Stroker of ge­nius

It’s not ev­ery day you get the chance to blitz around Cad­well on an ex-GP bike, let alone one that’s won three GPs and smokes more than Pat Butcher.

Fast Bikes - - CONTENTS -

Ever won­dered what it’s like to take a two-stroke 500cc GP bike round Cad­well? Bruce went to find out.

D o you re­mem­ber the time Kenny Roberts Ju­nior nailed his GP bike around Cad­well? Me nei­ther. That’s be­cause it never hap­pened, and hav­ing re­cently sam­pled the mind-warp­ing re­al­ity of hustling a one-of-a-kind 130kg, 185bhp Grand Prix-win­ning Suzuki RGV500r around Lin­colnshire’s finest set of squig­gles, I can hardly blame him. He’s ob­vi­ously got more sense than me, but when you’re gifted the most tantalising op­por­tu­nity of your rid­ing ca­reer it some­times pays to leave your sense at home. It was a chance to ride a bike so rare, so ex­cit­ing and so unique that I might have for­got­ten to ad­mit our in­sur­ance didn’t cover its £250,000 price tag.

Still, what was the worst I could do on the price­less Suzuki in just five laps? I didn’t have time to mull over such quan­daries too much. The warm­ers were off, the crowded pad­dock was part­ing way, and chief me­chanic Nathan was run­ning me through the bump start­ing pro­ce­dures of this iconic stroker. A stroker! Aside from my first race bike, a Ca­giva Mito 125, my first road bike, a KR-1S, and the odd MX bike along the way, I hadn’t the fog­gi­est about this smok­i­est of breads, es­pe­cially one pur­port­ing such a feath­er­weight mass and fire-breath­ing per­for­mance.

Young as I might have been at the time, the Nineties era of ruth­less 500ccs high­sid­ing their riders was em­bed­ded in my mind and play­ing on re­peat as the RGV burst into life, splut­ter­ing out a gruff note and smoke­screen as I trun­dled off towards the hold­ing area. This was re­ally hap­pen­ing and I felt the jam­mi­est git in the whole of mo­tor­cy­cling. But the pres­sure was in­tense; I was learn­ing on the spot, blip­ping the throt­tle rhyth­mi­cally as the track was cleared of its pre­vi­ous group­ing. I had a mo­ment to think; a chance to look around and take in the sheer beauty of the Suzuki. It was the most el­e­men­tary, yet con­sid­ered piece of mo­tor­cy­cling to ever cross my path. Ev­ery­thing about it was es­sen­tial, con­structed with per­for­mance over pret­ti­ness with ev­ery bolt, bracket and car­bon fi­bre el­e­ment pro­duced for min­i­mal­ist per­fec­tion.

It was a mo­tor­cy­cling mas­ter­piece, rife with mystery and bereft of any tech­no­log­i­cal rider aids. Phys­i­cally, it felt tiny. The seat wasn’t over­whelm­ingly grand, the width of the fair­ings no wider than my shoul­ders at its broad­est. I found my­self sat in it, just like you would an SRAD of the same era, only one that’d been kept well and truly off the pies. There was no feel­ing of weight to the RGV, which vi­brated gen­er­ously with ev­ery blip of its throt­tle, like a caged lion wait­ing to maul the life out of its cap­tor.

That mo­ment even­tu­ally came and I some­how bluffed the carbs into be­liev­ing I knew ex­actly how many revs were needed to get the static Suzuki mov­ing on track. Like learn­ing the way around a lover for the first time, this was new ter­ri­tory and I was ini­tially hes­i­tant to give it the berries un­til I had learned the ba­sics about what to ex­pect.

As ex­pected, there was zero ef­fort re­quired to get the slick-shod beauty flop­ping from side-to-side, but fir­ing the bike from the Hair­pin to Barn wasn’t quite so ef­fort­less. Be­ing ha­bit­u­ally in sec­ond, the strain of the gear choice proved too much for the low revs I had on the cards. A switch to first was very much needed, and that stayed my se­lec­tion un­til let­ting rip on the start straight. That’s when things re­ally started to get fun, as the V4 mo­tor came to life and did its ut­most to launch me on my arse, like an up­per­cut from Ali; the front wheel seemed mag­ne­tised to the sky. Down horsey!

