Has the Turbo Finally Arrived?

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Suzuki Recursion Turbo

Ah, the Awesome 80s.  Bold graphics and hair gel.  Pop rocks and Smurfs.  Tip O’Neill drinking a Bud Dry in a DeLorean.  What you may not remember is a slew of short-lived production turbocharged motorcycles.  In the days when the modern superbike was taking shape, the Big 4 put out a handful of turbos – the SDI of the horsepower arms race.  These were the Honda CX500 Turbo, the Suzuki XN85, the Yamaha XJ650 Seca Turbo, and the Kawasaki GPz 750 Turbo.

We may have forgotten these quixotic oddities, but Suzuki hasn’t, and at the recent Tokyo Motor Show, they unveiled the Recursion, a new concept turbocharged bike with a name that acknowledges that there’s some history there and styling with retro-modern elegance.  Given the success record of those 80s two-wheeled New Cokes, what will be different this time?  Why didn’t it work before, and has the time for turbo production bikes finally arrived?

Suzuki Recursion Turbo
Suzuki Recursion Turbo

First of all, with the exception of the XN85, the 80s turbos were klugey add-ons to existing platforms.  The CX500 was already a little wiggy to begin with.  Retrofitting a turbo will increase the output numbers, but doesn’t always create an ideal performance profile.  For the added money and complexity, they weren’t necessarily worth it.

Another factor was the insurance costs.  These bikes were part of a proud heritage of “death machines,” and getting the bike insured was often prohibitively expensive.

The most important drawback, however, was the turbo lag.  Motorcycle power is all about control, and the last thing a rider wants is a delay, then a surge of power.  That could ruin your day coming out of a turn.  That’s probably why aftermarket turbo kits tend to be mounted on H-Ds, Hayabusas, and other straight-line sleds.

The Recursion appears to be coming at the design from a different angle.  Instead of just shoveling on more coal, this turbo is an integral part of a design that offers a nice, fat power curve in a small, light bike.  Suzuki claims 74 ft-lb. torque at 4,500 rpm.  That’s fantastic for a 588cc twin.  Max horsepower is claimed to be 100 hp at 8,000 rpm.  If the real-world numbers are anything like that, this should be a bike that maximizes fun and rideability, not just drag times.

Suzuki Recursion Turbo
Suzuki Recursion Turbo Concept

Turbos have come a long way in thirty years, and lag should not be an issue today.  A sophisticated, computer-controlled turbocharger should feel like a seamless part of the mill, so riders’ main objection to turbos should be a thing of the past.

We’ve see the auto industry embrace turbos recently, and not just for added power but also for efficiency and getting the same performance from smaller engines, sometimes rebranding them as eco-boosters or some other adspeak.  Suzuki seems to be taking this smart-turbo approach, using it as part of their performance toolkit, not just an afterburner.

Suzuki can’t control the insurance companies, but this bike isn’t even close to today’s generation of “death machines,” so unless they are irrationally allergic to the word “turbo,” (which they might be) insurers ought to provide reasonable rates for the Recursion.

Let’s hope this is the start of a new old trend.  We’d like to see more bikes using up-to-date turbo technology to provide light, fun, radical rides.  So pop that collar, put on those Ray-Bans, and let’s ride.

  • Justin

    If they can truly mitigate any turbo lag then this would really, really appeal to me – strikes as the perfect city bike.

    I think the fairing is even remiscenf of the 80′s Katana

  • http://www.bikething.co.uk/ Jonathan Ward

    Sounds like an interesting development, can’t wait to see new generation turbos being integrated into production bikes. Suzuki’s design leaves a little to be desired, I doubt that fairing would give much wind protection to the top half of the rider. Looks pretty good from the side though, the front not so much.

    So long as turbo-lag actually has been reduced, of course.

  • Justin McClintock

    Turbo lag is still there, even on cars where they say it isn’t. Look at 5-60 time for evidence. NA cars usually have a 5-60 time of a half second or less behind their 0-60 time. The newest crop of turbo cars, it’s usually still in the 1 second range. Sure, it’s less than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s non existent.

    Also, why the turbo? Seems like a solution looking for a problem. I ride and SV1000S. It has 111 hp and 72 lb-ft of torque….numbers comparable to what this thing has. And you know what? I’ve gotten over 56 mpg with it touring. It still gets 40+ mpg fighting city traffic. With numbers like that, do I really need better fuel economy? No. No I don’t. And I’m certainly not keen on the idea of adding complexity to the engine to get it.

