Saturday, 5 November 2016

Hacking: Suzuki GS550 blues

I paid only £150 for my 1978 GS550. This was because it didn‘t run very well and looked a right mess. But despite heavily smoking exhausts and a rattly motor it could still be ridden.

But not very far. I soon found that the battery wasn’t charging. Nothing came from the alternator when I tested it. Off with cover, out with the stator, although I had to spend an hour trying to undo one chewed up cross-head screw.

The stator was all burnt up and I was lucky to find that a nearby local breaker had one in stock for a bargain £15, although he said it was out of a GS425 but reckoned it would fit - and it did after a few gentle taps with the hammer.

Fine, I had an output from the generator but nothing once the rectifier was connected up. Down to the breaker again, £25 poorer and I had a working electrical system. Well, sort of, I found that all the wiring had been bodged so I did a quick rewire - or not so quick as it took three days before everything worked properly.

The cycle parts were speckled with rust so everything was torn off, rubbed down and patched up. The frame was attacked with a wire brush and rust remover and then a tin of black paint.

The swinging arm bearings were shot and the swinging arm 100% rust. The bearings were replaced and arm cleaned up and painted. While I was at the back end the brake plate was removed, the spindle greased and a new set of shoes fitted. The rims and spokes were covered in grime and oil, so I threw a tin of Gunk over the back wheel and played the garden hose on it. There was lotsa nice chrome underneath.

The rear shocks were Konis and still in good shape. The front forks were rather slack, so a couple of valve springs were added. The single front caliper needed much force to work, and when I stripped down the caliper everything was corroded up and the pads were down past the metal. But I cleaned the bits up, bunged in some new pads and it’s worked well ever since.

I soon found that the battery was knackered so that was thirty quid down the drain and a sprocket and chain set cost £25.

When everything went back together the bike looked quite nice, and after an engine oil change, carb balance and timing check, the motor even ran quite well and the smoke cleared up.

I was congratulating myself on a bargain buy that I could sell later for a profit when the clutch started slipping. Ho burn, more money and a lot of hassle as two screws absolutely refused to budge until I drilled them out. The clutch body and plates were both worn out, but the, by now friendly, breaker let me have a clutch for just £15.

Riding the nearly ten year old bike was a reasonable amount of fun. The 55000 mile engine could still pull up to the ton, although the secondary vibes were not pleasant beyond 75mph. My friend’s GPz550 could easily burn off the old Suzi in the curves and at times I had trouble staying with mundane things like GS400s.

Fuel was not very good at 45mpg overall, varying between 38 and 62mpg. The later bikes with CV carbs are both more powerful and more economical. Thus, I’m trying to find a nice, recent GS550 engine to stick in my chassis, which will also give me an engine for spares. I’ve been quoted as much as £350 which is too much for my finances.

Handling is OK, except when braking in corners, which makes the bike sit up, it’s very safe and stable. I particularly like the way that backing off the throttle pulls the bike in towards the curb. Ride is rather remote, like Suzuki’s twins, but the stiffness of the frame and good geometry means that it doesn’t hold any nasty surprises.

I went wild and bought a new set of Roadrunner tyres and have been very happy with these, as in 6000 miles they have shown hardly any wear and grip as well as any other tyre I’ve tried. The chain only lasted 5500 miles and the disc pads 4000 miles, so these are very poor lasting items.

I’m happy enough with the bike for the money I’ve paid, but the GS isn‘t really exceptional in any one area, except, perhaps, in the toughness of the engine - I‘ve just learnt that you can get a big bore kit for it that doesn't cost anymore than a rebore. Sounds too good to be true.

Alan Hicks

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