1991 Suzuki GSX-R1100M Restomod Build
I will never forget the first time I saw the 1991 Suzuki GSX-R1100M. It was way back in the mid-1990s, and it was a very special time for me. Every radio station in town played The Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones,” Kevin Schwantz was the reigning 500cc Grand Prix World Champion, and another Japanese superbike revolution had just begun.
My then-girlfriend, and now cherished wife, Cherie and I were on our first motorcycle rally together. The popular and well-organized event was, and still is, aptly named The Paradise Rally. Nestled in South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains, it is the perfect location for a weekend full of scenic touring, motorcycle shows, beer-belly contests, and typical biker camaraderie.
I was riding my uncle’s restomod 1979 Honda CBX, a magnificent machine that he had rebuilt from the ground up using superior wheels and suspension from a 1980s VF1000F Interceptor.
Seventeen years old with a beautiful redhead on the back of my 1000cc muscle bike and blasting past every motorcycle that crossed my path, the only thing bigger than that massive six-cylinder engine was my soon to be deflated ego.
As we came around the fast left-hander onto the steep downhill just before the Blood River Bridge, doing a blistering 130mph, we were overtaken by what was initially thought to be a Hell Fire missile. I still recall the high-pitched wail, as the offender hurdled off into the distance kicking up stones and debris in its wake.
A mighty Suzuki GSX-R1100 had just flown by. I was in total awe, and I had to have one. Many years and countless motorcycles later, I finally got my chance.
I came across this bike while browsing the local Craigslist adverts. The listed price was “$2800 OBO” and, after close examination of the supplied images, it was clear this kid was pushing his luck with his overly optimistic asking price. The bike was rough as a bear’s behind, and that is being generous.
From the photos, it was easy to deduce that the left clip-on was bent, the top fairing had been duct taped together, and the old girl had not seen a bucket of soap in quite some time. Both side covers had met the tarmac, the dinged up Hindle exhaust was falling off, and the seat cover resembled a slice of Swiss cheese. But, it was the OBO clause that caught my eye.
I decided to call him up to tell him he should consider seeking professional help.
It turned out the kid had become rather desperate to get rid of the bike, so I paid him a visit. After kicking the bald tires a few times, I put my life in my hands, swung a leg over, and went for a ride.
Things were worse than I thought. Both fork seals were leaking oil all over the front rotors, so there was no braking to speak of. The rear shock had completely collapsed on itself, so the seat bounced up and down like a pogo stick. The chain was so loose it was almost dragging on the ground. But, the sound—oh, the sound of the 1127cc motor revving up was too much to resist.
She handled and stopped like an absolute pig, but the motor pulled like a freight train; the gearbox was silky smooth, too. When I got back, I had a close look at the frame and made sure it was all nice and straight—it was.
After going through all the obvious faults on the bike with the oblivious seller, I lowballed him with a $1500 offer he now knew he couldn’t refuse. Money changed hands, and for a few seconds I actually felt bad for the guy before wheeling off into the sunset on my first-ever GSX-R1100. The hard part was going to be explaining this latest purchase to my better half, a woman so in tune with my midlife crisis ambitions that it would be difficult to sugarcoat my intentions without ringing any alarm bells.
The intention from the get-go was, of course, a full restomod conversion—a pricey and time-consuming venture for anyone. Fortunately, I had a team of people in my corner who shared my vision and were willing to help me realize this dream.
Why not simply buy the latest Suzuki GSX-R1000 and save myself the hassle? Well, I have done this a few times before, and I can tell you that building or restoring a motorcycle is a very rewarding experience.
Engaging in a restomod, you form a sort of relationship with the machine. You have an intimate understanding of what the bike has endured up to the point where you started to tear it down, and you know every nut and bolt that holds everything back together. You develop an image of the finished product in your mind that evolves with the realities of what is possible, and what is not. Coming close to, or exceeding your original plan, is the reward of your efforts, plus the satisfaction of knowing you did it.
Amongst a few of the allies I had in my corner was Wayne Rodgers, President of TAW Performance in Cramerton, N.C. Knowing that TAW stocks the nest components available for high-spec machinery meant they were the first company I would reach out to for one of the most important upgrades for any restomod project—the wheels.
TAW pulled out all the stops with a magnificent set of gloss black Marchesini M10RS Corse 10-spoke forged magnesium wheels. The only problem with starting a project with such a high-end upgrade is that it sets the bar for the rest of the build. No half-measures would be acceptable.
Sourcing a pair of suitable legs became just that much more difficult. It took a few weeks before I found a set of almost-new fully adjustable inverted KYB cartridge forks from a 2012 Suzuki Hayabusa. The complete set up included clip ons, switchgear, brake and clutch masters, and a set of radial mounted Nissin calipers.
For the rear I located a nice clean 2006 Hayabusa swingarm that was wide enough to accommodate the 6.00 Marchesini wheel. The only drawback to this choice was I needed to modify the rear shock linkage to make it fit.
One of the characteristics that makes high-performance Suzukis perfect candidates for restomod projects is that they share very similar design dimensions spanning almost three decades. Engines, swingarms, and forks can be swapped between models and years; fitting them required little or no persuasion.
In keeping with the high standard of components, I needed top shelf rear suspension. Mike Meister, CEO of Nitron Racing Shocks USA, sent the flagship NTR R3 shock, which was handbuilt to my specifications by Nitron engineers in England.
Nitron’s NTR R3 offers three-way independent damping, titanium and hard-anodized parts, and a piggyback reservoir. It is difficult to convey the quality of craftsmanship you get from Nitron—images simply do not do it justice. The shock slipped into place and has performed flawlessly ever since.
