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Future Machine: 1993 Yamaha GTS1000

Future Machine 1993 Yamaha GTS1000

Engine: 1,002cc DOHC, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled inline 4-cylinder, 75.5mm x 56mm bore and stroke, 10.8:1 compression ratio, 100hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed (approx.): 139mph (224kmh)
Fueling: Electronic fuel injection
Transmission: 5-speed, O-ring chain final drive
Electrics: 12v, electronic ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Aluminum “Omega” chassis w/front and rear tubular-steel subframes, 58.9in (1,496mm) wheelbase 
Suspension: RADD forkless single-shock front, single-shock rear swing arm
Brakes: Single 12.9in (328mm) disc brake front, single 11.1in (282mm) disc brake rear
Tires: 130/60 x 17in front, 170/60 x 17in rear
Weight (wet): 637lb (289kg)
Seat height: 31in (787.4mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.3gal (20ltr)
Price then/now: $12,999/$4,000-$8,000

There weren’t many established design practices in the earliest days of the motorcycle.

In those nascent times, ingenious builders tried just about every form of power, from steam to internal combustion, from one cylinder to more than four. And, they experimented by placing those powerplants in many different positions, from over the front wheel to various locations on and around — and in — the bicycle frame itself.

Eventually, as the motorized bicycle morphed into an actual motorcycle, the layout became somewhat more familiar. Yet, engineers were still tinkering with details, from rudimentary suspension design to fuel tank position to final drive system. By the end of World War I, motorcycle design was more firmly established, yet engineers were still thinking outside the box. In 1918, for example, there was the hub-steered Ner-A-Car, the brainchild of Carl Neracher. A 221cc single-cylinder 2-stroke machine, the Ner-A-Car sold relatively well between 1921 and 1928.

More changes were still to come, including “saddle” style gas tanks, telescopic forks and the adoption of swingarm rear suspension. But, while at risk of over-generalizing the entire motorcycle industry, after all of that creativity, powered two-wheeler design settled into a fairly established pattern. Indeed, there were new materials and new manufacturing processes that helped tighten up tolerances and improve reliability, and certain “eras” of development further refined the motorcycle.

Changes

By the early 1990s, it could be argued that one of the more interesting motorcycle developments of the period occurred when Yamaha launched their production model GTS1000. Just ask Jim Balestrieri of Throttlestop motorcycle museum.

“I’m always looking for distinctive motorcycles for the museum,” Jim says of the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin-based establishment he co-founded with his friend Tom Kostrivas. “And distinctive can mean a lot of different things, from the layout of the engine to manufacturing practices. And if I’m talking about the early 1900s, just about every motorcycle is distinctive due to the many engineering ideas that were being developed and tried.

“But if I’m talking about a motorcycle built in 1993, then a machine like the GTS1000 is distinctive for its chassis and front suspension and steering system. Why, in 1993, would Yamaha come out with this concept?”

To help answer that question, contemporary motorcycle press reports prove insightful. In an August 1992 issue of Cycle World, writer Matthew Miles says, “Yamaha’s long-awaited replacement for the aging FJ1200 is just around the corner.” The Yamaha FJ1200 was first introduced in 1984 as the FJ1100, and the 1200 was released in 1986. The machine was a sport-touring model, aimed squarely at those who appreciated riding long distances in relative comfort without sacrificing any of the athletic performance or handling characteristics of a fast motorcycle.

Yamaha wanted the replacement, referred to as the FJR1000 in the Cycle World article, to be a flagship for the company, and “to be a true sport-touring successor. To that end, the highly advanced FJR1000 will also be expensive, perhaps even as high as $15,000.”

The RADD forkless single-shock front suspension

By December 1992, Cycle World provided more details of the machine that by then had been renamed the GTS1000. A quick note on the name — depending on the market where the machine was sold, it is called the GTS1000A, and the A stands for ABS — but not every magazine referred to it by the full designation. In the U.S. and Canada, it was technically the GTS1000A, but in this story, it’ll be referred to as the GTS1000.

“The centerpiece of the GTS1000 is its unconventionally steered and suspended front end, the first such design to go into production on a Japanese motorcycle. The concept was penned some 15 years ago and patented in 1985 by American inventor James Parker. Yamaha licensed the rights to the patent in 1990 and developed it for use on the GTS1000.”

