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Suzuki RGV250 – Iconic 1980s Two Stroke Race Replica

In 2021 the Suzuki RGV250 still has an enthusiastic following as do many of the 250cc race replicas from the 1980’s and early 90’s. 

Sure if you ride one today, they aren’t as fast or as mental as you remember but that burning two-stroke oil, noise and styling will have even a tentative motorcycle fan drooling. 

Suzuki had the RGV in production from 1987-1997 at which point two-stroke road-going machines were becoming more and more extinct thanks to emission laws the world over. 

The UK actually stopped receiving RGV250s from 1994.

It was a race bike that closely replicated those in the 250cc class of Grand Prix racing and it succeeded the RG250 Gamma that was in production from 1983-1987; the Gamma is often referred to as the first street-legal racer.

So, what is the fascination with the Suzuki iconic quarter litre and why is it still revered as one of the best two-strokes around?

Let’s take a look.

Suzuki RGV250 Review

In all its glory, the Suzuki RGV250. Image via Suzuki GB

Engine and Transmission

Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of the Suzuki RGV250 is the engine, which was fundamentally produced to Grand Prix spec. 

It also didn’t really change much throughout the models production, it was one of those moments where it was done right the first time. 

Reed power valves were equipped but despite this is if you planned on getting anywhere fast the trick is to keep the revs up. This was the case with most two-stroke race replicas and two-strokes generally. 

In terms of horsepower the numbers don’t read like some of the impressive machines we see today. 

However, 50 plus horsepower on a lightweight sportsbike equated to a very quick bike, providing you could handle it. 

Engine management was relatively refined, the Automatic Exhaust Timing Control (ATEC) gave the sensor-controlled exhaust valving three varying speed ranges, high, mid and low. 

This theoretically would improve the use of the bike on the road around town.

First gear would take an awful lot of rpm to get the bike moving, above 7,000rpm and you would start to move at a bit of pace, up and above that quite easily the little 250cc would begin to feel like a 500cc. 

The 104 link chain was considered vital to the running of the RGV 250, an old or cheap chain would knock the horsepower down a little bit. So, ensuring the chain remains in immaculate condition is key to keeping a model running optimally. 

Shifting was often complained about being a little slow, combine that with needing to keep the revs up and there is definitely a knack needed to ride an RGV 250 as it was intended to be ridden. 

The bores were plated with a hard alloy and therefore could not be bored out. 

Chassis, Suspension, Brakes, Handling

The engine was bolted into a twin-spar aluminium frame and it was lightweight and stiff. It was rigid enough to give the rider the confidence to practice their lean angles providing they kept the revs nice and high. 

Initially the Suzuki RGV250 had a straight single-sided swingarm with a conventional fork. 

However, this changed for the 1991 model to what became known as a ‘banana’ swingarm. A hollow section curved slightly inward with both exhausts running out the right side. 

By all accounts this was expensive to make so a new open-girder design was fitted for 1993. Upside down forks were also now used, rake reduced and rear shock swapped to a full-floater with gas/oil damping. 

The adjustments to the suspension were massive improvements over the early models and increased the stability, feedback and overall the chassis was more rigid, making everything that bit more precise. 

The aluminium frame and swingarm was more than strong enough to handle the motor it carried. With regards to the swingarm particularly, weight increased on the later models due to the banana and braced swingarm set ups, it was up around 11kg.

It wasn’t too much of an issue however, and the improved handling outweighed any loss of power to weight ratio (it would take a professional rider to truly notice this). 

The brakes were ‘Superbike’ standards with quality discs and heavy calipers they made easy work of providing solid powerful stopping power. 

When maneuvering the bike around you will notice how light it is, even taking the bike off the side stand for the first time you can be caught out by the lack of weight. 

It has a few extra vibrations with a lack of bulk to absorb them, with every blip of the throttle you will see the needle on the tach shaking, it feels alive and ready to take off.

When it came to handling the bike was delicately balanced and any rider input was addressed immediately. 

The nature of the RGV250 meant that a good or bad rider would be highlighted pretty quickly, the quick sharp handling paired to a crazy engine response required a great rider to get the most out of the machine. 

Anything less than your best would simply have you hanging on for your life and hoping for the best. 

However, at your best you could throw the bike into a corner at speeds that felt way too fast and yet you would be in complete control thanks to the chassis, brakes and throttle response to pull you back out of the bend at speed.  

Of course the bike is most suited to the track, even now riders on modern superbikes would potentially be left scratching their heads at the RGV250s track performance. As it is superb. 

While that is where the bike thrived and is most suited to, it also wasn’t completely incapable on the road, you got a nice padded seat and mirrors, not sure what else you require? 

Okay so it wasn’t a great road bike and not good for much except getting you to the twisties and fast, but let’s get real, it wasn’t built to be a commuter or a sports tourer. The RGV250 is the epitome of a race replica. 

Suzuki RGV250 Variants

With a 10 year or so production period the RGV250 saw a few changes over the years most notably the changing swingarm, let’s take a quick look at the models development throughout its decade long reign. 