    • Marc

      Electric assist turbo (basically a hybrid of an electrically driven supercharger and a turbocharger) promises the zero lag of a supercharger with the efficiency of a turbo, which could make it feasible for a motorcycle. Why? To get the same power and torque out of a smaller package. Your SV1000 has about 200lbs of drivetrain, and is at it’s limits for swingarm length – if you could cut 50lbs and move that engine forward an inch, you’d have an even better bike. With 200hp sportbikes on the market, power is no longer the limitation on motorcycle performance – control is. The coming years are going to see evolution of tires, suspension, electronic rider aids (blech), and downsizing/lightweighting. A 350lbs bike is faster and easier to control than a 400lbs bike is faster than a 450lbs bike.

      • Justin McClintock

        And what is going to make that turbo engine lighter and more compact? The heaviest part of the SV’s engine is the crank precisely because it has to deal with the power generated. Going with a smaller, turbo engine with the same power is still going to mean a heavy crank…and connecting rods too for that matter. Not only that, but to aid in exhaust plumbing, they’re talking about an inline twin instead of a V-twin. Well, an inline twin will have a longer (and heavier) crank than a comparable V-twin. And then there’s the balance shaft necessary to keep an inline twin at high RPM from shaking itself apart. The only thing you might cut down on is a little bit of the block and a small enough amount of piston weight as to be negligible in the overall bike weight. And that turbo and additional exhaust piping? They’re made of metal. Don’t forget they’re adding weight back in. Throw in an electric motor capable of assiting a turbo like you’re talking about and you’ve probably just designed a smaller “engine” that actually has a larger overall footprint and weighs more.

        • Marc

          It’s not just the downsizing of the cylinders, it’s also the reduction in number of them. I get it that you don’t want a turbo, but don’t try to make up numbers when empirically we all know from the automotive world that a turbo’d engine of equal output is smaller, lighter, and more efficient than the normally aspirated. From the V6 TT M3 to an EcoBoost Fiesta. Turbos have their downsides (complexity, reliability, lag) but weight isn’t one of them. Don’t worry, no one is going to take your NA twin away. They’ll be around for a long long time.

          • Justin McClintock

            Um, how is going from a NA twin to a turbo twin a downsize in the number of cylinders? And for the record, almost every automotive engine (and it may in fact be all of them) you listed actually takes up more space than the NA equivalent that it replaced.

  • ThruTheDunes

    I am not convinced that this come-to-turbo movement is entirely a good thing. Improved performance? No doubt. But I am skeptical of some aspects of turbo use. First, improved fuel economy (e.g., Ford’s EcoBoost). As long as you don’t put your foot in it, you are okay. Want that turbo boost? Put your foot in it and your MPG goes to Hades. The maximum acceleration rate for most of the testing done for light duty vehicle (cars/pickups, etc.) emissions is 3 mph/sec. That is 20 seconds for 0-60. Why? Because back in the day, that was the maximum acceleration that dynamometers could handle, and that has stuck in the test procedure ever since. There is now high-speed and hard acceleration segments of the emissions test, but most of it is still 3 mph/sec. That makes it easy to game the test, and have the turbo come in a way that does not blow the test. Be careful carrying Ford’s turbo-related fuel economy gains assumptions over to motorcycles- this is an apples/oranges thing, related to differences in the test procedures that are used.

    Want to take 500 lbs from 0-60 in 4 seconds? It takes a certain amount of energy to do this, which means a certain amount of gasoline. Simple physics. Whether you do it with a boosted 400 cc engine or naturally aspirated 750 cc engine, it takes the same amount of energy (as long as the weight is the same). I am not convinced that the turbo will provide any drastic change to this basic principle. Sure, we can have discussions about efficiency, but in the end, any difference in efficiency is much closer to bug dust than it is to monumental.

    Second, turbo lag. The article alludes to electronics solving turbo lag. Unless there is something I am missing, the closer you put the turbo outlet to the engine inlet, the more you reduce the lag. The lag is basically a function of the volume of air the turbo has to compress between its outlet and the cylinder, (and the volume of air that has to be compressed in the exhaust stream between the cylinder outlet and the turbo to make the turbo deliver a higher pressure on the engine inlet side, but this is likely less of an issue, assuming a waste gate and certain design assumptions). A couple of engine manufacturers have gone so far as to make reverse flow engines (V-8s) in an effort to reduce lag (Ford and BMW, I think?). Packaging is a big part of addressing lag. Not sure what role electronics plays in this air compression issue.

