Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Gsx-r750 Group Test -

The Steamer

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.”


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.

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