With a rebuilt set of Mikuni RS Series Radial Flat Side carburetors quenching the thirst of the 1100 lump, attention to how the inline-4 would expel the burnt gasses became of upmost importance. I turned to the performance giants whose brand is almost as recognizable as the Suzuki marque itself—Yoshimura R&D USA.
Although not technically designed for street use, the high-pitched note of the Yoshimura TRC Slip-On exhaust at 11,000 rpm is exquisite. To accent the high-grade carbon fiber muffler, I added beautiful bar end weights complete with Yoshimura logos to finish off the hand controls, while titanium swingarm spools add a little more bling to the bottom, and a very neat little license plate mount tidied things up on the rear end.
I wanted to keep the bodywork and paint as close to original as possible, with a few subtle changes that would help it stand out, but I did not want to distract from the mechanical enhancements or the iconic aluminum frame work.
Replacing the screen was a snap, thankfully, as I live right across the street from Zero Gravity, a leading aftermarket windscreen manufacturer. Owner Glenn Cook started out making screens for these superbikes back in the early 1990s and, although they focus on the latest models these days, Zero Gravity still covers most of the older bikes.
Dumping the bulgy belly pan helped shed some weight aesthetically, and having the pillion seat cowl molded into the tail unit really streamlined the overall look. The only other bodywork modification is the GSX-R1000 front fender. It looks so much better than the Hayabusa unit that came with my complete front suspension purchase.
Although I am not a professional motorcycle technician, I have owned and raced all types of bikes throughout my life. This has taught me enough to know that left is loose and right is tight. It took all of one Saturday afternoon to have the entire bike stripped down and sorted into relevant piles of nuts and bolts. Once I had carefully selected the necessary replacement parts for each stage, it was simply a matter of waiting for the UPS deliveries and then beginning reassembly.
I started with the front end. The old headstock used ball bearings, while the new Hayabusa unit requires the pin-type bearings. This was a quick replacement, and the triple trees were ready to accept the new forks.
Next on the list was the swingarm, so I could get the bike on its wheels and wedge the motor back into its aluminum, twin-spar cradle. The swingarm pivot joint bushings required some machining before they fell into place almost better than the original arm.
Bolting the Marchesini wheels on for the first time was a revelation. With the wheelbase now two inches shy of the standard geometry, I could almost smell the Michelin Pilot Power 3 rubber peeling off the tires as the restomod started to resemble an actual motorcycle.
I dropped the motor back in place, shoehorned the monstrous at slide Mikunis in, hooked up the wiring, and red her up for the first time in weeks. The ear-piercing scream of the new Yosh exhaust in close quarters had all the memories of my first experience with the GSX-R1100 flooding back to me.
After double-checking everything was tightly in its place, it was time to take the Suzuki for her maiden voyage. I took it nice and easy the first few runs, trying to put some heat in the Michelins and get used to the way the bike turns in, which is much faster than it was before the conversion.
With the rear ride height now two inches higher than stock and the shortened wheelbase, the geometry of the bike has changed significantly. The extra height effectively pulls the rake angle in, making direction changes faster and easier to accomplish. With the added bene t of the ultra-light magnesium wheels, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the bike responds to the slightest of input.
The radially mounted Hayabusa Nissin calipers are so ferocious compared to the 25-year-old OEM stoppers that I almost turned the bike inside out after grabbing a handful into the first corner.
The motor pulls smoothly up through the rev range and you can’t help but let the engine climb to the redline in every gear. The deep, throaty gasp of the massive bell-mouthed 41mm at slides work in perfect harmony with the Yoshimura TRC carbon fiber exhaust. There is no hesitation when changing gears, in spite of the absence of any electronic aids.
I had set the front suspension to the factory Hayabusa specs as a base from which I could start experimenting. However, it seems the factory settings work really well on the street. The front soaks up the heavy braking into turns as the bike effortlessly flips from left to right, keeping my lines tight through the mountain passes of Southern California.
The boys over at Nitron Racing had done such an outstanding job dialing in the NTR R3 shock that the bike drives out of corners without squatting and squirming as it would with the OEM set up.
I simply point, squirt, and feel the front end lighten as the wheel lifts off the blacktop before I hit the next gear. The Michelin-shod Marchesini wheels help the GSX-R1100 do what it is told, while my twistgrip acts as the traction control system.
This is what it is all about—uncomplicated, unadulterated, old school analog superbiking at its best.
The recurring question my beloved wife always asks whenever the bike is mentioned, is of course “How much did it cost?” Truth be told, not that much.
A quick tally of the major components brought me to a total of $8000, including the bike, paintwork, and top shelf components from some of the world’s leading aftermarket specialists. If your significant other is as eagle-eyed as mine, one could of course opt for slightly less extravagant trim and bring that average down a tad. But, I urge you to resist the temptation to compromise the build quality for something that will be paid for, free and clear, by the time it is up and running.
When all the tools are packed away, and the Gixxer stands proudly center stage in my workshop, it’s not only the restomod 1991 Suzuki GSX-R1100 that I have to show for my effort. It is also the knowledge I have gained through the experience, and the relationships I have formed with the many people involved with different aspects of the build. This bike has been such a rewarding project in so many ways that I can’t wait to start the next one.
Photography by Shaun Lang
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-V
- Suit: Cortech Latigo 2.0 RR One-Piece
- Gloves: Cortech Adrenaline II
- Boots: Cortech Latigo Air Road Race