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.