Retrospective: 1988-1997 Suzuki RGV250

Suzuki RGV250
A 1994 Suzuki RGV250 VJ22. Owner: Larry Coolidge, San Luis Obispo, California. Photos by the author.

When one is looking at the specs for a motorcycle, weight, power, wheelbase, etc., it is all somewhat instructive, but not terribly exciting. Until one reads the specifications for a Suzuki RGV250 and comes across this: Lean Angle, 58 degrees. Fifty-eight degrees!! On a street bike! But this model was never sold in this country, at least not officially. A few of these Suzukis did come in, apparently by drone, and reside in private collections.

As several pundits noted back when Europe and Japan were embracing this quarter-liter pocket rocket, this was as close to riding a GP bike on a public road as one could find. Suzuki was the first Japanese company to mass-produce a repli-racer with its RG250 Gamma, in 1983, using a two-stroke parallel twin in an aluminum alloy frame with a full fairing. Then five years later it turned out an all-new version labeled the RGV250, using a two-stroke 90-degree V-twin.

Suzuki RGV250
The RGV250 is powered by a two-stroke, 90-degree V-twin.

Fast bikes are always fun…as long as the rider’s competence more or less equals the bike’s performance. Lonely roads are one popular milieu, where the rider is familiar with every turn and twist. But even then, the lean probably won’t run much more than 40 degrees. Track days are better, as one can unleash the beast without fear of stray dogs or oncoming traffic. But minor-league club racing would have probably been the best.

There were three chapters in the development of this model. It began well and got better. First was the VJ21, running from ’88 to early ’91, and then becoming the much-changed ’91 to ’96 VJ22, with engine and chassis alterations, and finally the VJ23.

Suzuki RGV250
The RGV250’s dash was simple and stuck to the basics.

This new 90-degree V-twin was turning out some 55 crankshaft horsepower, which could be significantly increased if the owner chose to bolt on the “trim” kit. The engine was mildly oversquare with a 56mm bore, 50.6mm stroke, and could cheerfully rev to 11,000 rpm. The 29 lb-ft of torque also came on at 11,000. Owners were aware that the bores were plated with a hard alloy, so they could not be bored out. Crankcases were separate, and the crankpins were at 180 degrees. A pair of 32mm Mikunis working with reed-valve induction, along with Suzuki’s CCI (Crankcase Cylinder Injection) multipoint oil injection, fed the mixture to be compressed 7.5 times, which was then fired by Suzuki’s PEI (Pointless Electronic Ignition). Primary gears ran back to a wet clutch, six-speed gearbox and chain final drive. Some complaints were made about the slowness of shifting, but one could live with the problem. And that 104-link chain was considered important, as a cheap or old chain could easily eat up a couple of horsepower. The multiple online sites concerning this model have much to say about what chain is best.

Suzuki RGV250This powerplant was bolted into a twin-spar aluminum frame, very light and moderately stiff—not so stiff as to make the RGV a problem in town, but when the rider was aiming for those 50-plus degrees of lean, it felt good. A pair of tubes was used to cradle the engine and make sure everything stayed in line. The VJ21 had a straight single-sided swingarm and pipes going out both sides, with a conventional fork raked out to 26 degrees, and 3.7 inches of trail. Wheel sizes were 18-inch rear, 17 front. After two years the Mikunis were enlarged to 34mm.

Suzuki RGV250The VJ22 had what Suzuki liked to label the Call-Box swingarm, but was more popularly known as a “banana” when it appeared on the right side in 1991. This was a hollow section curving slightly inward so that both exhausts were running out the right side—and still with plenty of cornering clearance. The “banana” apparently was a tad expensive to make, so in 1993 the style was changed to an equally effective open-girder design. The 41mm front fork was turned upside down and rake reduced slightly, to 25 degrees. This oil-damped fork had anti-dive and multiple adjustments, with 4.7 inches of travel. Riders liked the increased stability and torsional rigidity. At the back a single Full-Floater shock, with gas/oil damping and lots of adjustability, gave 5.5 inches of travel.

Suzuki RGV250Engine management, as the pros like to say, was even more refined and blessed with a number of initials, with the SAPC helped along by the AETC-II and MDIS. Suzuki’s Advanced Power Control worked with the upgrade (i.e. II) of Automatic Exhaust Timing Control and the Multiple Digital Ignition System. The AETC was important as it now gave the sensor-controlled exhaust valving three speed ranges, low, middle and high. All the better for getting around town.

Other changes included a new rear wheel size of 17 inches instead of 18, matching the size of the front, with tires at 150/60 rear, 110/70 front. Compression ratio was lowered to 7.3:1, and the wet clutch became dry.

Suzuki RGV250What was/is it like to ride one of these? Interesting, as your 230-pound writer spent a few miles on one, and it weighs about 300 pounds. Ignition—no button, kickstart only. The owner happily showed me how the engine could be started by a push of the hand. Let it warm up. Clutch in, down for first, and get those revs up there. Even though first is very low, it takes a lot of rpm to get going. Anything under seven grand feels sluggish in the extreme, but once on the high side of the tach, the 250 feels like a 500. Fun! The bike does have a minimalist passenger seat and pegs, but I doubt any pillion would want to go far.

One last hurrah. In 1997 Suzuki came out with the VJ23 SP version—70 horsepower and an electric starter.

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