No fork, no problem!
It’s hard to innovate in the wonderful world of motorcycles. Just like with cars, no matter how fancy you get with materials and technologies, the format is the same across the board: a wheel-mounted chassis propelled by an engine. In the case of bikes, a frame on two wheels with the engine at the front, a fork suspension, and a swingarm is pretty much the standard set up, one that has barely evolved since the creation of the motorcycle over a century ago. Why has it changed so little? Because it works. Reinventing the motorcycle would be like reinventing the wheel: you’d need to come up with something truly innovative for it to catch on. That’s what Yamaha tried to do in the early 90s with the quirky GTS 1000.
When you look at Yamaha’s GTS 1000, it looks like a fairly standard motorcycle. The closer you look, however, and the more you notice that something doesn’t look quite right. Remove the fairing and you are looking at something entirely different!
In 1993, Yamaha introduced a sport tourer it hoped would mark a new level of evolution of the motorcycle: the GTS 1000, equipped with a swingarm at the back and at the front. Forget the good old telescopic fork: according to the Japanese giant, the front swingarm was the future of motorcycling.
This system, called RADD, was designed by inventor James Parker, a process that took 15 years to bring to fruition. Parker was hoping to find an alternative to the familiar but flawed fork. Tough generally accepted set up for the past eight decades, the classic fork suspension is in fact, technically speaking, a flawed system. Between the fact that it acts both as a suspension and steering member and the rake angle that puts a strain on the frame, the fork isn’t the most popular set up because it’s the best. It’s the one people are familiar with and manufacturers are mass-producing.
Parker’s suspension used, instead, a lower, one-sided swingarm equipped with a massive damping cylinder that provided the support and a separate, upper arm and shaft for steering. He patented the design in 1985, but it didn’t formally surface until the launch of the GTS eight years later. The lower swingarm was anchored on both sides of the bike to the Omega frame. According to the inventor and manufacturer’s claims, the unusual set up allowed for a low center of gravity and a smaller frame was required considering there was no fork to integrate and support.
Combined with the GTS’ capable 100-horsepower, 1,002cc inline four, early reviewers enjoyed the layout and appreciated its efficiency, some going as far as to say they’d rather not go back to a fork set up. The model was truly ahead of its time.
The absence of the springs meant virtually no nose diving and while steering was considered tricky at lower speeds, handling was a lot more direct and efficient. A 1993 review by Rider Magazine explains that the the RADD setup is in fact so constant and stable that it allows for higher speed in the corners and braking barely affects the trajectory. It only takes a bit of getting used to.
Despite its apparent popularity with the journalists, the model had a short-lived run on the American market, removed from the lineup after only a year. It lasted an additional six seasons elsewhere before being discontinued and replaced with the FJR 1300—a model that remains to this day the brand’s flagship sport tourer.
A number of factors seemingly contributed to the model’s lack of popularity with the buyers and eventual demise. The hefty price tag—$12,999 in 1993—was likely the biggest of them all. The RADD system was also apparently hard on the front tire, the engine had a tendency to consume a fair bit of oil, and the stock seat was a horror. Combined with the fact that aside from its high-tech front suspension, the bike was otherwise pretty vanilla, it’s no wonder the GTS 1000 didn’t become the commercial success Yamaha was hoping for.
Had the GTS stood out from the crowd both for its personality and its innovation, chances are the double swingarm suspension could have gained a lot more followers and enthusiasts. Sadly, the model fell flat and Parker’s invention fell into oblivion. 20 years later, the reign of the fork remains unchallenged.