Riding the Iron Butt Rally on a Suzuki GT750 ‘Water Buffalo’

Jerry Anderson Iron Butt
Forget packing light. Anything can happen on the Iron Butt Rally, so you have to be ready for it. Photos by Jerry Anderson, Rick Corwine and Bo Sills.

Jerry Anderson likes Suzukis—a lot. “I’ve always had Suzukis,” he says. “Never owned anything else.” So when his application for the 2017 Iron Butt Rally was accepted, it’s no surprise he decided to ride a Suzuki. What is surprising is the Suzuki he chose, a 1974 GT750, a water-cooled, two-stroke triple. Appropriately, he entered it in the Hopeless Class.

Jerry Anderson Iron Butt
The calm before the storm. Most of these bikes will finish, but some will be finished before the end.

The Hopeless Class is reserved for bikes and riders who aren’t content with the inherent challenges of riding in an 11-day scavenger hunt that ranges from coast to coast through the worst that nature and the rally planners can throw at them. The first Hopeless Class entry was another Suzuki, an RE5 Rotary, in the first Iron Butt Rally, in 1984. Running an oddball motorcycle powered by an engine practically nobody had ever heard of seemed like a hopeless cause, and thus the class was born.

Jerry Anderson Iron ButtFast-forward to 2017, and Anderson’s reasons for choosing a bike some call the Water Buffalo. “There aren’t a lot of them on the road any more,” he says, adding this particular one has been very good to him. “I’ve done a lot of riding on it. It took me coast-to-coast-to-coast in 92 hours, and from Key West, Florida, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.”

Jerry Anderson Iron Butt
Here’s the Iron Butt Rally in a nutshell. Ride hundreds of miles, take a photo of your bike with giant fish, and get back on the road.

Iron Butt Association president Mike Kneebone approves Hopeless entries based on little more than the opportunity to answer the question, “Can it be done?” He liked Anderson’s willingness to see if an antique two-stroke could buck the odds and finish. Unlike most IBR entrants, Anderson had never ridden a long-distance rally of any kind before submitting his application. So why choose the toughest of all for his first? “I’m not really sure much thought went into that,” he admits. “But I knew the Hopeless Class would be my way in.”

Anderson found the GT in someone’s backyard in Dallas, Texas, 10 years ago. He bought it and went through it front to back, powdercoating the frame and rebuilding the engine. For the Iron Butt Rally he added an auxiliary fuel tank, made brackets for saddlebags, ditched the stock points for electronic ignition, bolted on a set of Clearwater driving lights and installed a water pump for a rider hydration system. “Other than that,” he says, “it’s a stock GT750.”

Jerry Anderson Iron Butt
Jerry with one of his Water Buffaloes, when he rode from Key West to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

“Can it be done?” turned out to be the theme of Anderson’s rally. First, there were problems with the heat. “I started running into vapor lock problems before the second bonus I picked up. It was so hot the fuel boiled in the carbs. Every time I parked the bike for the night I’d get up the next morning and it would be flooded.” The aux tank started acting up, too. “I was always fighting it and switching the tanks to see which one I could get gas out of.” Not only was getting gas tough, buying it almost became impossible. “Going into Wichita, Kansas, the clear plastic sleeve on my Aerostich suit with all my gas cards in it blew off.”

Jerry Anderson Iron Butt
With no rally experience to draw on, Anderson gets ready to start the biggest of them all.

The heat affected Anderson, too, nearly causing personal vapor lock, but he found a cool solution. “When I got to Texas it was seriously hot, so I put a bag of ice inside the front of my Aerostich suit. After a while it melts and you’re wet for the rest of the day but it beats being overheated.”

On the Fourth of July in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he discovered his rear Heidenau tire had two tread blocks missing; he could see the tire’s carcass. “Where am I going to get a tire on the Fourth of July in Cheyenne, Wyoming?” he recalls wondering. “The answer was nowhere. So I had to keep going.” He found a tire the next day but didn’t stop to mount it, a decision he reversed when the old one shed a third tread block.

Jerry Anderson Iron Butt
The office for the next 11 days. If something’s not right there’s little time to fix it now.

At the end of the rally, he says, “It was kind of emotional. You spend a year and a half working on your bike. You get out there and it becomes all about finishing. I wouldn’t mind doing it again. But the IBA tells you right up front this isn’t just about you, it’s about your family, too. I was gone for a good three weeks—according to my wife I was actually gone for the last year and a half.” Anderson finished the rally 78th out of 104 riders, a solid showing that proves there’s hope even for the hopeless.

Jerry Anderson Iron Butt
It’s just a piece of plastic to most people, but to a rally rider it’s as good as a World Series ring.


  1. When I was in college at IU in 1981, I traded my troubled since brand new, RD400, for a blue 1974 GT750. When I got it, the steering head bearings were shot, as well as super sloppy swing arm bushings. There was even a knobby tire on the back! The ride home from Bloomington to Tell City was interesting to say the least. A college buddy, James Russell from Muncie, IN, and myself, rode to New York City on that 750. I left James in NYC and continued on to Boston to see another college friend, Bernadette Yao. That was a trip to remember!
    In 1983, I rode the GT750 on a trip from Tell City, IN through southern Arizona and New Mexico on a 4000 mi trip with my 3 friends (Steve Lamar, Pat Lamar & Larry Seibert aka Zeebo). This was an 11 day trip that won’t ever be forgotten. Sad to say that of the four of us, I’m the only one still living. RIP guys.

