GSX-R; A History. Part Two

/ February 25, 2013
GSX-R1000 K5 Tech5-1

2013 sees the introduction of 1,985 special edition GSX-R1000s, worldwide, made to celebrate the production of (now over) one million GSX-Rs since, you guessed it, 1985. With the passing of such an important and impressive milestone, we decided it was time for another nostalgic look through the archives, and here we chart the history of the most recognised brand of sportsbikes, possibly motorcycles, ever, from the concept that started it all, the GSX-R1100, air-cooled to water-cooled, the introductions of the GSX-R600 and GSX-R1000, and the countless racing titles. We pick up where part one left off.

2001 and the first GSX-R1000 arrived, ready to pick up the mantle dropped by the outgoing GSX-R1100 and establish a new breed of big capacity superbikes.

Even though World Superbike regulations changed, the design brief, ‘to own the racetrack,’ was the same, and journalist Jim Yeardly wrote after the first GSX-R1000’s launch at Road Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, “I reckon they’ve succeeded.”

Despite the increase in capacity over the GSX-R750, pistons were 3g lighter due to a dished crown instead of a raised one, the new exhaust system was made from titanium, aluminium and stainless steel, and fitted with an exhaust valve system that modified the system according the current engine performance, and the whole package was only 4kg heavier than the GSX-R750.

The three-pronged attack on the road and racing scene was set for the GSX-R range. Racing regulations determined that the GSX-R600 and GSX-R1000 qualified for supersport and superbike classes, while the GSX-R750 continued in the range too, while 750cc machines from other manufacturers fell by the wayside. Even so, as recently as 2012 the GSX-R750 was been again praised as the “thinking man’s sportsbike” by Bike Magazine.

All three models saw refinements rather than radical overhauls in the coming years, as evolution was favoured over revolution. Tweaks and alterations made sure the range moved forward, but the first big one came in 2005 for the GSX-R1000.

While the 750 and 600 went unchanged in the middle of the decade, the GSX-R1000 K5 reasserted itself at the top of the sportsbike pile. So popular was it, that it’s still a renowned model today. It immediately went out and won the World Superbike Championship in the hands of Troy Corser, and in the AMA Matt Mladin took another title win for Yoshimura Suzuki, before Ben Spies won three titles on the bounce for the same team.

It benefitted from a new frame and modified swingarm, while rake and trail increased and the wheelbase was made shorter by 5mm. New brake discs and a radial master cylinder increased the stopping power, while the redline was raised by 1000rpm with lighter pistons and titanium valves. It became a hit with the press and customers alike; fast and focused on the track, yet somehow elegant and well mannered on the road.

MCN’s Michael Neeves wrote in his launch report, “Riding this GSX-R1000 is still the raw, electrifying, trouser-tightening experience it ever was. It’s just that, in Suzuki’s search for more power and better handling, they’ve made a road-going superbike that’s so easy to ride.” He went on, saying, “The GSX-R1000 always had low and midrange stomp to shame its revvier rivals, but its now even more impressive. On 20 years of the GSX-R, Suzuki has shown that you can have your birthday cake and eat it.” It was also the winner of Bike Magazine’s group test, before it went on to take the best of the best crown a year later, when the winners of all the magazine’s group tests went head to head.

For 2006, Suzuki poured more MotoGP technologies into the GSX-R750 and GSX-R600 in possibly the biggest shake up to the models since the 1996 and 1997 machines. The bike was made to feel lower, with a lower centre of gravity. The bore and stroke also returned to dimensions of the 1985 model, making it a more road-friendly bike in the bottom end and midrange, but advances in technology and knowhow meant it still revved faster and higher than it ever had done. The GSX-R600 got the same treatment, and sold 1,970 units in the UK.

2007 saw the introduction of Suzuki’s Drive Mode Selector, as the GSX-R1000 underwent more changes. The new handlebar switch, now standard on all GSX-Rs and the Hayabusa, gave the rider a choice of three power delivery modes. Mode A gave full-on engine mapping, while B and C made it progressively softer. It also benefitted from a new frame to aid in mid-corner feedback. And during the bike’s launch at a national dealer open day, Max Biaggi won the opening round of the World Superbike season, with the race streamed live in everyday dealership.

