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Suzuki GSX-R1100

Buying used - Suzuki GSX-R1100

(May 2020. See the model gallery near the end.)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Suzuki GSX-R1100

In a class of one

Suzuki’s mighty GSX-R1100 has plenty of fans – let’s take a look at how they stack up in the used market

Sure it may have been mown down in the stampede of newer and shinier models over the years, but in 1986 the GSX-R1100 was (as Motorcyclist magazine over in the USA then described it), “The quickest, baddest production big-bore sportbike you can buy.” It scorched down the standing quarter in 10.65sec with a 130mph (209km/h) terminal speed and had tripped the top speed radar at 258km/h. And it weighed an incredibly light (for its day) 197kg dry.


The other makers soon played catch-up, with the Yamaha FZR1000 being the next serious competitor but, for a little while there, Suzuki had what was effectively a new category – litre-plus supersports multis – to itself. Project engineers of the day admit they often wandered into uncharted waters in the making of this bike and its equally revolutionary 750 sibling (released the year before), which meant taking a few development and marketing risks.


Did it pay off? Well the name GSX-R effectively became a brand in its own right, though there’s no doubt there were some ups and downs along the way where the company, according to some, may have lost its way.


So which are the models to buy and how do they stand up to scrutiny? Let’s first get a bit of a handle on what came out and when.

History
There were essentially four major generations of the mighty GSX-R1100: three air/oil-cooled and one liquid-cooled.


Gen one was the G, H and J models, all of them notable for their slab-sided styling and running the original 1052cc powerplant, quoting 130 horses. Essentially a development of the 750, it ran a reinforced frame, longer swingarm, more relaxed steering geometry up front and a non-adjustable steering damper.


Little was wrong with the first iteration of the machine – which says something for the quality of the development process – and so the changes for year two (H) were nil other than colour.


Year three (J) scored Enkei three-spoke rims that lifted the looks of the machine and gave it a slightly wider contact patch on the rear. The front guard was widened a little, while the only engine mod was increased capacity for the massive front oil cooler. The sidestand also came in for attention, to make the bike a little less prone to tipping over. Just on 2kg was added to the dry weight in the J version.


Generation two was the K and L series of 1989-90. This one scored a lower and heavier chassis, with some similarities to the 750 Slingshot of 1988. We got to see the big version of the engine, 1127cc, which in turn saw power jump to 143 horses (138 in Oz, thanks to different noise regs). Torque increased by close to ten per cent at 11.6kg-m. Weight was up to 210kg and we were now on 17-inch rims.


The K copped a roasting from some commentators that saw next year’s model, the L, score significant changes instead of the usual second-year paint swap. These included upgraded suspension (USD at front), longer swingarm and a switch to Michelin rubber, which was made wider at the back.


Gen three was the 1991-92 M and N series and this was a final period of refinement with the air/oil engine, rather than radical change. The powerplant had numerous alterations, including a switch from forked rockers to single arms and shim adjustment. Carburettor size increased massively from 36mm to 40, though the power increase from 143 to 145hp was only slight. Meanwhile, weight had climbed to 226kg.


Suspension was given a major make-over, boasting more comprehensive adjustment front and back, along with a greater choice of rates. Even the gearbox wasn’t left out, scoring cooling oil jets on the top three cogs. Visually, it’s marked as the first time the headlights were enclosed behind a screen, for cleaner aerodynamics.


Generation four (WP through to WU) was last hurrah and, once again, it followed the development of little brother 750 – this time by adopting what was now regarded as a more conventional liquid-cooled engine.


The cooling allowed Suzuki to be more ambitious with the power output (155 horses) and many tuners felt there was a lot more potential locked away in those cases. Sadly weight was also up. At 231kg claimed dry, it was a figure which threatened to nudge it closer to sports tourer rather than pure sports bike territory. Production ceased in 1998.

On the road
In their day, the original slab-sided Gixxer elevens were a very impressive device, particularly if you happened to have a nice big and open set of sweepers to play on. I remember having some near-religious experiences on the things when they were new, one of which I’m sure involved new Ed Wootton, an FZR1000 and some acts he describes as an unsanctioned race meeting.


Anyway, even by modern standards the G through to J models felt steady, fast, and strong. The suspension was nowhere near as good as the top modern kit but nevertheless coped well. Today, it would feel a little old fashioned, and down on grip, but a well set-up one should still be a damned good ride. That’s assuming you can cope with the sports-style ride position, which is at its most harsh on this generation.


I’m less enamoured with the middle air/oil-cooled series of K through to L, despite the numerous suspension upgrades along the way. Oh, and the significant jump in engine performance. Don’t get me wrong, in anything other than extreme circumstances, they were actually very capable machines. But somehow they lacked the brutish character of their predecessors and didn’t ‘gel’ as well into a complete working unit. Straight line performance was near identical to the earlier versions.


For me, the M and N models brought the whole plot together again, albeit in a package that felt very different to the one the company started out with. Though still appallingly fast, they felt heavier and a little less happy in a true sports environment.


