Suzuki Motorcycle History

Suzuki is another member of the “Big Four” from Japan. It began manufacturing motorcycles in 1952 and has become well known around the world. Its off-road bikes and roadracers have won world titles, and its street machines range from the cruiser Boulevard series to the legendary GSX-R series of sportbikes. It, along with Honda, is unique in that the company also builds automobiles.
  • 1909 Michio Suzuki founds the Suzuki Loom Company in Hamamatsu, Japan. He builds industrial looms for the thriving Japanese silk industry.
     
  • 1937 To diversify activities, the company experiments with several interesting small car prototypes, but none go into production because the Japanese government declares civilian automobiles “non-essential commodities” at the onset of WWII.
     
  • 1951 After the war, Suzuki (like Honda and others) begins making clip-on motors for bicycles.
     
  • 1953 The Diamond Free is introduced and features double-sprocket wheel mechanism and two-speed transmission.
     
  • 1955 The Colleda COX debuts, a 125cc bike equipped with a steel frame. It features a 4-stroke OHV single-cylinder engine with three-speed transmission.
     
  • 1961 East German star Ernst Degner defects to the west while racing for MZ in the Swedish Grand Prix. He takes MZ’s most valuable secret – knowledge of Walter Kaaden’s expansion chamber designs – to Suzuki.
     
  • 1962 Using MZ’s technology, Suzuki wins the newly created 50cc class in the World Championship. The company will win the class every year until ’67, and win the 125cc class twice in that period, too.
     
  • 1963 U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp. opens in Los Angeles.
     
  • 1965 The T20 is released (aka Super 6, X-6, Hustler). This two-stroke, street-going Twin is one of the fastest bikes in its class. The ‘6’ in its name(s) refers to its six-speed gearbox.
     
  • 1968 The T500 ‘Titan’ is an air-cooled parallel-Twin two-stroke.
     
  • 1970 Joel Robert wins the 250cc World Motocross Championship for Suzuki. This is the first year of a three-year streak.
     
  • 1971 The GT750 2-stroke surprises people with its three-cylinder liquid-cooled engine. In North America, it’s nicknamed the Water Buffalo; in the UK they call them Kettles. Although the bike is quite advanced in many ways and inspires a line of smaller air-cooled triples (GT380 and GT550), it’s clear that pollution control legislation will limit the use of two-strokes as street motorcycles. Even while the GT750 was in development, Suzuki had signed a licensing deal with NSU to develop a motorcycle with a Wankel (rotary) engine.

    The TM400A motocrosser goes into production, a 396cc bike designed for 500cc motocross races. Roger Decoster wins the 500cc World Championship on the factory version of this bike and will dominate the class, winning five times from 1971-’76.

     
  • 1972 The Hustler 400, a street version of the TM400, is released. This bike features a double-cradle frame and 2-stroke single-cylinder 396cc engine.
     
  • 1974 The RE5 is the first Japanese motorcycle with a rotary engine. It cost a fortune to develop and, while not bad, it’s a commercial disaster. After two years, the company abandons the project, and there are rumors the tooling was dumped into the sea so that Suzuki managers would never have to see it again.
     
  • 1975 The RM125, with an air-cooled 2-stroke single-cylinder 123cc engine, is a production motocrosser
     
  • 1976 With the GS750, Suzuki finally builds a 4-stroke, four-cylinder road bike.
     
  • 1978 The GS1000E becomes the flagship model of the GS series – it’s Suzuki’s first literbike.
     
  • 1979 Wes Cooley wins the AMA Superbike Championship on the new GS. He’ll repeat the feat in ’80 before submitting to Eddie Lawson.
     
  • 1980 The GSX750E adopts Twin Swirl Combustion Chamber (TSCC) structure and a DOHC engine upgraded to four valves. Also, a new Anti Nose Dive Fork (ANDF) system is adopted for the front suspension.

    Somewhere in Japan, Suzuki appoints a Vice President of Acronyms for Suzuki’s Success (V-PASS).

     
  • 1981 German designer Hans A. Muth, styles the GSX1100S Katana. It boasts an output of 111 hp at 8,500 rpm.

