Sheer insanity, that’s what it was. I mean, how else would you describe riding a powerful sportbike flat-out all day and all night with wild boars wandering in your path, rear tires slinging off chunks of tread rubber, holy s**t tank-slappers trying to pitch you off at close to 150 mph and sweating away 10 pounds of body weight in triple-digit temperatures dressed in roadrace leathers for 24 straight hours?
“Great fun,” is how I describe it. Wish I could do it again.
That wonderful lunacy took place in September of 1985 (for the December, ’85, issue) when Cycle World set a 24-hour world speed record of 128.303 mph on a Suzuki GSX-R750. And not by a slim margin: We went 10 percent faster than the previous record, 117.149 mph, set in 1977 by Kawasaki with a modified KZ650.
I had been one of the riders in Kawasaki’s record run, and for years thereafter, I’d wanted to attempt another—but as an independent endeavor using magazine staffers instead of as a rider in a factory effort. All I needed was a good reason; and when the original GSX-R750 made its U.S. debut late in 1985, I got it served up on a silver platter.
That first GSX-R rocked the motorcycle world by weighing 20 percent less than previous 750-class sportbikes while pumping out around 20 percent more power. But before that revolutionary bike ever turned a wheel in the U.S., many people suspected that in producing such a radical machine, Suzuki had burned the R&D candle too far at both ends. They felt that although the GSX-R would decimate its competition, performance-wise, it also would have a short fuse, and that sooner rather than later, it’d crumble into a pile of broken and melted metal.
Obviously, what that situation needed was for a credible, unbiased entity to prove the GSX-R’s durability through a special test of some sort—like, say, a 24-hour record attempt conducted by the world’s leading motorcycle magazine.
As I said, made to order.
But it wasn’t easy. I had to talk Suzuki into loaning us a GSX-R750 for the effort and then persuade CW staff members to serve as riders and support crew. I also needed to find a venue suitable for 24 hours of non-stop running at a buck-and-a-half. And if we happened to succeed, I wanted us to have set an official world record, so I had to arrange for FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) representatives to attend and verify every aspect of the attempt.
Before I could set any of those wheels into motion, though, I first had to convince Peter Diamandis, president of CBS’s magazine division (we were owned by CBS Broadcasting at the time), to help fund what would likely be the most costly bike-magazine project ever undertaken—with no guarantee of success. Much to my surprise, Diamandis agreed not only to help but to pay for half of the record run’s expenses, even though neither of us had any idea how much the final total might be. Diamandis always encouraged his people to take chances, and in this instance, he put his—or CBS’s—money where his mouth was.
Suzuki was very cooperative, too, offering us not one but two GSX-Rs for the attempt, thus doubling our chances of success. And since this was to be an endurance test of the new GSX-R, we wanted the bikes to remain completely stock. To ensure that they were, we sent David Edwards, then CW’s Feature Editor, to Suzuki’s Hamamatsu factory, where he randomly picked two Gixxers off the assembly line—one red, one blue. Then, using a special wire-and-lead process, he sealed cylinder heads to cylinders, cylinders to cases and entire engines to frames. After that, he witnessed the bikes being crated, loaded on a truck and sent on their way to the U.S.