First hitting the streets in 1988 although designed and in production in 1987, the RGV250 VJ21 shared few similarities with the preceding RG250 Gamma. 

The traditional parallel twin arrangement just wasn’t working anymore for these bigger, faster two-strokes so a V-twin layout seemed like the only way forward to progress. 

The first of the Suzuki RGV250 was the ‘J’ and it was released to critical acclaim, with the water-cooled V-twin proving to be a big hit. 

It was the V-twin configuration that allowed the barrels to sit in completely separate areas of the casings which meant the transfer ports and inlets could be made bigger. 

Not all that much changed with the RGV250 until the 1991 model ‘M’ VJ22 which featured bigger 34mm Mikuni carbs (up from 32mm previously), updated power valves and front suspension.

The most significant change was the new ‘banana’ swingarm which significantly increased the rigidity on the rear end but also increased the bikes weight. The model as a result had better ground clearance than it did previously and both exhaust pipes now sat on the same side of the bike.  

Power output and torque was somewhat increased largely down the introduction of power valves. 

A 17” rear wheel was also fitted replacing the prior 18” wheel, which meant you could fit a wider range of tires to suit. 

In 1993 the engine saw another upgrade with a redesign from a 90 degree to 70 degree split between the cylinders; a Ram Air cooling system was fitted, and an all new double-braced swingarm replaced the banana style. 

On the whole the RGV250 VJ23A then remained the same until 1997 when the SP version was released. It featured a dry clutch, 32mm carbs with sensors for airbox pressure, electric start, and when derestricted is said to be capable of 70 horsepower. 

It also featured a bigger, beefier aluminium chassis. 

The last RGV250SP (U) is the true pinnacle of the range with raw unleashed power ready to go on tap from an engine that replicated those used in the GP bikes. 

Worth noting that there were other SP models released for earlier model years but none quite had the prestige of the last 1997 model. 

Suzuki RGV250 Specifications

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Two-stroke, 90 degree V-twin, reed valve
  • Liquid-cooled
  • 249cc
  • Bore x Stroke – 56 x 50.6mm
  • Engine Compression – 7.5:1
  • Induction – Mikuni Carburetors
  • Transmission – Six Speed
  • Final Drive – Chain
  • Max Power – 61 horsepower at 11,000rpm
  • Max Torque – 40 Nm at 8,000rpm

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Twin spar, alloy 
  • Front Suspension – Upside down forks, 5-way adjustable
  • Rear Suspension – Mono-Shock, 7-way adjustable
  • Front Brakes – 2 x 300mm discs, 4 piston calipers 
  • Rear Brakes –  Single 210mm disc, 1 piston caliper
  • Rake – 25 degree
  • Trail – 94mm
  • Length – 2015mm
  • Width – 695mm
  • Height – 1065mm
  • Wheelbase – 1375mm
  • Ground Clearance – 120mm
  • Seat Height – 785mm
  • Wet Weight – 161kg
  • Fuel Capacity – 16 Litres 

Suzuki RGV250 Top speed

The top speed of an RGV250 is somewhere between 125mph and 130mph. 

Finding a Suzuki RGV250 for sale in the UK

There are not all that many these Suzuki’s around on the used market as many of them were used and abused as they were intended to be. 

While the actual components used on the bikes were of a high standard, the finish on them was a little lacklustre. 

Condition dependent in the UK you would be looking to pay somewhere between £5,500-£9,500.

A good place to start in the UK is eBay where there are usually between 8 to 12 for sale at any given time.

eBay UK
View all Suzuki RGV250 Bikes For Sale View all Suzuki RGV250 Bikes For Sale

You will usually find a good selection for sale at various prices and conditions on eBay UK

I may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

This 1994 model on auto trader has a genuine 10,000 miles racked up on the clock and is advertised for £8,995. It has the blue Pepsi livery and has been dry stored in a heated showroom. 

On the other end of the scale is this 1989 model on Car and Classic with over 37,000 miles run up on it. However, it looks to be in very good condition and is stated to be mechanically perfect. 

Suzuki RGV250 for sale in North America

In the US prices seem to sit at around $10,000. 

This 1991 model is a Japanese import and has around 10,000 miles on it. It is an SP version and is fitted with the popular banana swingarm. 

For those struggling to find an RGV250 you might be best to look towards Europe where there seems to be more availability in countries like Germany and France. 

However, you need to factor in import costs on top of the asking price and risk buying a bike without physically seeing for yourself. 

Suzuki RGV250 Verdict

The Suzuki RGV250 is without a doubt a two-stroke icon. A great handling, fast weapon for the streets that encourages you to head to the track and give it your best shot. 

If you can get hold of a good condition model, hang on to it. Value on all classic two-strokes is increasing and I can’t see it stopping anytime soon.

In the meantime get out and ride it, have some fun, there are few modern motorcycles that could compete with the feeling of riding a Suzuki RGV250, particularly doing so well and with skill.

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