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I remember...... the RE5

Discussion in 'Bike Reviews, Questions and Suggestions' started by AlGroover, Jun 8, 2008.

  1. The Suzuki Wankel rotary engined RE5 is often shortlisted as the worst motorcycle of all time. A better label might be 'The most disappointing motorcycle in history'. What follows is a ride impression of 30 years ago. I haven't cross checked any of the facts so are quite possibly wrong.
    At the time, I was working for Mortlock Suzuki in Perth, so I got to see a lot of the RE5, those who sold them and those who bought them. But first a little background. It was a topic of intense discussion in the 70's :- Which is better, 2 stroke or 4. Honda alone among Japanese makers had doggedly stuck to the 4 stroke and only softened a little with the introduction of the Elsinore. Yamaha went the other way and had great success with the XS series 650's only to come an almighty cropper with the disastrous TX750. Kawasaki was a little more pragmatic and had produced the BSA copy W series 650, the utterly mad H1 and H2 and later the Z1. It is this bike that wasn't just king of the road. It was a god. Suzuki alone appeared to have nailed ther colours to the mast with an all stroker lineup. Into this came the legislators of California, threatening to put the 2 stroke out of business.
    The Wankel rotary, neither 2 stroke nor 4 promised a compact, powerful showcase for Suzuki's technical superiority. Or so it seemed to the bosses at Hamamatsu. So what went wrong? The bike we got was big, not overly powerful and with a prodigous thirst. To be uncharitable, it had the performance of a 500, the bulk of a 750 and the fuel consumption of a 1000. It was, however, remarkably smooth once underway with a nice flat torque curve. It was another matter at idle with a rough and flatulent brrrpp brrrpp. Another problem at low speed around town was the enourmous heat buildup that threatened to cook the rider. The exhaust system was double skinned with air intakes at the front. Handling was probably above average for the era, not Ducati like but about on a par with Honda's recently tarted up CB750F1 and definitely a step up from Suzuki's own GT750. The styling was rotary themed throughout with a cylindrical instrument pod, the clear plastic lid of which flipped open with the ignition key. This was only spring loaded so had to be closed by hand if you could be bothered. What Ronnie Barker would have called 'naff'. Someone on the design team must have had a sense of humour because the RE5 was fitted with a kickstarter as backup to the electric one. Kickstarting an RE5 was like trying to crank a fully laden cement mixer. So much so that 'Kickstart the RE5' was a popular game around the shop on a slow late opening night. I only saw one bloke manage it and he weighed about 120 kg.
    The rotor unit was actually very reliable. Running problems mostly centred around the carburettor. This was a massively complicated device about the size of half a housebrick and contained a number of venturis, slides, butterflies, vacuum lines and cables. Keeping all this in harmony was a major chore. Unfortunately, a workable miniaturised EFI for motorcycles was more than 20 years in the future. What stopped the bike most often was a whiskered sparkplug. These were of course a special one that cost many times that of a regular plug and some RE5s would foul them at very short intervals.
    The model was a sales disaster as it seemed to offer little but novelty. I seem to remember that the last ones were sold off for next to nothing. Was the RE5 a bike ahead of its time? I'm not sure the rotary bike would ever have had 'a time'. Or perhaps not yet. If EFI could sort put the running problems and fuel consumption and integrated tank-seat-fairing units could keep the heat away from the rider then maybe.
    So there you have my memories of the RE5. Suzuki's cavalier grasp at the future. Yes, a cavalier. A fat, warty, flatulent one who drank too much. And I wish I'd bought one.

  2. Bit like elephants - I like looking at them but doesn't mean I want one :LOL:

    That is all.
  3. As succinct and accurate a summary as you are likely to get; top marks, mate.

    There weren't too many RE5s in country Denman around that time :)lol:) but I remember the fuss the US magazines, like Cycle and Motorcyclist, made of the bike when it came out. It was seen as a very good long-distance touring possibility (with the Gold Wing just out and Craig Vetter making the famous WindJammer, Yanks were taking to the super-slab in record numbers), but the industry-funded hype soon gave way to disappintment at having to carry 30 spark plugs with you when riding from Fresno to LA!!!

    I think that about sums it up, really.

    As a side-note, though, I still can't believe the millions of dollars the big Jap manufacturers poured into production models that went nowhere; it's like they were flush with cash and didn't care if a model had no long-term future, they just did it to show they could.
  4. Longest paragraph of the month award! :LOL:

    No reference to the original author. I'm sure I've read the guts of that somewhere, not so long ago either :eek:
  5. Are you suggesting that Al is not the author of this piece? What about it gives you reason to say that?

    And by my count there's seven paragraphs there.

    You sure you're reading the same post I did :?
  6. There was an article about the re5 in the motorcycle trader (or whatever its called) a couple of months ago, but this is definitely not a copy of it. :cool: Nice read, by the way, Al. Sure looks like an interesting (though pointless) ride
  7. Very entertaining read on a technology that's not common.

    Google seems to suggest that this is original work.
  8. there was one on ebay a month or 2 back... dunno how much it went for though
  9. My apologies :oops: I withdraw my accusations.
    It sounded bloody familiar. Maybe I'm psychic. :)
  10. A modern rotary would be outstanding for a bike. Rotaries seem ideally suited for a motorcycle engine- high power, light weight, relatively short engine life.

    All the problems of the RE5 are no longer applicable. Mazda RX-8 makes 237 hp with 1.3L. A modern 1L rotary bike would be more powerfull and lighter than any current superbike. The RX-8 is also passably economic- 11.1L/100km.

    An idea in need of resurrection.
  11. My cousin owns one, did a total rebuild, I should get some pictures one day, its a weird looking thing. the radiator is ridiculously large on them (bigger than they look in the pics you find in google!) Im yet to ride it though, not sure if he will let anyone besides himself ride it actually....
    He also has a suzuki xn85 (factory turbocharged motorcycle) that he is rebuilding.
  12. There's one in my shed. It belongs to my brother inlaw. Dunno if it runs but it is complete and he's had it stored there for more years than I remember....along with about a dozen various old half finished bike resto's :roll:
  13. Have a look in the link I posted above and you will find Norton still are..
  14. Only about 1000 were ever built, pretty sure production stopped in 1992...
  15. Great video there. I don't think those pipe ends are original. Also noticeable that he was reluctant to let it idle with that sparkplug on the way out.
    Any of you gents who could score a ride on one, it would be really interesting to hear your ride impressions. My opening post was after a conversation with a mate about this bike and I realised that few people under 40 would have seen one and very few of any age would have ridden one.
  16. i know where theres one with the front stoved in with 1000klms on it!
  17. Norton NRV588
    588cc twin-rotor Wankel type engine. Fuel injected, direct spray into both bellmouths. Fully variable intake tract to peak maximum torque between 8000rpm and 11,000rpm. Electric water pump. Ducted fan air cooling for rotors. 'Fly-by-wire' throttle Power: 170bhp @ 11,500rpm Chassis: Twin spar aluminium, by Spondon Suspension: Ohlins USD forks, rear Ohlins long-stroke single-sided direct connection unit Brakes: AP Racing systems with radially mounted front calipers Wheels/tyres: Dymag 16.5-inch, Dunlop Dry weight: 130kg