The 1990’s was a decade of ups and downs for Suzuki motorcycles in terms of new models they brought to market. From maintaining the Gixxer line and introducing GSX-R600, to shortcomings with the TL1000S and R, then back to the release of the Hayabusa. Suzuki weren’t afraid to take risks in the design room to keep themselves in the game.
They were pivotal players on the racing circuits. In 1993 Kevin Schwantz took victory at the 500cc World Championship, and while it would be 7 years before another victory in 2000 with Kenny Roberts Jr, Suzuki remained in the competitions in several classes.
So, without further delay let’s take a look at some of the greats that came from Suzuki in the 90’s starting with the legendary Busa.
2021 has seen the release of the newly rebooted Suzuki Hayabusa sport bike and if you are anything like me, you are incredibly excited to see the new Busa in the flesh. I’m just waiting for the local dealer to get their turn to show off the demo that is doing the rounds.
Well rewind to 1999 and the levels of anticipation were equally high for the latest, greatest and craziest beast that had been teased by Suzuki. Launched at the Circuit de Catalunya, Spain, MCN proclaimed that “Suzuki Sets New Standards”.
The bosses had issued a simple brief to the design team which was to enter the world of hyper sport motorcycles and dominate it. Yoshiura san was the lead designer and he wanted a bike that demanded attention but is quoted on the Suzuki website as saying also “It needed to be the ultimate road-legal motorcycle with the highest performance from mass-produced bikes.”
Safe to say they not only fulfilled the brief but exceeded all expectations. It was quickly labelled the fastest production motorcycle on the market with a top speed of around 194mph. Bridgestone specifically designed new tires for the Hayabusa to cope with the high speeds at both an angle and the straights.
The best bit about the 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa? It was user-friendly. No, I haven’t lost my mind. The in-line four cylinder 1299cc engine was powerful beyond, but the torque produced made the bike accessible at all speeds. Bike Magazine reported at the launch “You will not find a more torquey, rider-friendly engine…The torque was instant and free-flowing”.
The chassis design, aerodynamic stylings, perfectly balanced components all led to excellent agility too, making the Busa great for crossing the country (quickly) or just a Sunday rideout.
Icon Status was achieved almost instantly and remains today with a cult following, there are worse Cult’s to be a part of than having the Busa as your leader.
Leaning itself to drag racers, turbo-chargers, custom builders, the works you will be hard pushed to find 2 bikes the same today.
An original stock Hayabusa will set you back between £5,000-£10,000 in the UK and an average of $5,000 in the US. With the 2021 Busa costing around £16,499 or $18,599, the original doesn’t seem like a bad idea especially when the spec isn’t all that different.
The DR650 replaced the DR600 in 1990 and was launched to compete predominantly with the Honda Dominator 650. Off-road bikes were growing in capacity and not wanting to be left behind Suzuki upped the ante with the 650 offering to their customers.
Two versions of the DR650 were released, the DR650 Djebel or Dakar in some markets and the DR650 RS; the two bikes were mechanically the same but stylistically different. The RS had a fairing and smaller exhaust system leaning itself to be more for the road.
The 650’s engine was just an enlarged engine from the 600 with bigger bore and longer stroke; the 640cc four-stroke SOHC engine pushed out 45 horsepower and 57Nm of torque, with a top speed of just over 100mph.
Everything else was upgraded including the frame and suspension. The DR650 was a more competent dual sport equally capable on road as well as off and weighed in at 168kg wet.
The early 90’s saw the Japanese manufacturers competing for the best of the dual sport and the DR650 pinched the title for many as the best of the bunch.
Tim Carrithers in Motorcyclist magazine from 1990 wrote “I want to ride off the pavement as I do on it. I require maximum horsepower, legitimate suspension and a trust-worthy front end…If you want to ride hard regardless of the surface, the DR650 is the one and only choice.”
Up to $6,000 is what you need today for an early DR650 in the US and around £3,000 for a good spec model in the UK. The bikes were produced until 2015 however, so if you are wanting one to ride, a later model will be a good option and cheaper.
The Gixxer 600 hit the scene in 1992, originally the model was essentially the same as the Suzuki GSX-R750 but with the smaller engine powering it. There were not many bikes produced initially and many were taken to the track for races in the 600 production class.
The engine was a water-cooled, 599cc, inline-4, DOHC capable of over 100 horsepower and 69.5 Nm of torque. Top speed hit 160mph and the bike weighed in at 187kg wet. Twin Brembo discs provided the stopping power at the front with a single disc at the back.
By 1996 Suzuki Motorcycles introduced the SRAD (Suzuki Ram Air Direct) intake system to both the GSX-R750 and the 600. Other changes included the GP-inspired alloy frame which reduced the weight significantly by around 20kg. Throughout this period the 600 continued to mirror the 750 with just the smaller engine, lower spec suspension and brakes.
