Buying A Used Suzuki GSX-R1100 With A Few Surprises

Date 19.5.2016

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader


Guido Gets A GSX-R1100…With A Few Surprises

It started a decade or so ago when I asked the nice man behind the parts counter for an oil filter for a GSX1100. What I got instead was a filter for a first-model GSX-R1100.

I didn’t spot the problem until I got home and unwrapped it. Bugger.

While it was tempting to go back and ask for a swap, there was something in the back of the unconscious that said, “No, just hang on to it.” At that stage, I always secretly wanted to own a GSX-R. So I kept the Gixxer filter, bought the right GSX part and kept quiet.

It’s a cargo cult mentality. If you keep the GSX-R filter, maybe it will attract whole GSX-Rs.

It did. I’ve since owned three. The latest, a G model, which is the first version (1986), is something of a bastard. I’d like to think that, over the years, I’ve become reasonably adept at buying bikes online and/or over the telephone.

There have been some wins and losses, and I’m not entirely sure where this one sits.

Having spotted it on, I rang the owner and had a chat. He came across as another would-be collector who wanted to offload one of two similar bikes. Okay. His description of the condition was good, when in reality I’d rate it as fair. Read that as honest, but cosmetically tired.

What I should’ve done was take a much closer look at the online photos. There was clearly a gap in how we would both describe the bike.

In retrospect, I should’ve checked his knowledge of this particular machine. What neither of us knew, until I started to sort out some issues, was that it’s a G-model chassis (the first of the series, circa 1986) fitted with an M-model engine, circa 1991, and the last of the air/oil-cooled powerplants. The first giveaway on this mix was the thing went like a cut cat.

I rode the G-model extensively (as a staffer on Australian Motorcycle News) when it was launched.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

While it was fast enough to produce a near-religious experience, this version was much too good for its age. Giveaway two was the sad set of very expensive K&N filters crammed into the frame at all the wrong angles.

Suzuki GSX-R1100 Suzuki GSX-R1100

Number three was when you pulled off the air filters there was a giant set of oval-mouthed carburettors staring back at you. Despite the partying and the claret, even I knew they did not belong to 1986 – the originals were round and much smaller. That’s when I started to check engine serial numbers.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

While advertised as a bike you could easily restore to original (it even came with the stock airbox and rare four-into-one exhaust), the reality was it would not be a cheap conversion. Get the 1986 inlet manifold rubbers and carburettors and you could probably do it.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

On the plus side, the M-version of the engine is bigger (1127cc versus 1052cc), and has better than 10 per cent more torque and horsepower.

It may not seem like much, but the difference between the two is very real – suggesting the factory numbers are modest.

Deeper into the abyss…

Okay, fine. Next up was the condition of the bike. For crying out loud, am I the only person on the planet who replaces fork seals?

This, like most bikes I’ve bought in the last few years, needed them. Fortunately, the steering head and swingarm bearings were okay, as were the tyres.

Not so the starter relay, which went to lunch on a cold and wet afternoon close to the palatial Motorcycle Trader offices and nowhere near home. Effing bastard. Of course, I had to bump-start the sod in the rain. It eventually fired after several runs just at that last desperate attempt when I’d decided it was either now or I’d throw the damned thing into the nearest skip.

A new relay (about $200) was easy enough to source, though it happens to be placed in one of those dim places in the frame where only a double-jointed mechanic with a light embedded in his forehead could see it.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

We had a little trauma along the way, which was after I made the mistake of filling it with 98-RON fuel.

It ran fine for a while, but the longer we idled in traffic, the worse things got. It died. Sure enough, fouled plugs. Why? I wasted a lot of time and effort pulling out and cleaning the carbs, and changing the plugs, chasing the problem. Maybe it wasn’t a complete waste, as it now has the cleanest fuel system on the planet. Oh, and we’ve fitted a new set of aftermarket air filters that tidy up the appearance.

As luck would have it, I got chatting with a bike mechanic who perfectly described the symptoms that Ghengis the GSX-R was suffering.

Do not run 98-RON fuel in carburettor bikes of that period.

The fuel is too dense and the plugs can’t cope. It’s fine at highway speeds, but fouling plugs eventually croak at low revs.

Go for 95 RON. I took the mechanics advice and the problem was solved. [I may have mentioned that a thousand times before this event, Guido. A prophet is never recognised in his own land… – Spannerman]

Suzuki GSX-R1100

So having had a bit of a whinge about the trials of mixed-breed GSX-R ownership, is there a plus? Yep.

The early ‘slabbie’ series looks basic thanks to its endurance racer heritage, and has charm because of that.

More importantly, even today they’re a good ride. The numbers are modest by current standards: 130-145 horses for a 200-ish kilogram package.

What those numbers don’t tell you is just how much fun they are.

Compact, noisy, fast, a little crude and still capable of hitting a turn at decent pace, it’s hard not to like them.


article by Guy Allen, aka Guido.