SUZUKI GSX-R 750WS
Searching for an easier ride? “You won’t find it on thews!” shouts Jimmy, above the heated burble of the water-cooled GSX-R as we pull up for a break before swapping bikes. Mechanically
quieter than the Slabbie, the Steamer’s motor is essentially the same design under its newer skin; the same bore and stroke as the 750F (a brief, short-stroke flirt with the J and K Slingshots of 1988 and 1989 came to nought; no less than Kevin Schwantz told me what he thought of the Slingshot at the time: “I said Suzuki, man, these things have no midrange. Gimme my midrange back!”).
And although the subsequent 10 years saw detail changes – bigger carbs, bigger valves, narrowing valve angles, improved port design and piston technology, plus the water jacket – thews’s peak power was only a claimed 116bhp; around 105bhp at the wheel.and that power was being asked to propel significantly more heft: although thews was lighter than its immediate predecessors, it was still a 199kg chunker. And with a full 18-litre tank, it’s even weightier. In fact, earlier in the morning as we pushed thews from the garage, we’d checked the pressures in its Michelin Pilot Power front and Pilot Road rear because the steering felt so heavy – turns out they’re all like that, sir, thanks to the oe steering damper added to help tame slappers.
So here we are now, taking a break from riding and finally sipping a very welcome and much-needed hot tea in the chilly air. The Steamer (is that really its nickname?) is on tickover, thawing out a row of gloves on its standard can. “Was it ever actually called a Steamer?” I ask Pete. He assures me it was; must be a weird Cornish thing. A man drives past and shouts something unintelligible at us. “That’s the bloke I was telling you about in the pub last night,’ says Pete. “The one who goes round collecting road kill to cook up and eat.”
Looking at the three generations of GSX-R lined up, it occurs to us the 10 years between the Slabbie and the Steamer are really the blink of an eye for what looks, on the surface, like a staggering rate of change. But it didn’t feel that at the time: Pete, Jimmy and I remember how in 1992, when Suzuki deviated from the air/oil-cooled design and switched to water-cooling, the clamour for a new design of GSX-R750 was already growing. In 1985 the Slabbie was up against only Yamaha’s FZ750, by 1992 the Suzuki was faced with the Fireblade, and in 1993 the YZF750 and ZXR750L1 joined in. So by 1995 the GSX-R was definitively over the hill.and it was unfashionable.
“That was what it was like back then,” says Pete. “The sportsbike culture of the day demanded only faster, sharper, more power; and if it wasn’t up to date, it was rubbish.”
“SCHWANTZ SAID TO SUZUKI: ‘MAN THESE THINGS HAVE NO MIDRANGE. GIMME MY MIDRANGE BACK’”
Of course, we’re all much more enlightened than that now, aren’t we?
THEWS was hampered by being tied to what we now know was a 10 year life cycle; a fundamental design issue in the first bike would still be present a decade later. So yes, thews has a beefier frame, wider wheels for better rubber, better six-pot brakes, upside down forks and fully adjustable suspension compared to the F – but the frame is still basically a copy of the XR69’S steel cradle, itself based on a cruder 1970’s understanding of the relationship between a chassis and an engine.
And that’s the thing that stops the WS’S ride dynamic feeling 10 years more advanced than the 750F’s – the relationship between the frame and suspension.the motor sits upright, forcing it to breathe through a convoluted, non-downdraught route with the airbox sitting behind the tank and limiting power.all the while the petrol sloshes about on top of the motor in the wrong place for the kind of handling the new suspension and better tyre technology is permitting.
The baffling thing about the 750’s cradle frame is why Suzuki didn’t use a beam frame from the start; they knew how to make one. 1986’s GSX-R400 switched to an aluminium beam frame).there’s a reason Jameswhitham had a distinctive neckcraning riding style; it was developed trying to haul big, reluctant GSX-RS round corners.
One of the few cards Suzuki had left to play with the later GSX-R750S was to get funky with their graphics – and they certainly did that.thisws is a tidy 44,000-miler up at £3499 from North Cornwall Motorcycles (who stock an eclectic range of 1980s and 1990s classics; worth a look if you fancy something special). It’s not a familiar colour scheme – Pete, who knows the history of this bike, says the reason is it’s a 1995 model registered as a 1997 machine – because it took two years to get the thing off the showroom floor.
But today the colours are shy and retiring compared to, say, a pink and grey 1994W-R. And, as the sun does its best to struggle through the freezing fug hanging over the moor, thews develops a low, squat, powerful presence; so low, I have a quick look to see how far off the rear preload is wound – to counter its top heavy weight balance, Suzuki built such a huge range of adjustment into the GSX-R’S suspension it’s possible to set it up to handle like a complete barge.
Thankfully, thisws doesn’t, although it’s distinctly weightier than the Slabbie and, as Jimmy says, still requires a degree of contortion to get on and in place. “Short legs, long arms – it’s the same riding position as the F,” he says as I admire the WS’S clocks. “It’s so much longer and wider than the Slabbie.there’s more of it; but the tank sticks out into your stomach and you can’t hug it with your knees to steer it.and it really needs help with its steering!”
Even with fully inflated Michelins, thews feels on the unwieldy side of sporty at low speed, needing a proper lug to get it to turn.
But as soon as velocity increases – not a chore, tweaking the throttle and letting the flexible inline four growl as revs rise – the WS sharpens up considerably, shaking off weight like a bear drying its coat, and then getting on with the job of bending the laws of physics.
The motor has a similar amount of poke as the Slabbie up to around 7000rpm, but then the younger bike piles on the revs and keeps churning out power where the older bike is tailing off. On its stock pipe thews hasn’t the fruity howl of the Slabbie – come to think of it, switching it for an aftermarket can would save a fair few kilos.
“But thews has a solidity the Slabbie hasn’t,” points out Jimmy. “The old bike feels like it could snap itself in half; this one feels almost like a sports touring GSX-R750.”
A sports touring GSX-R750 just doesn’t sound right – a thought that perfectly tees up the loopy 1996 GSX-R750 SRAD.