Under appreciated motorcycles
Over the years of interviewing racers and travelers, authors and magazine editors, and everyday riders I often ask about their first motorcycle or a memorable bike from their past. The answer usually comes with an interesting story, and stories I love. The other day I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mitch Boehm, publisher of Moto Retro Illustrated magazine talking about his motorcycling life.
As with all good motorcyclist’s meeting for the first time, the first stop is the garage. A couple of motocross bikes, a newly acquired early eighties Kawasaki GPZ750, a beautiful 1970 Honda CB750 and a ‘getting ready to head for restoration’ Suzuki GS1000S. While in the garage talking about motorcycles, and skateboards (yes, Mr. Boehm is a skateboarder, it’s amazing the trouble your kid’s can get you into…) I discovered that Mitch has developed a passion for the GS1000S. After our visit, I got on my old BMW and rode down to visit my kids, and grand kid, in San Diego. During the next two hours of droning along the freeway, thinking about Mitch and his magazine, my mind wandered a bit, kind of like that Dodge minivan in the lane next to me, to motorcycles that not too many people have a passion for…the under appreciated motorcycle.
There are iconic motorcycles that every motorcyclist knows of, has owned or lusted after; and there are motorcycles that riders wish they had never bought. Motorcycle manufacturers are really no different than us…they have motorcycles that they know are legends, or going to be legends and some, they sat back scratching their heads saying to themselves, “what were we thinking?” And then…there are some motorcycles that are really wonderful rides that just went, shall we say, under appreciated. While riding, I started thinking about motorcycles that are really good but for one reason or another just didn’t strike the motorcycle buying public’s fancy. From Laguna Niguel to San Diego one bike seemed to crop in my thoughts over and over…The Suzuki RF900.
The Suzuki RF900 had a 5 year life span, 1994 through 1999. It was a ‘Sport Tourer’ with a little more ‘Sport’ than ‘Tour’. It wasn’t the most svelte motorcycle for the time at around 450 pounds but it also wasn’t the heaviest in it’s class. The RF had good handling, solid and stable…necessary for a sport tourer, a strong bulletproof motor and had to be comfortable to ride all day. All those characteristics the Suzuki had in spades. The motor was based on Suzuki’s GSX1100R, the oil cooled workhorse that you couldn’t kill if you tried. The 937cc engine put out about 125 horsepower, would easily see the other side of 150 miles per hour and could haul (and I do mean ‘haul‘) two of you with all your luggage across the country without breaking a sweat. All in all a great motorcycle I think, so why does it fall into the class of under appreciated?
We motorcyclists can a fickle bunch. If you’re a sport rider it’s light weight and ton’s of horsepower. If you’re a touring rider, you want comfy and loads of carrying capacity…”what do you mean this thing doesn’t have a cup holder and how do I work the CD changer?” Then there is styling and ‘WOW’ factor. Unfortunately Suzuki dropped the ball in both cases with the RF900.
Do you like the look of the Ferrari Testa Rosa? Well then you probably like the look of the ‘fish gills’ on the RF’s fairing. The RF wasn’t as sleek as the Honda VFR, (it’s primary rival at the time) as a matter of fact, it looked a bit porky by comparison. The bike handled well, not sportbike ‘flickable’ but still good enough for ninety percent of us out there. The RF got added suspension adjustment upgrades as time went along that helped add to the ‘sport’ in sport tourer.
And then there is the motor. What’s wrong with the motor you ask…nothing. What’s special about the motor you ask…nothing. And there my friends is the beauty of the RF900…it simply works and works well.
When the bike was new it cost just a bit more than a 600cc sportbike and a lot less than a 1000cc sportbike. Today a good used Suzuki RF900 is a great value for the rider that wants a bike that you can take for a Sunday ride on your local twisty road, Monday take you to work and when vacation time comes around, across the country. In my view, if you are one of those riders I just described, looking for and finding a Suzuki RF900 will be very rewarding. And you probably won’t see one at every Sunday morning bike hangout.