One moment the sun was shining, the next the sky had turned
black and my promise to return the GS750 in the condition I'd borrowed it was
looking very rash. With less than a mile (1.6 km) to go the heavens opened,
instantly soaking both the Suzuki and me—and bringing the memories flooding
back. Suddenly it was 1977, and I was riding a friend's nearly new blue GS, for
the first time, through a similar downpour.
At the time, the GS wasn't just by far the best bike I'd ever
ridden, it was arguably the most competent superbike on the roads. And boy, was
it fast! (Especially to someone whose own bike was an old Triumph twin.) I can
still vividly remember crouching forward into the rain, with my-feet on the
pillion pegs, and glancing down to see the speedo needle reading an incredible
125 mph (200 km/h)—about 25 mph (40 km/h) faster than I'd ever been before in my
To say that I was impressed with the GS750 that day was an
understatement, and I was by no means the only rider to be overwhelmed by the
four-cylinder Suzuki's brilliant blend of power, handling, and all-around
ability. The concept of a light-heavyweight four was by no means new in those
days, of course. Honda's CB750 had been around for eight years, and in 1977
Kawasaki's reputation for big fours, forged by the Z1 and its descendants, had
just been enhanced by the arrival of the Z650.
In contrast, the GS was the first big four-stroke from Suzuki.
In typical Japanese style, what Suzuki's engineers had done was study the
opposition's products, draw up a very similar design containing some clever
refinements of their own—and produce a machine that was in many ways the best
big four of the lot.
The twin-cam, eight-valve motor they came up with was very
similar to that of Kawasaki's Z1/Z900, even sharing the Kawa's valve sizes and
66 mm bore, with a reduced 56.4 mm stroke giving a capacity of 748cc. Its only
real innovation was an automatic cam-chain tensioner that, like the rest of the
motor, would prove com-mendably reliable. Breathing in through a bank of 26 mm
Mikuni carbs and out through a suitably restrained twin-pipe exhaust system, the
GS unit produced a class-leading 68 BHP at 8500 RPM. In a similar vein, there
was nothing unusual about the Suzuki's chassis, with its familiar format of
twin-downtube steel frame, simple forks, and preload-adjustable twin shocks.
Like the engine, though, the GS chassis had been thoughtfully designed, with a
well-braced steering head area, plus needle-roller bearings for the swingarm.
And although the GS didn't turn many heads with its styling, it was pleasant in
an understated way.
I'd ridden a GS only once since that memorable first blast, but
the Suzuki's typical layout, with a fairly upright riding position and tall,
wide dual-seat, made me feel instantly at home. (European market bikes had
flatter handlebars than this US-spec machine.) So did the air-cooled engine's
anonymous blend of mechanical rustle and muted exhaust note, after I'd pulled
out the steering-head-mounted choke knob and hit the starter button.
An excess of character was never something the GS was accused of
possessing, but few owners complained about that. The Suzuki couldn't quite
match the pace of Kawasaki's Z1000, but it was quicker than Honda's CB750 and
Yamaha's XS750. This bike's motor felt nowhere near as potent as it must have
when the GS was new, but the air-cooled four's broad spread of power and slick
five-speed gearbox still impressed. The Suzuki pulled cleanly from as low as 30
mph (50 km/h) in top gear, its generous midrange torque making for effortless
And when the old bike was revved a bit harder, it responded with
fondly remembered enthusiasm, kicking slightly at about 6000 RPM and surging
toward the nine-grand red-line. Genuine top speed was a touch over 120 mph (195
km/h), but more importantly, the Suzuki cruised effortlessly at 90 mph (145
km/h). Although there was a typical and slight four-cylinder tingle at most
engine speeds, the motor remained basically smooth however hard it was worked.
In Seventies style, this was a sporty machine that was versatile enough to excel
at commuting and touring, too.
Handling was regarded as one of the GS750's main attributes back
in 1977, but I hadn't expected this bike to feel as good as it did all these
years later. Although it was a fairly big and heavy machine, with a long, 1500
mm (59 in) wheelbase, typically old-fashioned chassis geometry, and a 19-inch
front wheel, the GS seemed, to shed much of its weight on the move. Steering was
inevitably ponderous by modern standards, but given enough effort the Suzuki
could be tipped into corners with satisfying speed, and it felt reassuringly
neutral once into a bend.
The GS's suspension, regarded as excellent in its day, felt
slightly vague and crude at times. But it gave a comfortable ride, and for
reasonably gentle use the Suzuki was fine, wallowing slightly only when asked to
perform high-speed cornering feats for which even some modern retro-bikes would
have been ill suited.
My only real chassis-related complaint concerned the brake
system, which consisted of a single 292 mm (11.5 in) disc at each end. The front
lacked power, needing a viselike grip on the lever for serious stopping. And the
rear system, like many others of the time, was too sharp, locking up the wheel
unless great care was taken with the right boot. A second front disc was added,
along with cast wheels, in 1979.
Apart from that and some fresh color schemes, the model was
unchanged—simply because no major modifications were required. The GS lasted
three years (before being replaced by the faster but ill-handling 16-valve
GSX750), and represented the start of great things for Suzuki. Those four-stroke
engineers certainly got it right the first time with the GS750.
From SuperBike, m. 1977
"Proper snake in the grass, that's the new Suzuki. It's sneaked
up from behind, from a lair of softy strokers, to zap the opposition with such
venom that they'll never be the same again. Using the technology pioneered by
others, Suzuki have improved and refined, and quietly outclassed them all.
Not that you'd ever expect Suzuki's first four-stroke to be such
an exciting bike. The GS750 looks, sounds and has the character of an especially
well sorted vacuum cleaner. It's well mannered and unostentatious to the point
of being a bit dull: the complete committee-designed consumer appliance.
Then you let the revs stray towards the upper reaches and
suddenly the Suzuki transforms into a real superbike. What's more, the
performance of frame, suspension and brakes are a match for this unexpected and
extravagant metamorphosis. The GS has equally unexpected if less generous
reserves of high-speed capability. It's an all-round speedster with few peers."