Monday, December 27, 2010

Classic Motorcycles: The Suzuki RG500

By the mid-1980s, it was the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers setting the pace in motorcycle design. Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki were all producing supremely capable sports bikes which no manufacturer in the West could match the speed, quality or reliability.

In the mid-1980s, many people felt that the future of motorcycling lay in the 500cc class. This was probably because whilst there was quite a choice of Superbikes at the time, Superbikes being anything from 750 to 1000cc, these big behemoths were often incredibly fast and powerful for their time, but lacked the handling prowess of their modern-day descendants. By contrast however, it was with the powerful and flickable middleweights that seemed to be where the future lay.

The Suzuki RG500 was launched as a complete 500GP race replica for the road. Indeed it looked exactly like the GP bike, but with the addition of indicators and lights. Although Yamaha had already launched their V4 RD500LC in 1984, there was something about the Suzuki that really got the crowd going when it was launched at the first International Motorcycle Show at the Birmingham NEC.

No one was to know it then but the RG500 was in fact to be the swansong of the large two-stroke machines. The engine that delivered a claimed 95 bhp at 9000rpm was an amazing 498cc square four two-stroke with disc valves. This was virtually identical to the track going bike, along with the aluminium box section frame. With Suzuki's own monoshock, some interesting forks, and twin front discs with massive four pot calipers, the bike stood apart from other race replica 500 cc machines of the time.

In fact the bike was 5mph faster than Yamaha's RD500, which was partly make possible by the use of Suzuki's SAEC power valves and the one for each cylinder 28mm flat slide Mikuni carburettors. The engine revved right up to 12,000 rpm, and typically for a 2 stroke, had a sweet spot between 6 and 9000 rpm, and another between 9500 rpm and 12,000 rpm.

Despite such a madcap performance the handling for once matched the power. As a package, the Suzuki was way lighter than its bigger four stroke cousins, and whilst the alloy double cradle frame and full floater monoshock kept it planted on the road, the 16 inch front wheel meant that steering was quick, and given those massive brakes the whole package added up to a very usable machine.

Unfortunately, this bike and others of its type were outlawed in 1989 due to emissions and noise controls.


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