A few years ago, a guy near me advertised a Suzuki RF900R for a paltry $3000 — fully restored. And that’s Australian dollars. And for some reason I didn’t bite fast enough and it’ll haunt me forever.
Sure, he was a backyard hobbyist type of restorer. The kind who makes sure everything is right, restores the fluids, cleans the carbs, polishes off the rust and paints primer over it, and so on. But frankly, as a backyard mechanic myself, I respect the ones who are just straight up about what they are.
But alas, it sold, and I rarely see these come up again. If the opportunity presents itself, grab one of these bikes. They’re a sweet spot of sport touring history that is super unique these days.
Anyway, here’s everything you might want to know about this classic bike, the Suzuki RF900R.
Are you obsessed with motorcycles?
Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)
Core specs of the Suzuki RF900R
It’s actually not terribly easy to piece together the RF900R specs because so many sources conflict. Even the official Suzuki RF900R archive page mentions 89 PS peak power, which is clearly wrong (or might apply to a Japan-only spec.)
|Part||Suzuki RF900R spec|
|Engine configuration||Liquid-cooled in-line 4-cylinder, dual overhead cams, 4-valve per cylinder|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||73 x 56|
|Induction||4 x 36mm Mikuni BDST carburettors|
|Peak Power||101 kW (135 bhp) @ 10000 rpm|
See notes below
|Peak torque||100 Nm / 74 ft-lb @ 9000 rpm|
|Front suspension||41mm forks, adjustable for preload only|
|Rear suspension||Single shock, stepped adjustable preload and rebound damping adjustable, fully adjustable compression damping|
|Brakes||2 x 310mm discs, 4-piston Nissin calipers|
|Tyre specs Rear tyre||Front: 120/70-17|
Rear: 170/60-17 (you can also run a 180/55-17)
|Dry weight||203 kg|
On the peak power — a number of different publications have cited between 125 and 135 bhp of peak power for the Suzuki RF900R, and also different peak torque values.
From what I’ve seen, the higher number of 135 bhp seems to be most accurate as
- It corresponds to the peak torque figure cited (if you drop it a little and raise the rpm to 10000 the conversion torque to horsepower conversion formula produces the right peak horsepower number). (Arguably 125 bhp could match this too.)
- Some magazines measured 118-120 bhp at the wheel, which corresponds to the 135 bhp figure (a ~13% drop)
In general the power produced by any Suzuki RF900R you find is more going to depend on the condition of the bike than anything else, plus any modifications and appropriate jetting changes.
About the Suzuki RF900R
What’s most interesting about the Suzuki RF900R is that most people haven’t heard about it, and that most other motorcycles are — on paper — “better” than it.
But to the retro buyer, someone who looks at all those plastics and relishes the idea of having the odd one out at the Saturday café meetup, or who likes to buy an underdog bike and then flog it with aplomb on track days, the RF900R is a pretty cool pick.
(So don’t be so quick to tell me that the FireBlade or ZX-9R are better bikes. Obviously they are! It’s just that this one has some niche appeal, particularly how far it dropped in price.)
The Suzuki RF900R is a middleweight (well, large capacity back then) sport bike with an engine derived from the Suzuki GSX-R1100W (the liquid-cooled 1100), with parts from the GSX-R750 of the day as well.
But all that’s less important as the RF900R does stand on its own.
Even though it looks like a sport bike from a distance, the Suzuki RF900R was never intended to be a high-end sport bike, and its relatively low price and mid-range feature set attest to this. Also, the riding position isn’t quite as extreme — the handlebars are mercifully higher and the rear-sets don’t have you folded up quite as much as a modern sport bike.
The Suzuki RF900R didn’t get too many adulating fans as it was always compared to other big-capacity four-cylinder bikes like the Honda CBR900RR FireBlade and the Kawasaki ZX-9R. To retro sport bike buyers, a period GSX-R750 is still a more interesting buy.
A better way to think of the Suzuki RF900R, rather than as a sport bike, is as an all-rounder — a bit like the VFR750/VFR800, its primary competitor at the time. A sport-tourer, even. You might be able to tell that I quite like sport tourers… I’ve had a few!
But even though the VFR got all the glory and is the one for which bike nerds around the world go crazy, the RF900R gradually slipped away from people’s consciousness and has become very cheap — and nearly extinct.
The base of the RF900R is an inline four-cylinder engine. It’s liquid-cooled, has dual overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder — much like any sportbike of the day, or even today, minus curiosities like the early YZF-R1 (which had five valves per cylinder).
It peaks in power at 10000 rpm, but pulls with an even torque curve all the way to its redline at 12000 rpm.
These days, you’d have to do a few things to ensure it does have such a linear power curve. Unless a bike was recently rebuilt, I’d strongly consider replacing the plugs, coils, and spark plug lines on any RF900R I acquired, as well as balancing the carbs and giving them a clean (not just Seafoam… there’s places it won’t reach).
