North America is the legendary superbike’s last refuge in 2019
In the pantheon of superbikes created since the term was first popularized by the 1969 Honda CB750, one machine stands above all others as the bike that defined the modern meaning. Of course we’re talking about Suzuki’s GSX-R750—the first bike to lay down the aluminum-framed, four-cylinder, fully faired, race-replica template that is still largely used by the latest and greatest of today’s superbikes.
But now, some 34 years after the GSX-R750 first appeared as a 1985 model, Suzuki is turning its back on what is arguably the most significant model ever to bear the company’s name. In 2019 you’ll still be able to buy a GSX-R750 here in North America, but this continent is a final refuge for a model that’s been largely ignored in terms of upgrades in recent years. In most of the world, 2018 was the last year for the GSX-R750.
Just like the Hayabusa, another landmark Suzuki that’s being dropped from most markets at the end of 2018, the GSX-R750 and its near-identical GSX-R600 sibling are victims of the latest batch of European type-approval and emissions regulations. But while the ’Busa is certain to get a belated replacement in the next couple of years, the midsize GSX-R models are being consigned to the history books, with no replacement machines currently on the horizon.
Take a cold, corporate look at the figures and dropping the GSX-R750 and GSX-R600 is a sensible decision. The worldwide market for 600-class supersports machines has been in a nosedive for years and the 750cc class was effectively killed way back in 2003 when WSBK rules introduced a blanket 1,000cc capacity limit. But even with its racing raison d’êtreremoved, along with all its direct competitors, the GSX-R750 of the 21st century has sat in a Goldilocks zone when it comes to power, weight, and performance, making it a compelling machine even if more modern, larger-engined superbikes can demolish it in terms of outright performance.
Suzuki’s perseverance with the GSX-R750 has come in part due to its recognition of the bike’s significance in the context of the firm’s history, and in part because a small but steady stream of customers have continued to recognize that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to superbikes. But without the booming sales needed to justify regular updates in recent years, there’s no question the 750 has fallen behind in terms of technology. It now stands out as a rare model that isn’t even offered the option of antilock brakes, let alone the latest in terms of IMU-assisted, lean-sensitive traction control, wheelie control, and all other electronic wizardry that have sprung to prominence over the last few years.
In Europe, Regulation 168/2013—the law that brings the much-talked-about Euro 4 emissions limits into force but also makes ABS mandatory on new bikes over 125cc and a host of smaller technical changes—has been the death-knell for the GSX-R750. The cost of making the bike comply couldn’t be justified by its predicted sales figures, since Band-Aid fixes to scrape past the legislation would have resulted in a heavier, less powerful machine. Although the law was introduced throughout Europe January 1, 2016, Suzuki has taken advantage of a two-year period of grace allowing it to continue to sell non-compliant machines, but that period ends on December 31, 2018. As a result, the bike has been withdrawn all across Europe, along with the GSX-R600.
It’s also gone from the Japanese market, leaving the USA as the only major area where a “2019” GSX-R750 and GSX-R600 will be offered, unchanged from their predecessors apart from the inevitable new colors.
How long the bikes can remain on sale in North America is an unknown, but Suzuki insiders say there’s no plan for a new GSX-R750 or GSX-R600 in the foreseeable future, and that both are not among 10 secret new models the company has committed to introduce over the next three years.
Of course, Suzuki isn’t averse to reintroducing long-dead names—the Katana is back next year, after all—but unless the motorcycle market changes significantly, bringing back demand for 750cc sportbikes, it’s hard to see how the GSX-R750 will get past its 35th birthday in 2020, even in America.
1984: Before the GSX-R750 hit the world scene a little-known Japan-only 400cc bike, simply called GSX-R, gave us a hint of what was to come. An aluminum cradle frame, four-cylinder DOHC engine, and twin-headlight, slab-sided fairing effectively previewed the international-market 750cc model that would follow.
1985: The 1985 GSX-R750 rocked the world of superbikes, bringing a GP-inspired alloy frame, it weighed in at just 388 pounds and packed an impressive-at-the-time 106-hp DOHC four. While others were opting for water-cooled motors, Suzuki’s oil-cooled four was trumpeted as a weight-saving, high-tech alternative.
