The Start of A Great Thing – Suzuki XR69

In Japan, Race by Tim Huber1 Comment

The Suzuki XR69 is an incredible machine with a fascinating backstory, all starting back in 1976 when Pops Yoshimura reached out to Suzuki in hopes of getting some assistance in developing his GS750-based racer. The timing couldn’t have been better as Suzuki at this point had a fairly tenuous grasp on high-performance four-stroke engines. This symbiotic agreement was also beneficial to Suzuki due to its race department already being stretched pretty thin and Yoshi’s work greatly freed up resources needed by the manufacturer’s Grand Prix race department. This more-than-four-decade old partnership continues to this very day, but many point to the XR69 as the solidifying point in the relationship.

Within two years of making this arrangement, a 1000cc racer – which was heavily derived from the GS1000 roadster engine – was in development. Pops had tuned the machine to make a cool 130hp+, but that awesome power was far beyond what the chassis had been designed to withstand. With a “the worst that can happen is they’ll say no” type approach, Pops asked Suzuki if he could borrow a few parts from its ultra-trick 500cc GP machine. Surprisingly, Suzuki agreed, and the results were beyond impressive. A steel-tube frame similar to the XR23’s encased the air-cooled four-cylinder 1000cc powerplant. Grand Prix-spec suspension units from Kayaba and GP-spec disc brakes were utilized on the XR69 as well, and by 1980 official testing began.

Graeme Crosby joined Suzuki for the 1980 season following a successful year as a privateer. One of his first jobs was to test the new GS1000-derived racer. Not long after this, the Suzuki took home its first notable win at Daytona before continuing to be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. Suzuki had a small budget, at least compared to the amount of funding that was poured into Honda’s CB900F-based racer. The Suzuki machine’s engine was a little dated by the time it made its competition debut, but the genius of Pops Yoshi seemingly made up for this. The general mentality at this point in time was that high-performance engines needed (at least) four-valves per cylinder as where the Suzuki only had two. Pops got around this by opening up the ports, upping the 38mm inlet by 1mm while also expanding the exhaust to 37mm.

One immediate problem that the 130hp+ engine had was the lifespan of its pistons, which needed replacing every (roughly) 500 miles. Suzuki took advantage of its extensive global network and found someone in the UK who was willing to churn out a few specially forged Omega pistons and the problem was solved. Another issue these machines had was due to their extreme valve timing that Pops had implemented in order to squeeze out as much power as possible at high speeds. This meant running at lower speeds was sluggish as hell. The solution to this problem was achieved via the bike’s pilot always keeping the thing spinning at over 3,500 rpms at all times. As you might imagine, this took some getting used to, but supposedly worked once the rider got it right.

The XR69 was capable of 170mph+ top speeds depending on gearing and thanks to its world-class GP donor parts, was an incredibly agile and competent handler. Its performance only improved over the years. The year following its release, the Kayaba dual-rear-suspension was replaced by the then-all-new full-floater mono-shock system. The XR69 would go on to dominate in high-level competition all over the world. Some big names such as Mick Grant, Roger Marshall, and Wes Cooley all piloted the legendary XR69. At the end of the 1983 season a rule change would mean a reduction in capacity (down to 750cc) for four-strokes and 500cc for two-stroke machines. This obviously marked the end of Suzuki’s development of the machine, but privateers and vintage-enthusiasts – such as Harris Performance – continue to pour further R&D into the legendary early-’80’s Suzuki racer.

The specs of the XR69 were pretty mind-blowing back in the day, although today they’re nothing to turn your nose up at. The air-cooled four-cylinder, four-stroke DOHC 997.52cc engine made 134 hp at 9,500rpm and 72 ft-lbs of torque at 8,000rpm. The engine inhaled through quad-29mm Keihin carbs and was married to a 5-speed wet-clutch (though it was changed to a dry unit for 1983). In total the XR69 weighed in at 385 lbs. Some of the Harris Performance-built examples boast even better specs, but the XR69 is an impressive beast in all of its forms. This particular example is currently owned by Murray West Racing, a renowned vintage racing shop in Australia. This XR69 example is being offered as a complete motorcycle, or as a rolling chassis, complete with fairings and a myriad of other spares.

The Suzuki XR69 is the machine to have for those looking to participate in the Vintage TT or Manx GP. This Harris Performance-built example is not a replica but is very much the real deal. Harris Performance is responsible for building a large number of these machines in a myriad of forms: kits, frames, complete machines, replicas, etc. The lightweight tubular steel chassis and braced, box-section aluminum swing-arm are both hand-made by Harris. Harris also uses high-end bespoke components on its XR69’s including custom Maxton parts, AP Racing brakes, Marzocchi forks, and Dymag rims. Replicas often cost as much as $25,000. In 2011 an ex-Manx XR69 powered by a GS1000 engine sold for almost $23,000.

You can find this Harris Performance-built Suzuki XR69 racer for sale here on in Australia with a price of $44,575 for the complete bike and $26,900 for the rolling chassis.