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Suzuki RGV250 VJ23 Lucky Strike

February 2023,

Text and photo by Paul Pearmain and Matt Patterson.

Many times argument has occurred over what is the best 250 two stroke motorcycle. I remember having these discussions since I was a wee teenager and the debate still rages. In the long and convoluted evolution of the quarter litre two stroke sports bike, objectively speaking, you could say that the VJ23 is the ultimate model in every sense. It was the last and arguable the best. This is no mean achievement because this class was always an important one for the Japanese since pretty much the beginning.

Every few years one or other of the ‘Four’ would make a technological masterpiece that leapfrogged over its rivals until one of the others came out with something better. Even the 2 stroke hating Honda reluctantly joined in with the NS and NSR series and proved they knew a thing or two on the subject. Anyway, by the time the VJ23 was launched, everyone else had unfortunately lost interest in this class so Suzuki regained, and in a way still retains, the ‘Blue Riband’ for two stroke quarter litres sports bikes. Much in the same way as SS United States gets to keep the actual Blue Riband for easily being the fastest ship to ever cross the Atlantic, it is hard to see ‘the best two stroke 250’ accolade being taken away from the VJ23 any time soon. For this reason, and this reason alone, it surely deserves to be the focus of a TYGA Performance project bike.

 

Notwithstanding the above, it has to be said, the commercial reasons for making a range of aftermarket products for a limited run model that was never really exported and discontinued more than two decades ago is a pretty weak one. Luckily, in the modern world of connectivity and internet, each and every owner can contact with each other and find out what is available so it is really not such a problem as it would have been a decade or more back. I am not sure how many bikes are left of the original production run. I imagine a fair number were crashed and I know for a fact, a few years ago, there were always several frames and swing arms on Yahoo Auctions, each frame indicating the demise and parting out of yet another bike. For this sin, I must admit my guilt too. We parted out a heavily crashed VJ23 and used the suspension on our VJ21 project bike. See here.

The above rarity meant, we did not get many requests for products for most of the first part of TYGA Performance’s existence but once the earlier VJ21 and VJ22 models had been covered, we received more and more of the ‘what about the VJ23 for this or that’ emails and then ina  few years it became a chorus of requests. So although we already had a top triple clamp and some other RGV compatible parts on our website we decided to take the final RGV a bit more seriously.

We managed to obtain a nice original pink and purple JDM model and proceeded to make a range of products.

Exhaust was, and is, the main product of course and in conjunction with this, we launched a  performance kit which includes the Zeeltronic, air box snorkels and even a specially widened rear lower cowling to avoid the melting that has befallen so many race exhaust kitted VJ23s in the past.

While our focus was on the bike, we turned our attention to a step kit and we had a request for a hugger, the model not originally being fitted with one from the factory.

We then focused on more and more carbon and before we knew it, we got carried away and ended up with carbon air ducts, frame covers and swing arm covers too.

 

While looking at the bodywork, we couldn’t help thinking that the seat cowling would look tidier if it were in one piece so we made it all in one piece in fiberglass. I guess we could make it I carbon too if anybody requests it. The steel frame for the luggage door looked a bit out of place so we made a carbon one (I pre-empted VJ23 owners saying, ‘You made a frame for the MC28, why can’t we have one too?’  ;)  ). Like I mentioned, a lot of parts are interchangeable with earlier RGVs such as the filler cap, sprocket and chain guard. We got caught out on the Brembo bracket though and it is actually slightly different to the VJ22 item but we have that sorted by the time you read this.

 

I suppose, we should discuss the paint as it is the most standout thing of the whole bike. Not sure why, but in all these years, we’ve never actually done a Lucky Strike paint job for any of our own bikes and the VJ23 seemed like a perfect opportunity. With the frame and swing arm covers, it seemed like the obvious thing to paint it in the production bike factory colours but include the red on the frame covers to mimic the GP bikes of that era.

