One of the original Big Four hits the hundred and we dig out some of the great moments in racing that made ‘Zuke a titan.
On March 15, 1920, the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company was founded by Michio Suzuki, who surely had no idea his dream to sell cloth weaving machines would eventually lead to a sponsorship deal with the greatest motocross rider of all time.
There’s just no way Michio-san could have known his little company would build a bike that would land the first double back-flip or that his name would be on the bike that Seth Enslow launched into a crowd of people and bikes in Crusty 2. And yet here we are now, 100 years on, and there is a lot of history to look back on. Admittedly, there were no RM125s 100 years ago; the motoring division started life in 1937 but was needed for the pre-war and war-time efforts. It re-entered motoring immediately after the war, producing ‘clip-on’ engines for bicycles to meet the need for cheap transport.
In 1954, the company changed its name to Suzuki Motor Co. Shortly thereafter, in March of 1955, they debuted the 125cc two-stroke called the Colleda, which still stands as a fine-looking bike to this day.
Suzuki went hard in a short period of time with road bikes and produced some very impressive race machines, but the brand’s first dirtbike didn’t arrive until 1965, with the brilliantly named K15 Hill-Billy.
Smash-cut to the start of the ‘70s and Suzuki has motocross world titles and the man, literally The Man, Roger De Coster, dominating all before him in the 500cc class to break the European stranglehold on the series and win five world championships plus a second and two third placings. To add to this, Suzuki won 10 titles in a row in the 125 class with names like Harry Everts, Eric Geboers, Gaston Rahier and eventually Donny Schmit and Stefan Everts, while the amazing Georges Jobé won twice in the 250s.
Brad Lackey would become the first American to win a 500cc GP title and the last man to win that title on a Suzuki.
Suzuki heralded the arrival of the Japanese in the biggest series on the planet. It broke the Euro dominance and nothing was the same ever again.
Crossing over to the US and so many great riders rode a Suzuki and left their mark on the history of the sport. But just take a look at the list of the absolute best of the modern era and each of them found success on a Suzuki at some point. Carmichael, Reed, Dungey and Roczen all won titles on one of Michio’s great, great, great grandchildren and while Stewart wouldn’t win a title, he certainly won a heap of races and looked good on the yellow bike. Even Jeremy McGrath’s much-derided 1997 season on Suzuki saw him only narrowly miss out on another title.
Let’s take a look at some of the other great Suzuki riders and drool over some epic builds through the years from both here and abroad as we wish Suzuki a very happy 100th anniversary. No doubt they’ll keep making the DR650 — unchanged — for another 100 years.
Michael Byrne is one of the fastest riders Australia has ever produced. He was, unfortunately, also one of the most injury-prone in the prime of his career. The vision of Byrner on an XR650 in Thumpernats is forever burnt into many of our minds, but he also finished fourth place twice in the AMA Motocross 2008/2009 and sixth in supercross in 2004 and 2006. Byrner rode for Suzuki under a few different team banners and gave it his all every single time, and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t like the bloke.
Where do you start with this guy?
The 2000 AMA 125cc National and 2001 125cc East Coast Supercross Champion had a future ahead of him that was seemingly written in stone. This kid was going to be a titan of racing. But freestyle was his passion and he won the 1999 MotoX Freestyle event with a score of 99, starting his path away from racing and towards, well, becoming a far bigger star than any racer could imagine. He’s broken records, broken bones, made movies and TV shows, travelled the world endlessly with a live show — and that’s just what he does on two wheels. On four there’s much more. Although his deal with Suzuki ended many years ago, he continued to run the brand for a total of 28 years of loyalty, until recently switching to KTM in part for continued access to two-strokes.
Chad Reed looked so damn good on a Suzuki and it took him to the only pro motocross title he’s ever won in his entire career, be it in Australia, Europe or the States. That’s a stat not many people are aware of, but what could have been if they stayed on target and put multiple seasons together? We’ll never know.