VX800: Suzuki’s Other Sporty V-Twin
By Victor Wanchena
“Where have all the standards gone?” This is the question many riders and motor journalists have been asking for the past few years. Manufacturers have forsaken the all-purpose, do everything bikes for machines that focus on particular groups of riders. Most models in the showrooms are geared for all-out performance or for cruiser styling, but there are some riders out there who enjoy a machine that blends both of these characteristics–sort of a modern CB750 that you can ride comfortably for a week at a time and still have power and handling.
This was the type of machine many people were asking for in the late 1980s, and Suzuki listened. Suzuki conducted surveys in the U.S. and found that many people wanted what used to be called the Universal Japanese Motorcycle or UJM. Suzuki followed the UJM formula and introduced the VX800 in 1990 for $4,600. Well okay, it was not exactly a UJM, because Suzuki opted to use an enlarged version of the Intruder 750’s V-twin engine in place of the UJM’s traditional four-cylinder.
The VX800’s motor is bored out to 805cc from an original 750cc. It features a 45 degree angle between the cylinders and chain driven dual overhead cams that work the four valves per cylinder. The fuel is fed by two 36mm carbs, and the exhaust is channeled by a two into two system.
The transmission is a five-speed with a wet clutch that features a torque limiter on down shifts to help reduce rear wheel hop. A shaft handles the final drive.
The frame is round steel tubing in a double downtube configuration, but it also uses the engine as a stressed member for greater chassis rigidity. To keep the bike narrow the swing arm is mounted on the outside of the frame. The wheelbase is a full sized 61.4 inches with a 31.5 inch seat height, which, while sounding tall, is actually okay for shorter folks due to the narrow width of the bike.
The forks are 41mm conventional style and raked at 31 degrees for stability at highway speeds. They lack adjustment provisions. Two shocks suspend the rear with spring preload and rebound dampening adjustments. Front and rear brakes are both single discs with two-piston calipers. The wheels are five spoke cast jobs, and tires? It came stock with Metzler ME33 Lazer front and ME55 Metronic rear.
Enough with the specs. I have owned my VX for two years now, and here is my “seat of the pants” evaluation.
I am a very big boy. At 6’8″ and 330 pounds, I am bigger than Goliath (for you biblical scholars), and I fit on the VX! The foot pegs are low and far enough forward for the stilts I call legs. The handle bars rise nicely to meet your arms, but still pull you forward enough to fight the wind comfortably at highway speeds.
The seat feels so very nice for the first 50 miles of the day, but then it begins to make the old hinder ache something fierce. The first thing I bought for the bike was a saddle from the fine folks at Corbin, and man, did that make the difference. It is wider and firmer than the stock seat, and I am comfortable as far as my fuel will last.
When it comes to handling I’m no Steve McQueen, but I have been known to scrape a footpeg now and again. The forks are beefy enough to handle the extra load I put on them fairly well, but they are still on the soft side of perfect, and the lack of adjustments does not help matters. They do have a tendency to bottom on really hard stops, so a pair of stiffer springs and heavier fork oil would certainly help things.
The rear shocks are a different story altogether especially if you crank the dampening up to the highest setting. They do a fine job of soaking up most bumps and keeping the rear end planted in the corners. I have never really had problems with the rear end jacking during corners because of the shaft drive…even if I am silly enough to play with the throttle mid-lean.
The brakes are just fine. They’re not strong enough to be doing stoppies and impressing the guy in the Pinto wagon next to you, but they’re certainly strong enough to keep you out of trouble. They probably would benefit from steel braided lines to firm them up and give them a more linear feel.
All of this is nothing without a motor. What a motor! The engineers knew that nothing impresses more than good old fashioned acceleration. Now the VX will not scream off the line, but its lower gearing and its bottom end torque give phenomenal roll on times. It even outruns real big dogs like the VFR750 or the ZX11 from 45 to 70 mph in the top two gears.
You do pay the price for this monster bottom end with high engine speeds on the highways, but the motor still feels smooth and is happy despite pulling about 4000 rpm at 60 mph.
The beauty of the VX800 is that power comes in the door low where the average rider can get the most use from it. Halfway through passing a semi when a second truck carrying jet fuel comes up over the top of the hill you are currently climbing? Don’t worry. (Hey, it happened.)
Does the VX sound like your kind of machine? Here’s the sad part of the story. The VX800 was only built from 1990 to 1993 and had poor sales. It has developed something of a cult bike status like the Hawk 650 or TDM 850. Nonetheless, if you look around you can find them used in the 2000-2500 dollar range. If you are really lucky you may find one still sitting in a dealer’s showroom in-between the pop machine and the display of three foot sissy bars left over from the seventies.