14th June 2021

Motorcycling landmarks: The last big two-strokes

Throughout the 1970s, the mass market for big bikes was a battle ground between two-strokes and four-strokes. Suzuki’s GT range of triples, sized at 380, 550 and 750, survived to become the last of the big capacity strokers but, by 1978, even they had been replaced by four-strokes. From then on, only smaller two-stroke twins and singles would remain available.

Little wonder, then, that the triples are highly sought after today as reminders of an earlier age. In this period, the Suzukis occupied a middle ground between the ‘mad’ Kawasaki two-stroke triples and the ‘sensible’ Honda four-stroke fours. Generally more mild-mannered than Kawasaki’s machines, they were seen as a user-friendly two-stroke alternative to the four-stroke Hondas.

All the GT Suzukis had a rather portly appearance, compared to the slimmer Kawasakis, partly because of their huge, four-silencer exhausts. Four silencers on a triple? While each outer pot exhausted through its own silencer, the middle exhaust diverged under the bike into two smaller ones. At a stroke, this differentiated Suzuki’s triples from Kawasaki’s, while ensuring their owners weren’t going to be upstaged by any Honda rider with four pipes!

All the GT models were well regarded by their owners, being easier to live with and maintain than their competitors, while offering comparable performance, excellent long-distance comfort and enough excitement for most people. The exception was possibly the early GT750, launched in 1971.

Sitting in the showroom in its metallic baby blue or pink paint, the water-cooled 750 was unlikely to tempt any rocker off his Bonneville or outlaw off his Harley. Out on the road, the gentle power delivery and limited bank angle confined the 750 to the role of a touring bike, at which it excelled.

This all changed in 74/75 when Suzuki first altered the porting, then the exhausts, endowing the 750 with another 10mph on its top speed and better cornering clearance. Suddenly the GT750 became the fastest in comparison tests. Even the paint job was toned down, with more conventional colours. Every young hooligan wanted one.

Ironically, in this age of ‘classics’ it is the earlier model which makes the most sense. The porting delivers usable torque from 2000rpm, ideal for relaxed riding. The later models, though faster, sacrifice tractability and often snatch savagely at the drive chain on a light throttle at low engine speeds.

All the Suzuki triples provide exceptionally smooth power delivery under normal riding, thanks to rubber mounted engines and firing as often as a six-cylinder four-stroke. With electric starting on the 550 and 750 and a lazy jab on the kick start for the 380, none are (or should be) difficult to start.

Ultimately, the triples were killed off by increasingly tight emissions regulations. Manufacturers were faced with a choice between developing unique, and therefore costly, solutions in order to be different or jumping on the four-stroke ‘bandwagon’. The cliché ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore’ could easily have been written for bikes like this.

Are you a fan of this range by Suzuki? Let us know in the comments!

I had a GT750 in blue.Went all over the UK with it mainly to motorcycle racing circuits.Never had a problem with it and although lacked brakes when used spiritedly,it was a great bike.

Chip, 24/06/2021