1986: We’re used to “homologation special” bikes these days, but Suzuki was quick off the mark with the 1986 GSX-R750R—a single-seat model with better suspension and brakes.
1988: At only three years old the GSX-R750 got its first major update, morphing into a smoother-looking second-generation machine that’s since become known as the Slingshot. A new short-stroke engine increased power to 112 hp.
1989: A second-generation GSX-R750R emerged a year later. Despite similar styling to the second-gen GSX-R750, it reverted to the original bore and stroke but was tuned to make 120 hp. The same motor, rated slightly lower at 115 hp, would be transplanted into the normal GSX-R750 in 1990. A face-lift followed in 1991 but lasted only one year.
1992: While 1991’s face-lift previewed the styling direction of the 1992 GSX-R750, the actual ’92 bike was completely new. It became the GSX-R750W, signifying switch to a water-cooled engine. Bigger and heavier than its predecessors (459 pounds), the new bike faced a tough battle for sales in a world that had now seen the Honda Fireblade. That led to a 1994 revamp including a 22-pound weight loss and new chassis.
1996: The GSX-R might have been caught off-guard by machines like the Honda Fireblade and 1993’s Yamaha YZF750, but by late 1995 Suzuki was ready to unleash its response. The 1996 GSX-R750 SRAD brought the switch to a beam frame, with dimensions and aerodynamics borrowed from the RGV500 GP bike. Fuel injection improved it further in 1998.
2000: By the turn of the millennium the GSX-R750 was already becoming an oddball; a new breed of 900cc–1,000cc machines inspired by the Fireblade and including the Yamaha R1 was making 750cc bikes seem outdated. But the Y2K GSX-R revamp was a huge step forward nonetheless, with 141 hp and a weight of only 366 pounds, dry.
2004: A new frame brought the 2004 GSX-R750’s weight down even further, to a claimed 359 pounds dry, and power rose a fraction to 145 hp. By now, though, Suzuki had the GSX-R1000 in its range and WSBK racing had switched to 1,000cc rules; the GSX-R750 wasn’t a range topper anymore.
2006: In 2006 the GSX-R750 received the last really big update in its life, gaining a new chassis, a 150-hp engine, and some of the best styling it’s ever had, including an exhaust that was almost entirely hidden in the bellypan. From here on, changes started to be driven by emissions rules more than the desire for better performance.
2008: A bigger exhaust was a response to tighter emission limits and coincided with a mild restyle.
2011: Another once-over from Suzuki’s updates department saw the GSX-R750 get the last notable changes in its life. Power dropped a fraction to 148 hp, but weight went down further still to a claimed 344 pounds dry. Riding modes were also introduced, but since 2011 there have been no changes to the bike apart from its annual color changes.
2018: The GSX-R750 (and GSX-R600) disappears from showrooms in most parts of the world, exterminated by new emission laws and the lack of demand for a new version that would be able to meet them.
What Does The Future Hold?
While Suzuki has no clear plans to replace either the GSX-R750 or the GSX-R600, that doesn’t mean the firm is turning its back on midsize sportbikes entirely. Ever since 2013, when it showed the Recursion concept bike at the Tokyo Motor Show, the firm has been working on a turbocharged parallel-twin engine that might be able to fill the void left by the GSX-R750 rather nicely. Originally shown as an SOHC, 588cc motor making 100 hp, a second version of the engine, dubbed the XE7, was revealed in 2015 with DOHC heads and a 700cc capacity. With boost, there’s no reason to think such a design couldn’t hit a GSX-R750-matching 150 hp.
A steady stream of patent applications about the bike has emerged from Suzuki over the last few years, suggesting development work is well underway, though insiders say any production model is still at least two years away.
Moving away from middleweight bikes there’s also the potential that Suzuki could revive another famous GSX-R. With Ducati launching the 1,103cc Panigale V4 and Aprilia hitting back with the 1,078cc RSV4 1100 for 2019, every other firm that makes a 1,000cc four-cylinder superbike must be considering its options to retaliate. By now you can be sure that discussions will have taken place at Suzuki about whether its GSX-R1000 could be stretched a fraction, and the historic value of the GSX-R1100 name certainly won’t be lost on the firm…