This Custom 1996 Suzuki 900 Intruder Has A Monster Within

Watch out—It'll Cut Ya

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Don't let the nearly-stock appearance fool you. This Intruder is a bonafide sleeper.Mark Langello

Leon Rawls looks like your average cruiser as he pulls into the local hangout on his Intruder—except for his big grin. And the bike? A basically stock '96 800 Intruder with a few bolt-ons, right? Wrong. Lurking under the mild-mannered stock exterior, a beast waits for someone to take it by the tail and tug, and that someone better be holding on. Perhaps this explains the grin.

After 20 years and three class championships racing dirt bikes, Rawls decided that, while the mind was still willing, the body (knees specifically) was not. Since motorcycling had been a part of his life for more than 30 years, Rawls looked around for another two-wheeled area of interest. The camaraderie and hardware of cruising appealed to him, and before long he found himself in possession of an 800 Intruder. However, an old itch still remained. Bolt-ons dressed up the bike and provided momentary satisfaction, but the only way for this tinkerer to feel complete was to roll up his sleeves and get intimate with the engine.

front
Doesn’t look like a monster does it? Just an Intruder with a Memphis Shades T-bird windshield and some Custom Chrome front marker-lights. Guess again.Mark Langello

Take a close look at the engine. The visible performance modifications include Cobra slip-ons, K&N pod filters, and…black crinkle paint? Rawls wasn’t able to find any full exhaust systems for his bike, so he added the slip-on system. Still, the canisters were too restrictive for Rawls’ tastes. That is until he took out his 7⁄8-inch hole saw and relieved them of their backing plates. According to Rawls, the pipes “aren’t too loud, but they sure breathe better.” Because of a recurring leak around the slip ons’ gaskets, Rawls welded the canisters to the headers. With the less restrictive pipes fitted to the bike, rejetting was required, which normally would explain the pod filters. However, in this instance the pods were necessitated by the crinkle paint.

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On a deserted section of road, we decided to try a few drag racing launches. On one take-off all we saw was front wheel and sky.Mark Langello

Since the cylinder barrels had to be removed to apply the paint and to polish the cooling fins, Rawls took the opportunity to butch-up the Intruder's displacement to 873cc. A set of 85mm Kawasaki Vulcan 750 pistons helped him achieve this result. J&B Racing performed the machining duties. Obviously, the cylinders needed to be bored, but the rods also needed to be bored 1mm larger to accommodate the pistons' beefier pins. Since the big pistons have a higher deck height than the stockers and would have contacted the head, the pistons were machined down and had valve pockets re-cut. A side benefit of machining the pistons was that he got to choose what compression ratio he wanted. His 900 Intruder compresses its air/fuel mixture to a 11.5:1 ratio which is kept in place by a custom-made Copper Gaskets Unlimited gasket

Rawls's experience building race engines told him that the new and improved displacement would be partially wasted if he didn't find a way to get the combustion gasses into and out of the cylinders as expeditiously as possible. Megacycle Cams provided Rawls with their prototype of the soon-to-be-released drop-in replacement camshaft for the 800 Intruder. Woody Kyle Racing performed the porting and a five-angle valve job that rounded out the head modifications.

pistons
These Vulcan 750 pistons bump the displacement to 873cc. When you order the pistons from Kawasaki, don’t tell them they’re for a Suzuki or you might get charged extra.Mark Langello

Next, the K&N filters were mounted and the carbs were jetted. The rear filter attached right to the carb, but the front filter required some creativity on Rawls’ spart. He took the original-equipment filter, burned off the paper element, and welded a piece of metal tubing from a junk yard to the metal filter plate. The welded plate and tube plus a small piece of the airbox were attached to the carb, and the K&N filter mounts to the tube. Rawls jetted the carburetors himself. When he was done, the main jet had jumped from a 127.5 to a 165 on the front carb and 132.5 to 175 on the rear. The needles were raised an equivalent of five shims. The carbs both utilize the stock pilot jet, but the air screws were richened three turns in the front and three and a quarter in the rear.

engine
Two clues of the engine’s modified status: the front airbox has been removed and the cylinder barrels wear black wrinkle paint between polished fins.Mark Langello

While the various engine parts traveled from shop to shop being modified, Rawls wasn’t idle. His Intruder received a healthy application of bolt-on details. The front and rear turn signals became Custom Chrome marker lights. A KuryAkyn license plate frame (framing Rawls’s old racing number 210A) with a built-in light replaced the stock brake light. A BackOFF LED light bar augmented the rear lighting system. A leather Corbin Gunfighter seat assures that he stays firmly in the saddle when the Intruder starts generating speed. Since the location of the Intruder’s black box kept Corbin from offering a backrest for the seat, Rawls grafted a pad onto a stainless steel bracket which, in turn, slips into a custom-built stainless steel bracket mounted to the fender rails. Saddlemen’s solid-mount bags and Memphis Shades’ T-bird windshield round out the comfort accessories. A Dunlop 402 Touring Elite and 491 Elite wrap around the front and rear rims, respectively.

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Under the KuryAkyn plate frame, a BackOFF LED light bar adds some conspicuity. The trick backrest bracket lives between the Saddlemen bags and the fender rail.Mark Langello

When Rawls first contacted us, we were interested in seeing his bike but were a bit skeptical about his claims about the bike’s raucous behavior. However, after we sampled the 900 Intruder on an afternoon ride in Rawls’s home state of Florida, we felt guilty for ever doubting. The bike pops first-gear power wheelies—no clutch or handlebar assistance required. And roll-on power? We found ourselves purposely lagging behind Rawls as he rode his wife’s A.C.E. just so we could crank on the throttle to catch up. Around town, the engine was as docile as a kitten, delivering consistent power throughout the rev range. It even purred. But pull its tail, and you better watch out.

On a deserted section of road, we decided to try a few drag racing launches. On one take-off, a little indiscretion with the clutch off the line, and all we saw was front wheel and sky. On perfect starts, ripping through the gears, the 900 generated some serious speed; speed that taxed the OE brakes but generated the big grin we saw Rawls wearing when we first met him. We understood.

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Since no room is available under the Corbin seat for the backrest hardware, Rawls grafted a Pro-Tac pad to a stainless steel mounting bracket. The assembly slips off in seconds.Mark Langello

After our ride, we asked Rawls what else he had in mind for the bike. He said that he could always bump the displacement up a bit more by utilizing Kawasaki’s second overbore pistons for the Vulcan. Then he said what he was really itching to do was replace the front wheel so he could run dual disc brakes. (A wise choice given the power the bike makes.)

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Even against a 1400 Intruder, this hot rod showed what it was capable of and ate the 1400 alive in a roll-on duel.Mark Langello

While we were writing this article, Rawls sent us an e-mail message saying that he’d finally gotten a chance to have a head-to-head roll-on duel with a stock 1400 Intruder. The 900 ate the 1400 alive. When the combatants stopped at a gas station to reload, the 1400 owner asked what Rawls had done to his bike. His response was what you would expect from a roll-on racer armed with a stock-looking bike: “Oh, just a pipe and some jetting.”

This article was originally published in the February 1998 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.