Historic Motorcycle Brands
In 1909, Michio Suzuki (1887–1982) founded what became the successful Suzuki Loom Works in Hamamatsu, Japan. He diversified into building small cars in 1937, but World War II ended that endeavour. After the War, Suzuki re-entered the automotive business and began producing motorcycles in 1952.
Suzuki Power Free E2 – Rainmaker
Suzuki’s first two-wheeled vehicle was a bicycle fitted with a motor, called the ‘Power Free’ that was powered by a 36cc, one-horsepower, two-stroke engine. A double-sprocket gear system enabled the rider to pedal with engine assistance, pedal without engine assist, or disconnect the pedals and use engine power.
The patent office of the new Japanese democratic government granted Suzuki a financial subsidy to continue research in motorcycle engineering.
In 1953 came the Diamond Free 60cc version and displacement subsequently increased to 70cc.
1954 Suzuki Colleda CO-K
By 1954, Suzuki was producing 6000 motorcycles per month and his company had changed its name to Suzuki Motor Co Ltd. In 1955 came the Colleda COX 125cc, four-stroke, single-cylinder and Colleda ST 125cc, two-stroke, single-cylinder motorcycles.
The Colleda Sel Twin two-cylinder 125cc, two-stroke motorcycle with electric starter came in 1959, but the plant was destroyed by a typhoon later that year.
1956 Suzuki ST-2
In 1960, a new modern assembly plant was readied and Suzuki entered a race team into Grands Prix, under the manufacturing name Colleda. Results were about as expected – 15th, 16th and 18th in Isle of Man TT races, but great experience was gained.
In the following year, Suzuki entered race models RT61 125cc and RV61 250cc into Grands Prix under the Suzuki name. The results were 10th and 12th in the 250cc Isle of Man TT races.
In 1962 came the first victory in the inaugural season of 50cc Grand Prix racing, after a three-way battle between Suzuki, Honda and Kreidler at the Isle of Man TT.
The GP glory wasn’t all Suzuki’s, because the winning RM62 machine was ridden by Ernst Degner, who had defected from the East German MZ team to Suzuki the previous year. In the process of defecting, Degner brought MZ’s secret ‘expansion chamber’ technology with him and that gave Suzuki an edge over its competitors.
1963 Suzuki RT63
In 1963, Mitsuo Itoh made history as the first Japanese rider to win the Isle of Man TT, when he took the lead on the last lap of the 50cc race, after Suzuki teammate Degner broke down. Suzuki won both the rider’s and manufacturer’s championships, in 50cc and 125cc classes of World Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
Suzuki T20 – Thesupermat
In 1965, Suzuki launched the T20 motorcycle and introduced it as ‘the fastest 250cc motorcycle in the world’. Initially aimed at the US market, this bike earned world-wide attention.
After a winning 1967 season, the Suzuki motorcycle race team withdrew from Grand Prix racing, due to changes in FIM rules. Hans-Georg Anscheidt rode a 1967 machine in 1968 as a privateer, for his third and Suzuki’s seventh season of GP championships.
Suzuki T500 – Mike Schinkel
The Suzuki T500 motorcycle, powered by an air-cooled, parallel-twin, 500cc engine was released in 1968 and was the largest displacement two-stroke on the market. Three years later came the GT750 motorcycle, with a liquid-cooled, two-stroke, in-line, three-cylinder engine.
Suzuki GT750 Triple – Mick
Also in 1971 came the TM400, to participate in 500cc class Motocross World Championship racing. Suzuki rider Roger De Coster became the 500cc class World Motocross Champion on his 396cc RN71 factory machine and teammate Joel Robert became 250cc class champion.
The Hustler TS400 motorcycle was released as a street version of the TM400.
In 1974, the RE5 was introduced, as the first Japanese production motorcycle with a rotary engine.
Suzuki RE5 M2 – Gtregs75
The RM125 was introduced in 1975, as a production version of the works RA75 machine, on which Gaston Rahier won the 125cc World Motocross GP championship. From 1975 to 1984, Suzuki dominated this class.
Suzuki GS1000S – Mike Schinkel
In 1976 the GS Series motorcycles were released: the GS750 and GS400 being the first four-stroke machines from Suzuki in 20 years. In the same year, Barry Sheene won the 500cc World Championship for Suzuki.
Barry Sheene on Suzuki at Assen, 1976
In 1978, the flagship model of the GS Series, the GS1000E, became Suzuki’s first one-litre machine and a Yoshimura GS1000 ridden by Californians Mike Baldwin and Wes Cooley won the first Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race.
Suzuki GSX1100F – Paste
In 1980 came the launch of the GSX series of motorcycles with four-stroke, DOHC four-valve engines. In the next year, the RG Gamma made its first appearance in Grand Prix motorcycle racing and Suzuki won its sixth-consecutive manufacturer’s title. Suzuki rider Marco Lucchinelli became the 500cc class champion.
Also in 1981, German designer Hans A Muth used the Japanese name for the samurai sword to style the GSX1100S Katana.
Suzuki Katana 1100 – Allmoto
Italian Franco Uncini, riding a Roberto Gallina racing team RG Γ motorcycle, took the 1982 Grand Prix championship in the 500cc class and Suzuki won the manufacturer’s title for the seventh consecutive year.
In 1983, the RG250Γ motorcycle was released as a full-blown race-replica, with technology developed for the racetrack. Introduction of the GSX-R750 motorcycle with an air- and oil-cooled, four-cylinder DOHC engine came in 1984.
Suzuki GSXR750 K4 – Greg Loughran
The Intruder line started life in North America in 1985, with the Intruder 700 and the Intruder 1400, which was actually a 1360cc machine. Suzuki soon bumped the Intruder up to 750cc and then 800cc in 1992.
The half-naked Suzuki Bandit GSF series arrived in 1989, with 250cc and 400cc engines. In 1995, the Bandit 600 was released, powered by the in-line four from the GSXR600. It gained 750cc and 1200cc engines in 1996.
Suzuki V-Strom – Maaj01
The VX800 arrived in 1990, with shaft drive from an 800cc V-twin.
The Suzuki TL1000S was introduced by Suzuki in 1997 and was produced until 2001 and is frequently referred to as the TLS or Suzuki TLS. It is notable for the 90° V-twin engine which is still used in Suzuki’s modern SV1000 and V-Strom 1000 motorcycles.
In 1998, Suzuki introduced the GSX 1300R Hayabusa 1299cc, sports bike that was the fastest production motorcycle in 1999–2000 model years.
The Suzuki VL 1500 Intruder LC and Boulevard C90 were cruiser motorcycles with a feet-forward riding posture, shaft drive and engine balance shafts, made by Suzuki from 1998 to 2004 as the Intruder and since 2005 as the Boulevard.
1994 Suzuki Intruder VS1400GLP
Which models, out of the hundreds of different Suzuki variants since the 1960s, will become treasured classics in the years to come, remain a mystery, but there are some certainties.
Already, Katanas are held in high regard, as are GSX models and Hayabusas.