Other parts of the Suzuki RF900R are predictably unexciting, but also not garbage.
The front brakes are twin 4-pot Nissin calipers on 310mm discs. It’s standard, but at least it’s not bad!
And front suspension just has preload adjustment, but you do get three-way adjustability on the rear shock.
Even though the rear tyre of the RF900R is a 170/60 standard, you can run an easier-to-get 180/55 profile tyre. Some owners on forums do, anyway, and say the bike handles well. It’ll also look a little cooler…
Maintaining the Suzuki RF900R
In many ways, maintaining the Suzuki RF900R is much like maintaining any liquid-cooled Suzuki motorcycle.
General maintenance intervals are:
- Change the oil every 4000 miles / 6000 km
- Change the spark plug and inspect valve clearances every 2 services (every 7500 miles / 12000 km)
- Replace other fluids and rubber parts every 2-4 years
There are some idiosyncrasies to maintaining the Suzuki RF900R.
Firstly, the RF900R has an odd spec chain — it’s a 532. Most modern motorcycles of its size class are 530. This isn’t a problem if you’re in a big city, but if you’re in the middle of nowhere (as this anecdote in the Canada Moto Guide tells), a broken chain could be a problem.
Secondly, it bears repeating that as an older, carburettor fuelled bike, it’s likely that any example either has (or will soon experience) some fuelling issues. These could range from
- Rust in the tank
- Clogged fuel filter
- Failed fuel pump
- A vacuum leak on the carburettors (seals, a loose hose)
- Clogged ports in the carburettors
- Carb needle not re-seating (leading to over-filling the fuel bowl)
Owners on various sportbike forums say you should take the carbs, tear them down, clean out all the jets, and make sure everything works — maybe do a full rebuild of the carbs (new seals, needle, etc.). It’ll buy you peace of mind. Heck, maybe while you’re at it, install a jet kit for that phat exhaust you have your eye on.
Finally, the suspension on this bike is likely old and maybe due for a refresh. New springs, fluid, and seals would be in order soon.
If you’re planning on doing that work yourself, enjoy. But if you’re outsourcing it — it’ll get expensive quickly, which is one reason old bikes aren’t always the most economical bet.
Alternatives to the Suzuki RF900R
If you’re looking at the Suzuki RF900R, you’re probably looking at comfortable, everyday sportbikes — what some call “sport touring” (but that’s a broad definition that goes all the way to the FJR1300). And bikes that aren’t too big.
In some ways, early sport bikes are good comparisons. They weren’t deathly uncomfortable.
But these days, mid-1990s and early 2000s sport bikes are rare and sometimes priced as collector’s items.
The most obvious competitors to the Suzuki RF900R would be the Honda VFR750 and the later Honda VFR800.
The last Honda VFR750 (before the line changed to the VFR800… see my Honda VFR750 / 800 model history) was the 4th gen, made between 1994 and 1997. It was also the last of the carburettor-fed VFRs, and had quite a few tweaks to reduce weight.
It’s based on a 748cc liquid-cooled V4 engine that makes around 75 kW (101 hp), and has a claimed wet weight of 226 kG (498 lb) which makes it one of the lightest VFRs on paper.
The VFR has had much more history since, and this generation of VFR750 is somewhat of a collector’s item (much more so than the RF900R anyway). This means they’re more expensive, but often also better maintained.
The early VFR800 (pre-VTEC) is an even better pick. Fuel injection, gear-driven cams, under-seat exhausts, and enough power to have fun with… plus, the early VFR has a better sound and feel than the later Gen 8-up VFRs (the last ones), which are muted in comparison.
But the RF900R has one thing in its favour — an inline four-cylinder engine. Inline fours are just a tad easier to service — fewer cylinder heads, and better access in general. According to the specs, the RF900R makes more power, and the bikes are in a similar class of weight — but in reality, they’ll be fairly evenly matched due to other differences between the bikes, and it’s more up to the individual rider.
And some people just prefer the beserkness of a high-revving inline four. Something I totally understand!
I know that if I find a Suzuki RF900R in good condition again, I won’t wait as long next time.
But what’s admittedly more likely is that in that time I’ll have come across one of the many other, newer sport-touring motorcycles available, and made peace with that.
You can typically find them for just a grand or three, depending on where you’re living and currency you’re using. The exact price should factor in maintenance because you may just be up for a grand or two more in immediate tasks.
Think about whether you’d need a new tyres, chain/sprockets, a carb rebuild, and electricals redone. All that can add 50-100% on your low purchase price. But then you’d have a pretty cool bike.
If you have a Suzuki RF900R — tell me what you love about it, and send a pic!
Dude, you sold me.
