It’s 6 am and the stars are still out. No, not us, the ones above. The sky is a dull grey canvas as we rendezvous by the seaside. We line up the bike and Pablo begins clicking as the first of the sun’s rays breaks through the clouds. It still hasn’t sunk in – the motorcycle I’m looking at is the greatest to have ever come out of the Kingdom. The very pinnacle, straight from the spiritual home of motorcycling. I’m overwhelmed; I can’t help but stare shamelessly, lustfully at it. Suddenly, in the background, a soft hum explodes into a howling basso. A bright light leaps into sight and screams towards us. This is unbelievable, its almost surreal and we’ve finally managed to do it. Yes dear reader, that’s the Manx Norton I’ve been staring at and the howl is coming from a 2006 Suzuki GSX-R1000K6. And no, we didn’t board an airplane to get this done.
You’re probably wondering why the Gixxer is here, and not a more chronologically appropriate Triumph or a Moto Guzzi racer. That’s because the Manx is without a doubt the most famous and most successful production racing motorcycle ever. And the Gixxer seems to be chewing away at that very record. And also because we haven’t come across a Triumph or a Guzzi of that calibre yet.
The Manx, notorious for dominating the Isle of Man TT, won the 350 and 500cc categories from 1951 to 1954. And this itself was a feat considering it was up against bigger, faster British twins and even Italian fours. The Gixxer, in contrast, etched itself all over the time sheets at the Isle in the production class races from 2002 to 2005, sometimes occupying the top five, even top six positions! These machines are two of the greatest legends as sporting motorcycles go on the kinky island streets.
The K6 is the sixth iteration of Suzuki’s attempts at world dominance. Okay, I’ll simplify that. By 2001, Suzuki had grasped the threat to their stellar GSX-R750 posed by the increasingly faster litre-class superbikes. The Yamaha R1, the Kawasaki ZX-9R and the Honda Fireblade were out-gunning the 750 on all fronts, helped in no small measure by their displacement advantage. Suzuki’s response was a 160 bhp 998cc engine in an all-new chassis with the GSX-R1000 badge – code name K1. The motorcycle was built specifically with outrageous performance in mind. The fifties Manx on the other hand was born in Norton’s cramped Bracebridge factory using an overhead cam engine that was designed by Arthur Caroll in 1930. As for the name, it came from its exploits on the Isle.
Titanium nitride coated forks and fully-adjustable suspension starred on the K1. Suzuki used bleeding edge technology to make the Gixxer go faster. And so did Norton at the time. They showed off their trademark Roadholder forks and plunger suspension on the Manx. Hydraulic shocks back then was like having an Indian motorcycle with inverted shocks today.
Suzuki constantly worked with factory racers to make the GSXR lighter, faster and friendlier. Better ergonomics, bigger bores, lighter motors, fine-tuned aerodynamics... five years of racing experience later, the K1 evolved into the superfast, subliminal, sexy-looking K6. A motorcycle well-nigh unbeatable on road and track. Norton too had their development program spot on. The Manx had the famous Featherbed frame. Developed by the brothers Rex and Chromie McCandless who raced Nortons, it was a revolutionary cradle-like chassis that gave the bike unmatched handling. The McCandless brothers had no million dollar R&D facility, and yet their 57-year-old Featherbed design was so superior, (read this out loud) it is the world’s most copied motorcycle chassis format and is still used in motorcycles today.
Enough about the past now, let’s focus on what we have right here. The Manx is India’s only example of the best British motorcycle ever made. It now belongs to Atul Harish Solanki, a vintage car and bike collector and dealer who also restores them. The Manx was pristinely parked in a garage for the 30-odd years before it came to Solanki. I know the words racing machine and garage can only appear in a sentence separated by ‘pit.’ But let me assure you the bike has been through its fair share of racing at Sholavaram and the Juhu Aerodrome strip in Mumbai. The dings on the tank, scraped bar ends, contorted footpegs and cracked mudguards aren’t there because the Manx was resting at the bottom of a pile of vintage bikes, they’re the battle scars of a racing veteran.
The gorgeous Gixxer turned up thanks to our friend Vivek Jaising’s (remember him from the Fireblade-R1 shoot last March?) penchant for stonking fast motorcycles. The K6 is brand new, (all right Shumi, it’s 1500 km old) but Vivek hardly ever lets her lie idle. He’s practically lived on the Gixxer through the run-in and now you should see him when he’s tucked into the screen or pulling a wheelie at 150 (all the usual disclaimers and warnings apply). The K6, in the traditional Gixxer blue and white, has beautifully streamlined body work; it’s almost like it spent the last winter in a wind tunnel. A vertical headlamp, flared nostrils, er, ram air ducts, a big tapering tank and a wicked looking tail piece with LED lamps is more or less what the Gixxer looks like. Oh, and it’s not even as long as the Manx. I’m serious. As serious as the bike is.