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Origainally published in International Motorcycle, July 2001 Vol.11/Iss.3

Art Robbins' GS1000 Suzuki Superbike

By Steve Bond

In 1981, Art Robbins burst on the local road racing scene like a Super Nova, finishing second in his first event and winning the balance of the Amateur races that year. For the final two races of that season, he was invited to try his luck as a Pro and, incredibly, finished second in each to Canadian legend Lang Hindle.

Robbins was the RACE Number One plate holder twice, winning it for the first time in only his second full year of competition. Personal problems dogged Robbins throughout his career (let's just say that Art was never the last one to arrive at a party or the first one to leave), and Colin Fraser, organizer of the Parts Canada Superbike Series, says Robbins was "probably the greatest wasted talent in the history of the sport in Canada."

The motorcycle that propelled Art "The Dart" on his meteoric rise through the ranks was a 1979 GS1000 Suzuki originally prepared for the Superbike wars by Leitner and Bush, with a liberal dose of Mike Crompton thrown in for good measure. Sadly, Robbins' original bike was dismantled during troubled times and bits were sold off here and there that have since disappeared into oblivion.

The resurrection of the Robbins bike is as interesting and complicated as Art himself. Ben Gartner, a long-time road racing enthusiast, had a GS1000 in his basement sporting a frame that he'd actually fabricated, striving to duplicate the one on the Robbins Suzuki. Ben's engine had an 1100 top end on a set of 750 crankcases but Gartner knew exactly where the genuine Robbins motor was living - in another GS1000 raced by Pro rider Mike MacNeil.

Gartner sold his GS1000 to Supershow's Bar Hodgson, and then convinced MacNeil to sell his motor to Bar as well. The MacNeil bike also came with bonus bits such as the billet machined triple clamps. Once the motor and frame were under one roof, Peter Derry became very enthused about the project so the restoration was turned over to him.

"I took the engine apart and consulted Frank Leitner for guidance, seeing as he'd originally built the motorcycle." Leitner proved an invaluable source of information and took great interest in helping Peter re-create this piece of Canadian motorcycle history. "Frank really was the only source for information on how unique items such as the steering damper / bell crank mechanism should be fabricated."

The Robbins bike is bristling with 1980s superbike technology. The frame was left basically stock with only a few support braces welded in. The swingarm received new shock mounts, aluminum gussets and some hefty bracing. A teardown of the forks show that oil passageway holes have been plugged while others have been drilled to revise damping rates. The triple clamps are the genuine units from the Robbins bike and were machined from billet aluminum with reduced offset to quicken the steering. Peter re-created the bellcrank and heim joint assembly that holds the horizontally-mounted steering damper.

1979 Suzuki GS1000

The engine is the real deal, punched out to 1,023 cc and fitted with hollow, high-lift, long-duration Yoshimura cams. Peter adds, "the valve train is mostly titanium with special Yosh titanium shims and the head porting is outrageous." Alloy 11.5:1 pistons are used and the crank was balanced and welded for extra durability at high rpm. The bank of 33 mm Mikuni smoothbore carbs were fitted with 31mm restrictors while a custom Yoshimura header and aluminum silencer exhaust purged hydrocarbons.

"Frank was amazing during this project. He kept finding little boxes of one-off parts made of unobtanium that he'd hidden away in corners of his shop. He'd call me up to tell me he found more stuff and I should come over and get it."

A dry weight of 440 pounds means that more than 120 pounds was shaved from the stock GS1000 to turn it into a racer. Wheelbase stretches out to a truck-like 1,511 mm or just over 59 inches (by comparison a new 1200 Bandit carries a wheelbase of 1,430mm, a full three inches shorter) and the steering rake was modified to 27 degrees to quicken the steering.

Front brakes are 13-inch full floating Cosman discs gripped by Lockheed twin-piston calipers and activated by a Honda CBX master cylinder. Even the cutout in the front number plate has been accurately recreated. Bar Hodgson explains, "It was originally to clear the master cylinder and every picture of Art shows the notch in the upper corner of the plate, so we put one there too."

Peter recalls that in Robbins' second race, he placed fifth in Amateur Superbike and was invited to ride in the Pro feature. "That's the race that Robbins crashed in turn 1 and ripped the front end right off the bike. I remember Art sitting in the back of the crash truck, kneeling next to what was left of his motorcycle, laughing."

I was fortunate to ride Lang Hindle's old superbike at last year's Mosport Rally for Sport Bikes and asked Peter how the Suzuki would compare with the KZ1000 that Hindle rode. "The Hindle bike is definitely softer, almost plush compared to the Suzuki. The Robbins GS1000 is the epitome of the rip-snorting superbike. The suspension is quite firm, bordering on harsh, while the power comes on like a light switch and hits like a hammer. It's about as subtle as a train wreck."

1979 GS1000 SUZUKI
1979 GS1000 Art Robbins Bike

The Robbins motorcycle resides in The Bar Hodgson Collection's competition collection and is in fine running order. Two summers ago at Mosport, museum founder Bar Hodgson held an impromptu Superbike Champion reunion. Many of the original riders took a few "demonstration" laps on the same bikes they once rode in the glory days. The master plan called for the riders to tour around Mosport and wave at the crowd but once Robbins pulled alongside Hindle, everyone knew what was going to happen.

The duo zipped past the pace truck and began a spirited dice that soon had the pair lapping in the 1:40 range. Robbins, from all reports, hadn't even been on a motorcycle for a number of years, yet within two laps was leaving knee slider residue all over Mosport.

And that's the memory most of us have of Art Robbins and the GS1000 - an incredible bike piloted by one hell of a rider.


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