I’m going to look at one tomorrow afternoon 4:30. Looks like brand new, has 3,600 mi on it no scratches no dent. I also have a 99 CBR900RR and I think this is better looking.
Wow I didn’t think there was anyone else who liked these awesome bikes if you know of anyone who would have a donor or just spare parts please let me know
I have a ’94 RF900. I know they got a bad rep when they first came around due to the fat rear light and the louvres. But if you can get past that you’ll get a bullet proof engine and a bike that you can chuck through the twisties or plod on the motorways and it’s cheaper than it’s rivals.
I had a RF900R awesome bike and boy do i regret letting it go, saying that I’ve had my fzs1000 for 17 years. But I would go back to the RF tomorrow.
Always wanted a hot rod one of those engines up take the 1100 w engine cams the 750 transmission power compression Pistons 1100 carbs would be fun
I had one of these back in 1994. One of the first ones in the UK. We went on holiday to Tenerife and I took a magazine that had one of the first road tests. We came back with a very well thumbed magazine and I was straight off to Hamilton’s in Streatham. I loved that bike to bits and when I changed bikes a couple of years ago managed to find a lovely example with less than 10k on the clock. Yes, on paper the Fireblade and ZX9R were technically better bikes but both were significantly more expensive and on real roads, with real riders neither offer me anything that the RF doesn’t.
Hi, I have a 97 rf900r sitting in my shed, I brought it at the time as I always liked the look of them, anyway it will get a medium to good rebuild making sure everything is right, I have not ridden it since I purchased it so looking forward to it, and of course after reading all the reviews I am sure I will enjoy the ride.
I believe another unique feature on the RF900 is the use of downdraft carbs?
I absolutely love my Suzuki 1994 RF 900. That motor is a true hot rod. I have a Kerker carbon muffler, with stock header. With most aftermarket exhaust systems, you have to drop the header in order to replace the oil filter or you will make a mess. The header is heat wrapped because it’s so hot down here in Florida. Controls a lot of the exhaust heat. I put an ignition advance+ 3, stage one jet kit with a K&N filter. Bike runs awesome. I replaced the rear shock with a 2006 GSXR 1000 unit – yes, it fits !!! My RF is so comfortable for me compared to anything else. I call it the old man sport bike. I will never get rid of it. Much love to that phat tail and Testarossa louvers. Rock on RF owners.
Dude I have 2
A green Manta-ray #26
And a black and purple one 🙂
The manta I’ve have had for 22 years and sue for a birthday the purple one purrs like a very angry wasp, and still keeps up with the newer bikes.
I have 1x manta ray that I start ride exactly 63m once every 3 months then back under the blankets it goes. I also own a Rf900r which is my go fast bike with a custom blue skull flame paint job on the tank that was done around 7yrs ago when I thought it looked cool ( it doesn’t) and a few other bikes. When my Knees were in better shape the RF was my Daily runner. And that’s one of three things I have found wrong with these bikes. The sitting position, pegs, gears are just wrong. If you have any sort of knee issues it becomes an uncomfortable ride. The seat angle is off by the slightest amount which means if your a slightly bigger person you find yourself having to shuffle back quite often. And no fuel gauge really just a slight inconvenience. But that’s where it ends and the fun begins. By far the most underrated sport bike ever built and I dont make that decision without having ridden many many different bikes. With out a doubt if you want a bike that is fun to ride, looks good, feels strong and well built and has the ability with a slight wrist tweak to scare the living day lights out of you then this is it. When I brought my 97 it was sluggish and non responsive but well kept. After tearing down the carbs for a damn good clean and replacing the standard worn out bits I put her back together crossed my fingers that was the issue and hit the black stuff. I came home 40 minutes later a happy man. To this day I think it’s the most I have smiled taking off my lid. The share acceleration these have for a 202kg bike and the achievable top speed In such a short amount of time is simply amazing. The brakes are tight and reassuring and need to be because unless you look down you wouldn’t really believe the speed you were doing as it’s just such a beast.
anyone who really loves sport bikes and has the spare dollars and a spare bit of storage should look no further than an RF900r for fun and investment.
the old man sport bike i love it i have a green manta ray replica.and are a ……….old man 65 age.
I’ll probably buy this RF 900 Suzuki tomorrow after hearing all the statements plus it’s supposed to be more comfortable to ride than the CBR900RR, which is a little uncomfortable. I’m 66 years old and planning to ride till I’m 86 years old.
I have a Rf 900r and it is lovely bike i have ever owned
I have just purchased a 97 rf900 and found that it has a speed limiter on it, does anyone know how to remove this please. Other than that it’s a awesome bike, 2nd one I’ve owned(keeping this one). Purchased for $3000nzd, has had a full service new brakes and disc’s and new tyres. Apart from the price I’m a very happy man