Suzuki GSX-CHEAP Been in production for almost 40 years, but the first generation bike is still a more powerful bike. The round headlights, slick bodywork, and ’80s color scheme still look as good as they did back then. As far as we’re concerned, it’s ripe for customization.
Victor Wilkens of Seattle, Washington also shared this feeling, so he went all out with his 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750. This classic superbike wears a host of mods — including an engine swap and a matching kit.
“I got into this habit of buying cheap bikes for commuting and then I tinkered, bought new parts and kept tinkering,” explains Victor. “Wash, repeat and the bike quickly turns into a precious artifact. A few years ago I fell into this trap again and built this one.”
After months of searching the classifieds, this GSX-R is for sale in Monterey, California. She lived a difficult life until she was adopted by Victor; It was raced in the ’90s, went through several owners, and then was parked outside for years in the salty Monterey air. But Victor saw potential in the old Gixxer — plus it had some period racing parts.
Those parts include a set of Dymag magnesium wheels. But Victor knew that magnesium had a tendency to corrode after a few decades, so he reached out to Dymag for advice.
There is good and bad news. The bad news is that Dymag advised him against using the wheels due to their age and condition. But the good news is that Victor was able to sell them (perhaps to someone with a bike just for show) and use the money to start building.
Replacing the Dymag wheel is a rim from a 1999 Suzuki Bandit 1200. Apart from the wheels, the front end is mostly second hand. Victor considered installing the fork upside down, but paid particular attention to the classic compression modifiers on the original forks. So he rebuilt those instead.
New EBC brake pads and modern Brembo master cylinders help improve braking.
The original engine was badly corroded, so it was taken out. The aforementioned Bandit 1200 has donated its engine to the cause, which is not very convincing. The GSX-R and Bandit produce comparable power, but the 1200 has 90 Nm of torque at just 4,500 rpm — 20 more than the GSX-R.
Owning such a powerful engine means that Victor only needs to do some select mods to make it work properly. Pod filters, a jet pack and an ignition assist kit from Holeshot Performance have been fitted, with the filters shortened to squeeze them between the frame bars. The car comes with a Yoshimura exhaust system that looks and sounds like this, but it has been modified to accommodate the taller engine.
To compensate for the extra torque, Victor braced, boxed and framed the chassis. The swingarm is similarly treated, along with Yamaha R1 shock absorbers. To improve riding posture, a Frankenstein rear fork is made from parts from KTM, Tarozzi and Motobits, mounted on adjustment plates manufactured by Victor himself.
Victor describes: “The result is a fun driver with lots of torque and plenty of power for the street. “The stiffer frame and reworked suspension make for a bike with very good handling.”
The GSX-R’s front fender was in poor condition, so Victor reached out to a friend who worked in the aerospace industry. They created a new crank using pre-impregnated carbon fiber, which is stronger and lighter than the original fiberglass. It was trimmed to reveal the engine, and since it was refreshed, Victor opted for a unique headlight design.
The cool yellow lens cap adds a perfect touch to this ’80s weapon. The front and rear guards are also made of carbon, with the rear integrated chain guard.
It was time to turn his attention to the rest of the bodywork, COVID-19 hit hard, and Victor found himself with a lot of free time. Not content with perfecting a sourdough recipe like the rest of the world, he tried his hand at metal shaping. With just basic hand tools, and twice as much time and patience, he built the tail and belly pan all by himself — an incredible feat for first timers. .
The taillights are recessed into the rear of the car and are covered with smoke-colored lenses. You can’t get more than ’80s beyond a blue chair, so it’s finished in marine-grade vinyl by JP Custom Seats in Los Angeles. The matching Oury handles add to the vibe.
Describing the raw carbon finish as “less than perfect,” Victor switched to the paint. The transparent carbon layer has a matte finish, with blue outlines and a large R logo. Sneaker lovers will recognize the splashing black and white pattern on the strap, tank, saddle, and belly — it’s modeled after the elephant on the 1987 Air Jordan III.
Amazingly, the stripes and patterns are hand-painted, before being sealed with a clear coat. Along with a new coat of paint on the engine, Victor nailed the new color scheme. Classic and modern in equal measure, its vibrant freshness hits the mark.
So what does Victor think about the finished product? “In the end, this bike was a failure,” he said.
“I set out to build an annoying commuter, but ended up having something too nice to abuse on a daily basis. The pandemic not only allowed me time to try out metal shaping, but it also cost me the daily commute. Maybe my daily rider could be something nice after all. “