Had I set my expectation too high? What if I was disappointed? Travelling solo brings out split personalities – the one voice in my head saying ‘You have 1 day in Japan .. do you really want to spend most of it on a train?’ The rational voice replying … ‘Let’s go!’ And so … I’m here now. In Hamamatsu.
Walking past the factory, I gripped the metal fence bars and stared at the unassuming swathe of factory buildings. There was no hint here as to the impact this site has had on my 2 wheel world. No piles of rejected EFE heads, slabby top fairings waiting for paint or katana front fairing braces- ah well. I paused to gaze for a few minutes, waving my nose in the air and trying to soak up ‘something’. I imagined Hanma Shin in his workshop in there somewhere hack sawing H*ndas into bite size chunks and chuckled to myself, remembering the stickers I had packed in my bag that morning. Following the arrows, I tracked through the underpass which crossed the road and up to the steps of Suzuki Plaza.
I knew from my research that Suzuki Plaza was a small museum and exhibition centre near the factory and I’d gone online the night before from my hotel and booked a ticket. The accuracy of the train timetable had me land on the steps of Suzuki Plaza 5 minutes before my slot. Perfect. And there was noone else about. Even better, with not a soul around – I had the place to myself.
I was in. The foyer wasn’t all that. There, I said it. It’s that feeling I get when I’m reminded that as well as EFEs and GSXRs and GSs, that Suzuki also make the Swift and the Jimny. It took a collection of rare race machines to bring balance to the situation.
I checked in and took the opportunity to get a snap on the Katana displayed in Prime Position. Well, you would – wouldn’t you?
The rest of the exhibits and the museum were to be found via the stairs. Pop out for a quick ciggie because. Pinch myself. Giggle some more. Take a selfie. OK, back in. Let’s see what this is all about!
Suzuki Fever hit in my teenage years. It was the mid 90s, GSXRs ruled the streets and the mighty EFE was still winning at the tracks. Gary Rothwell was my hero and Streefighters Magazine fuelled my fever. Who knew over 20 years later, my passion would lead me to Hamamatsu, the home of Suzuki Motorcycles.
The path through life has many cross roads. Back in 1995, it was going to be either a GS550 or a GPZ550 uni trak. I’d spent my first full year on the road on a forgiving and relatively new Kwak but I now had a full bike licence in my wallet and I wanted more power. The GPZ was rougher in the flesh than the photos suggested so it was the Suzuki that was to become my daily ride and the first of many Suzukis.
20 or so years later, I had sampled most of Suzuki’s big capacity engine offerings from the 80s and 90s. I even had a few of them in the shed. That turn at the cross roads had developed into an almost obsessive passion for the machines built across the other side of this globe in a town called Hamamatsu. When a work trip to Japan left me with 1 free day, there was only one thing on my mind – how do I get to Hamamatsu?
I was staying in Yokohama Bay. The sun broke over the harbour and into my hotel room. Today was the day. Japanese trains are rightly known for both their speed and timeliness. I just had to work out which ones to get. The underground from Minatomirai took me to Shin-Yokohama and then to Tokyo Central station where I could grab the Shinkansen. It wasn’t the super fast train which suited me fine and gave me the chance to take in the paddy fields streaming past the window and a view of Mount Fuji as we sped along the coastline.
I tracked the time, watching the stops go by until finally the scrolling message in the cabin said ‘Hamamatsu’.
Heart pounding, I grabbed my bag and stepped off the train. In the distance I could see the Suzuki S drawing me in.
I tripped down the steps like a kid at school kicking out time and followed the sign as it got bigger and bigger through the grid-work town until I could see it. The factory was right there.
What is bike building if it isn’t an exercise in expression and interpretation?
Suzuki’s GSXR Slabsisdes have been the focus of many a rivet counting, concourse restoration over the last few years. Many of those restorations were reverse engineered streetfighters from the noughties. Renthals and twin dommies swapped out for overpriced body work, extortionate paint jobs with original Suzuki GSXR decals.
I was riding bikes when the GSXR slabside first hit the roads and I remember riding one for the first time in 1988. It just felt so right. You sat in it, not on it. The clip-ons and the rear-sets stretched your body across the tank and you were instantly transformed into a racer. I could never understand why someone would want to alter that geometry by fitting renthals.
What’s the essence of this bike then? It’s a race bike! When
you sit on it you should “adopt the position” That, to me, is the essence of a
GSXR slabside. Everything else is academic.
I’m also a sucker for a spartan build. A no nonsense, no frills, functional build. Something, practical and usable but fit for purpose.
Every time I see this month’s Bike of the month, and I do see it regularly because it gets used regularly, I just want to get on it and ride it. I don’t feel the need to faun over it or ogle for hours. I just want to ride it. It is a very unique looking machine but at the heart of it are the same essential 3 points of contact that make GSXR slabside an out and out race bike. The rearsets, the seat and the clip-ons.
Ben Buckle’s spartan GSXR1100 slabside is our October 2019 Bike of the month.