The same thing hap­pened in sec­ond, and third, and it was only when I’d hooked fourth that the vi­va­cious en­gine lost a bit of its edge. What the hell had just hap­pened? In an in­stant the start straight had be­come a dis­tant mem­ory, leav­ing me look­ing down the bar­rel of Cop­pice, with the Suzuki hard on its side, pow­er­ing ea­gerly up the steep as­cent with a com­mit­ment more stead­fast than a pis­shead to a pint. We might have been in the in­fancy of our re­la­tion­ship, but I was al­ready in love. And the punch down the back straight only ce­mented my sen­ti­ment.

The power’s de­liv­ery felt so raw, so tan­gi­ble. I could feel ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on, from the con­sid­ered col­laps­ing of the rear shock to the squirm­ing of the Dun­lop slick as it bit hard into the tar­mac and tried to re­sist the in­evitable slides that came part and par­cel when ask­ing a 185bhp as­sas­sin to un­leash hell. I should think my­self lucky; for longevity’s sake, the owner Steve Wheat­man had edged the bike’s po­tency back from its nor­mal 192bhp. Still, ponies it was not lack­ing… or stop­ping power. It’s not that its four-pot Brem­bos were any­thing ex­cep­tional by to­day’s stan­dards, but when af­fixed to a bike this light, you only had to stare at the


brake lever to get the Suzuki stop­ping like a good ’un. That re­al­ity took some cal­i­brat­ing. The feel was as im­pec­ca­ble as the ini­tial bite, of­fer­ing a con­nec­tion to the lever like none I’d known be­fore. This was a bike that just seemed to keep on giv­ing.

That first lap was be­yond spe­cial, and the sec­ond only got bet­ter. Not even Rossi could reckon to know the ins and outs of a bike after a nerve rack­ing sin­gle cir­cuit, but with ev­ery ro­ta­tion of the wheels the RGV was mak­ing more sense. The learn­ing curve was steeper than Ever­est, but I was well and truly up for the chal­lenge. The big­gest of which was the mas­ter­ing of the mo­tor, which char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally har­nessed a nar­row, ag­gres­sive power band, made all the tougher by its quick ac­tion throt­tle; I was rid­ing a metaphor­i­cal tightrope and lov­ing ev­ery sec­ond of it. Pre­ci­sion was the es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent, from the mo­ment of pitch­ing into a cor­ner to the way you fired back out of it.

The speed of the Suzuki never lost its edge, but its no­tions be­came more pre­dictable, along with the re­lent­less wheelies. My foot was forced to hover over the rear brake like a hawk above its pray, ready to pounce and con­trol things get­ting too way­ward. Even the ag­gres­sive han­dling started to feel more pre­dictable, al­low­ing for later turn in points and more throt­tle mid-cor­ner, as I was able to fight the bike’s mea­gre mass and keep a tight line, de­spite the best ef­forts of physics when adding ac­cel­er­a­tion into the mix. It had its lim­its but here was a bike that thrived on speed, be it on a straight or in a bend. I too had my lim­its… and some­thing of a con­science.

Three laps in the slides started in earnest, at first out of Char­lies Exit and then round Chris Curve. My heart was in my mouth, with my mind pre-emp­tively se­lect­ing that evening’s food choice from the lo­cal hospi­tal’s bed­side menu. I wasn’t try­ing to be cocky, I was just be­ing greedy. And naive. Horse­power’s one thing, but when you con­dense it down into such a nar­row zone, it be­comes more lethal than a scrap with a bear.

Steve had kindly gifted me this once in a life­time chance, to ride his one-of-a-kind Suzuki; hand­ing it back to him in pieces just wasn’t an op­tion. The last few cir­cuits were done with trep­i­da­tion and re­spect, grace­fully ab­sorb­ing the ut­ter bril­liance of the stroker. Short as it had been, those five laps rev­o­lu­tionised my life, re­defin­ing the cir­cuit in a way not even the lat­est, great­est su­per­bike had man­aged. The noise, the smell, the han­dling, the power; there was noth­ing not to like, and no other bike felt com­pa­ra­ble. Peo­ple dream of win­ning the lot­tery, but cash alone doesn’t guar­an­tee this kind of an­tic. It was price­less; a real ed­u­ca­tion; a chance to grasp why Mo­toGP doesn’t race at Cad­well.

‘When was the last time you got it MOT’d?’

The kneeslid­ers breathed a sigh of re­lief. Again.

Out of its cage...

Kenny Roberts show­ing how his bike should be rid­den.

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