We were lucky in that Glenn had an original factory painted LS VJ23 we could copy as it is not the easiest to get right, both in colour and design. Even so, there were several challenges along the way, not least the thickness of the multi-layer vinyl stickers. We were able to sand and add layers of clear to remove most of the 3D effect but I won’t lie, it is not perfect and next time, we will use printed decals to avoid that issue. Overall though, I think you will agree, it looks stunning. Pong did a great job of matching the colours and getting the line work correct.

 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating or in this case in the riding . To say were not disappointed is an understatement. The electric start might weigh fractionally more than a kick starter but the inclusion makes the bike seem less archaic than other strokers and puts you in the right frame of mind immediately. The instrument cluster, while not by any means modern, is fresh and easy to use. Only the silly turn signal on the far right is confusing as I kept thinking I had the right turn signal on and not the left but anyway, a very minor complaint.  

The VJ23 has a first class chassis and suspension from the factory and with the 60+ horsepower that the TYGA power up kit produces, it now has the performance from the 70 degrees GP inspired engine to take advantage of the other components. The ergonomics work for me very well. I don’t know why, maybe because of the headlight but the VJ23 always looks small and dainty in photos but in real life, it is substantially bigger than say a VJ22 and for the better for anyone over average height (and build). I found the TYGA handlebars worked great for me giving me plenty of room and weight over the front but not too wrist heavy. Front brakes are stock and need no upgrading, being easily up to the task.

Handling is confidence inspiring; just as well as it turned out because within 1 minute of my first test ride, I had to do an emergency maneuver around a cyclist wobbling around in the fast lane of the highway. After that, the RGV and I settled down and it became a lot of fun. The Lucky Strike paintwork shining in the sunshine as we buzzed along the traffic and would have been something most other road users would never have seen before. Being bright red and white and making a lot of noise made me feel a bit conspicuous so I was on my best behavior. Matt on the other hand…

I was looking forward to giving the VJ23 a bit of a thrashing, and it didn't disappoint. In fact, I was actually more impressed than I thought I was going to be!

Firstly, just sitting and looking at the bike in it's Lucky Strike paint job is rather pleasing to the eye. K. Pong has again done a great job with his crayons. I'm no fan of replica paint, but the Lucky is in my top three now.

First impressions on riding it.....it's comfy. Even with the TYGA bars which stretch you out a tad more than the stock bars. The TYGA steps are perfect, but then again, that's because I designed them ;-) Yep, the riding position is just about spot on.

Trundling down the road, the bike has good midrange, pulling cleanly from idle. Ok, nothing like the bottom end of the 100% stock bike, but sweet enough to pull you along quite quickly.

A couple of kms down the road and started to wind it up. Wow. Around 7,000rpm the engine starts to liven up a bit, and then by 8,000rpm it goes bananas and zips off down the road leaving a trail of 2 stroke music in it's wake. However, the best bit was arriving at the u-turn to head back to the factory. A dude on his Honda Wave (that I'd just passed) decided to nip up the inside of me while I was turning, so I gave the Suzook full berries, to be greeted by a nice smooth power wheelie as I flew by the guy on his Wave. Nice :-)

Other things? Well, I mentioned it was comfy. I guess if one took a VJ23 to a track then they may need to consider doing something with the suspension. Not that it's soft and squidgy, but it just feels a little more road orientated than ready for a track assault. Probably easy to sort out though with a few clicks, or maybe a rebuild.

The brakes are also quite impressive. Good stability and no bottoming or anything silly. Might be a different story on good tarmac and sticky tyres, but for a street setup, more than adequate.

Overall? Not bad....not bad at all. I'd have one in my virtual stable of silly bikes, which consists mostly of NSR250s and GP bikes, so the VJ23 should be honored LOL! But.....it'd definitely need the Lucky Strike paint work to earn it's place.


Suzuki RGV250 VJ23 Lucky Strike Part 2

As we often say with these projects, they are never really finished and although we don't always document the updates and changes, we are always looking for improvements with bikes in our collection, and so it is with the VJ23. With the Lucky Strike, to misquote the movie Snatch, "subtle but effective". Firstly, we came in for a bit of criticism from people unfamiliar with the, how should we say, 'artistic flair' of Suzuki when it came to the pink bits.

