I have this thing about quirky, odd and underloved motorcycles and the Suzuki RE5 fits the bill perfectly. Of all the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, Suzuki has been the company to take more chances with styling and sometimes innovation than the other three. The original Katana, the first generation GSXR and at the top of the list is the rotary engined RE5. Odd looking, complicated and unknown.
Rotary engines had been tried by other manufacturers including Honda and Kawasaki but plans were dropped because they felt the market just wasn’t there, in the end they were right. Suzuki on the other hand, went for it.
The rotary engine is nothing all that new, in 1929 Felix Wankel received the first patent for the design, then in the early 1950′
s German motorcycle manufacturer NSU continued the development and at that point licensed out the design to Alfa Romeo, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Roll Royce, Suzuki and others. The only one that actually worked with it was Suzuki. Oh sure, everybody else sorta worked with it but for whatever reasons, they abandoned their respective projects. Wait, I take that back, Norton put a lot of effort into the rotary engine building race bikes and police bikes for a number of years. Side story here…what a surprise coming from me huh…a couple of years ago while I was working on a LSR machine at Bonneville I met Stuart Garner, the new owner/CEO of Norton motorcycles who was there to set a speed record with the ‘new’ Norton Rotary engined bike, which he did. Stuart came over to our pits afterwards to look at our Norton powered streamliner and record setting 1959 Norton. He and I had a great talk but since that time…where is the new Norton rotary? Another story for another time I guess.
Back to the RE5. The beauty’s of the rotary engine are smoothness, quiet running and, reliability (fewer moving parts). However, there may be fewer moving parts but it is still a very complicated motor. Your average shade tree mechanic would have a bit of a time trying to repair it…so would any current Suzuki technician.
The RE5 is a bit on the porky side weighing in at 573lbs (wet) but surprisingly handled quite well. The downside to the first generation RE5 was the styling. Suzuki hired an outside design firm to handle the styling and whoever came up with the canister concept for the instrument panel and the tail light I hope was shipped off to the refrigerator design department, fortunately, Suzuki one year later simply replaced the original pieces with the instrument cluster and tail light off the GT750…much better.
The RE5 is a very unique motorcycle as the modern era goes and one that if you have the desire for something different, and a good Suzuki mechanic, I have found the bike for you. This morning while going through ebay looking for interesting bikes and parts for my Benelli, I found this really nice 1975 Suzuki Rotary. It has less than 6000 miles, is in very good condition for its age (like me…?) but as the owner suggests, needs a thorough servicing before riding. That’s where the hard part comes in…how many new generation ‘technicians’ can work on one of these bikes? I’m sure they’re out there somewhere. But really, this is a really special bike in the motorcycling world and it needs a good home. And if you’re really ambitious…this would be the coolest cafe racer at your local Sunday morning breakfast stop.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.