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.
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
NOISE, SMELL, HANDLING, POWER; THERE WAS NOTHING NOT TO LIKE.
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.