Dain Gingerelli’s tale of testing a Suzuki GS1100E before its release and sharing the track with Mitsuo Itoh.
In 1979 Cycle Guide magazine’s masthead listed me as Associate Editor, which was another term for “road test guy.” In those days my throttle hand was responsible for most, if not all, of the test figures for motorcycles we featured. I was responsible for quarter-mile times, brake testing, fuel mileage data, track lap times, as well as posing at speed on the bikes for photos. Yeah, it was a tough job ...
In November 1979, I joined executive editor Michael Jordan (no, not that Michael Jordan) for a two-week foray to Japan, visiting motorcycling’s Big Four — Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki — on a fact-finding tour. I served as Michael’s wingman, and while we both were invited to ride key motorcycles during our visit, I would be the one to press the bikes to their limits when and if the opportunity availed itself.
That moment came visiting Suzuki in Hamamatsu. To our surprise, Suzuki management set up a special tech briefing showcasing two all-new models, the GS750E and the ground-breaking GS1100E, bikes that had yet to be released to dealers anywhere in the world. Michael and I were given a firsthand, inside look at these bikes — truly an honor, especially in those days when the Big Four were highly secretive about their products and market intentions.
But the GS skull session was only half the surprise; the next day Suzuki shuttled Michael and me to Ryuyo, the company’s test track on the outskirts of town, for an exclusive ride aboard both bikes. It was a road test editor’s dream, although other than stopwatches we had no recording apparatus to quantify what constituted seat-of-the-pants testing. In the course of the day, I became one of the first journalists to sample either bike. The GS1100E, in particular, was state-of-the-art, the first true hyper-bike that defined 1980s motorcycling.
Serving as tour guide for my initial laps around Ryuyo was none other than Suzuki’s first “name” road racer, Mitsuo Itoh. Itoh-san had helped put Suzuki’s name at the forefront of Grand Prix world championship racing when he won the 50cc class at the 1963 Isle of Man TT. He also won the Japanese GP in 1967 (again, 50cc class). I was familiar with Mr. Itoh, having read about his accomplishments when I was a teenager cutting my teeth on the sport of road racing back in the 1960s. Now, 15 years later, he and I were preparing to head out onto the test track, he on the GS1100E, I aboard the three-quarter-liter 750E. After following the 1100’s taillight for a few laps I remember thinking — in a mildly giddy way, I might add — that here I was, boy journalist, riding with one of the all-time great Japanese road racers around a world-famous test track on a bike that Americans had yet to see. What a job!
After Mr. Itoh deemed that I had command of Ryuyo’s long, sweeping Turn 1, challenging esses and the low-gear hairpin leading onto the seemingly endless main straightaway, he handed the GS1100E over to me. I was invited to dial in the suspension to suit my riding style, and Suzuki’s engineers eagerly made the adjustments whenever I pulled into the pits. Later, when Michael penned our GS1100E road test for the April 1980 issue, he wrote about the suspension: “It flat does what you ask of it. With soft suspension settings it wallows a bit, but each stage of suspension adjustment yielded more precision until Gingerelli settled upon position No. 3 for fork damping, fork preload and shock damping, and position No. 4 for shock-absorber spring preload as the optimum go-fast set-up for his 150 pounds.”