Cost-effective Classics: SUZUKI RF900

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Rated four out of five or better on numerous websites for performance, quality and equipment, it’s the sub-£4000 bike with a 160mph potential. Sold as a ‘budget bike’ back in the late 90s, there’s little that’s shabby about this bike! Tough as they come, reliable, torquey, hugely capable and comfortable, Suzuki’s RF900 ticks so many boxes.

SuzukiRF900R-1018

Background

This machine is Suzuki’s quick-thinking response to the mega bikes of the late 1990s and is none the worse for being rolled out to dealers pronto. Cost-wise, craftily pitched significantly below Yamaha’s FZR1000 and Kawasaki’s ZX-12R, the RF900 utilised an engine that owed much to the GSX-R1100W. The steel chassis helped to keep costs down even if some of the early models had the perimeter frame painted the same colour as the panels. Made as a fill-in, do-anything bike somewhere between a full-on sports bike and sports tourer, the RF900 proved to be much more than the some of its parts.  

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The bike

‘The very best bike I’ve ever ridden’; ‘Prefer it to my old VFR800i’; ‘The best feel and balance of any bike I’ve owned’; ‘Suzuki should make this bike again’; ‘Surprisingly fast, stupidly cheap to insure’… all these and more are plaudits extolled by owners of Suzuki’s RF900. Yes, okay, its looks might take a little getting used to, but once you are able to see beyond those Ferrari Testarossa louvres and that broad derriere, there is a lot going on with this month’s subject matter.

Yes it was built down to a price, didn’t come all stickered up with flashy acronym decals, and ‘only’ has a steel frame, but there’s a lot more to the RF900 than meets the eye. 135bhp of power and 70lb-ft of torque isn’t to be sneezed at and the motor’s flexibility will still impress even now. Owners rave about just how tractable the motor was and when you realise its GSX-R-derived transmission has only five ratios instead of the Gixxer’s six you can begin to appreciate the work Suzuki undertook to get the bike’s engine bang on.

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Suzuki RF900

Want reassurance that you won’t buy some lame old dog just because it’s cheap? In 1993 Suzuki Germany, supported by Metzeler and the German motorcycle magazine Motorrad, worked together to deliver four endurance records over one, six, 12, and 24 hours. Any motorcycle that can run for an entire day and average more than 152mph consistently has to be extremely well made. Still not sure it’s a bike worthy of consideration? The RF900 has been variously stroked back to 1100 and some ccs; has been supercharged; turbocharged; sprinted; drag raced; tuned; tweaked; turned into a track day machine; and just keeps on coming back for more. Be under no illusion, this is a seriously strong piece of kit! Oh, and know that some have used the RF900 as a track day machine and seriously embarrassed Yamaha R1s!

The engine is used as a stressed member within the steel perimeter chassis, which delivers quality handling despite the supposedly budget-end suspension.

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Some have criticised the spring rates as being too hard, but 20 years on things will have softened up a little. Yes, okay, the RF won’t hustle through bends like a modern sports bike but it’ll give its contemporaries something to think about.

Some love the big, broad saddle while others aren’t fans, but it’s an easy fix with a few firms offering alternatives. It’s all down to physiology as some riders rate the OEM seat as 1000 miles a day comfortable. 

If ever there was a hugely capable bike at a bargain price then Suzuki’s RF900 has to be the one!

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Suzuki RF900

Lineage and Legacy

Nothing much came after the big RF in terms of ease of use, power, and handling until we got into the 21st century. The advent of modern, multipoint, monitored, fuel injection delivered similar levels of flexibility and drive. Probably the closest you get from the firm is its new GSX-S1000GT – but it’ll set you back ‘12 large’!

Why you might want one now

Price has to be the first driver for owning an RF900, swiftly followed by real-world usability, decent long-distance capability, versatility, and, of course, that stunningly good engine. Suzuki made the air-/oil-cooled four-cylinder its own with the very first GSX-Rs and carried on with fully liquid-cooled bikes like the RF900 here. Owners swear by them and for the money they are truly hard to beat… at the moment. There’s been a slow but inexorably subtle price rise going on with decent RF900s so if you want one get in ASAP.

Typical Prices

Oh, you are going to love this one because it’s easily inside our self-set five-grand budget. At the time of writing, eBay had two RF900s up for less than £4000 and both were in remarkably good condition. One with just over 17k on the odometer was at £3750 but we reckon that was always going to be a £3500 steal.

If your budget is tighter a very tidy example on 29,000 miles was tantalizingly being dangled at £2750 and, again, there was a bargain there if you were prepared to haggle.

We’d suggest swerving a project RF900 quite simply because good ones are still so ridiculously cheap!

Faults and Foibles

1. BRAKES

More than up to the job but like all calipers, they benefit from a service. Owners recommend sintered brake pads.

2. EXHAUSTS

Front pipes can get shabby very quickly, but they are stainless steel. Mounting bolts can and will seize/break/snap if not treated with easing fluid.

3. CORROSION

Peripherals can and will corrode so invest in some good spray protectants if you’re riding through the winter on the RF.

Suzuki RF900

4. FUEL SYSTEM

Stale petrol in the carbs, fuel lines and carburettors will cause running issues. If you’re buying a ‘laid-up’ example, factor this in.

5. TRANSMISSION

Some bikes were said to have second gear issues, so check it selects okay and stays in gear under hard acceleration.

6. SUSPENSION

Rear shocks can go soggy, ’95 and on models have adjustable forks.

7. PANEL WORK

Check fairing side panel louvres for damage and/or bodged repairs.

SUMMARY

All of this with the performance of a genuine sports bike and the comfort of a tourer can be yours for under four thousand pounds. Predictable handling that’s more than good enough for most riders’ abilities, the RF900 is sure-footed but nimble and on the right side of flighty. With enough power to get you into and out of trouble, there’s really little else that matches up for the money.

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