The GSX-R1000 and GSX-R750 remained unchanged in 2008, with focus and updates aimed squarely at making the GSX-R600 an even better road and track tool. It became, according to Bike Magazine, “The understated choice of a holistic, road riding 600 pilot.” The 600 benefited from a new exhaust and better crankcase ventilation, which boosted bhp, and improved fuel injection. The suspension was revised too, along with the brakes and a set of lighter wheels.

The K9 and L0 GSX-R1000s marked the turn of the decade, and they moved the GSX-R1000 on again. Like the changes to the 600 the year previously, the 1000 found itself benefitting from an entirely new engine, chassis, suspension and brakes. Being a 1000cc sports bike, the changes were all developed on the race track. But what it still retained was its road bike manners. As Bike Magazine claimed, “it has the most legroom, the plushest seat and the most effective screen in its class.” Traits that the GSX-R1000 has carried with it since.

The current GSX-R600 and GSX-R750s, which were launched in 2011, moved the supersport market even further forward, with the GSX-R600 winning MCN’s middleweight sportbike of the year award in both 2011 and 2012. MCN’s Michael Neeves, who attended the launch of the GSX-R600 at the Almeria circuit in Spain, gave it five stars out of five in his verdict, and after just a few warm up laps noted, “GSX-R traits are immediately clear: the throttle response is flawless, the gearbox and clutch are smooth and the ride quality is nice and plush.” But after lighting it up and pushing on, he also describes how “the Brembos bite hard and confidently, while the forks offer a pleasing amount of resistance as they dive. They give you an overwhelming sense of feel through the bars and into your hands.”

Changes to the latest GSX-R600 included new Brembo monobloc calipers and Showa Big Piston front forks, and a newly designed aluminum-alloy, twin-spar frame which featured a lightweight and shorter-wheelbase design. The bike got a 9kg weight reduction over the old model, achieved by Suzuki engineers reviewing and optimising the rigidity balance of each and every piece of the machine. More MotoGP technology was also thrown at the GSX-R600, which reduced internal mechanical losses and resulted in stronger acceleration and low to midrange torque. Neeves went on in his launch report, “Thanks to Suzuki’s lack of weight and the engine’s new found extra flexibility and willingness to rev, the new GSX-R has an impressive amount of punch out of the corners for a 600.”

The GSX-R750 was launched a few months after the 600 with similar updates. MCN’s Michael Neeves was again on the launch, describing it as “the perfect sportsbike for the likes of you and me and, if you’re honest with yourself, as fast as a 1000 in the real world. It’s tremendous fun, manageable and lets you feel like you’re riding it, not it you.” Martin Fitz-Gibbons was also on the launch for Bike Magazine, saying in his verdict, “the GSX-R750 still represents the perfect compromise.”

Of the current line up, the latest updates came to the GSX-R1000 in 2012, when it received similar updates to those the 600 and 750 benefitted from the year before. It was launched in Miami at the Homestead Raceway. And in the same year worldwide production of GSX-R topped one million units.

On the racetrack the GSX-R has amassed numerous world and domestic titles. On the World Endurance stage, the GSX-R amassed nine titles in 11 years, and in 2012, the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team notched world championship number 12. On the domestic scene, the GSX-R took 41 national titles in 11 years. In the AMA, Matt Mladin won three Superbike titles back to back on GSX-Rs between 1999 and 2001, before winning another three between 2003 and 2005. He won another in 2009, after Ben Spies won three titles between 2006 and 2008. And in 2008, the GSX-R1000 filled all three podium spots in the Superbike TT.

And recently, the current GSX-R600, new in 2011, was immediately entered into the British Supersport Championship where it took the title in the hands of TAS racing and Alastair Seeley, and in 2012, GSX-R mounted riders took championship across the globe, including in Australia, Sweden, and Poland, and Josh Brookes would have taken the British Superbike crown on the conventional point scoring system, finishing every race over the season, notching 20 podiums along the way.

The legendary GSX-R badge has adorned over one million class leading motorcycles for over 25 years, and to celebrate, 1,985 special edition GSX-R1000s will be made available worldwide, with special Brembo calipers, a paint job that harks back to the original style of the GSX-R, numbered top yoke, gold fork stanchions, red anodised fork tops and select performance parts.

Each update and upgrade of the GSX-R range has moved the market forward and continued the GSX-R legend. A legend that is far from over, too.

If you missed part one, read it here.