The mid 1980s was a sweet time for sports bikes. Water cooling, fairings and 16 valve engines all combined to see a sharp increase in power outputs, while advances in chassis technology meant that road holding made massive strides too.
But for many, the 1980s will be remembered as the pinnacle of mainstream two-stroke sports bikes, popularised by the Yamaha RD350LC and ruled by this, the King of the Strokers, the Suzuki RG500 Gamma.
Along with the Yamaha RD500, the RG could lay claim to being the first true race replica. With a square four, 498cc, two-stroke motor housed in an aluminium box-section frame, the road-going RG was a pretty close relation to the factory Suzuki 500cc Grand Prix bikes that had won the 1981 and 1982 world titles in the hands of Italian riders Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini, and which themselves were evolutions of the great Barry Sheene’s title winning bikes.
While the factory RG was starting to be overtaken by the Honda and Yamaha efforts, it was still a weapon of choice for privateers. While the road bike didn’t share many of the racer’s mechanical parts, it shared the DNA in much the same was as a modern Ducati or Yamaha superbike takes its architecture and technology from MotoGP.
Suzuki claimed a power output of 95bhp, but with a weight of just 156kg. As with the racers, the motor itself used disc valves and was a twin crank with the flatslide carbs sticking out the side. Straight from the racebike came an easily removable cassette-style gearbox with a tall first gear, while the Suzuki Automatic Exhaust Control (SAEC) system was a power valve set-up in the style of Yamaha’s fabled YPVS.
Not that the RG500 had a particularly user friendly motor. There wasn’t very much below 6000rpm, but hit that powerband and the Gamma gave 3000rpm of hooliganistic fun on its way to a 140mph top speed.
The chassis was full of 1980s technology, such as the 16” front wheel, air adjustable front suspension and Suzuki’s ‘Full Floater’ rear suspension, their early incarnation of a single shock rear suspension set-up. Back in the day it was something special and that, combined with the fact that it was only in the Suzuki range for three years, means that prices for RG500s have gone crazy in recent years as the teens of the ‘80s look to finally get it the saddle of the bikes they lusted after. Expect to pay somewhere in the region of £15,000 for a good one, although tatty ones and Japanese market RG400s can be found for quite a bit less.
All sporty two-strokes are in demand these days, but the RG500 remains a particularly popular model. It marks the end of an era, as 1985 was also the year in which Suzuki launched its enduring GSX-R750 and these four-stroke 750s would become the new standard for top end sportsbikes. Smaller, 250cc, two-stroke sportsbikes like the RG250 and Kawasaki KR-1S remained in the brochures for another decade or so, but nothing matched the RG500 – a genuine icon of 1980s motorcycling.
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