    Marco Lucchinelli wins the 500cc World Championship for Suzuki.

     
  • 1982 Franco Uncini wins the 500cc World Championship.
     
  • 1983 The RG250 is Suzuki’s first ever race replica. This bike features the AL-BOX, square aluminum frame, 16-inch tire and Anti Nose Dive Forks (ANDF) at the front.
     
  • 1985 The RG500 “Gamma” features the same square-Four cylinder layout as the as the factory Grand Prix bikes. Other racy features are the square-tube aluminum frame and the removable cassette-type transmission.
     
  • 1986 Although the rest of the world got the GSX-R750 a year earlier, the most important new motorcycle in a decade finally arrives in the U.S. in 1986. Kevin Cameron, reviewing the machine in Cycle World, rhetorically asks, “Where will we go from here?”

    The new GSX-R1100 covers ¼ mile in 10.3 seconds and boasts a top speed of over 160 mph. That’s where we go from here.

     
  • 1989 Jamie James wins the AMA Superbike Championship of the GSX-R750.
     
  • 1990 The 779cc DR-BIG has the largest single-cylinder engine in living memory.
     
  • 1991 The GSX-R750 switches from oil-cooling to water-cooling and gains weight.
     
  • 1993 Kevin Schwantz wins the 500cc World Championship. “I’d rather not win it this way,” he says, referring to the career-ending injury of his arch-rival Wayne Rainey.
     
  • 1995 The much-loved 16-valve, 1156cc air/oil-cooled Bandit 1200 appears on the scene.
     
  • 1996 Suzuki calls the new GSX-R750 the ‘turning-point model’ thanks to its twin-spar frame instead of the older double-cradle frame. The engine is also redesigned and featured 3-piece crankcases, chrome-plated cylinders and a side-mount cam chain as well as Suzuki Ram Air Direct (SRAD) system.
     
  • 1997 The TL1000S is the first Suzuki sportbike with a V-Twin engine. It will be followed a year later by a racier R version, with a dodgy rotary vane damping system in the rear shock. Suzuki equipped the TL1000R with a steering damper, but it was still prone to headshake and customers approached it with caution, if at all.
     
  • 1999 Mat Mladin wins the AMA Superbike Championship, beginning a run of unprecedented dominance. Mladin will win five more times, and Suzuki will win 8 of the next 9 titles.

    With sport bikes getting more and more sharp edged, the company is one of the first to recognize what might be called the ‘semi-sport’ market, as opposed to the supersport market. The SV650 features an aluminum-alloy truss frame and a liquid-cooled 90° V-Twin DOHC 4-valve engine.

    Suzuki calls the Hayabusa the ultimate aerodynamic sportbike. It’s powered by a 1298cc liquid-cooled DOHC in-line 4-cylinder engine that becomes the darling of land-speed racers. The name means “peregrine falcon” in Japanese.

     
  • 2001 Based on the compact GSX-R750, the GSX-R1000 is powered by a liquid-cooled DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder 988cc engine, which features narrow-angle valves and downdraft individual throttle-body fuel injection.
     
  • 2005 Suzuki’s original 4-stroke motocrosser, the RM-Z450, is equipped with a 4-stroke 449cc engine, which features the Suzuki Advanced Sump System (SASS).

    Troy Corser gives Suzuki its first and only (so far) World Superbike Championship.

     
  • 2006 The M109R, Suzuki’s flagship V-Twin cruiser, is powered by a 1783cc V-Twin engine with 112mm bore and 90.5mm stroke. It has the largest reciprocating pistons in any production passenger car or motorcycle.
     
  • 2008 The B-King is launched, powered by the 1340cc Hayabusa engine, the B-King is Suzuki’s flagship big ‘Naked’ bike. Suzuki says it has the top-ranked power output in the naked category.
     
  • 2010 Due to economic downturn, Suzuki decides not to import any sportbikes to America for the 2010 model year. It also sites a backlog of 2009 models still on showroom floors as part of the decision.
     
Prepared with historical input by Mark Gardiner and other sources.
Get Motorcycle.com in your Inbox