Steve Cooper rides a learner-le­gal clas­sic!

Scoop rides a bike he al­most bought and comes away smil­ing: Suzuki’s GT250 Ram Air…

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS - WORDS: STEVE COOPER PHO­TOS: GARY CHAP­MAN

It’s mid-1973 and I’m about to sign away my wages for the next few years on a hire pur­chase agree­ment buy­ing my first proper mo­tor­cy­cle. Sit­ting in the win­dows at Clarks of St Al­bans ei­ther side of the en­trance door are a Yamaha RD200 and a Suzuki GT250K. My heart is set on the orange RD but my dad, who will act as guar­an­tor for the HP, takes a shine to the GT. “Are you sure boy?” he asks, “the Suzuki looks like a more sub­stan­tial ma­chine!” My mind is made up: I’ve read a re­port by our own John Nut­ting rav­ing about the Yamaha and I’ve also con­vinced my­self that the Suzuki with its blue pin strip­ing looks naff. Such are the il­log­i­cal prej­u­dices of im­pres­sion­able teenagers. De­spite its smaller en­gine the RD200 is pur­chased and my life from there on be­comes ir­ra­tionally fo­cused on the tun­ing fork brand. Yet my choice doesn’t re­flect that of the rest of the 1970s L-plate mob. By 1976-1977 the Suzuki GT250 had be­come the most pop­u­lar/best-sell­ing learner ma­chine in the UK bar none. So just what was it that made the GT250 so damn preva­lent? What did they have that the oth­ers ap­par­ently lacked? Was the old man right af­ter all? Four and a bit decades on and I’m about to find out as I’m pre­sented with the keys to an ex­tremely tidy GT250K in that very same colour scheme.

You rarely see early ex­am­ples of Suzuki’s ul­ti­mate 70s learner le­gal stro­ker, with just the oc­ca­sional ex­am­ple dis­played at a show, so this is a rare event. Our base for the day is car park near the top of the Black Moun­tains in South Wales which is a nat­u­ral stop­ping point for many rid­ers of mod­ern ma­chin­ery. Even half a cen­tury on there’s ob­vi­ously some­thing in­cred­i­bly charis­matic about the ma­chine, judg­ing by the heads this bike is turn­ing… Unar­guably the bike has a cer­tain pres­ence to it and ap­pears to be big­ger than it ac­tu­ally is. Only when you throw a leg over that strangely pat­terned sad­dle does it ac­tu­ally come across as a 250 and not a 500. Whether this was by de­sign or hap­pen­stance we’ll never know but it was a de­sign ploy lat­terly em­ployed by Honda when they launched the Su­per­dream. Make a 250 look larger than it is and folk are im­me­di­ately im­pressed by it. Acres of Candy Red Paint on the tank add to the al­lure coun­ter­pointed by white and that cu­ri­ous pale blue pin­stripe; yes this is def­i­nitely a child of the 70s! And that glo­ri­ous red car­ries on to the head­lamp and brack­ets where it’s con­trasted per­fectly by the satin black of the top yoke and an im­pos­ing clus­ter of gauges set in a moulded black plas­tic hous­ing. Else­where there’s the oblig­a­tory acres of dec­o­ra­tive chrome plat­ing and buffed up al­loy that so de­fines the pe­riod. Faux air in­lets grace the red side-pan­els which un­nec­es­sar­ily leave you in no doubt what­so­ever what model you’re look­ing at even if the throng gath­ered around the GT in­sist on

“Even half a cen­tury on, there’s some­thing in­cred­i­bly charis­matic about the ma­chine, judg­ing by the heads this bike is turn­ing: it has real pres­ence. And only when you throw a leg over that unique sad­dle do you re­alise this is just a 250 and not a full-blown 500...”

rem­i­nisc­ing about an iden­ti­cal Suzuki Hustler their older brother used to own back in the day! Iden­tity is­sues aside, it’s a huge com­pli­ment to Suzuki’s 70s stylists that rid­ers of to­day are im­me­di­ately taken by the bike’s rak­ish good looks. And if there’s just one facet of the GT250 that gets sin­gled out for com­ment then it has to be the Ram Air cylin­der head cowl­ing. Even to­day it’s a de­vice that con­tin­ues to split opin­ion among clas­sic en­thu­si­asts. Suzuki ar­gued that by con­cen­trat­ing air flow over the cylin­der head via a ta­per­ing fun­nel ex­cess heat was swiftly re­moved from the en­gine. Whether the cowl­ing had any real ap­pre­cia­ble ben­e­fit at nor­mal road speeds is gen­uinely up for de­bate but in all like­li­hood it seems im­prob­a­ble. Rather like in­stalling pres­surised air-boxes on mod­ern sports bikes the ad­van­tages are more the­o­ret­i­cal rather than ac­tual. The very fact that Suzuki dropped the con­cept from 1976 on­wards sug­gests the de­vice was more af­fec­ta­tion than ef­fec­tual even if from that self-same GT250A on­wards the ver­ti­cal cylin­der head fins aped the pro­file of the con­tro­ver­sial cowl­ing. Yet what­ever its virtues the Ram Air sys­tem gave own­ers brag­ging rights that the likes of Yamaha RD and Kawasaki S own­ers could only aspire to. So with the cos­met­ics and add-ons cov­ered we’ll get onto the rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. First off there’s that ever preva­lent feel­ing of the GT be­ing a phys­i­cally larger bike than it ac­tu­ally is. The high­ish rear­ward an­gled han­dle­bars only ex­ac­er­bates this im­pres­sion and this is fur­ther re­in­forced by that in­stru­ment bin­na­cle which seems to im­ply ‘big bike’ po­ten­tial. And talk­ing of which why did Suzuki ran­domly scat­ter the id­iot lights around the dash? Why not ei­ther drop all three into the tacho or build a tier of them be­tween the di­als as per Kawasaki please? Start­ing the GT is pretty much a stan­dard af­fair akin to any other 70s stro­ker apart from the lo­ca­tion of the kick-start lever which is on the left. Doubt­less a foible of the bike’s ances­try it’s some­thing that you ei­ther get on with or learn to work around. Some folk can’t kick with their left foot sit­ting astride the bike so are obliged to stand to the side which can feel equally cack-handed. For­tu­nately as a se­rial MZ owner and long term T500 rider I’m not fazed by the set-up; choke lever down, ig­ni­tion on, leave the throt­tle alone and kick. No need to turn on the petrol as the GT has a vac­uum op­er­ated fuel tap, one more brag­ging right etc. Ev­ery­thing so far feels and is pretty much par for the course but what I’m not ex­pect­ing is what hap­pens next. The mo­tor catches al­most in­stantly and, hell’s teeth, there’s a lot of noise oc­cur­ring! Not bore-killing pis­ton-slap, life-lim­it­ing big-end clat­ter or main-bear­ing death rat­tle just… well, en­gine noise. For rea­sons com­pletely un­fath­omable the GT250 just seems loud. There are anti-fin ring­ing cast­ings in three sites on the bar­rels so it’s def­i­nitely not that. So could it sim­ply be that the Ram Air cowl is am­pli­fy­ing the mo­tor’s

