Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 18th July 2014

To celebrate the 120th year of the motorbike, for 120 days everyone who gets a quote from us will be in with a chance of winning a fantastic Suzuki GSX-R600 worth over £8,500! Not only that, if you are the lucky winner you’ll also receive FREE bike insurance and DNA protection system for your bike, along with a whole host of other benefits. In light of this competition, we thought we’d take a little look at the history of Suzuki…

The History Of Suzuki: Part One

Suzuki has come an extremely long way since its humble beginnings, from starting off producing spinning looms to becoming one of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturers. And although the company makes various other automobiles – such as cars and ATVs – it is most famed for its extensive range of motorbikes.

Life before the motorbike

The company, initially called Suzuki Loom Works, was founded in 1909 by Michio Suzuki, son to a Japanese cotton farmer. In 1920 Suzuki floated on the stock market, a move which was followed by a name change to Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company. During that time the most popular export products were fabrics and cloth; the Japanese were yet to discover their talent for manufacturing motorcycles. This meant Suzuki was in the right business at the right time. Nevertheless, the looms being produced were of such high quality that they rarely needed replacing, resulting in decreasing demand for such products. Suzuki knew that he needed to branch out into other markets.

Before WWII there were very few Japanese motorcycle manufacturers but in 1947 Japanese engineer Soichiro Honda unveiled his very first ‘cyclemotor.’ The Japanese significantly lagged behind Europe and the US, who were decades ahead in motorcycle production.

To begin with the Japanese were not the fantastic motorcycle engineers we know today; they imitated much of the design and technical aspects of European and American bikes. However, it only took a couple of decades following the Second World War for Japan to gain control of the global motorcycle market.

Pre-war, Suzuki had considered entering the automotive industry after noticing that the 20,000 vehicles imported to Japan each year was not enough to meet consumer demand. So in 1938 it went about producing a car prototype that was based on the Austin Seven. The firm bought an Austin Seven, dismantled it and studied it, producing a convincing 737cc replica. However, the project was abandoned as Japan prepared to go to war and the car never went into mass production. Post-war Japan was plagued by economic and financial instability which led to the demise of the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company.

Power Free and Diamond Free

Rumour has it that Suzuki’s son, Shunzo, came up with the idea of motorising his bike when he was riding home from a fishing trip, and apparently he rushed home and began designing a cyclemotor. True or not, it was the production of cyclemotors that saved Suzuki.

In 1951, Suzuki engineers got to work on designing an engine that could be fitted (clipped on) to a bicycle. This was not a unique idea, however, and by the time Suzuki had its first offering – a 36cc engine called the ‘Power Free’ – Honda already dominated 70% of the commuting market.

The Power Free was extremely high-quality and was largely influenced by Shunzo’s design ideas. The engine was a ‘square’ 36 x 36mm piston-ported two-stroke mounted within the bike’s frame just above the pedals. The engine powered the bike via the standard pedalling chain and was fitted with specific chain-wheels to enable the rider to free-wheel while the engine was running. The Power Free boasted such an inventive system the Patent Office granted Suzuki a financial subsidy to continue research into engineering.

The cyclemotor was on sale for a few months before it was substantially improved and, in 1953, the Diamond Free was manufactured. It was largely based on its predecessor yet had a 58cc engine capacity and came fitted with alloy side panels to make it look tidier. The power output for the Diamond Free was 2 bhp at 4000rpm. Other variations accompanied the Power Free and Diamond Free, but 1954 marked the end of the cyclemotor and the dawn of the motorcycle…

Next up, we’ll look at Suzuki’s entry into the motorcycle market, so keep your eyes peeled for the next feature!

Image: 360b