The Suzuki RG500 Gamma, along with the Yamaha RD500LC mark the ultimate evolution of the two-stroke motorcycle. These mid 80s motorcycles are the pinnacle of what superbly performing two-stroke powered bikes could be.
The Suzuki RG500 wasn’t just a race replica, it had the performance to boot and was closer to the real race version than any other replica in production at the time.
Today the Suzuki RG500 is a hard to find motorcycle, particularly in the U.S where they missed out on having the pleasure of this 80s classic due to emission laws. Let’s get into how it all started and then we will look at what it takes to buy or restore a RG500 Gamma today.
History of the Suzuki RG500 Gamma
The beginning of the Suzuki RG500 can be traced back to 1964 with Suzuki creating their first Square Four engine. It was two 125cc two-stroke, parallel twins put together, it had rotary valves, was liquid-cooled, a 6 speed transmission, the power was good but it had problems.
It would be 1976 before Suzuki took the Square Four concept and upped the capacity to 500cc. It was this bike that British legend Barry Sheene took the GP World Championship for Suzuki in 1976 with five superb victories, and again in the 1977 season with six wins.
The production race replica Suzuki RG500 is almost identical to the race machine. The crankcases, barrels and general engine layout are virtually identical to the bikes ridden by Sheene. The bore and stroke is the same as the race bike although a shock damper was added to reduce loads between the cranks and clutch/gearbox. It was an absolute need for the road bike.
The bike had rotary valves which required each of the Mikuni flat-side carbs to be out on the sides. It also had Suzuki’s Automatic Exhaust Control which uses a rotary system to open and close the valve to optimise the power.
Mildly tuned machines recorded as much as 108hp and 55ft lbs of torque but stock claimed 95hp and 52.6 ft lbs of torque. Aftermarket exhausts were a must for owners and with some rejetting the bike was instantly transformed.
The gearbox was easily accessed so could be tuned to be exactly what the owner wanted, much like a race bike. The Gamma weighed in at 154kgs which was heavier than some expected at the time but this was due to the equipment required to make it a road legal motorcycle.
The 38mm fork was adjustable, it had an anti-dive system. The bike had a steep rake angle of 25° and a trail of 4.4”. For the rear an alloy square-section, two-sided swingarm went right to both ends of the axle and connected to a single shock absorber. The brakes were also fantastic, and they needed to be. A high performing, fast machine needed matching stopping power.
Turn signals, lights, a horn, dual seat and passenger pegs were really the only additions that made the bike somewhat resembling a street bike.
Performance of the Suzuki RG500
The Gamma was a bike that was so closely built to its racing brother that riders needed to give it complete attention while riding. It was more suited to the track than it was the roads with potholes, speed bumps and other obstructions. Ultimately it was a bike built for high speeds but less so for everyday street riding and this limited sales.
Suzuki tripped themselves up by releasing another Superbike contender in the form of the GSX-R 750 in 1985. It was a four-stroke, it was bigger, it was heavier, but for street riding it was a lot easier to ride than the RG500 Gamma.
The release of the Gamma meant that privateers could now purchase a Suzuki RG500 and use it to enter races. This was part of Suzuki’s masterplan with the Gamma release, the idea being that if a privateer races and wins the “Constructors” division of the races, it reflects on Suzuki creating race winning bikes as opposed to talented racers winning on Suzuki’s.
Kevin Schwantz was a big star in the U.S and he wanted to make an impression on the European GP bosses. In 1986 he had completed the Transatlantic challenge on a GSXR750 and he wanted to make a big impact on the GP circuit too.
For the TT F1 World round at Assen, Schwantz rode a Gamma that was taken from stock at Suzuki GB and prepped to race just 1 week before. No engine modifications were made, the main changes were just the removal of unnecessary parts like lights and the addition of racing tires.
Kevin Schwantz came second behind the legendary Joey Dunlop and his factory Honda RVF750. The best bit of this story is that the bike was then put back to the road trim, put into rotation for stock and sold with the title of “One Careful Owner”, there is a Suzuki RG500 Gamma out there that was raced by Schwantz, pretty cool right.
Maybe the downfall of the RG500 Gamma was the fact it was too much of a race bike as opposed to a street bike, with the GSX-R 750 proving a solid alternative for riders, sales just didn’t hit the mark to keep the run going. Unfortunately the end of two-strokes was looming and that didn’t help the cause either.
However, that cannot take away from the bike’s excellent performance and capabilities.
Buying a Suzuki RG500 Gamma
The classic two-stroke Suzuki RG500 Gamma was never put into production for the U.S market, so for any U.S buyers looking to purchase a Gamma you would be best to look towards the Canadian market where the bike was sold. One example imported from Canada was sold for $25,650 on Iconic Motorbike Auctions.
As for those looking in Britain, they are not easy to come by and are getting harder to find, especially in good condition. Car and Classic has just one listing and the bike is an original 1986 RG500 Gamma with 30,000 miles on it, with an asking price of £25,000.
Looking back through archives on various auction sites when they do come up prices vary from £12,500 – £25,500. In more recent years prices are sitting at the higher end of the spectrum.
Restoring a Suzuki RG500
You will encounter 2 potential problems when restoring a Suzuki RG500:
- Finding one
- Expensive parts
That’s the bad news, the good news is that if you find a Gamma and it needs a bit of restoration, parts are available. Also, a well restored bike will likely make a tidy profit if you did come to sell it instead of keeping it for yourself.
Here are some price examples of available original parts on eBay:
- £1700 Forks
- £198.97 Fairing
- £671.07 Single Seat Cowl
- £524.95 Gearbox Gears
Is the Suzuki RG500 a Good Investment
The Suzuki RG500 is a highly collectible motorcycle. Two-stroke bikes are coveted as they evoke a time before strict emissions and noise regulations ruining the fun of noisy and smelly motorcycling, which definitely added to the joy of going out for a ride.
If you can find one, you can purchase the bike in safe knowledge that you will see a good financial return in years to come should you come to sell the bike. Before you sell it though, you will also be thrown back to 1980’s motorcycling which will be sure to put a smile on your face and turn your mates green with envy.
Suzuki RG500 Verdict
I was fortunate to cross paths with a Suzuki RG500 at a local bike night a couple of seasons ago, I was quite taken with it, almost as much as the owner was.
It was far from pristine, heavily used, and had war wounds to the fairings etc. but it evoked excitement from passers by that not even the Kawasaki H2 parked up next to it could muster.
The bike was the ultimate two-stroke at the peak of Japanese motorcycle mania, it also was one of the last two-strokes before their ultimate demise due to shifting regulations, so I’d say it wasn’t a bad bike at all to mark the end of an era.
To any owners out there, dust them off, clean them up, get on the road and down to the bike nights so we can all hear the bikes and smell them, let’s revive the legendary two-stroke even if it’s just for special occasions.