nat­u­ral notes and tones? What’s not in doubt is the rasp of those seamed ex­hausts, although the le­gal side of loud there’s lit­tle doubt about the bike’s in­tended pur­pose… fun. Into gear with the clutch out and we’re away, flick­ing through some of the best bends and gra­di­ents this side of the Alps. There’s un­ques­tion­ably a gear for ev­ery oc­ca­sion with six ra­tios in hand even if top is more of an over­drive. Changes are slick swift and smooth; giv­ing the mo­tor some beans re­sults in those si­lencers emit­ting a de­li­cious scream which echoes nicely off the Welsh hill­sides. As I be­come more ac­cus­tomed to the bike I be­gin to feel more com­fort­able with it yet it has, for me at least, a strange rid­ing po­si­tion. Ini­tially I’m puz­zling as to what feels dif­fer­ent and then the penny drops; it’s the po­si­tion­ing of the foot-pegs. They and their mount­ing points are sit­u­ated above the tops of the si­lencers which in turn lifts my knees up higher than I’m ac­cus­tomed to. Many sim­i­lar bikes of the pe­riod mounted their foot pegs un­der the en­gine then ran them up and out­board of the si­lencers via U-shaped brack­ets. Such an ar­range­ment makes for po­ten­tially poorer ground clear­ance yet, ar­guably, a more con­ven­tional rid­ing po­si­tion. Suzuki’s orig­i­nal sports 250 twin, the T20 Su­per Six didn’t have the high mounted pegs but it would ap­pear it was a fea­ture of the later T250 from which the GT was de­vel­oped. The set-up means the rider’s knees are higher than on, say, an RD250, CB250 or S1. In real­ity it’s prob­a­bly only an inch or so but ini­tially it just feels odd. This in turn, along with those han­dle­bars, gives a dis­tinc­tive im­pres­sion of sit­ting on top of the bike rather than be­ing an in­te­gral part of it. It’s nei­ther right nor wrong yet it is, with­out ques­tion, pro­foundly dif­fer­ent from its peers in this one as­pect and that, per­haps, was part of the GT250’S mys­tique and thereby its sales suc­cess. Once the old grey mat­ter is suit­ably re­pro­grammed we’re back to busi­ness as nor­mal and get­ting down to the task of en­joy­ing some­one else’s bike. The Suzuki han­dles smoothly and pre­dictably with no no­tice­able foibles. It’s on a par with the Kawasaki S1, sig­nif­i­cantly spright­lier than Honda’s CB250K se­ries and not too far be­hind Yamaha’s RD250. What does im­press are the brakes. The front caliper does a fine job and of­fers a good de­gree or feel which prob­a­bly comes in part from the new rub­ber brake hoses and pads fit­ted dur­ing the ma­chine’s re­birth. I’m not nor­mally a lover of cable op­er­ated rear drums but I have to go on record stat­ing that the rear brake, on this GT250 at least, of­fers much more feed­back than I was ex­pect­ing. Sus­pen­sion wise the bike is of the pe­riod and no bet­ter or worse than its two-stroke peers but here’s the twist. The Suzuki GT250 both sounds and feels faster than its ri­vals. The sounds com­ing up from the en­gine and the edgy, al­most ag­gres­sive, ex­haust note com­bine to­gether giv­ing the rider an au­di­ble im­pres­sion of en­hanced rapid progress. Fac­tor in that slightly un­ortho­dox rid­ing po­si­tion which seems to con­vey a sporty edge that isn’t re­ally there and I can gen­uinely see why the GT250 se­ries was such a suc­cess. With min­i­mal changes Suzuki got seven full model years out of the GT250 which is good go­ing by any­one’s stan­dards. Now un­der­stand that the bike was ef­fec­tively a re­work­ing of the pre­vi­ous T250 Hustler model and you can see just how right the de­sign was way back in 1969. With a pedi­gree that long is it any won­der the GT250 was so com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful? Me? Oh I’m far too set in my ways to leave the tun­ing fork brand but I see what my old dad meant about the GT250K. Par­ents eh? How come they know so much?

Top-end en­gine ar­chi­tec­ture gave the bike its name...

Crys­tal clear and very much ‘of the time’.

There’s just a ‘sub­stan­tial’ feel­ing with the GT...

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