  2. Great story and great accomplishment.

    My first bike was a Suzuki Titan Twin 500 and my second was a 76 GT750. I really liked that bike. Always ran on fresh oil (800 miles to the quart as I recall) and no valves to adjust. Good tractable power. My wife and I did a couple of long trips on it before kids. It had a Vetter that I color matched to the tank. Not only did it have points, it had three sets.
    I sold it when I started having kids and took a break from riding. Now I’m back at it. You always need more than one motorcycle….maybe I should look for an old Buffalo.

  3. I bought a blue ’73 brand new with a Vetter fairing. I put 24,000 miles on it commuting the the first year. Then I cut my commute down to 19,000 for the next three years. It always ran but the pipes hang down so low that its favorite thing was low speed low siding. Very infuriating, however it was smooth, fast and quiet. I sold it after the center crankshaft seals went out. Had fun, don’t miss it.

  4. I bought a brand new ’72 GT750 in early ’73 when I was 16. Put nearly 7,000 mile on it in 6 months before a car pulled out in front of me & I went over the handlebars! Praise the Lord I was only bruised up! Bought the first ’74 the same dealer got in (an orange one) and put 50,000 miles on it in 7 years, including almost a year and half without riding because I was at college without it. I LOVED that bike and would get another just like it if I could afford it now with 2 kids in college! But I am always looking, just in case. Lots of wonderful memories!

  5. I Bought a brand new 1974 GT750 as my first street bike. I grew up riding dirt bikes and sold my Suzuki TS125 for the up grade. I raced motocross and had a Suzuki TM400 Apache, which was the worst handling bike ever but the fastest. I loved the 750, It had a very unique torque range that was great for passing without downshifting. After driving it stock for about a year I decided to trick out the engine a bit. Installed a set of expansion chambers, K&N filters and drilled out the main jets myself because Suzuki did not offer any. The bike was a rocket, blew away any other 750 and beat several Kawasaki 900Z1’s. They were fun days, I sold the 750 and purchased its replacement, the GS750 four stroke, Got away from the bikes for a few years raising 7 kids but grand pop recently purchased a beautiful 2005 Honda 750 Shadow. I love it especially the comfort seat!! I joined the AMA in 1974 when I started racing and have been in ever since. Mid sixty’s now and love cruising. Loved seeing comments and going back on memory lane with the GT750. Thanks so much,
    Dave McMichael
    New Jersey

  6. I had a 1973 GT750 that, on a whim, decided to ride the bike to Phoenix International Raceway, take the new racer School, and race the bike in the 750cc Box stock class. I rode like a maniac, took third place, and completely wore a hole through my left side exhaust by dragging it all the way through the high speed sweeper every lap. The bike wasn’t very fast for a 750, as even an RD 350 could pull me down the straight, but I made up for the lack of speed with aggressiveness. After the racing was finished and I got my trophy, I rode the bike home. A few weekends later, I replaced the stock pipes and installed a set of expansion Chambers, and took it to Phoenix Dragway and entered it into the bike elimination tournament. Although my fastest time was only 13.8, I won the event, along with my fancy $35 winners check and the biggest trophy you’ve ever seen. The water buffalo was very consistent and was very easy to launch off the line. Although I did have some interesting and fun times and accomplishments with the bike, my favorite 2 stroke is still the Kawasaki H2. I would like to find one and prepare it for a vintage road race with AHRMA, but they’re way too expensive to destroy on a race track!

  7. In November 1976 I found myself in southern Spain (Costa del Sol) with my buddy Brian.
    We were staying rent free in a friend’s parents villa but sadly we had to vacate when the friend returned to Toronto.
    While drinking pint at the Red Barrel Pub in Fuengirola I noticed a handwritten note on the message board:
    Suzuki 750 GT For Sale,Fastest Bike in Costa Del Sol,Leave message for Lars at the bar.
    “Why not buy the bike and we could ride down to Morocco?” I said to Brian in a moment of beer inspired genius
    “I don’t know how to ride a bike, and besides it”l cost too much anyway” he said.
    “I could teach you, and we don’t know how much this guy wants till we ask” I said.
    We left a message at the bar and the next day met Lars at his hotel. Turns out he had run out of money and had signed on to a freighter so he needed to sell the bike quick.
    The next day he brought the bike up to the villa for a test drive.The biggest bike I had ridden was a Yamaha R5
    350 so the heft of the Suzuki was daunting.
    Lars was Norwegian and was a man of few words.
    Our negotiations went something like this:
    Me:”How much do you want for it?”
    Lars.”How much do you have?”
    Me: “We only have $600 (equivalent in pesetas-Spanish currency)
    Lars: “That’s not much, but I’ll take it.”
    The next day I picked up the bike at his hotel.
    “What about the registration?” I asked
    Lars handed me a wad of folded papers.
    “I bought the bike in London then rode it down here,the paper’s in there” He said
    handing me his helmet.
    With that We were the proud owners of a 1975 Suzuki 750 GT.
    After a few days of lessons in the parking lot of the grocery store Brian and I tied our two backpacks
    upright to a makeshift luggage rack clamped to the sissy bar and set off for Morocco.
    The bike would take us from North to South along the coast,through the Atlas Mountains then to Algeria,Tunisia,Italy,France the finally to London where I sold the bike for $500 at Bill Bunn’s shop in South Ealing
    in April 1976.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here