Inside Suzuki – Factory Tour Part 1

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

We visit the Ryuyo Motorcycle Development Center in Hamamatsu

The launch of the all-new GSX-R1000 is critical to Suzuki, as the GSX-R line has been emblematic of the engineering might at the Japanese company since the game-changing original GSX-R750 in 1985 – and more than 1 million GSX-Rs have been produced since. So, prior to us sampling the wicked new Gixxer Thou in Australia, Suzuki flew us to Japan to give us insight into the facilities and processes required to develop a production superbike competitive with the best in the world.

Our first stop was Suzuki’s Motorcycle Development Center in the Hamamatsu area, about an hour’s ride on a Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo past the iconic and snow-capped Mount Fuji. The Ryuyo facility, located in central Japan on its southern shores, has roots that stretch back to 1964 when it first became operational. In 2005, the town of Ryuyo was merged into the expanded city of Iwata.

The Ryuyo complex is a necessary stop for every motorcycle and ATV produced by Suzuki. More than 1,000 employees work here to develop and hone powersports vehicles like the new Gixxer Thou. The large facility includes numerous buildings which sadly were off limits to nosey journalists. So, we didn’t get to see the wind tunnel and whatever secret stuff is going on inside, but we did get to see one of the 20 test benches for operating motorcycles on a dynamometer. On the day we visited, a new GSX-R1000 was being run on the dyno.

Here I point at a sticker on the GSX-R1000’s fuel tank displaying “E10,” presumably for a 10% ethanol blend. When I asked if this meant this particular bike is bound for the U.S. market where ethanol-laced fuel is commonplace, I was surprised to learn that Europe is now also using ethanol blends in some of its fuel.

In addition to multiple buildings, the Ryuyo complex also includes a multi-purpose test track with a variety of configurations and surfaces to evaluate motorcycles. In its longest layout, the track is 4.0 miles (6.5 km) in length. Also part of the complex is a full-on motocross track and other off-road areas for developing dirtbikes and ATVs. Company reps say that about 70-80% of Suzuki’s motocross bikes are sold in the USA.

Me with my head down in my notepad jotting down something about being surprised to find the facilities at Ryuyo to be fairly primitive for a location moderately famous around the globe. Suzuki does more with less!

The track includes a set of timing lights to log acceleration runs. Suzuki’s chief test rider, Yuichi Nakashima, says the new Gixxer can do a standing quarter-mile in just 9.8 secs; the previous version could manage only a 10.0-second E.T.

Takeshi Hayasaki, president of Suzuki Motor of America, points out some details of the 2017 GSX-R1000. Next to him in the black leathers is Yuichi Nakashima who has logged 30 years at Suzuki. We’re happy to report that Nakashima hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for the job, as evidenced by the lovely stand-up wheelie he performed while riding past the pit box in front of a group of difficult-to-impress journalists.
Here’s a shot from inside the building that was visible in the background of the picture above, showing its spartan interior. Engineers can keep tabs on the action around the racetrack via cameras feeding the TV monitor. (And, no, I didn’t notice what was on the papers being held in the vises!)
Nakashima-san puts his head down on the new GSX-R1000 as he rips down Ryuyo’s mega 1.5-mile straightaway. Suzuki’s MotoGP bikes can accelerate to 340 kph (211 mph) here, which quickly burns up tires, so they insert a chicane to prolong the liquification of rubber. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to spin some laps at Ryuyo.
Unlike a proper race course, the Ryuyo testing circuit has a dearth of run-off room. Note also the two pavement surfaces here, smoother on the left side.
This is the final corner of the Ryuyo test track leading onto the front straight. To the left of this shot out of frame is the motocross track. Straight ahead past the fence is the Pacific Ocean.

The trip to Ryuyo was a treat that provided rare insight to the backdrop of Suzuki’s developmental processes for its motorcycles – even though we wish we could’ve seen more of what was going on behind all those closed doors! Next up on our tour is the Takatsuka engine factory, then finally to the Toyokawa assembly plant where the engine joins the frame and a new GSX-R is spat out about 90 yards down the line. We hope you come along with us!

Kawasaki Japan Tour

Another example of Suzuki doing more with less. A track map of the Ryuyo circuit stuck to a dry-erase board in the main building’s conference room consisted of three papers taped together.
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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  • Old MOron Old MOron on Mar 21, 2017

    Hmm, I'm really digging the look of the facilities at Ryuyo. They remind me of your visit to Moto Guzzi about a year ago. It does seem that Suzuki are the most soulful of the Japanese OEM.

  • James Stewart James Stewart on Mar 22, 2017

    Duke - when you're in the assembly plant, I need you to pocket a seat, some tail fairings, and a headlight for a 2000 SV650 streetfighter project I'm working on.. OK?