Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Hacking: Suzuki GS550
Walking around the dealers I was faced with the usual problem — bikes I wanted I couldn’t afford and vice versa. However when I found a W reg GS550E with just under 19k on the clock for £499, I reckoned that this was it. There were bits of rust on it but nothing too serious. It hadn’t obviously been dropped and the engine sounded ﬁne, although I was later to find that the tickover was set high to remove a clanking noise which could be heard when it was started from cold. This went away once the motor was warmed up and apparently is both quite common and not serious (carbs slightly out of balance). I figured I’d got a good buy until I had to pay out £140 for TPFT because, at 23, I was deemed young and irresponsible.
So, having spent all my hard earnt dosh on my new toy I went off along the highways of this once fine land, avoiding potholes, raised manhole covers, loose chippings, metal road studs and other assorted inanimate objects, as well as those very much alive — suicidal pedestrians and kamikaze road users in general.
I had read several reports in the press that the GS550 was a very reliable piece of machinery and that the DOHC four can withstand a great deal of neglect. This seemed like a good reason to buy one and I never had any serious problems with the bike. I only ever did routine maintenance - change oil every 1500 miles and oil filter every 3000 miles.
The chain needed adjustment fairly often and the new one I put on when I got the bike needed replacing after just 6000 miles. Having said all that, the day after I bought the bike the horn stopped working, but only due to a loose connection. I didn’t need the Haynes, just as well as the wiring diagram looks like a map of the underground after someone has dropped spaghetti bolognese on it. But, I did find the manual indispensable for routine maintenance; and, it’s amazing what you can learn from reading the manual - keeps you busy during those long winter nights.
After a couple of weeks commuting I decided to go for a long run from Newcastle to Glasgow. Up the A69 to Carlise following Hadrians Wall, the bike felt fine at 70mph but through fast corners I could feel parts of the bike arguing with each other over which direction to take. Onto the A/M74, the only problem when a Volvo/tank owner tries to test his impact absorbing bumper by pulling out of a side road in front of me, adrenalin and the desire to eat my evening meal helped me subvert his bit of fun — I shouted my opinion of him as loud as I could. It was not very complimentary.
On the A74 I decided to see what it’d do and was disappointed to ﬁnd that an indicated 110mph was hard going for the bike. At the ton the whole bike went dead. Luckily, it was only the main fuse jumping out of its socket. Then the rain started which sent the gear indicator all crazy with the numbers ﬂashing on and off. I always found the combined Hi/Lo and indicator switch a pain as operating one function usually changed the other as well, not that the 45W headlamp is much cop.
The bike was comfortable to ride long distances but could do with a fuel gauge because sometimes the reserve doesn’t work. Fuel averaged 53mpg going down to 46mpg when ridden hard.
For once the A74 was free of road works and I could bowl along quite happily. After a day in Glasgow I decided to come back via the Borders where there are interesting, twisty roads and beautiful scenery. A huge traffic jam in Edinburgh didn’t impress but escape came on the road to Jedburgh, where I played cat and mouse with a silver grey Porsche and had to make use of the incredible stopping power of the three discs. I thought I lost him when I overtook some cars and a bus was coming the other way. After going around a bend right on the cornering limits, after hectic braking and the thought that I was surely going too fast, I was shocked to see the Porsche still there. It went by on the next straight and I never saw it again.
I would probably have kept the GS for a long time as it was a very nice bike, but after ﬁve months someone stole it. Typically, I’d just spent a day cleaning and servicing it and putting a new chain on. Now, I still can't buy any of the bikes I want, if I’m lucky I might just find another cheap GS550.