James Parker was based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was the president of Rationally Advanced Design Development, or RADD for short, and he came up with the concept. In the same December issue of Cycle World, writer Matthew Miles interviewed Parker and asked him about the genesis of the RADD front end.

Parker said, “During the late ’70s, I saw some of the European front-end designs, like the center-hub-steered Elf X. I thought those ideas were great, but when they didn’t succeed, I wondered why. So I analyzed them to see what their problems might be. In the process, I put together my own ideas. In 1983, I applied for a patent and completed the first prototype in 1984. Fundamentally, the suspension has not changed since I conceived it.”

The pair go on to discuss the benefits of Parker’s design. He says, most importantly, front end strength is increased.

“Conventional forks act as a lever on the frame, multiplying the loads involved,” he explains, and continues, “My system acts directly on the frame and therefore does not multiply the loads. There are also potential side benefits, some of which won’t even be explored until engines are made specifically for this suspension. Steered mass is reduced considerably, so steering can be more precise. Secondly, since this is a pivoting system and not a sliding system, the ride should be better.”

After developing the concept, Parker shopped his RADD front end around to different manufacturers and says it was Yamaha who expressed the most enthusiasm for his design — although, in producing the system, the company did not stamp RADD anywhere on the components. And that was fine with Parker, he left all decisions on how to approach that with Yamaha and respected their call.

Perhaps the most easily understandable description of Parker’s RADD system appears in a December 1992 issue of Rider magazine. They wrote, “As Parker’s mission was to separate steering and suspension, the GTS1000 front end design — which adheres closely to Parker’s original RADD concept — breaks down neatly into these two systems.

“Wheel location and suspension are handled by lower and upper arms, a shock absorber and a large cast upright on the left side of the wheel, mostly concealed by the front fender. The front wheel bolts to a stubby axle which rotates in tapered roller bearings in the bottom of the upright. Ball joints connect the upper and lower arms to the top and bottom of the upright, allowing it to pivot left-to-right and up-and-down on the ends of the arms.”

Handlebars were connected to the upright through a steering box, and all of this was mounted to a unique frame structure — basically, two aluminum C-shaped plates, rotated forward, to which the engine and front and rear suspension were bolted. Yamaha called the frame the Omega chassis, and that’s based on the fact the visible frame plates are similar in shape to the 24th and final letter of the Greek alphabet — Ω. Two steel subframes, one up front for the fairing and dash, and one out back for the seat and bodywork, attach to the aluminum plates.

The Engine

To power the GTS1000, Yamaha used a detuned version of their double-overhead cam, 20-valve, liquid-cooled inline 4-cylinder FZR1000 engine with a 5-speed transmission, fitting it with milder cams and new electronic throttle-body fuel injection. With a bore and stroke of 75.5mm by 56mm, the 1,002cc engine — equipped with a catalytic converter — made a claimed 100 horsepower and 78 pound/feet of torque at 6,500rpm and was a stressed member of the Omega frame.

An O-ring chain provided final drive to a cast alloy 5-inch-by-17-inch rear wheel equipped with a 11.1-inch brake rotor squeezed by a twin-piston caliper. The rear suspension was nowhere near as complex as the front, with a conventional swingarm and shock from a FZR1000 mounted to the back half of the Omega frame plates. For a front brake, Yamaha chose to fit a large 12.6-inch ventilated disc to the 3.5-inch-by-17-inch cast alloy wheel working in conjunction with a 6-piston caliper. All GTS1000s that came to North America were equipped with Yamaha’s antilock braking system.

The Omega chassis consists of two aluminum C-shaped plates.

Under the bodywork, a 5.3-gallon fuel tank was more upright in position, located high above the transmission towards the rear of the Omega frame. In the U.S., the GTS was finished in a metallic red color and could be equipped with optional hard luggage developed by Krauser. The price on the handlebar hangtag was a hefty $12,999. In 1993, the GTS1000 was up against sport touring motorcycles such as the BMW K1100RS ($14,676), Honda CBR1000F ($7,699), Kawasaki ZX-11 ($8,799) and the Suzuki Katana 1100 ($7,929) — and even Yamaha’s own, aging FJ1200A ($8,999).

Yamaha might have had the first forkless production model with the GTS, but they weren’t entirely alone in experimenting with front end design. Bimota, an Italian chassis maker, built and sold their hub-steered Tesi in 1992. At the time, the Ducati-powered Tesi sold fewer than 200 units.

