Dec '96 / Jan '97
The Suzuki RF900R
by Michael Kamrad
To evolve in the motorcycle industry is to engineer a higher level top-notch machine. It is to combine form and function and to breed a cycle that easily gives outstanding performance numbers, willingly behaves when handled through the twisties, and hides this wolf in beautifully sculpted bodywork that makes it look ultra-high-speed even when the kick stand is down. When this kind of thoughtful R & D is successful, the machine is truly a sight to behold and exhilarating to ride.
Something this Nirvanic to your neural-accelerometer has been brought to life for us by Suzuki. This night rider is called the RF900R.
Make no mistake about it; the RF fills the gap between high performance and rideability. The design of the RF looks like a cross between a Ferrari, a tiger shark, and the movie Alien. The RF900R delves deeply into all aspects of motorcycle riding, but not so deeply as to make the cycle awkward or uncomfortable. As a motorcycle test pilot, I found that the RF is (finally) a real, "full" bike I can sink my teeth into.
The heart of the beast is a 937cc, 16 valve, in-line four cylinder connected to a five-speed transmission. Suzuki designed the engine to be strong through low and mid ranges, but the bike gives excellent acceleration all through its power band to the 12,000 r.p.m. red line.
Four downdraft carburetors feeding straight intake ports create a clean performance. This helps better fill the cylinder and improve gas flow. Because Suzuki uses a twin spar frame, they can take full advantage of downdraft slingshot carburetors and a six liter air box above the engine. The engine sits at a 19° forward incline to help distribute weight.
The RF keeps cool through a U-shaped radiator (a curved radiator allows the engine to sit closer to the front wheel). Oil jets aimed at the cylinder bottoms coupled with a water cooled oil filter also ensure a cool running and longer lasting engine.
The RF expels its exhaust through a four-into-one stainless steel header matched with an aluminum muffler that will easily accept an after-market slip-on.
The five-speed transmission makes smooth power in any gear and allows the rider to focus on the road--not gear changes. The rear sprocket is one tooth larger than that of the GSXR 1100. This drops overall gearing and reduces the wheelie factor. You can unleash the RF and be in control, but you must remember the bike's hell-strong low and mid range (64 ft. lbs. of torque at 8,500 r.p.m., 80% of that at 3,500 r.p.m. and up). It is well matched to its gearing. It puts serious power to the rear wheel without spurting the bike away uncontrollably--a good thing when that unseen curve rears its ugly head. The RF is not without the top end performance to complete its broad power band. The 937cc mill makes 117.3 rear wheel horsepower at 9,500 r.p.m. It has a top speed of 165 m.p.h.
The RF900's numbers sit right with other superbikes, but this bike is a GT/sport-touring motorcycle. The competition is in denial about this cycle. It makes ALL of them sweat.
I found the engine ready to start almost immediately even on the coldest mornings, and vibration is nominal. The RF is smooth, responsive and mind-numbingly fast.
But is the suspension strong enough to contain the RF's power? You can have a great motor, but it won't mean bo-diddly if you can't control the thing. Surprise, hombre! The RF900 is right on your tail. Wham-bam, you just got passed! "How'd that get around me like that?" Easily. Very easily.
The suspension, brakes and handling are the chorus that sings in harmony with the heart of the RF900R. The melody is rider confidence. For those of you who have never ridden a motorcycle with a twin spar frame, there is a reason they make them this way. A twin spar means control. When it's time to make like a Mad Max movie, you'll survive to the end of the film. The RF's frame and tank are designed to allow the rider to position his or her legs closer to the bike's center of gravity. Suzuki made the frame of diamond steel instead of aluminum which enabled them to curve the frame and make the walls of the frame thinner and lighter.
The RF has fully adjustable front and rear shocks, Sportmax radials, hollow cast aluminum wheels and a 56" wheel base. The engineers who designed the RF have hit upon the perfect combination of weight, suspension and tires. This bike is unbelievably maneuverable. It always goes where you want it to, no more, no less. Although it seems large when you first get on, the RF feels more like a 600. At 451 lbs. dry, it weighs more like a 600. Cornering on uneven surfaces will not destabilize the bike, and on all other road conditions, the RF is sweet music.
The Suzuki's mechanical grace is equaled by its curvaceous bodywork. Months spent by one of the principle design engineers at the local aquarium show themselves in the manta-ray like lines of the RF. A long ride reveals just how well the bodywork adds to the bikes comfort. The fairing covers the rider in all riding conditions and keeps things quiet. A wide seat adds to the comfortable riding position.
The RF900R's fit and finish is the cherry on top of this sundae. Near perfect welds, rich paint and attention to quality are apparent throughout. Early RF's were solid colors with matching painted frames. Suzuki no longer paints the frame and has added "Racer-Boy Graffix," but the bike was obviously intended from the start to be red.
Many people consider the RF900 to be the most overlooked motorcycle around. Without racing greatness attached to it like the GSXR the RF has to make its own way in the world. Consider a test ride and a closer look at the RF900. See why it works like a definition of harmony.
Editor's Note: Michael Kamrad added a fourth motorcycle to his stable this year. Yes, it is an RF900R.
* This review originally appeared in the Dec '96/Jan '97 issue of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly.
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