Not everyone appreciated the pink chain adjusters on the swing arm and fork tops. With a purple VJ23, they are complimentary colours but with the red of the LS scheme, nah they just don't work at all. I might be wrong but I don't remember Kevin racing with pink trinkets on his RGV. The chain adjuster issue was fixed first. Offensive items were removed and submerging in a nice solution of toilet cleaner and magically the pink dissolved in front of our eyes. It is important not to leave in too long or they might completely disappear and not just the colouring! As it was, they just needed a quick polish and they were better than new and ready to be reinstalled in no time.

The solution for the colourful fork tops required a bit more work but this provided us with the perfect excuse to install TYGA fork tops. Now we have pristine twiddly things to look at when riding instead of the slightly bleached and rounded ones that were on there. That's the first job out the way then.

The second job was the subframe. Now, these bikes are commanding big sums in the market so there is a certain reticence in taking the grinder to them. Even the TYGA crew who are not known for keeping bikes how they came out the factory, hesitate from time to time. On the other hand, with the removal of the redundant passenger foot peg hangers, the luggage hooks looked even sillier.

Then there was a helmet lock. Heck this is not supposed to be a scooter, and although I remember him kindly carrying a fellow fallen rider to the pits on occasion, I don't recall Kevin needing hooks for bungee cords and the like so these needed whizzing off. Luckily for us, we had a surplus spare subframe which removed any guilt we might have had with butchering a perfectly good subframe.  Once the redundant protrusions had been whizzed off, the subframe was now both less cluttered and lighter too. Before installation, the other thing that had us wondering was what if we had a black subframe. Our carbon swing arm and frame covers had mostly transformed the bare aluminium finish from the original bike to a black similar to the 1993 500. We figured the lower frame spar is better hidden than made a feature of because it detracts from the seat cowling shape. So we had our friend Jeff powder coat the subframe. Installation was easy and we were able to remove the stock subframe and replace with the black lightweight version in one sitting, the whole process taking about 20 minutes.I know it is subjective but sometimes you can improve on the original and I think this is one of those cases.

Finishing off the aesthetic enhancements, we had some of the square Lucky Strike decals printed. As I mentioned earlier, K Pong did a good job of the paint but the multi-colour logos are a challenge to do in cut vinyl and printed ones look much nicer. Obviously it would be better to sand and apply professionally but for now, I've just stuck the printed ones over the top and already it lit is an improvement.

The final change (for now) was the clutch. As you might remember, we replaced the clutch plates and springs at the time of the power upgrade to cope with the extra power. like many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time to replace the springs with stiffer ones. We do this with the NSR250, and the upgrade works well on the Honda. Unfortunately, maybe due to the clutch release system being different, the stiffer springs resulted in a very snatchy clutch on the Suzuki. I tried to overlook it and get used to it but the final straw came when I was first to arrive at a red light at a busy intersection. As the traffic built up, I got that feeling that many of us get sitting at the lights on a noisy smelly and brightly coloured two stroke race replica.

Maybe it is paranoia but I felt eyes of other motorists wandering in my direction. Avoiding eye contact, I kept my eyes firmly on the lights determined to make a good get away. After what seemed an age, we finally got the green and as I let out the by now very rattily dry clutch, to my horror, I stalled it! All the chicken chasers, scooters and pickup trucks went round me and left me behind on the grid looking like a complete novice. My only consolation was the VJ23s electric start quickly got me underway without the usual physical kick starting and delays. Still, it was embarrassing and time to change to softer springs. I am happy to say that with the new springs, the RGV is much better behaved and hopefully novice stalled starts will be but an unpleasant memory from now on. So what's next? Well, we have a couple of other ideas but you'll have to check in to our site from time to time to see any updates.

In the meantime, we have a few other bikes attracting our attention

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Fork Cap Kit, RGV250 VJ23

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Screen Clear, RGV250 VJ23, Kit.

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