Super8cycles' 1990 Suzuki GSX-R 750
WORDS & IMAGES Shaik Ridzwan
You can’t talk about the origin of superbikes without mentioning the original, air-cooled, “slab-side” Suzuki GSX-R 750, a handsome bike that looks better with every passing year. The first GSX-R debuted in 1985, but it wasn’t until ’88, with the release of the second-generation “slingshot” GSX-R 750, that Suzuki really made its mark. Billed as “a race bike for the street," the sleek, dual-headlight motorcycle looked like a prepped GP bike straight from the factory. An entire generation of riders dreamed of owning one.
Growing up in the 1980s, Michael Vienne developed a passion for superbikes, racing around tracks on a highly modified two-stroke Yamaha RZ350. More recently, Vienne was pining for a fast, “vintage” motorcycle he could take to classic-only track days. He recalled the ’90 GSX-R 750, arguably the best example of the air-cooled models. Suzuki heavily updated the GSX-R for the 1990 model year, even though it looked similar to the previous models. The ’90 GSX-R benefited from improved geometry, a longer wheelbase, an adjustable piggyback shock, a revised swingarm with cast ends for axle adjustment, and a wider rear wheel that could accommodate more rubber. When the second-generation GSX-R debuted, Suzuki gave it a short-stroke four-cylinder engine that revved to 13,000 rpm. After only two years, though, Suzuki abandoned the short-stroke engine and brought back the original motor, fitted with larger Mikuni carburetors and a curved oil cooler with a high-capacity oil pump.
It didn’t take Vienne long to find his GSX-R online, and with a track day only a few weeks away, he picked it up and got to work building his “street-legal race bike.” Vienne bought an emissions-friendly, California-spec model, so he swapped on 39mm Keihin flat-slide carburetors and a free-flowing Yoshimura exhaust system. He bought the stickiest DOT-approved tires he could find, put on an endurance fairing from Airtech Streamlining, and took the GSX-R to the track. After a rather spirited lap, Vienne returned to the pits to find he had ground through his freshly painted bodywork — the stock suspension was too soft.
Even in the '90s, everyone knew the GSX-R didn’t have the best suspension; the Ducati 851, Honda RC30, and Yamaha OW01 all hooked up in corners where the GSX-R couldn’t. Back then, racers addressed the issue with the Fox SRS link. Vienne picked one up, along with a rebuilt Öhlins shock from the era, but he wanted more performance and knew the original front end had to go. “I was staring at my race-prepped Yamaha R1, wondering how that front end would work on the GSX-R,” says Vienne. "Turns out it’s a fairly straightforward swap, requiring machining a steering stem to mate up with a set of R1 triple trees and a different set of headstock bearings. It went together quite well and worked great. After a track day, I never went back to the original setup. In fact, I sold the R1 altogether.”
"You only need a toolbox of spanners to maintain these bikes, not a laptop and factory training in programming.”
Vienne continues to dial-in his GSX-R, working in modern technologies as he tries to retain the machine’s original essence, beauty, and spirit. “I’ve rediscovered why I love this era of motorcycles,” he says. “My shop, Super8cycles, came about as an extension of this: the amalgam of respecting, and drawing inspiration from, the old while embracing the new ... the aesthetics and possibilities of older ‘modern classic’ bikes coupled with the technological advancements afforded to the latest superbikes. There’s a physical link between the bike and rider that these early machines possess that new ‘ride-by-wire’ bikes haven’t quite captured. And just as important, the earlier bikes are accessible to everyone. You only need a toolbox of spanners to maintain these bikes, not a laptop and factory training in programming.”
It’s a visceral quality that draws Vienne to superbikes of a certain age — the R1s, Panigales, and RSV4s of the 1990s. He is resurrecting these overlooked, underappreciated motorcycles from the era of Doohan, Fogarty, Mamola, Rainey, and Schwantz. It’s these “new classics” that now keep Vienne up at night.
This article was originally featured in Issue #32 of Iron & Air