    Third, heat. While liquid cooling has done wonders for motorcycle engine heat management, a turbo means heat. Heat from the exhaust gases sticking around longer to do work, and heat from the turbo compressing the air. Just what I want, to be sitting on top of more heat on those hot, humid days.

    Fourth, KISS: Keep It Simple. Is all this complexity worth it? I am just dying to have more intricate stuff loaded onto my bike to maintain or repair (or pay for someone to do it if I don’t have the tools or know-how) (hope my dripping sarcasm comes through…). Could be an expensive learning curve.

    But, in the end, that is just my (admittedly skeptical) opinion/outlook. By no means am I saying it should not be done, please do not think that; just be realistic going into it, and understand all of the challenges that come with a turbo. Careful with those rose colored glasses…

    • karlInSanDiego

      You raise good points, Dunes, but one thing I’d point out is that increased compression ratio is one place that you do get more work for the same amount of fuel, but high octane is needed. Turbos historically have weird compression ratio compromises (low), to allow for boost compression ratios vs. off-boost, so small turbo motors on their face don’t look like a big win over more displacement. But as V8 motors with cylinder deactivation prove, there are times where you want power and times when you can maintain 55 mph without excess power and you can save lots of gas at that point.

      My Fiat Abarth provides up to 18 lbs. of boost, stock, on a 1.4L motor. If you drive with a very light foot, you stay completely out of boost and you get great mileage (partially due to multijet variable valving). If you drive with a heavy foot, it struggles to keep traction, and uses markedly more fuel accordingly because not only are you increasing the CR, but you’re also using a LOT more charge, effectively creating a larger displacement motor. But you can regularly punch it, and then glide, mixing the characters of a fuel sipper and a HiPo car all in the same minute. I think this behavior could suit bikes well, but in that case we’d be looking at a turbo 200cc bike, not a turbo 600. Given the Recursion is a concept, I think it’s reasonable that their goal for the street might be for a smaller bore bike.

      It’s this, or to get better mileage, we’ll need 10 speed transmissions and we’ll have to short shift.

      I agree that turbos make engine’s more complex and they definitely have their drawbacks.

      • Justin McClintock

        Conversely, you can get a Mazda CX-5 with a naturally aspirated engine with roughly the same power output as Ford’s small EcoBoost in the Escape. The Mazda gets better fuel economy even on the test cycle and FAR better economy in the real world.

    • Generic42

      Turbo lag is generally a property of the turbo coming up to speed, that is having enough exhaust heat to spin the turbo to start to increase pressure. Yes, intake length plays a factor but most of it is in the sizing. In almost every application, small turbo=little lag, big turbo=lots of lag. The trade off being that the small turbo becomes inefficient quickly at higher RPMs. The latest round of turbo cars avoid these trade-offs with variable vane turbos to increase spin up time and then increase efficiency at the RPMs rise.

      I suspect that is actually the solution that the bike manufacturers will be using, little to no lag and a smooth/flat curve through the RPM range.

      • appliance5000

        When you think about it – turbo lag usually is below 3200rpm and a motorcycle engine is usually a higher rev machine than a car’s – it seems workable without having mid corner surging. hmmm

    • rothwem

      Sportbikes, like the one pictured, don’t need turbos to get good mileage. There are already many many design features on sportbikes that are blatant sacrifices of fuel, such as high overlap cams, high redlines, oversquare engines, high cylinder count per displacement, dual injectors, engine braking control, total loss stators, oversized tires, I could go on and on. People still buy them though! Advertising better fuel economy is simply not going to be a selling point for a turbo sportbike.

      With that said, I welcome the turbo. I think it would really be best used on the large (sport?) touring bikes though, like the K1600 or Kawi Concours. People that ride big bikes DO care about mileage, or at least range. Being able to go 300 miles on 6 gallons of gas would be a selling point I think. Add in the torque to move 1000 pounds of bike a rider(s) and I think you’ve got a winner. People that ride those bikes also LOVE technology. They accept (and LOVE) things like adaptive headlights, bluetooth, can-bus, and navigation. Put a turbo in a bike bike, and I think you’ll have a winner.

