “No, you’ve just got to man it around,” he says. “I mean, it would be nice if it was lighter and steered better, but you get the feeling it is what it is. Even if the chassis was tip top, I bet it wouldn’t feel much different.” They’re all like that sir. On the plus side, when the Suzuki’s motor is on the boil, it’s a lovely, grinding, barging thing, growling and grunting with surprising vigour. No wonder they used them in so many drag bikes and high-powered specials with trick frames – and you could ditch the chassis, that way.the GSX isn’t as smooth as theyamaha – there’s a rough patch at cruising revs – but it’s charismatic and memorable.
And, weirdly, the Suzuki isn’t half bad looking either.at first Jimmy doesn’t get it – “That fairing looks like it’s an aftermarket item, on skewwhiff,” – but park the GSX on a hill (if you can get the sidestand down – you have to tip the bike over its opposite balance point to fold it out), then retire 20 paces and look again.the gleamingvance & Hines headers, melting gently into the belly pan’s plastics, and big single headlamp have an almostart Deco/blake’s 7 quality. The ’80s sci-fi theme continues with tail light and
clocks – the GSX even has a digital gear indicator, which is the last thing it needs.
We stop for more fuel – the Suzuki is drinking more than theyam, taking the 20 litre tank to reserve after 125 miles. It then swallows 15 litres, so there’s plenty spare – but the fuel consumption works out at 39mpg.the FJ is sipping unleaded from its 24.5 litre tank (that’s massive!) at 46mpg; good for well over 200 miles.
But the full range is no problem on the GSX; it’s comfy, even if it can’t match the Yamaha’s level of nice.the Suzuki’s steep clip-ons take a moment’s giggling to get over, but there’s a lot .
As we wrap up the day’s ride and head for a night’s stop over in Llannneardowell, Jimmy pilots the GSX along a typicalwelsh back road.the Suzuki leaps and wobbles, and even needs a three point turn when we miss a side road. He’s clearly enjoying himself. Meanwhile the FJ gets on with the job, calmly and efficiently. No mountains were harmed in the making of this story.
Thanks to:andyames for the FJ1100 and Steve Smith for the GSX1100EF.TOP men.
“A steering wobble nasty enough for a farmer to flash his lights and lean on his horn”
You’d better pick the right line on the GSX because it hates change
Yes, it’s mountain excitement for our two highly skilled testers
Big bikes were actually BIG when these ruled
GSX engine has the edge
Turn you brute! GSX hairpin fun
Pleasant valley timewarp, and they both look great
Yamaha has class, Suzuki has style (and lots of it)
When anti-dive was all the rage