Suzuki GSX1100

The Suzuki performance machine



The GSX1100
Image: Bike Pics.com


From their humble beginnings up to the present day, the Japanese manufacturers have always built strong engines. They were fast and reliable. Knowing what it took to make a bike handle though was a different matter. It took a long time before the chassis package was a match for their powerful engines and many riders, both on the track and on the road, complained that their bikes had a "hinge" in the middle. Aftermarket British and Italian frame builders were selling expensive chassis kits for Japanese engines to address the problem. The manufacturers were either too focused on the engines to give it the attention that it needed or simply didn't know what to do. These days their bikes handle as well as anything on the road or track, in some cases, better. They've come a long way but it took a while.

From 1952 until 1976, apart from a couple of 125cc and 93cc single cylinder 4 strokes, Suzuki had exclusively manufactured 2-stroke machines. The two-stroke era culminated in the sophisticated GT750 water-cooled triple. In 1976 Suzuki released the first of the GS series, the GS750. The engine was remarkably similar to the Z900 Kawasaki but that's where the similarity ended. The Kawasaki had a great engine but the handling left a lot to be desired.

The Suzuki GS750 was the bike that showed that at least one of the Japanese manufacturers were finally taking the handling seriously. They actively promoted the handling aspect of the bike in their advertising and had produced a good bike to back it up. It was soon followed by the GS1000 that was virtually identical except for the capacity.




The engines were very similar


The good handling chassis and high performing engine made the four cylinder GS bikes a good candidate for the racetrack. A GS1000 tuned by Pops Yoshimura won the 1978 Daytona Superbike race, the 1978 Suzuka 8 Hours in Japan, and the AMA Superbike national championship in 1979 and 1980 with rider Wes Cooley. The bike won the Australian Castrol Six Hour race in 1979, ridden by Alan Hales. In Europe, Yoshimura GS1000-powered Formula 1 bikes won the Formula TT World Championship ridden by Graeme Crosby in 1980 and 1981.





The Yoshimura GS1000 1981 Suzuka 8 hour bike
Image: Pinterest

The Japanese manufacturers knew that success on the racetrack meant success in the showroom and by the late seventy's they were engaged in something of a horsepower race. Yamaha had released its ungainly but fast, XS1100, Kawasaki had the Z1300 six which had similar characteristics and Honda had the CBX1000, a 1045cc in line six as well as the much more nimble CB900F. Suzuki had to pull something out of the bag and the GSX1100 was born.

Suzuki knew they had to produce a weapon and that's exactly what they did. They had basically taken the GS engine, increased the capacity to 1074cc and fitted a 4 valve head. The four-valve layout increased the power considerably and the GSX1100E hit the market in August 1979 with a 100 horsepower and weighed 243kg. Unlike the GS engines that had a shim and bucket adjustment for the valves, the 1100's valve actuation was via short forked rocker arms and it also had a reduced included angle between the inlet and exhaust valves. The GSX took Suzuki's handling focus even further with an aluminium swing arm, (developed by Yoshimura on the factory-supported Superbikes) the first for any mass produced bike, and adjustable rebound damping on the front forks. The motorcycling public welcomed it with open arms and for racers, it quickly became the tool to have.

Australia and New Zealand were the only countries to have 100% stock standard production racing and Kiwi Dave Hiscock gave the GSX1100 a debut win at the Advertiser Three Hour Race in Adelaide with Rob Phillis on another Suzuki second. A few weeks later, Hiscock won again at the Perth Four Hour Race, again with Phillis second. The GSX, in various modified forms, went on to win a multitude of national and international races including the Suzuka 8 hour race in 1980 with Graham Crosby and Wes Cooley.

To counter Suzuki's performance attack, Honda had to release the CB1100R in 1981. This was a limited production racer based on the CB900F with a fairing, single seat, an aluminium tank and a claimed 115 hp. It was Honda's first 'homologation special'. Although the CB1100R notched up some notable wins, it wasn't enough to stop the GSX steamroller. It continued to be a success on the racetrack as well as in the showroom. It was comfortable enough to ride all day, and with a pillion too. On paper, the Honda looked to have more power but the power was made at the top end of the rev range whereas the Suzuki had a lot more torque. It was this torque that endeared road riders and racers alike to this great engine.




A race prepped Katana
Image: Pinterest



The GSX1100E lasted for two years in its original form. It continued virtually unchanged for 1981, when it became the GSX1100EX, but was substantially restyled as the GSX1100EZ for 1982. The power was boosted to 111hp at 8,500 rpm, while weight dropped to 237kg. In September 1981 the 111hp GSX1100S Katana was launched. The radical styling of the Katana was a bit of a gamble by Suzuki but it was well accepted by the public and sales were good. In 1983 the GSX gained a top half fairing becoming the GSX1100ESD. Along with the unfaired GSX1100ED it lasted until March 1984. The GSX1100 grew to 1135cc for 1984 with the GSX1100EE (GS1150EE in the US). Power rose to 124hp. It got a box-section steel frame and a 16in front wheel. The final unfaired 1100 was the GSX1100EG. It was produced from March 1986 until October 1988. The last 1100 Katana was manufactured in 1990.




The final model


The long model run was a testament to the soundness of the original design. A great engine wrapped in an attractive good handling package is all most people could ask for. It was after the GSX's production run that manufacturers started to offer more specialized bikes. Hard-edged sport bikes and soft tourers were to become commonplace. It wasn't until well into the 21st century that the concept of the all rounder was to become popular again. The GSX1100 is remembered for being just that, a great all rounder.



Written by Paul Harmon. 10-1-18

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