As the heaviest of all the Gixxers, the liquid-cooled W series had gained a whopping 39 kilos over its first ancestors. Okay, it also picked up an extra 26 horses along with a smoother and more sophisticated engine. But any pretence of it being a track weapon was long gone. Which is okay, as it still made a very quick and capable road bike – one I have a lot of time for.


It’s still very fast by today’s standards and can be made to handle respectably with a basic freshen-up. Just don’t expect it to be competitive on the track with a modern day supersports. It is however a super-capable sports-tourer.

In the workshop
A few calls around the place and a scan of the web revealed remarkably few mechanical dramas with these things. Across the range, the engineering seems to be robust.


Few saw the race track locally, as they were ineligible for anything other than unlimited classes – which meant club rather than national championship events. So the good news is most will have spent little time being ridden at their limit.


Regular changes with good quality oil is essential for long engine life, particularly given the sophistication of their cooling systems. High milers will be looking for a fresh camchain at around 100,000, at which point you might be tempted do the rings and valve guides. I’d be backing the liquid-cooled powerplants to last the longest, if the maintenance is kept up.


The later generation machines on 17-inch rims are much easier to find a good selection of rubber for – 18-inch choices are limited.
Check carefully for the condition of the bodywork on the older machinery, as replacements are becoming scarce.


Poorly done or cheap modifications are also something to be avoided. If it’s got an aftermarket exhaust, for example, check it’s running right and that the owner has made an effort to get it tuned properly for the pipe.


It’s a fair bet that the suspension will be worn on almost anything you look at, so keep in mind the possibility of a rebuild, which is worth doing on anything with this sort of performance.

Which model?
At the moment, that may depend on whether you’re a collector or a bargain-hunter. If you’re the former, the first three models (G, H and J) are the pick. Some folk like the J as the ultimate slab-side model, while others will stick with the very first G. In any case I’d be looking for the best machine available, to minimise ongoing restoration costs. Here, the condition of the cosmetics could be just as important as the mechanicals.

Prices are all over the place for early models, but about mid teens would seem right for a decent one. A concours G could nudge $20k.


If you’re looking for a good-value ride, my choice is any of the late W series. You can pick up a decent one for around $6000-8000. That’s bargain motorcycling, particularly considering the stupendous power output, and you can fit some good current rubber to it. Increasingly, collectors will start to eye any generation as desirable.


Regardless of model, pay the right price for a good example, and you’ll have more than enough performance to keep you interested for a very long time.

***

Know your Gixxer

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1986 – G model
The original “slabbie” with 130 horses and 197kg claimed dry weight. This was an early adopter of radial tyres, on 18-inch rims – 110/80-18 up front and 150/70-18 on the rear.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1987 – H model
Unchanged except for graphics.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

 

1988 – J model
Most obvious change was to three-spoke Enkei rims with a larger 160-section rear. Oil cooler size was boosted and dry weight was up to 199kg. Considered highly collectible as the best-sorted of the slabbies.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1989 – K model
Complete redesign with more rounded styling. Engine capacity up from 1052 to 1127cc while carbs went up from 34 to 35mm Mikuni. Power was now 138hp for 210kg weight. Now on 17-inch wheels with 43mm forks (up from 41mm).

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1990 – L model
Significant chassis changes to counter complaints about the handling of the K. Included were USD forks and a longer wheelbase.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1991 – M model
Significant engine and chassis changes. Power claim was the same, but weight was up to 226kg. More sophisticated suspension mated to bigger rims. Styling put the headlights behind a perspex screen for the first time.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1992 – N model
Unchanged except for graphics.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1993 – WP model
The last big redesign, this time with a liquid-cooled rather than oil/air-cooled engine, in line with a major change to the 750. Around 155 horses and 231kg.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

1994-1998 – WR, WS, WT & WU models
Unchanged except for graphics. Production ceased in 1998, though they sold locally to 1999. Replaced by the GSX-R1000 for the 2001 model year.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

Suzuki GSX-R1100

Suzuki GSX-R1100

***

Resources

Books
Suzuki GSX-R – a legacy of performance, by Marc Cook
Published by David Bull Publishing in 2005. A Suzuki America-sponsored backgrounder on the development of the GSX-R series that’s particularly enlightening about the early development years.

Suzuki GSX-R by Mike Seate
Published by Motor Books. History and development overview.

Suzuki GSX-R Performance Projects by local author Ian Falloon
Published by Motor Books. Covers basic servicing along with a few upgrades that might be tackled at home.

Web
Suzukicycles.org
Excellent index of Suzuki models over the years.

Spex
Suzuki GSX-R1100G (first model)


ENGINE
Type: air/oil-cooled inline four with four valves per cylinder
Bore and Stroke: 76x58mm
Displacement: 1052cc
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Fuel system: Mikuni BST34SS x 4

TRANSMISSION
Type: 5-speed constant mesh
Final drive: Chain

CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Twin-loop alloy
Front suspension: 41mm conventional fork, electronically activated damper
Rear suspension: Monoshock, preload and rebound damping adjustment
Front brakes: 4-piston 310mm floating twin discs
Rear brake: Single disc

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Dry weight: 197kg
Seat height: 810mm
Fuel capacity: 19lt

PERFORMANCE
Max power: 130hp @9500rpm
Max torque: 10.3kg-m @8000rpm

 

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