      • Mark

        I have a K1600 and as far as I’m concerned, it’s got plenty of power – I can’t even imagine what it would be like with a turbo. Wiith the 7 gallon tank and 40+ highway mpg, it already has roughly a 300 mile range.

        • rothwem

          The answer for how it would be with a turbo is “better”. Imagine that K1600 with a turbo-4, making the same horsepower, more torque, better fuel economy and lighter weight.

          • Mark

            I would certainly appreciate less weight. At a bit over 750lbs, the K1600 isn’t exactly a lightweight bike.

  • E Brown

    The real appeal of turbos is not their stock performance; it’s cheap performance upgrades via tuning. Now that bikes have FI and computer chips, piling on more power means big numbers a few parts and a laptop/smartphone. Few people will need – or even use – this power, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

  • robot

    B-king jr.

  • KeithB

    “so unless they are irrationally allergic to the word “turbo,” (which they might be) insurers ought to provide reasonable rates”
    Good luck with that thought!
    Insurers in Ontario consider braided brake lines as a “performance modification” and spank you for it.
    Turbo…that’s the Devils Work ;-)

    • Guy

      It’s true, insurance here is calculated with crazy clown Math and they’re irrationally allergic to turbo for any vehicle.

      • Khali

        They would get crazy here where 90% or the cars, vans, and trucks are TURBO diesel.

    • IRS4

      It’s not the WORD turbo, but the people ATTRACTED to the word turbo.

  • MichaelEhrgott

    Such a beautiful bike. Loving the design. Nex-gen SV650?

  • Dan

    Since Kawi’s now talking about superchargers and Suzi’s talking turbos, can we get an explainer article on the differences between the two as applied to bikes?

    A&R had a neat write up this week on a recent Kawi patent for a chain-driven (via the crank), compact supercharger that sits under the airbox and behind the cylinders. I would love to hear about pros/cons for the different forced induction methods being proposed.

  • Eran Journo

    Don’t know about the turbo part, but if Suzuki started to make more bikes that look like this I would pay more attention.

  • Reid

    250 cc single + turbo = all the bike anybody would ever need.

  • David Magallon

    This is one of those times I just want to post that “shut up and take my money” meme

  • nomad2495

    Make a naked or sport touring version and I’ll want one

  • Dustin Coury

    Coming to the US in 2021.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Turbos are for journalists.

  • Mr.Paynter

    LOVE the 80′s studio-lighing set-up in the 3rd picture, add a giant red suzuki and that was a poster to bedeck a million adolescent bedroom-walls.

  • HammSammich

    It would seem that for motorcycles the biggest advantage of turbocharging is weight – a 200cc turbo will have performance roughly on par with a 600cc NA bike, with significantly less weight and lower reciprocating mass…

  • Stephen Mears

    100hp and 74 ftlbs is a very sweet spot for a roadster, and the turbo would make it nice and quiet. Hopefully execution is as nice as concept.

  • Peitro Petrelli

    Im glad I dont live in Ontario anymore, but BC isnt any better….

    When it comes to insurance; this will mark the start of $$/hp charges. If all of a sudden a 4/5/600cc bike makes the same as a 7/8/9/1000cc bike, youll be charged for hp.

    From a technical standpoint this is demonstrating that the engineers are slowing down on cheap power increases. I believe that alot of the Japanese manufacturers have the ability to make more power, but not cheaply (metallurgy and coatings). I suspect that we will see a stalling of power around the naturally aspirated 250hp/1L mark, Kawi is at 200hp/L now. There are still a few more efficiencies that can be gleaned from current designs, but after that it will require new (radical) designs, like a wobble motor. And I dont think that any of the big makers are willing to deviate from the (piston) reciprocating engine. More power can be made but it will require a razors edge focus, require very specific goal (hp or torque), and it will be dependant upon metallurgy and coatings.


  • Hans

    I talked with an insurance company a while back and discovered that it is not math, but rather sociology. The try to identify the groups that ride SQUID from the parameters availle to them, and thus group any rider modifying the bike in a similar way (breakline) as a SQUID. It can work to your advantage thou. My insurance company was obsesive about the seating position not beein forward leaning. Never mind it is a Suzuki B-King with 180 BHP… Idea for a ride apart artickle?