1998 the model received fuel-injection but it would be 2001 almost 10 years after its inception that the Gixxer 600 got a true makeover with significant upgrades and more power.
While the 600 may have lived in the 750’s shadow the majority of its life, there are worse shadows it could have lived in and clearly it sold well as Suzuki produced the model right up to 2019.
The bikes aren’t worth much today and wouldn’t be considered worthy as a financial investment. However, low mileage models do come up from the early 90’s. Due to not being as collectable as other Gixxers, prices are pretty good at around $2,500 in the US and between £2,000-£3,000 in the UK.
The bikes are a solid choice for those who want to ride around on a 90’s style GSX-R with all the looks of the iconic 750.
Suzuki RF Series
Three different engine capacities were rolled out within Suzuki’s RF series a 400cc, 600cc and 900cc. Sports-touring is the category that Suzuki aimed to hit with the new series and they did so fairly successfully, the RF900 was particularly a good hit with press and public.
The first incarnation was the RF600 in 1992 which was very much typical of what a 90’s Super sport motorcycle looked like. Both the 600 and later 900 model took much of the design from the Suzuki GSX1100.
1993 saw the RF400 produced which took the RF600 design and replaced the motor with the GSX-R400 but this would later be swapped to the 400 engine from the Bandit.
1994 and the RF900 was let loose. Stiff suspension made the bike ideal for carrying a pillion, slotting right into the idea of a sports bike being capable of touring comfortably.
The 900 slotted right in between the GSX-R750 and 1100 offering an alternative for customers; giving them power but also a bike built for real road riding that could be enjoyed. The RF900 RS2 in ‘95 was a sportier model and really did steal the thunder from the bigger Gixxer as it had the powerful performance but increased agility, comfort and better handling.
MCN did an owner poll on the RF900 and its overall rating was 4.5/5 with the value against its rivals rated at 4.8/5.
For any of the RF models today you can expect to be paying around the £2,500 mark.
The Suzuki TL1000S was first released in 1997 and remained in production until 2001. Powered by a 996cc V-twin, with a max power output 125 horsepower and 103 Nm of Torque; the bike could reach a top speed of 165mph.
Ducati was dominating the World Superbike Championships and models like the Monster were dominating the streets. Suzuki therefore decided a V-twin sport bike would be just the ticket to provide competition and the TL1000S was the result of that process.
Upon its release Suzuki Motorcycles weren’t ready for the response from the public. The bike was quickly dubbed the ‘widow-maker’ and the Japanese headquarters were getting threatened with lawsuits left, right and centre. The TL1000s was recalled for a safety update of factory fitted steering dampers to be added.
The rear suspension was inadequate and among other things the bike had a reputation for being a ‘tank-slapper’ which at speed is far from fun and down right dangerous. The finish wasn’t great and the frame was liable to cracking where the suspension was fitted, overall it was a bit of a disaster.
The plus side was the engine which was a true workhorse and powerplant, it was just unfortunate the other key components couldn’t match the engine in performance.
There is something about a bike having a ‘bad-boy’ reputation however, that makes people want one and today the TL1000S has a select following that likes to upgrade the parts that let the original bike down and try to turn it into something somewhat tamer or at least a bit safer.
Prices today are around £2,400-£3,000 or $3,000 and they are good value as they are likely to increase as the years go by, thanks to a renewed interest.
In 1998 Suzuki launched the TL1000R with another attempt to take on Ducati but this time with a focus on challenging them on the track, of which simply put, the Italian’s were King.
The new model was divisive from the get go. For a motorcycle that was intentionally built to take on Ducati who had been creating beautiful machines, (I’m looking at you 916) the TL1000R was downright ugly, which was unfortunate.
Stylistically perhaps both press and public would have been more forgiving if the new model could actually perform or at least give Ducati a run for their money. It couldn’t.
While on the road the V-twin had more power and torque than the Ducati’s, on the track it was no match as the engine was difficult to tune for race specs. Suzuki did pay Yoshimura to create an expensive race kit for the TL1000R, but they never did enter the bike into the World Superbikes.
Therefore, the initial gauntlet thrown of becoming the next big V-twin race dominating machine and leaving the Italian’s in their wake was taken back and Suzuki quietly bowed away with their tail between their legs.
As with the TL1000S production issues led to long waits for those who had put down deposits which hindered an already dubious reception. The Yamaha R1 was also released at the same time and that was the bike that made inline fours popular again as well as being an overall game changer and icon, one which the Suzuki didn’t really stand a chance against.
So, while the tale of the two TL1000’s is a bit of a sore point for Suzuki in the 90’s there is no need to really dwell as the ever reliable GSX-R750 was still performing on the track; the whole Gixxer line remains iconic; the Busa would soon shatter any naysayers about the Suzuki brand, and they continued to build bikes for off-road and dual-purpose machines that were revered by all.