Measuring my years in sport bikes

My son just moved into his first apartment. The house that once felt claustrophobically constricted for two adults now feels enormously empty for one. The constant din that is a young male still echoes in the eerie silence left behind. Even the extra cash I have on hand because there’s no basement troll constantly trying to “borrow” a twenty provides little solace.

Nonetheless, it was time. He finally graduated from university, he’s one of the lucky few who has procured full-time employment and he is, after all, 25 years old. Of course, in my cranium, it was just last week I was paddling his little behind for not looking both ways before crossing the road, teaching him how to tie his shoe laces and picking up his always-errant socks (actually, it was just last week I was picking up his socks). I am, for all my self-delusion of rational thought and objective self-introspection, the veritable cliche of the empty nester wondering where all the time went.

As with all traumatic problems that burrow their way into my usually oblivious skull, my solution is to either punch a very heavy bag until exhaustion sets in or ride a motorcycle very fast. Since the calamitous event just happened to correspond with the very first sunny weekend of the year, I chose the latter over the former, filled the 2010 Suzuki GSXR1000 with gas and headed to the Forks of the Credit to blow off some cobwebs. A powerslide here, a wheelie there, thought I, and all would be right with the world again.

Unfortunately, my mind wandered as I was cruising along Highway 10 and I realized the GSX-R model, like my now-departed basement troll, was 25 years old. Jesus, was it a conspiracy? There I was, trying to rid my synapses of the reality that my use on the planet — at least for that basic continuance-of-the-species thing — was over and up pops the realization it’s been almost 25 years–or, as I was thinking at the time, closer to the end of my career than the beginning — since Suzuki unleashed its original GSX-R.

Putting my mid-life crisis aside for a moment, never doubt that the launch of the 1985 Suzuki GSXR750 was a seminal time in the history of motorcycling. Of course, had I been born a little earlier, my motorcycling JFK moment might well have been the introduction in 1969 of the Honda CB750, the first mass-produced four-cylinder motorcycle. But certainly no moment since has changed motorcycling more than Suzuki’s original Gixxer.

I remember it well. Motorcycle development had fallen in a rut; a simple evolution of a few pounds lighter here, a few horsepower gained there, the differences between generations significant enough to warrant a new advertisement, but essentially the same drudge that lesser engineers deemed necessary evolution.

Then the Suzuki’s blue-and-white apparition came along and blew the entire paradigm to smithereens. It looked impossibly spindly, its frame rails hopelessly over-stressed, its wheels delicate (this last proved prophetic as original Gixxer wheels could prove fragile) — more like the ghost of a motorcycle rather than a real, live racing bike.

But — and this was the very biggest of buts — it was incredibly lithe, seemingly 50 kilograms lighter than anything similar. It did not matter that its air-and-oil-cooled four was a little less powerful than a few of the new water-cooled engines just hitting the market; it was a real racing motorcycle — just like the glossy ads so often promised and so seldom delivered– for the street.

Even though it would be considered massively underpowered today, to be truthful, the original test bike was too much motorcycle for me back in the day. (Inexplicably, I am getting more competent at this racing thing as I get older.) The Canadian version’s flatslide carbs could be temperamental and it wobbled and weaved in a manner that would positively frighten a modern sportbike rider. But, Lordy, it was fast.

Indeed, every single sporting motorcycle since 1985 — be it run-of-the-mill Japanese sportbike or some form of Italian unobtanium — can trace its roots to the original Gixxer. It literally ushered in the modern sportbike era, forcing every one of its competitors to abandon their tried-and-true evolutionary development and start completely anew. Or as Cycle magazine, the motorcycling tome of the day, said in its March 1985 issue, “Sportbikes will soon be divided into two categories; before the GSX-R and after.”

Twenty-five years later, I wish I had been smart enough to keep one around in mint condition. But, then, we’ve already established that I am the incarnate of the how-time-flies parable.

Photograph by: Peter Redman, National Post