1985 Suzuki GSX-R750 - Head Banger!


...dreams of war,
dreams of dragon’s fire
and of things that will bite...

Perhaps Metallica had the fiery, almost evil soul of this particular Suzuki in mind when they penned the lyrics of this metal anthem. The thought, however, is farthest from my mind right now, as the needle blurs past 165 kph. 

This was always going to be special. A route with long straights, sweeping, uncomplicated corners and no traffic. Perfect to scare yourself silly on a race-prepped, hot-rodded, completely blown GSX-R750, from the finest 1986 stock.

...hush little baby, don’t say a word
and never mind that noise you heard
it’s just the beast under your bed,
in your closet, in your head...

Thumb the starter and a gruff, stumbling note bears down on you. It’s a brutal symphony of cold purpose. But it isn’t easy to start. The beast needs to be prodded awake without mercy and then poked hard repeatedly to gain its attention. The throttle spring is incredibly hard – without them the four flatslides don’t close in sync with the throttle. The right wrist, thus, stays pretty busy on this Gixxer, swinging lock to lock, prodding away ad infinitum.
The white-faced dials stare sympathetically at you. The rev needle hangs about at 3000 rpm... uh... aren’t there any markings for anything below... obviously no one rides this at revs that low. The redline is marked at 11,000 rpm. The shift into first is a menacingly slick motion.

...exit light, enter night,
take my hand
we’re off to never never land...

Let the heavy clutch out and it stumbles forward. Unexpectedly, the Gixxer seems very unenthusiastic at low revs. So what’re we scared of? Whoa... as the needle slashes past the 4000 rpm mark, things happen very fast. The exhaust note takes on a purposeful and very loud note, reminiscent of a fighter jet about to take off. The world scatters and hides until all you can see is a point in the middle of your lane about 400 metres ahead of you. You start sliding back alarmingly in the seat, expecting to slide up against the bum-stop. Never happens. The Suzie comes with a pillion pad so you can have company while shaking from sheer terror, in the process the bum-stop got the axe. All you can do is hold on as the needle climbs. 

The note is now a primeval rasp, a loud flat shriek that smashes into distant buildings and crowds the helmet with the chaotic madness of a full-blown riot. Instant reaction is acute dilation of the pupils and excessive sweat.

As the needle slams past 9000 rpm, the GSX-R has only just arrived in the powerband. Flashing through another 1000 rpm, the engine lets all the 106 horses it comes with (and this one’s had a few added on top) out. They run amok, stomping, frothing and angrily trying to scare the bejesus out of the rider. They succeed easily. 

The air/oil-cooled DOHC 16-valve 750cc four punches a hole in the air for the bulbous fairing with the gawky twin eyes. The rush is never-ending, nerve wracking and for that moment you feel pure power coursing through the throbbing throttle hand. For a second, you come face to face with your own evil alter ego, smiling with a mad glint in his eye.

...say your prayers little one
don’t forget, my son
to include everyone...

The ravenous Vance & Hines air filters stuff air down the carbs. Hot cams ensure that the chain of combustion is explosive and relentless. Tuned for race-track specification, the bike is devoid of any civility or sophistication. It is quite like a chainsaw – noisy, effective and devastating. Among the innovations from its 1986 days are its light 175 kg weight, effective oil-cooling and an 8-kg aluminium cradle frame. 

Where this Suzie is weak is in the handling department. The original 1985 Gixxer adopted the steering config and componentry from the successful ’82 GSX1000 XR41 endurance racer. In fact, the GSX-R gave birth to the term repli-racer by being as close to the racer as possible while being street legal. This is where the evolution of Hypersport and Supersport bikes began. The handling was said to be sharp and precise with a penchant for scary tankslappers over rougher roads. While a small adjustable steering damper takes care of this Gixxer’s head-shaking tendencies, the hot engine and the way it gushes above 9000 rpm have taken their toll. 

The original rear tyre was a 160/70V18, which has given way to a wider 170/60V18 Metzeler. However, it’s no match for the engine. The flattened tread tells an eloquent and hair-raising tale of a short, tortured life interspersed with heavy doses of wheelspin. The rear shock  also worked well, but the metal bodied shock was known to overheat. In addition, this one’s been chewed out regularly by the raging engine.

...now I lay me down to sleep
pray the lord my soul to keep
if I die before I wake
pray the lord my soul to take...

In a flash, the Gixxer blazes past 180 kph.It’s managed to shear its speedo cable (fourth in quick succession, we’re told) so this would be a seat of the pants reading. In performance mode, one should be able to ride the beast. But ride it softly and it’ll murder you. The reach is long and the footpegs are rearward and high. This puts enormous strain on the wrists and forearms. But that’s the least of your worries.

The bald tyre, faced with surface undulations, threatens to chicken out this way and that. The rear spring squats in submission to the strident engine’s demands and the brutal tussle goes on as long as the throttle hand stays on.

The brain finally punches all hazard warning buttons, grovelling for mercy and the reassuring, unmoving feel of terra firma. The brakes are soft to the touch and the engine’s potency shows up yet again in the worn feel from the two-piston callipers which grip the dual discs up ahead. 

As you roll to a halt, you become aware of pain. The first instinct is to kill the engine, drop the bike on the sidestand and run. Find a foxhole and bury yourself... but it isn’t much help. It stays with you, muscles cramped and aching from the experience. Much later, the shrieking, wild rasp of the monster will ensure you stay awake for nights on end, waiting for the Sandman to come and finally put an end to your ordeal.

tuck you in, warm within
keep you free from sin
till the sandman comes...
– Enter Sandman


Suzuki GSX-R750
November 2001
We’d heard from somebody that a legendary first generation GSX-R750 was running around in Mumbai. Not ones to let any great machine pass us without riding or driving it, we tracked the Gixxer down. And had a great time coming to grips with the machine, riding it, understanding it, controlling it... and comprehending our own limitations while at it. Obviously, riding the world’s first race replica ever is not different from headbanging.
Metallica and the Gixxer.  What a combo.
The Gixxer is fine just as it is, but it’s Metallica who have sobered down.