Rider magazine named the GTS1000 their Bike of the Year in June 1993. In bestowing that title, they wrote, “Among the motorcycle technical innovations that weren’t conceived merely to increase power, fuel injection, ABS, catalytic converters and forkless front ends are perhaps the most important to motorcycling’s future. The Yamaha GTS1000 is the first to combine all four of these systems, not to mention some anti-theft technology, recyclable bodywork and the unique Omega chassis design. Judged by those features alone, we’ve never had it so easy picking our Bike of the Year award winner.”

Weighing in at 637 pounds wet, the GTS1000 isn’t a small bike, but it is a comfortable grand tourer.

In a Long-Term update in Cycle World, after 837 miles aboard the GTS, the magazine declared the motorcycle was “quickly becoming a staff favorite. With its powerful anti-lock brakes, potent FZR1000-based engine and optional snap-on saddlebags ($680) the GTS offers the performance and carrying capacity expected from a top-line top-dollar sport tourer.”

Of the forkless front end, they said, “the RADD-designed front end remains wonderfully compliant, though steering effort is quite high. At triple-digit speeds, for example, the GTS is incredibly stable, but taking it through a series of 70-mph switchbacks requires considerable strength.”

For all the hope and excitement surrounding the GTS1000, however, the motorcycle never caught on. In the U.S. for 1993, Yamaha sold fewer than 500 of them. Worldwide sales were not much better, according to a short story printed in the February 1994 issue of Cycle World. In Brilliant but Unsold, writer Jon F. Thompson said the GTS likely didn’t do well due to “its complexity, its heavy look and feel, its price (the ’94 bike lists for $14,999) and its styling.”

In America, Yamaha kept the GTS in showrooms for 1994. After that, the GTS disappeared from this market, but was sold, relatively unchanged, in other world markets through 1998. Since then, there has been no follow-up by Yamaha with similar RADD forkless technology.

A Collector Bike

As a passionate motorcycle collector, Jim Balestrieri routinely works with other collectors who occasionally thin out their motorcycles — such as John Coe of Michigan. A few years ago, Jim bought some machines from John, including ultra-low-mile examples of a 1967 BSA Spitfire, a 1969 BSA Lightning and a 1969 Triumph T120R.

When Jim learned that John also had a 1993 GTS1000 for sale, he didn’t hesitate to add it to the roster of machines at the Throttlestop Museum. John had originally purchased the GTS1000 brand-new at K&W Cycle of Shelby Township, Michigan, and is reported to have been intrigued by the unorthodox suspension and found the bike very interesting. John rode it for a few years, adding only 4,800 miles to the odometer before he decided to park it.

“We got the bike in November 2017,” Jim says. “It came to us dry, and without a battery. For now, the machine hasn’t been run, and it will likely stay that way.”

On the Road

To learn more about long-term ownership of a 1993 Yamaha GTS1000, Gary Foursha of Calgary, Alberta, provided his input. Gary originally read the GTS1000 article in the December 1992 Cycle World referenced earlier and was immediately interested, but couldn’t afford the price tag. He had to wait until 2004 when he could buy a used GTS1000 with 20,000 kilometres (12,427 miles) on the odometer.

“At that time, it was like finding a long-lost love, and reality exceeded my expectations,” Gary says. “It took me about six months to get really confident with the bike.

“It’s got an excellent fairing; there’s certainly no wind up your skirt,” he continues. “With the front suspension and the engine mounted the way that they are the bike has a very low center of gravity. There’s no heavy triple tree up high, and the handlebars sit atop a splined shaft — it’s very direct steering, there’s no mushiness in there at all.”

With the anti-dive properties of the front end, Foursha is adamant that he can apply the brakes while deep into a corner without interrupting the steering. “You can’t do that on a normal motorcycle,” he says. “And, you have to steer it out of a corner, it doesn’t straighten up on its own.” Gary has added 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) of his own to the Yamaha in 15 years and says maintenance, upkeep and general functions are pretty much the same as every other late-model motorcycle in his stable. He adds that part numbers are still retrievable at dealerships and OEM parts are available.

Of the Throttlestop Museum’s GTS1000, Jim says, “It’s in impeccable condition, and we didn’t have to do anything to it — it’s a beautiful piece of engineering. It’s quirky and extreme, and I’m surmising here, but I think the GTS might have been a Yamaha branding exercise meant to inspire both the public and its own staff.

“Who wants to work for a company that doesn’t push the limits?” MC

Published on Feb 3, 2020

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